Philosophy and History

Jeff Perren's picture
Submitted by Jeff Perren on Sat, 2006-11-18 17:06

What is the Objectivist view of the role of philosophy in history? Does it need modification? Robert Tracinski asserts his views in a recent series of TIA articles.

The article focuses on the factors that, according to the author, are chiefly responsible for the growth of freedom and prosperity around the world over the past 25 years.

Diana Hsieh links to Ed Cline's critique of Tracinski's views here:

[Update: The Journal of Winston Smith, originally used as the source for Tracinski's article(Drunk has, from time to time, violated Robert Tracinski's copyrights. I was under the mistaken belief that the blog was owned and operated by Robert Tracinksi. I apologize for inadvertently contributing to that violation. The offending entries have now been removed from that blog. Hence, the links in this post have been changed to point to TIA instead. 1/2/2007 JP]


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On Cause and Effect

Jeff Perren's picture

"Here and in the other thread where I'm posting, you stress the importance of looking at other causal factors than fundamental philosoophical ideas disseminated by university professors. What I've been pointing to, and will expand upon in my next post in answer to your post, is that every book you read, every TV show, every cartoon, every lyric to a song, carries the cultural influence of fundamental philosophical ideas passed down into the culture from the headwaters, if you will, of the humanities departments of colleges and universities. Quite honestly, this seems like such a "duh" to me that I'm suprised you don't get it. But in the belief that perhaps an even more detailed post might pursuade some, if not you...I'll be back." Tom on cultural change

Another possible error you might be making occurred to me.

From the fact that a particular concrete is an instance of a philosophical fundamental, it does not follow that the concrete is the effect of that fundamental. A fortiori, even in those cases where it was caused by the fundamental, it doesn't follow that the instance was caused by one from a particular source. We can see X as an instance of altruism, for instance, but it doesn't follow that the instance was in any way the effect of anything taught in a university in the last 50 years.

To deny either of these assertions is to deny that individuals are capable of independent and original thought, both good and bad.

---

Jeff in Reply to Tom on Tracinski thread

"When You Do...
(Submitted by Jeff Perren on Fri, 2006-12-29 10:52.)

"...you stress the importance of looking at other causal factors than fundamental philosoophical ideas disseminated by university professors."

When you do expand on your theme, please keep in mind that there are two separate issues here.

(1) What causal influences on culture are there; what are the relative strength of influences of philosophical fundamentals vs other factors?

and

(2) Where are those coming from? (The universities vs those + other).

Our recent discussion has been about the second, much more than the first.

Also, please keep in mind the following:

The fundamental laws of physics operate everywhere at all times and in all things. They underlie all other causal factors. But invoking them to explain, say, the evolution of species is beside the point in most contexts. Sometimes, you need to look at less fundamental factors to explain particular circumstances.

I've no doubt that the fundamental truths of philosophy are at all times operative in human action (and, indeed, everywhere in the universe) and can be seen in everything we do. But if you want to explain cultural change, you need to look at less fundamnental factors as well. This approach does not deny the existence nor the importance of those fundamental factors. It is not either-or.

If you agree on this latter point, then we have no fundamental disagreement.

Jeff

P.S. By the way, I recommend we move the discussion to the Philosophy and History thread, where I think it more appropriate and more visible."

George Baker on Tracinski

Jeff Perren's picture

A long quote I put on another thread bears repeating here:

"I am a big fan of TIA daily and the series "What Went Right?" has been some of the most interesting writing I've seen from an Objectivist in a very long time. I look forward to the completion of the series.

I understand the basic argument as this:

1. Ideas move history.
2. The ideas dominating western civilization are horrible.
3. The west should therefore be a disaster.

Rob goes on to argue that this hasn't happened. That in fact western values and prosperity have been spreading throughout the world at an unprecedented rate. Cultures around the world are demonstrating a new recognition of the importance of man's mind and the need for economic freedom. All of this has been happening while Objectivists have been predicting gloom and doom.

Rob seems to believe that the trouble is in point #1. That either there is a flaw in the principle itself or there is a flaw in the "gloom and doom" crowd's understanding of it.

I'd focus more on point #2. What ARE the ideas dominating western civilization? This is where I think the "gloom and doom" crowd gets it wrong. Probably because they are too focused on the university philosophy departments. I'd argue that the "philosophers" to be found there are befuddled and irrelevant. With the exception of a few renegades - one tellingly wound up in the hands of Hugo Chavez at the UN - they have no point to make and no influence on anything. The ideas that wind up in the heads of decision makers, judges, legislators, and the administration, for the most part have little to do with what goes on in university philosophy departments.

This is certainly true for the Republicans - who have dominated American politics since the 1980s. Republicans are in open rebellion against the universities. They refuse to be influenced by the rot of those institutions. As "conservatives" they are much more aligned with the traditional mix of ideas that formed this country in the first place: religion and reason.

But reason and religion cannot coexist! So gloom and doom! Baloney. Reason and religion have been battling it out since the renaissance. We'd all like for Reason to have a final victory. But so long as it has a fighting chance, to the extent that it holds sway even in competition with faith, humanity will reap the benefits. And we are. And lately even places like China and India are.

This is why, despite Leonard Peikoff's advice, I continue to vote Republican. Within the Republican party there is a battle between reason and religion. Within the Democratic party there is none. They are the party of the universities and they are as befuddled and useless as the non-entities found there.

What Rob's articles illustrate is that there are many honest, rational people out there - and to the extent that they are rational they are doing the world and themselves enormous good. Even if they go to church on Sunday and send their kids to Sunday school. Even if they’ve never even heard of Ayn Rand. Furthermore the number and influence of rational people in the world seems to be increasing. It's ironic that Objectivists, in predicting gloom and doom, have underestimated the power of reason. Even "partially" rational people, like the economist Julian Simon, or Manmohan Singh - prime minister of India, or Kirill a protester from Belarus who wants the freedoms he witnessed in the US and UK, can do enormous good.

In conclusion I'd argue that philosophy does drive history, and that it has been the respect for reason, however flawed, that is latent in American and European conservatism, that has been driving the sucess of the past 25 years." George Baker on The Forum

Tracinski's triad

J. Heaps-Nelson's picture

I have now had a chance to read Robert Tracinski's What Went Right series through part 4. He lists the three factors that are most prevalent in the revival of capitalism and freedom from 1980 until now. They are information technology and scientific and technical education, globalization of capitalism and representative government.

Philosophy is the overall determining factor in the direction of a civilization. Bad philosophy is upheld by faith and force. Good philosophy is upheld by reason and markets. The causation, however goes both ways. Good explicit philosophy has a beneficial effect on the use of reason and the productiveness of markets. However, free markets and the application of reason in specialty fields can also have a beneficial effect on explicit philosophy.

Ayn Rand once said that Objectivism could not have been created as a philosophy until after the Industrial Revolution. Why? Because the beneficial effects of capitalism could not be verified until it was tested. Most people choose the kind of society they would like to live in based on the available alternatives. People and policymakers can plainly see the success of the U.S., West Germany and Taiwan compared to the alternatives. Globalization of capitalism makes it easier to act on those alternatives.

Representative government acts as a brake on the use of dictatorial force. Technical education counteracts faith in a society. Globalization allows people to choose the rules under which they would like to conduct their lives more than ever before. These factors are exerting bottom-up influences on the explicit and implicit philosophies held by people all over the globe.

Jim

Since there are a number of

PhilipC's picture

Since there are a number of complex issues involved, I just went back and reread this entire thread.

I would divide the major lines of discussion that have taken place here into four: i) to what degree and in what form is philosophy the fundamental force driving history, ii) do various Objectivists disagree on this (Rand, Peikoff, Tracinski, etc.), iii) what are the other forces affecting history and how -specifically- do all these forces work together, iv) are current trends in a positive or a negative direction fundamentally.

It's important to separate which of the four issues one is focusing on in a particular reply or post, else one ends up debating at cross-purposes.

I am not interested in debating ii): It's a sideshow.

On iv): I missed on the first reading some excellent points by Tom Rowland in his post of 12/1 in which he points out a longer-term, ongoing destructive wave of Kantianism which slowly undercuts the more positive, optimistic factors Tracinski refers to. The fundamental direction is a "vector sum" of the forces and factors RT and TR refer to...and perhaps several others including immigration and demographics.

Neither RT nor TR is wrong in giving weight, respectively, to the positive or negative forces each names. Both sets of forces operate - not only directly on the minds of men but on each other.

On i) and iii): My long posts of 11/19, 11/25, and 11/26 provide a summary in a nutshell of how philosophy operates and how the other factors operate in historical causation. In rereading them, I find that I said exactly what I wanted to say and said it precisely. So I don't have anything to add. Several people disagreed with me but didn't actually get what I meant, even though I wrote quite clearly (albeit succinctly). So I opt out of trying to restate it several times.

The most fruitful lines of exploration (in my opinion) are ones Tracinski has opened up in his series of essays: analyzing the causal factors operating -today-, in the post-WWII decades. In one of my previous posts I grouped them rather broadly into Aristotelian and Platonic (which included Kantian), which I think helps simplify and essentialize so one can deal with them.

Mechanisms of Cultural Change - A Gap.

Jeff Perren's picture

The importantance of fundamentals...

"Philosophy is the PRIMARY AND MOST FUNDAMENTAL determinant of culture and history."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but there seems to be the implication in assertions of that kind that, since it is the fundamental influence, it's the only one we should pay much attention to. This has been explicitly denied, but the responses I receive frequently suggest that.

More importantly, if we are to correctly identify which fundamental ideas are currently having the most influence (there are several competing ones, after all), and which are most likely to dominate in the future, we need to pay a good deal of attention to much less fundamental ideas, concretes, etc at work. Isn't that, after all, the correct inductive approach?

There's also a very important question that has not yet, so far as I know, been answered: how do fundamentals -- ideas and large-scale cultural changes -- shift?

It isn't enough to simply point out that Augustinian ideas dominated the Dark Ages, then Thomas Aquinas wrote and lo, the Renaissance came to be. Why were his ideas accepted, rather than simply continuing the Dark Ages for another 10 centuries?

Many on this and other Objectivist fora have the view that the bad fundamental influences in our culture will likely dominate the future. (Unless the Republicans are removed from power and the influence of the Evangelicals stopped, we will have a theocracy within 50 years.)

But, if the bad fundamental influence wins out, how does this influence ever get thrown off?

There's something missing in the (touted) theory of how ideas influence culture.

> It is not the Objectivist

PhilipC's picture

> It is not the Objectivist view that philosophy is the ONLY determinant of culture and history. It is the Objectivist view that it is the PRIMARY AND MOST FUNDAMENTAL determinant of culture and history.

Fred Weiss made this point over on NoodleFood. I think that is a good way to capture the distinction. One would, however, need to integrate to it the three points I made in my 11/26 post on this thread.

I would agree with the "primary and most fundamental" formulation--it was what I argued earlier on 11/25 and 11/26. Except that it is loose and sloppy to call it THE Objectivist view, as though you can't hold a different view if you subscribe to Objectivism: Objectivism is a school of philosophy. It does not as as such have a view on historical causation. Objectivism consists of a systematic integration of the five branches of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and esthetics. That's it. Not one's view on the degree to which philosophy causes history. So I wouldn't call it the Objectivist view, any more than Ayn Rand's or Peikoff's views on Republicans vs. Democrats are the Objectivist view.

So, FW is correct that philosophy is the primary and most fundamental determinant on culture and history..if one views philosophy as -any- deep and fundmental principles about the the nature of reality, man, the theory of knowledge, ethics, and politics.

Holiday Greetings from Ronbo

Ronald Barbour's picture

Bravo, Tom!

Jeff Perren's picture

I have some minor quibbles that my schedule doesn't permit me to address now, but that was a first rate post.

Thank you.

Jeff

Without

TRowland's picture

Aristotle would western civilization still have it's extraordinary naturalistic orientation?

Phil, did you put Orson up to this? His thought experiment is almost too perfect an example of the concrete-bound mentality I had in mind in my straw man hyperbole. (re: being too literal)

Orson and Phil, I've said it before and I'll say it again ("repetition makes an impression even on the dullest mind," one of my high school teachers used to say), civilizations remain alive to whatever extent they are composed of individuals who think and are not put down (by law or by laughter or other forms of intimidation). It follows that there is some measure of thinking going on now. We've been saying this all along.

Phil's "if that were the -only- major philosophical influence..." doesn't deny this. Doesn't even come close. The fact is, as we've pointed out, there is a strong remnent of the Enlightenment (Aristotilian) element still influencing the culture. The destructive element is -not- the only part of the mixture.

If we're looking at science, for example, we need to keep in mind that historically, science is among the last to benefit from the trend toward reason. After the initial collapse of Church dominance circa 1095 -- signaled by the translation of Latin texts into the vernacular -- prepared the way for Aquinas (1225-1274), it was around 600 years to Enlightenment Science and Newton (1642-1727)(U.S.=1776). Leonardo's examination of corpses, the discovery of perspective, the development of movable type and the consequent increased velocity of the transmition of knowledge came long before Newton's Laws of Motion.

Science is also the last to collapse. For a brilliant analysis of the rise and fall of Enlightenment Science, see David Harriman's two articles in The Objective Standard. From Newton's Principia to WWII is 179 years. Even taking into account the increased velocity of knowledge and its transmission, the 61 years since is only a small blip hardly worthy of cheers directed at the end of philosophy's profound influence on the course of history.

That there are signs pointing in the direction of recovery (Ayn Rand's growing influence among them) doesn't make the Kantian trend of the last 220 some years any less dominant. And the worst thing that could happen is for that trend to take a turn in the direction of the abolition of the separation between church and state which has the strong likelihood of censorship attached to it.

As for the toppling of of dictatorships, first the evidence is not all in, second most countries are in a state of suspended animation called a "mixed economy". China and India appear at the moment to be establishing markets. Whether this is the fattening of the lamb for slaughter or not, remains to be seen. The recent events in Russia do not bode well, in my view.

Does everyone -- or even a majority -- of the individuals in the culture have to know of, let alone quote any given philosopher? Does it have to be someone named Aristotle or Kant or Rand? NO. But it has to be someone in the position to formulate the ideas that build and support the trend toward reason.

Effects without causes

Fred Weiss's picture

Orson tell us that the "objective orientation, ie, the culture-wide urge to master and understand nature" of Greek culture pre-dates Aristotle. I wasn't aware that anyone has disputed that. In fact Objectivist scholars have repeatedly acknowledged it.

What they have said is that Aristotle was its culmination, its high point philosophically, and thus its most important influence on history. I don't believe this is even seriously disputed by non-Objectivist scholars - even among those who regard Plato as having had more influence (which I also think is true).

Without Aristotle, what?

How is this game played while Orson is circling in his orbit? Do we have an Aristotle replacement in some form? Or is he really asking us to consider what Western civilization would have been like without Aristotle's *ideas* - without the influence of a specifically and *explicitly* this-worldly metaphysics and epistemology, That question should answer itself - and it then it is much more than not grasping essentials. It is not grasping cause and effect.

I think Fred illustrates my thesis - wither progress?

Orson's picture

I think Fred illustrates my the source of my distrust: retreating to "essentialism" to hold the flag of Aristotle high (eg, citing OPAR: "Philosophy determines essentials").

My claim, however, is simply that Greek culture itself generated an objective orientation, ie, the culture-wide urge to master and understand nature - the independent world in its entirety. THIS is part and parcel of the Western civlizating project because it pre-dates Aristotle; it stands in great contrast to otherwordly Hindu polytheism or Confucian stasis.

Thus, the flag of naturalism and the cause of progress isn't exactly "because of Aristotle," as essentialists like to claim. (Even though it might, in some sense, be in tribute to Ari - or be clearer or more effective because of him.)

For TRowland, consider this thought experiment. consider a world without Aristotle. Would Western civilization still have its extraordinary naturalistic orientation? Or would it - perish the thought - have to be quite unrecognizably different?

As for RT, I still think Phil's summary is the best:

What the debate over Tracinski is about is not whether philosophy determines history but whether the anti-Aristotelian strains [which have been dominant and spread downward from the academy (and the pulpit and the podium) for three hundred years since, say, Descartes] are currently driving history. He's asking the question why, if that were the case, if that were the -only- major philosophical influence, civilization didn't collapse instead of rebound after World War II and with the final defeat of the Soviet Union and with the topplinig of dictatorships.

If real progress continues, doesn't that contraindicate general pessimism about the near future?

Primary vs. derivative with Aristotle

Chris Cathcart's picture

Rand acknowledged Aristotle as the giant of what's good in the Western intellectual tradition in virtue of some fundamental ideas in Aristotle, not smaller or derivative things like his views on slavery. In fundamental terms, he outlined how general knowledge achieved through integration of sensed particulars is possible. Now, indeed, he did have Platonism built into his model, but even there it's smaller or less essential. The fundamental is that true this-worldly knowledge is possible. Also inherent in Aristotle's methodology is a model to get answers to "problems" cooked up in recent times, the mind-body "problem" to name a prominent one. The solution is contained in Aristotle's identification of the form-matter relationship, doing away with any "problem" of interaction.

There is plenty to lament in Aristotle's system -- his politics and aforementioned views on slavery, for instance. His modern influence has not come about through his views on these derivative matters.

You can contrast this with Kant's philosophy and why Rand considered him an opposite. His views on politics might well be pretty radical classical liberal rights-based philosophy, quite indistinguishable from Rand's. But, again, this is smaller and derivative compared to the central, influential ideas of his system, which are arguably for the worse.

So take the modern concept of natural rights. You'd think, based on political philosophy, that Kant was more influential in this regard than Aristotle could possibly be. But Rand would have identified Aristotle as the original father or chief influence on natural rights theories indirectly: in virtue of the influence of his metaphysical and epistemological ideas. The chain of influence can certainly be unstated and indirect; the basic ideas is that without a rational worldview provided by metaphysics and epistemology, you won't get an intellectual context in which people develop theories of natural rights. The modern concepts of natural rights would have their influence from Aristotle with Thomistic philosophy as a transmission line -- e.g., developments in theories about natural law. It's a mistake to treat mixed cases like Locke, Hume or Hobbes as intellectual progenitors of modern theories of individual rights; they just happened to bring together and formalize knowledge made available to them within an Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophical context -- as applied to politics.

That's why you'll see little new in Rand's politics -- it's pretty much knowledge already formalized in the days of Locke or the Founding Fathers. But because these other guys are mixed cases, and a fully consistent and explicit formulation of the tie between metaphysics and politics hadn't been established, Rand had to do some cleaning up at the higher-up levels, clearing away the Platonist remnants of an Aristotelian worldview, clearing away the subjectivist and Hobbesian notions associated with egoism, etc. But it's still fundamentally within the framework established by Aristotle, in contrast with Plato and Kant. His views on slavery mean nothing in this context. Same for Aristotle's physical theories, as much in contrast to modern scientific theories that they may be. His influence isn't as a scientific thinker, anyway. His influence is a secular, this-worldly philosopher.

Phil

TRowland's picture

I'll be glad to come out and play some more, if you can name the person or persons whose argument I'm twisting and why you think it's him, her or them.

Quotes of the Day

Fred Weiss's picture

"If the Eskimos of Greenland (had or) hadn't been lactose intolerant.." - Ted the Genius

"It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt." - Mark Twain

Once a Platonist, Never an Aristotle?

Ted Keer's picture

I find the entire issue of claiming that philosophy "determines" history fraught with pitfalls. Brute natural contingency at all scales such as the storms that wrecked the Spanish and Chinese Armadas, the ice ages, and the Chicxulub Impactor will for the foreseeable aeons remain outside direct human control. Relatively static geographical, ecological, and mineralogical factors, such as the poverty of inland waterways in most of Africa and Australia, the lack of horses in the pre-Columbian Americas, and the presence of petroleum under the Arabian peninsula are all brute and bothersome facts.

Then we have the question if humans are truly free agents, or are "determined" by philosophy. I think that this is the point that Tracinski wishes to make; that even those who have never read Rand or von Mises can chose at all levels of society to follow or abandon ideologies.

Certainly one can argue that in comparison to any other voluntary intellectual pursuit of academics, philosophy is the most "explanatorily potent" and hence most epistemologically essential attribute of a culture or cultural trend, and the one which should be our strongest hint as to how present societies may evolve and parallel the evolution of past societies. But making strong prognostications and even categorical pontifications such as the prediction that crypto-christianist neo-cons will, like Putin is doing as we sit silent, overthrow their own free societies, is a bit overblown. One's rhetoric shouldn't undercut ones goals, if one wishes to effect change, rather than have the partial satisfaction of post-facto Schadenfreude with its bitter aftertaste.

Who truly has been more influential, Alan Greenspan, Milton Friedman, Ben Wattenberg, or Leonard Peikoff?

If the Eskimos of Greenland hadn't been lactose intolerant, and interpreted the milk-offering to them by the Vikings to be poison, might we not live in a world where the Norse controlled greater Laurentia while China ruled the Pacific Coasts and Spaniards spoke Arabic?

Is there an experiment we can do to test any of this?

Biologists and social scientists so often fall into the nature versus nurture mode it should be identified as a legally protected medical disorder. Objectivists, one might presume, realize that choice - free will - is as fundamental a force as either. Otherwise, once a Platonist, never an Aristotle.

Historical determinism is a gentleman's game, as entertaining as polo. It is an hypothesis we can also likely do without.

Ted Keer, 29 November, 2006

The image is from www.prh.noaa.gov, a U.S. federal agency sued in New York by European plaintiffs for not having done something to prevent the effects of what is portrayed.

> Anyone who thinks that we

PhilipC's picture

> Anyone who thinks that we know that a philosophy works on a culture if and only if the majority of the population can explicitly quote Aristotle or Kant is a blooming idiot. [Tom R]

Jeez, talk about twisting people's arguments and erecting straw men to knock down!!!!!

Not a single post on this thread,
nor any of the four articles by RT,
nor anything I've ever seen written by any Objectivist intellectual ....

holds this idiotic position.

Orson

TRowland's picture

I can only concur with Fred. Anyone who thinks that we know that a philosophy works on a culture if and only if the majority of the population can explicitly quote Aristotle or Kant is a blooming idiot. And since we don't believe that and have argued rather at length that such a view is a straw man, my contrabution to whatever excuse Orson needs to continue herewith ends.

Tom

Jeff,

TRowland's picture

I'm really sorry to hear that, but concur that if the goal is for one of us to be convinced by the other it does seem hopeless.

Have you read the Time Magazine Article on America's Perception of God? I think that the Baylor University survey which they reference is much more on the right track as survey's go. The Time story is available at time.com's archives and the Baylor University survey results are at www.baylor.edu/isreligion/inde... Click on the picture of the report's cover for a pdf file.

More Strawmen

Fred Weiss's picture

Does it really need to be pointed out that men were logical before Aristotle formulated the principles of logic? Or that Objectivism does not maintain that every single good idea in Western civilization can be attributed to Aristotle? (Aristotle in fact held some flat-out terrible views - among his worst were in the area of political philosophy).

Apparently, no matter how many times I quote Peikoff - which I will now do again - or that Tom or I try to explain his meaning, either Orson or Phil or someone else will erect some strawman argument against it.

"Philosophy determines essentials, not details. If men act on certain
principles (and choose not to rethink them), the actors will reach the
end result logically inherent in those principles. Philosophy does
not, however, determine all the concrete forms a principle can take,
or the oscillations within a progression, or the time intervals among
its steps. Philosophy determines only the basic direction--and
outcome. [OPAR, pp. 451-452]"

Also, will someone care to explain to me wtf this means: "Objectivists seem to have a streak of didacticism that derides or neglects attention to metacontexts."?

P.S.: I have a question for the Objectivists - or the supposed Objectivists - in this group. If you don't believe that philosophy determines the basic direction and outcome of history, we're...ummm...wasting our time, aren't we? We might as well give up now, right?

Western progress and Aristotle? Or despite Aristotle?

Orson's picture

Objectivists seem to have a streak of didacticism that derides or neglects attention to metacontexts.

That's how I would summarize the following restatement of my last post, which I wrote only hours after later - but also after listening to the concluding lecture on Western Civilzation by Thomas F. X. Nobles of Notre Dame University.

His point, below, amplifies Phil's fire metaphor "for historical causation," and sets our admired Aristotle in the larger context of Western Civlization's unique secular drive. (I hope I'm not abusing your point here, Phil.) We want to attribute everything fine and noble about the West to the A-man. But really this runs straight back to Greek civilization and the pre-Socratic philosophers. In other words, well before the Great Aristotle. The Greeks gave us Aristotle, not the other weay around.

Noble, who gives the Teaching Company's lectures on "The Foundations of Western Civilization," concludes his course this way: "Western civilization has been one long test of ingenuity in the face of the natural world." For example, the Egyptians harnessed the Nile, and Mesopotamians tamed the desert; over millennia the peoples of the Mediterranean used the sea for food, transmitting ideas and overcame the challenge of transportation; and finally, the challenge and response of history meant circumnavigating the globe, transplanting western ideas to almost every corner of the world. These are unique achievements of the West.

RT’s fourth installment, in “The Metaphysics of [modern] ‘Normal Life,’” argues that there are three institutions progressively transforming the world, which I argue (from Noble above) derive from the pre-Socratic quest of the West. Thus, science and technology, capitalism, and representative government are ongoing projects, successfully transplanted elsewhere. Hence, “The existence of a free society…has created a new global standard for what kind of life is metaphysically possible to man.” Only the first was indisputably sought by the Greeks – the others later evolved out of successive iterative attempts to “do better,” and indeed, to live better amongst ourselves. Who will deny that his is progress?

TRowland:
So, has Objectivism correctly identified the driving force in history when it says that history is driven by man's often implicit (i.e yet to be identified) answer to fundamental philosophical questions such as "can I know?" etc. these are the usual axiological questions Objectivists know. But what if, as Noble above argues, it is something even deeper, more primal and necessary in the Western - for the lack of a better term - soul? The Greek will to master nature, for instance? Other civilizations - Hindi, Chinese, ets - were content to go without this ambitious, visionary project.

To return directly to our argument between Fred, Phil, Jeff, TRowland, and me, when economic progress occurred during the Middle Ages, we can't credit Aristotle. It is a Western achievement, yes - but not because of Aristotle. Nor can Aristotle be credited with challenging and eliminating slavery in the West and most of the world. The first middle class nation, the Dutch were comfortable with slavery, just as Aristotle was. Abolitionism began at the insistence of Quakers in England. From there it grew at the moral insistence of Christians.

This great political change occurred because of the doctrine of the equality of all souls in God's eyes - a logical extension of the natural rights tradition, but achieved through another Christian doctrine, progressive revelation, ie, that later doctrine is improved doctrine. Atheists were too closeted and too few to lead or organize it. But would any of us change their achievement? Of course not.

If anyone simply looked at 20th century history alone, they would conclude that atheist states were abject failures. "Maybe we’d better try religious state instead?" they might ask. Which Salafist's do.

Such arguments based on facts are much more convoluted than we wish they were – whether we mean atheism or Aristotle or progress. But Objectivists like LP get the sources of progress wrong, sometimes - as well as its strength. It was no "essentially" because of him that we share of foist science, capitalism, and free government in the world.

What's the Argument Here?

Jon Trager's picture

Phil: "Philosophical fundamentals -- whether explicit or implicit, whether explicitly philosophically stated or as "common sense" or conventional folk wisdom -- are the *most powerful* forces in history...but not the only ones."

Exactly how is this any different from Leonard Peikoff's stated view? First, LP doesn't claim that basic philsophical premises are the *only* cause of historical trends; he claims that philosphical premises are the *root* cause of history, a belief that Ayn Rand also expressed repeatedly. Second, he doesn't claim that *every* historical event is the result of philosophy; he claims that a culture's historical *trajectory* is the result of philosophy. So what's the conflict here, if any?

Jeff

Fred Weiss's picture

"...sometimes you don't need a philosophic genius to have figured out X. It's quite possible, in fact common, that a 'common sense' individual will figure it out all on their own - by looking at reality."

It depends what you are referring to by "X" and what you mean by "figure it out all on their own". Figure what out?

"Yes, no doubt the ideas of Aristotle and others made it possible. But those have (a) long been absorbed by American culture,.."

Have they? Then why does 90% of the population believe in God?

"(b) in some cases can be re-discovered independently because they are "just common sense, after all."

What's "common sense"? Aristotelianism? If that were true most of history and most parts of the world would be governed by it. But that's clearly not the case. In fact it's been the rare exception. Either that or "common sense" is harder for men to achieve than you realize.

Stopping here

Jeff Perren's picture

Tom,

I see little possibility that you and I will come to any sort of common ground other than that we already share. You are both so literal minded (not seeing that my choice of sandwich example was a deliberate exaggeration for the purpose of reductio ad absurdum) and so abstract (constantly invoking very broad philosophical ideas and not grappling with the every day, i.e. never citing a study or quoting a news story, etc) that I see little hope of continuing the conversation in a productive way.

I hasten to add that it's not my goal to insult you or suggest you should think differently. I just see our approaches as so different that I evaluate that it isn't worth the effort for me to be clearer here and now.

I'll agree to disagree and wish you well.

Jeff

Phil

TRowland's picture

Your reply alludes to "optional values" in the choice between cheeseburger and grilled ham for lunch. These values are identified as optional precisely because they have no individual or historically significant outcomes beyond my taste in the matter. If they do have such an outcome -- if, for instance, eating a peanut butter sandwich could kill you -- then your attitude toward your doctors evidence and reason (i.e. your fundamental philosophy) has everything to do with what you do. If you believe in miracles or you wait for God's (or the State Science Institute's) guidance or choose to disreguard the evidence and take your chances, your philosophy has driven your action. The same applies if you decide against eating a peanut butter sandwich under those circumstances.

So "optional values" don't contradict Peikoff's comment about concretes. What IS Peikoff talking about? He's saying implicit or explicit irrational values lead to disaterous results no matter when or where or how they manifest themselves. If you believe that faith is a legitimate avenue to knowledge it is, as Ayn Rand put it, "dueces wild."

Your analogy to physics and the common cold fails because of the specificity of the sciences and the generality of philosophy which covers the philosophical foundations of both, everywhere and at all times. (For a brilliant demonstration of the interaction of philosophy and physics I strongly recommend David Harriman's recent articles in The Objective Standard.)

All of which is why, as I am fond of pointing out to Julie, "common sense" is not enough for philosophical identification, or for driving history. Julie, after all, doesn't "figure these things out on her own" Rather she has the brains to assent to them when they are identified, finding them readily integratable with what she already believes. It is to that extent that we do live in a culture that retains some remnent of respect for reason. But if Julie lived in the Dark Ages she would not have such a respect for reason and reason would not be part of "common sense." Were I to come upon the writings in the tunnel as Prometheus does in Anthem, Julie might very well, and certainly the Council would, laugh at or forbid me to express my excitement at what the ancients say. That's the point of my comment about Aquinas being a church father.

So that's the level at which philosophy influences a culture. Is that what RT is arguing against? If not, what is he arguing against other than a straw man? What, in short, is the beef?

And I certainly don't see that my viewpoint taken to its logical conclusion has anything to do with optional values.

World In a Grain of Sand

Jeff Perren's picture

"So, why would anyone want to deny the truth of philosophy's inescapable driving influence on history?" Tom

I don't think anyone is, including Tracinski.

But your viewpoint, carried to it's logical conclusion sometimes suggests that if I choose to have a cheesburger today for lunch, rather than a grilled ham and turkey that fundamental philosophical ideas are driving my choice.

That would contradict the part of Peikoff's quote that says philosophy doesn't determine the concretes, form, etc.

By analogy (a physics one again, which I believe are illuminating if not taken too literally), the fundamental laws of physics are operative everywhere and at all times. But if you want to find out why you have a cold -- and more importantly, what to do about it today -- you don't invoke Quantum Mechanics.

Your wife sounds like an illustration of Tracinski's thesis: sometimes you don't need a philosophic genius to have figured out X. It's quite possible, in fact common, that a 'common sense' individual will figure it out all on their own - by looking at reality.

Yes, no doubt the ideas of Aristotle and others made it possible. But those have (a) long been absorbed by American culture, (b) in some cases can be re-discovered independently because they are "just common sense, after all."

Phil,

TRowland's picture

While much of what you say is historically accurate, does it do the job you want it to do? That's what Fred was pointing to in his quote's from HBL.

Here's my (I think Fred's as well) problem with your fire metaphor. I'm not sure what it is that you mean fire to stand for. Is it "the spread of implicit or explicit philosophical ideas through the culture?" If so -- and that is the way I took it -- then what are kindling and oxygen? You mention anarchy, a dictator, some historical circumstances, and volition and claim that these are "outside-of-philosophy." But how is this so??? Are not these the product of the thoughts, ideas, attitudes of a culture? What, for example, do you mean by 'anarchy?' What do you think gives rise to a dictator? Why would he suppress thought and innovation? The same progression that I outlined in response to the idea that LPs position was a deduction applies here as well. First one has all the things that stand in the way of achievement, then one asks what they have in common, then one sees that they are all failures to use or efforts to deny the use of reason, then one concludes that it is a culture's attitudes with regard to the nature and use of reason that drives the events of history.

As AR has said, identified or not, explicit or not, philosophy is inescapable. The question is, why would anyone deny that? When I exclaim over the genius it took for someone to solve some problem in formal philosophy using the principles identified by Objectivism, my wife often says, "that's just common sense." So, why would anyone want to deny the truth of philosophy's inescapable driving influence on history? Seems like "common sense" to me.

Jeff

Fred Weiss's picture

It succinctly demolishes all 3 of his major points, identifying them all as strawmen.

If he wants to still discuss these major points or any other which he thinks is unaddressed - I'd be happy to. If he doesn't, that's fine, too.

Only when dealing with a

PhilipC's picture

Only when dealing with a thoughtful individual and post.

I put a lot of thought and effort into that post and don't have more to expend on those who refuse to deal with it on that level.

Phil, Do Better

Jeff Perren's picture

Phil,

You need to respond with more than "re-read my post carefully."

Fred, you haven't absorbed

PhilipC's picture

Fred, you haven't absorbed all of my post if you are quoting LP or HB against it in this manner.

Putting the match to Phil's strawman

Fred Weiss's picture

Take Phil's analogy to fire and put it under his strawman and what do you get? Puff.

Let me start by quoting Peikoff as Harry does in his critiques of Rob's essay:

"Philosophy determines essentials, not details. If men act on certain
principles (and choose not to rethink them), the actors will reach the
end result logically inherent in those principles. Philosophy does
not, however, determine all the concrete forms a principle can take,
or the oscillations within a progression, or the time intervals among
its steps. Philosophy determines only the basic direction--and
outcome. [OPAR, pp. 451-452]"

Harry then adds:

"Note how precisely and thoroughly Dr. Peikoff writes this section,
explicitly denying in sections Rob did *not* quote, the notion that
the philosophic view of history is: a) deterministic, b) precludes
"oscillations within a progression," or c) dictates the form, details,
and concretes. It's almost as if Dr. Peikoff had foreseen Rob's
straw man in advance, and wrote to preclude it." HBL 11/19/06

But a smoke is a smoke. And

PhilipC's picture

But a smoke is a smoke. And a fire is a fire. Smiling

Good analogy

Jeff Perren's picture

I suspect those who disagree are 'seeing the world in a grain of sand'. I.e. they see some concrete event and interpret it in light of the most fundamental philosophical ideas in epistemology. Sometimes, that approach leads one to give too little weight to much less fundamental ideas and other concretes.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Three Factors in Historical Causation

PhilipC's picture

Orson, Tom, and others:

It's important to be clear about the sense in which I (along with most Objectivists) would argue that philosophy "drives" history.

1. The level or form of philosophy: It is not necessarily (or exclusively) "high philosophy" or academic or even the major philosophers in history that are driving things. Aristotle did not drive history in his own time and neither did Plato...Plato had to wait for Christianity and Aristotle for the Renaissance. Men can ignore or not grasp fundamental philosophers and cultures can postpone their absorption or impact. Tom put Rand's and Peikoff's point well in one of his recent posts: "[People] have implicit or explicit answers to the fundamental philosophical questions of "can I know?" "can I be sure?" "is the world knowable?" "what is the nature of man?" "what should I do?" The men of the Dark Ages or in China or in prehistoric times who invented things from fire to printing to the plow to the waterwheel to crop rotation may have been barbarian in many ways or pre-literate or pre-formal philosophy, but they had certain implicit attitudes on those fundamental questions which at least did not veto or discourage them from inventing, seeking to know, making changes. And the priests and theologians and rulers and aristocrats around them did not have fundamental premises (or power or the will) which led them to actively or successfully suppress progress of this kind (as opposed to, say, the Ming Emperor in China and the medieval other-worldly or anti-reason turn in Islamic thinking represented by their leading philosopher, Al-Ghazali).

2. Other causal factors exist: The metaphor I like for historical causation is fire. To have one start (and then spread) you need more than a match being lit. You need kindling and you need oxygen. Fire requires a proper medium or environment, not merely a 'spark' or a push or a motive force. Else it dies. If a single power or dictator ruled medieval Europe, secular or papal, he could have suppressed innovation, regardless of proper fundamental ideas spurring invention, just as if one douses a fire or puts a lid over it cutting off oxygen. Anarchy can be similarly a poor 'medium' or environment. In fact, it wasn't until the centuries-long disruptive outside invasions ceased -- after the initial overrunning of the Roman Empire, after the Mongols were stopped, after the muslim invasions' northern (and western) advances were halted, after the Viking raids stopped -- that there was point or incentive for (or the possibility of the peaceful spread of knowledge or trading of) technological/agricultural advances and their economic products. (So, just as one example, you can't deny the causal importance of the outside-of-philosophy environmental factors of dictatorial suppression or intimidation, of war, of chaos.)

These are factors other than fundamental philosophical ideas which, allied with or not opposed by those fundamental ideas, cause historical events. In the same way that the multiple factors of heat, kindling, and oxygen must all be there for combustion. These factors are not 'reducible' to philosophy, even though man is a thinking animal and fundamental ideas can influence them.

3. Volition: Philosophical causation is not deterministic, but depends on willingness to -let- it be a cause (I elaborated a bit on this in a previous post and some of it is implicit above). Men have free will. No matter how respected or popular or fundament or unanswerable the ideas of a Plato, a Kant, an Aristotle, a Rand, men choose to ignore or reject or be unaware (or misintegrate or dis-integrate). The Greeks are an example of a people whose pro-reason world view seems to have been wholly original. Previous philosophies and fundamental worldviews did not determine how they chose to think. The first real philosopher was Thales. His ideas were not determined by the chaotic, animist, irrationalist, anti-naturalist metaphysics or all the millennia before him. And Aristotle was not a causally determined, will-less 'product' of previous philosophers. He, not Athena, sprang full-grown in battle armor from the earth. Utterly original, philosophically "self-made". So: both individuals and entire people's can accept or reject the deepest, most pervasive, most fundamental ideas that are "in the air" around them. If the ideas are deep-seated, it just becomes much, much harder because they operate so subtly and on so many different levels and through so many institutions. (And because masses of people have both inertia of motion and inertia of rest with regard to entrenched attitudes and premises.)

My conclusion, based on 1-3 above:

Philosophical fundamentals -- whether explicit or implicit, whether explicitly philosophically stated or as "common sense" or conventional folk wisdom -- are the *most powerful* forces in history...but not the only ones.

[Note: This post and the three points I've made are speaking for myself. I don't know which if any Objectivists would agree with my detailed analysis above, although Objectivist intellectuals generally presumably all share the --loosely stated-- idea that philosophy, more than any other single factor, drives history in the long run.]

Orson,

TRowland's picture

In answer to your question, "Yes you are wrong here."

No one can and LP didn't deduce anything from the course of history. History provides the evidence for an inductive generalization about the achievements of people in answer to the question "what makes achievement possible?" The recognition of the individual was such an inductive generalization as well. First you have the achievements, then you have the general principles of reason and individualism, then you have the warning that anything that denies those principles at a fundamental level (faith and collectivism) has to be stopped, then you have the specific identification of a trend in the direction of faith, and a specific course of action to stop the trend at the political level. Once you've correctly integrated the evidence of history any disagreement about what course of action to take is over the significance of the current evidence.

So, has Objectivism correctly identified the driving force in history when it says that history is driven by man's often implicit (i.e yet to be identified) answer to fundamental philosophical questions such as "can I know?" etc.

That's the first question you need to be clear about.

Fred W./Orson

TRowland's picture

Somewhere -- I'm sorry I can't provide a reference and it's pretty obvious anyway -- I remember AR or LP remarking that mankind could not have survived at all on a straight dose of irrationality -- that some element of reason, however small, is "what went right" to keep mankind from disappearing from the planet. That Christianity was the transmitter of some remnent (in it's attitude toward individual salvation and the priesthood of the believer) doesn't change it's fundamental antagonism to reason. Nor does the fact that it gave us Thomas Aquinas. If Thomas hadn't been associated with the Church of Rome he would have been an unheard voice crying in the wilderness. And this, too, doesn't change the fundamental antagonism between faith and reason.

Show me the fundamentals! That's the philosophical medium of exchange in history.

Jeff

TRowland's picture

Hope you'll follow up on this, 'cause my first reaction is "huh?"

My wife teaches students with learning disabilities. She got a degree from a university in the area that is highly regarded as a teacher of teachers. Somebody or some group used some set of standards to acredidate the school. They either developed their own standards or they learned them from others. The people who developed the standards, are they not leaders of the culture?

Someone, somewhere, learned and/or developed an answer to the question "is knowledge possible?" and taught that answer to someone who taught that answer to ...my wife and many others. The person who developed that answer, was he/she not a leader of the culture?

Every author of popular children's books -- let's contrast Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) and J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) -- has an implicit view of the benevolence or malevolance of the universe which they developed or learned and which they transmit to hundreds of thousands of children and their parents. Are they not leaders of the culture?

Is not ARI, through its educational programs, appearances on Television, op-eds, essay contests, book donations, and web site attempting to lead the culture? Are not the Christian Coalition, The Ford Foundation, The Gates Fund, National Public Radio, Greenpeace, The Republican Party, The Democratic Party, and so on, ad infinitum, making an effort to shape the culture? Are not the people who lead these organizations, who decide where they are going, what projects they are undertaking or funding, formulating their mission statements all leading the culture?

Hense my "huh?"

And do not all of these people have implicit or explicit answers to the fundamental philosopical questions of "can I know?" "can I be sure?" "is the world knowable?" "what is the nature of man?" "what should I do?"

Hense the Objectivist view that the answers to these fundamental philosophical questions are what drive men's choices and thus history.

Hense my "huh?"

Orson/Phil

Fred Weiss's picture

Orson may well be right that elements in Christianity, particularly as it manifested in N. Europe via Protestantism, were significant factors in the emergence of the Western ideas of rights. I think his distinction between the Protestant north and the Catholic south in this respect is also important. One can see this difference very clearly in the different political/economic development of N. vs. S. America.

Christianity presents an interesting dichotomy in this respect. On the one hand its most basic premises and themes are thoroughly inimical and incompatable with freedom and capitalism. Yet at the same time it is from a Christian cultural base that they both emerged, where they did not from other religions.

I think that the added Greek element was essential, i.e. that without it we would not have developed these ideas. But whether and to what extent Christianity played a positive role is a valid open question. So certainly to that extent I agree with Orson.

But if he is right, that explains the positive developments (however relatively modest in comparison to what is to come later) of e.g. the plow, the yoke, etc. and the other inventions of the "Dark Ages". Or in other words that the age was not unremittingly dark. But do keep in mind that other cultures were also developing, even moreso than Europe, e.g. China, and they went absolutely nowhere with it. It has been observed that China had brilliant technology but never grasped the concept of science. Well, neither did the West until the 16th-17th Centuries. One would have a hard time attributing that development to Christianity.

I have no other great insights at the moment but I hope others of you continue the discussion.

further points of debate....

Orson's picture

In reply to the thoughtful Fred:

While the Italian Renaissance went back to classical sources, the Northern Renaissance went back to the New Testament and early church fathers for guidance. The later result was the Protestant Reformation, which gave us their doctrine of the "priesthood of all Believers", venerating a literate culture of The Book, in contrast to the Catholic one which was beholden to visual awe and mystery in the Mass.

Despite shrouding ultimate Truth about God in mystery, Protestants flatened the previous ruling hierarchy of the Church and empowered the laity to commune directly with God, instead of access mediated through the priestly class. Through the creation of their own religious orders, people gained direct democratic experience and the independent knowledge to inform secular practices. Thus, contrary to Fred's claim that secular natural rights arose despite Christianity, it was self-empowerment and the "sapere oude" ("dare to know" or "dare to be wise" from the New Testament) amibitions unleashed by the Protestant Reformation that allowed individualism to flourish, ultimately seeking out the natural world around us to test its power, resulting in science.

These proto-Enlightenment values are yet to fully appear in Islam. Or rather, the Medieval doctrine of Ijtiahad, ie, the doctrine of judging the Koran according to the Lights of Reason, was deliberately extinguished there in the 14th century. Islam is in dire need of the revival of Ijtihad in order to combat the Death Cult of Jihahadism and Martyrdom within Islam today.

It is true, as Fred notes, that the schisms of Protestant Chrisitanity furthered this splintering of thought, practice, and power in politics. When authority is divided, individualism - where sanctioined as through Protestant values - will exploit it. If it occured because of Aristotle, then Catholic countries like Spain would have emerged as Capitalist powers instead of through rebellious Calvinist Dutch Republic and later Protestant Great Britain. But the "competitive process institutions" of science, the market, and democracy only emerged eventually through continual trial and error, after individualism was sanctioned. Bacon, for instance, believed only the state could support science. And aristocratic hierarchy in rule was only eventually smashed by the idealism of the French and American revolutions. These radical alternatives solved the weakness of the Monarchist state - and, in part, its achilles heel: the problem of succession.

It is here with the problem of political (and religious succession) that Islam is still mired. The very basis of the Sunni/Shia schism is "who succeeds Muhammid?" They arrived at different answers, and as we see in Iraq, it remains a fundamental political problem in governing the Umma.

SO MUCH has been settled in the West over many centuries through the course of practical experience - not rationally. Or rather, we see the validity of a rationalization more clearly in retrospect than was seen in prospect. We too easily forget what mountains of blood our peaceful civil society economizes on, and the many centuries of discord our process-oriented institutions truncate. We accept the disaapointments and frustrations of popular rule because we value the peaceful life much more than Muslims do.

Phillip's subtle points, again, force me to re-read and redigest RT's argument.

What the debate over Tracinski is about is not whether philosophy determines history but whether the anti-Aristotelian strains [which have been dominant and spread downward from the academy (and the pulpit and the podium) for three hundred years since, say, Descartes] are currently driving history. He's asking the question why, if that were the case, if that were the -only- major philosophical influence, civilization didn't collapse instead of rebound after World War II and with the final defeat of the Soviet Union and with the topplinig of dictatorships. Indeed, he falsifies the Orthodox Objectivist view.

He elaborates upon points familiar to Objectivists, ie, Platonism versus Aristotelianism. My disagreement with RT is perhaps over where Arisitotle has and has not been credited - or even (a heresy, I know) can't be credited with pioneering the path of progress.

For example, the labor theory of value in Adam Smith and the English tradition of economics is credited to Aristotle. At the same time, Austrians have plumbed the School of Salamaca (Spain), for equating the "just price" with the spontaneously ordered market price - also credited to Aristotle but via Aquinas! Thus, the early modern sources of correct modern values (marginal value) and institutions (individualism and democracy) is still in dispute. Our chain of intellectual historical descent is incomplete and is still being debated, as I thinking RT reminds us. And thus Fred and I still argue about it!

As for the Objectivist view of history Phillip summarized in the title of his latest post here in "Philosophy *Does* Determine History--If You Grasp How it Works" - I simply have to ask: technology of farming improved through the Middle Ages - the plow, crop rotation, the yoke for oxen, the stirup for horse riding. Agricultural output therefore improved because of these technological innovations. It did so without the transmission of any explicit philosophy to guide it (eg, the stirup was an adaptation from the Mongols).

On the one hand, this appears to contradict the Objectivist thesis of essentialism in history, ie, progress or decline follows from explicit philosophy. On the other hand, if one agrees that institutions embody knowledge and experience, then even without a money economy, property-based exchange with feudal protection rewarded these productive innovations, and then the notion is saved. But it is done so only at the price of admitting that the role of ideas over time often transmits very indirectly. Very subtly. To me, this was more RTs point.

Piekoff wants to draw strong deductive inferences from the course of history (and therefore makes alarmist projections about the future), while RT admits the power of much weaker forces - indeed, more fundamental - but resulting in more pervasive achievements over time through the common man. Our civilizational base deepens, a fact that Piekoff is loath to admit, if he does at all). He fails to learn from failed prognostications, but RT wishes to see that corrected and our understanding of past and real progress enhanced.

The New Insititutional Economics of Nobel laureate Douglass North and many others, captures the achievements of people before the importance of the individual was recognized and since, yet does so without the ideological and value-laden baggage of Marxist "from the bottom up" social history. In a general sense, THIS is what I see RT incorporating into the Objectivist view of hitsory. His criticism is thus a correction to LP's more rationalistic Orthodox views.

Am I wrong here?

Philosophy *Does* Determine History--If You Grasp How it Works

PhilipC's picture

> They can and do live in a practical, everyday Aristotelian world of their professions and friends and families...and roll their eyes and shut their minds when they hear some Kantian or relativist or anti-common sense position advocated. [Me]

> technical degrees: evidence, basic logic, a little of Popper's "trial and error" scientific testing. But mostly respect for facts. This results in a huge cadre immunized against the siren song of speculative High Philosophy...a core rationality is systematically transmitted and embraced. [Orson]

Orson, thanks for the intellectual support. But I wouldn't want to overstate the above--and I would reword my too poorly phrased statement that 'philosophy has become discredited' as follows: There are two deep, under the surface, factors operating now and they are *both philosophical* (so, in that sense, philosophy is determinative and moves history). The remnants of the Renaissance-to-Enlightenment-to-Scientific Revolution-to Industrial Revolution enthusiastic rediscovery of Aristotle and the Greek pro-reason worldview or axis. And the Platonic-Kantian-nihilist-pragmatist-faith axis. [Why religion fits here would be the subject of another post.]

What the debate over Tracinski is about is not whether philosophy determines history but whether the anti-Aristotelian strains [which have been dominant and spread downward from the academy (and the pulpit and the podium) for three hundred years since, say, Descartes] are currently driving history. He's asking the question why, if that were the case, if that were the -only- major philosophical influence, civilization didn't collapse instead of rebound after World War II and with the final defeat of the Soviet Union and with the topplinig of dictatorships.

If I were to put what I take to be or to be allied with RT's counter-thesis in my own words, what we have is not a battle between philosophical ideas determining history today and non-philosophical "practical" ideas, but a battle between two philosophies as implemented and as grasped by the culture:

The fact that Aristotelianism, while never fully rediscovered or made consistent, was never defeated or replaced across the culture by "High Philosophy" or academic philosophy from Descartes thru Kant thru the postmodernists means that Aristotelianism is still alive and well and determing the course of events. It is not doing this self-consciously or through the academy. It is doing this largely in all the ways that RT described in his essays and I described in my posts.

Philosophy can be implicit (and bred in people's bones across generations in ways people don't even have the words for) as well as explicit. People pursuing material success, focusing on this world, getting technical degrees, being 'practical' and 'commonsense', overthrowing dictators, laughing at "academic" philosophy and shrugging off Kant and the pomos are THE FORM THAT ARISTOTELIANISM TAKES.

Just as academic nonsense, Kant, existentialism, linguistic analysis, postmodernism, skepticism, and even Christianity are the forms that (for simplicity and at the risk of oversimplification) let's just call it PLATONISM (and the subjectivist reaction to it which I'll just lump under Platonism) takes.

In an enormously perceptive passage, Leonard Peikoff spoke of "the long war" between Plato and Aristotle down all the centuries, and one or the other setting the tone of every? era across two millenia. But today's era is one in which *neither is dominant* and ... far more important ... neither is *ascendant* (pushing history inexorably in its own direction).

That is the single key to understanding today's world. (And enabling Objectivism to fight and win in it.)

The Platonists hold the commanding heights and have weakened and made unsure and damaged the brains of the Aristotelian "men on the street" and in the sciences and business. But the Aristotelians in many ways simply ignore the Platonists and in some areas advance Aristotelianism even further:

i) the advance of the sciences and technologies--including biology, medicine, computers, transportation, communication;
ii) the advance of a market economy and of economic globalization;
iii) the hunger for greater freedom and self-determination and a prosperous self-interested life across the globe for oneself and one's loved ones.

Notes: RT's "institutions" and all the forces he spoke of in his essays are parts of the form Aristotelianism takes. And the "warring philosophies" part of the above discussion applies (or at least applies most strongly) to the West and to Western Civilization.

Orson Olson's Observations

Fred Weiss's picture

Orson makes some interesting observations but as usual it is embedded in mostly blather.

His best point contra my thesis is to proffer the oft heard argument for the *positive* influence of Christianity on Western political thought based on its doctrine of "the equality of all souls" in God's eyes, an idea which it has been suggested provided a basis for individual rights.

The question is why it took well over a millenia for this idea to lead in that positive direction? It's rather a leap from burning heretics at the stake to granting them the right to vote.

But as we know another idea entered the picture - not from Christianity but its opposite, the power of reason (via primarily Aristotle).

However, it can be asked why Christianity embraced it (or at least tried to reconcile with it) while Islam rejected it. An Aristotelian influenced Christianity went on to Renaissance while Islam went into a long decline. It's a valid question, assuming it has to be answered beyond merely thanking Thomas Aquinas for (inadvertently) subverting and sabotaging Christianity.

But whether there are or aren't ideas embedded in Christianity which are at least somewhat accomodating to more rational ideas, it is clear that it is certainly not Christianity which we should thank for our freedom - especially since (whatever those other accomodating ideas might be) its primary anti-reason epistemology and ethics of self-sacrifice are thoroughly inimical to freedom and capitalism.

Arguably, it wasn't Christianity itself but its divisive *schisms* which have been more of a factor leading to freedom. Even though they first led to vicious religious wars, they eventually resulted in the necessity of the separation of church and state. Of course other religions also had such schisms, but those not only didn't lead to freedom, they led to brutality. So again the question is raised why is the end result of Christianity more beneficent in this regard?

I am more of the view - simply as a matter of logic - that these positives are achieved more in spite of Christianity than because of it. But it's hard to prove conclusively and its an interesting topic of discussion.

As for the last half of Orson's comments where he approvingly quotes and supports some blather from Phil-ibluster which derives from absolutely the worst part of Tracinski's thesis, it is total nonsense.
The essence of this ridiculous thesis is that people have rejected philosophy in the name of "respect for facts". In addition we are told
that most people "never have heard of the mind-body dichotomy, skepticism, intrinsicism, and a whole host of other positions and debates". Uh, huh. And who ever said that they ever had to "have heard" of any of this to be nonetheless indirectly profoundly influenced by the prevailing views on these subjects. And, do tell, where do they get this idea of "respect for facts"? Do they have such "respect for facts" in the Mideast while they are devoting their lives to blowing themselves up? Or in Africa where they are constantly slaughtering each other?

Where does this "respect for facts" come from?

Let's all together now forget what we have learned from the history of philosophy.

Blech.

P.S.: I now note that while I was writing this Tom Rowland, not suprisingly of course, has made some of the same points - and far more brilliantly and eloquently than I have.

P.S.S.: And of course Harry Binswanger has also made essentially the same points in an essay basically demolishing the heart of Tracinski's thesis. But unless he chooses to post this somewhere, you'll have to be an HBL subscriber to read it. Ed Cline may also have but I've only skimmed that one and need to re-read it more carefully. But none of this should be difficult for *anyone who understands Objectivism* - again, if anyone is offended by that: tough shit.

Oh, and let me add, because we constantly hear Phil - Mr. "Let's All Get Along and Play Nice" - yapping about this. Read my lips, I really have no interest in "converting you" so I don't feel under any obligation to be nice to you. If you can't fucking think, what difference does it make anyway - and if you can think it won't make any difference to you whether I am nice to you or not, right?

Quick comment

Jeff Perren's picture

On my way out the door, but...

"culture's leaders" Tom.

This is a concept that may well be past its validity.

Jeff

But,

TRowland's picture

Isn't reason one of the "explicit philosophical ideas" that is left out of the list RT gives? He lists "scientific and technological education, global capitalism, and representative government." And he goes on to say that "people should learn a rational outlook on life through the details of a scientific and technological education." This, of course, is trivially true in the sense that Enlightenment, and any other, values are transmitted in a trickle-down fashion. But RT's very words presuppose that it is Enlightenment inspired science that is being transmitted, not alchemy. If Enlighenment Science has been corrupted by "explicit philosophical ideas" that won't support it, it will collapse. (see the articles by David Harriman in the Objective Standard). Like-wise for the other two factors on the list.

What RT is doing is arguing against the necessity of transmitting of "explicit philosophical ideas" while presupposing their existance and thus their prior transmission to someone in the culture. I call that the stolen concept fallacy. Anything else he may be arguing is a straw man. I know of no serious Objectivist who would claim that the population at large has to be aware of or accept Objectivism to create a culture of reason. But the culture's leaders do.

Some questions

TRowland's picture

1. How does the current state of the former USSR fit into this? It looks like it's going backward to me. Why? State run news = censorship? Failure to discover the epistemological pre-conditions
of a free society?

2. Marx always said that a pre-condition of any socialist system was a successful capitalist system. He understood that only capitalism could provide the productive capacity worthy of being looted. Could this be a better explanation of the relatively short term results in the countries cited?

3. The "shirt-sleeves-to-shirt-sleeves-in-three-generations" effect. This phrase has been used to identify the causal relationship between fundamental character traits (virtues) and the creation of wealth. It identifies the fact that unless the virtues that built the wealth are maintained into the generations that follow, the wealth will collapse. So if the freedom to use reason to guide action is a precondition of material success, doesn't the foundation of a commitment to reason have to exist for any success of the kind cited to be sustained? (See The God Of the Machine by Isabel Paterson)

Suggestions for a poll:

Question #1. Do you believe certainty is possible in any area of knowledge?

Question #2. If 'yes' what is the source of certainty? A. God B. Intuition C. Human Reason D. Other ____________

Tom

Reason's Power

Jeff Perren's picture

"Tracinski is on to more than just 'something,'" Orson Olsen.

As Branden observed in his very early Objectivism lectures, while discussing the loss of 75% of Aristotle's works to the flames in Alexandria, "A little reason goes a long way."

Jeff

Contra Fred on Chrisitanity - Pro Phillip on RT!

Orson's picture

Contrary to Fred, who's too giddy about the absence of Christianity, let's give credit where credit is due: MOST democratic countries are so in part because of the widely shared Christian doctrine of "the equality of all souls" in God's eyes. It shapes the natural rights tradition that underlays popular rule.

This fact first struck in me in late 1998, reading the Wall Street Journal's op-ed pages that fall, announcing the historic fact that for the first time in human history, a majority of all people were under self-rule. Nations without Christian influence and yet democratic are few: Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, India. Many others have significant Christian populations - nations like South Korea, Lebanon, and Israel. (Maybe even India - memory fails me here; please correct me if otherwise.)

The tragic inability of the Arab Muslim world, especially now in Iraq, to make this transition towards modernity is on abject display: Islam lacks any notion of this doctrine, and in fact is quite hostile to it. I recall a debate and discussion last winter by two mid-East authorities - Daniel Pipes and Ruel Marc Gerecht - on this very subject. Even they neglected the awesome peaceful power of this simple doctrine, one we all take for granted in the Anglo-American world, in forming and sustaining non-violent political transitions of power. Gerecht himself said that Shia Imams KNOW that the democracy they are birthing in Iraq is un-Koranic. Yet still they try.

Now, to extend a point made by Phillip:
"philosophy has become discredited"

"People may never have heard of the mind-body dichotomy, skepticism, intrinsicism, and a whole host of other positions and debates. They can drift, it is true, and be subject to random philosophical winds from past centuries. But they can also simply live with 'market-driven' substitutes for the philosophies taught in the academy. They can and do live in a practical, everyday Aristotelian world of their professions and friends and families...and roll their eyes and shut their minds when they hear some Kantian or relativist or anti-common sense position advocated."

"What we are seeing - and have seen for a good portion of the last century - is a rebellion against academic and fundamental philosophy. It is laughed at and loathed."

'HOW RIGHT Phillip is!' I thought on re-reading this thread. I used to know the ratio of technical degress (mostly in business, eltronics and computers science, and nursing) granted in the US, compared with Bachelor of Arts degrees (where philosophy is often studied in at least a little depth), but it is huge. Three to one? Five to one?

Consider the philosophical component in these technical degrees: evidence, basic logic, a little of Popper's "trial and error" scientific testing. But mostly respect for facts. This results in a huge cadre immunized against the siren song of speculative High Philosophy, such as that embraced in France. And therefore the largest and highest population of degree educated in the US can successfully ignore the pedantic shifts and silly debates of the philosophers. Meanwhile, a core rationality is systematically transmitted and embraced. Civilization thus ignores the dysfunctional, and rewards the functional core.

Need proof? How else has science fiction been sustained so long - some 60 years - most communally in the form of TV series like "Star Trek"? People do respond to economic incentives, and this has kept Silicon Valley re-inventing itself through three revolutions. The US economy declined relative to other industrialized nations (the 70s thru mid-80s), only to then rise and reinvent its econic base. This too is the height of rationality. Yet Objectivists don't see how this has happened! And what a great achievement it is, and therefore what it tells us about people and reason against High Culture.

Tracinski is on to more than just "something," and as Jeff Perren (and Linz before me) show. I read RT sloppily. I am moved to re-read his three essays (instead of just cutting to the Cline 'chase'). Thank you, everyone!

A Thought

Fred Weiss's picture

Thank you, Ronald, for posting that link to the latest installment of Rob Tracinski's series of articles. I'm finding them very interesting and thought provoking.

Here's a thought that just occured to me. Rob has been citing the general improvement in outlook in certain countries of the world, an improvement which has been accompanied by an increase in economic freedom. Note the countries most prominently mentioned and which represent the most profound examples, e.g, China, India, Vietnam and Eastern Europe. There is an interesting - to me - common denominator in all of these countries and one which just occured to me.

The relative absence of the influence of Christianity. Of course Christianity historically always had a profound influence in Eastern Europe. But that influence certainly waned significantly under communism and I rather suspect it has relatively little influence today among the most important movers and shakers in those countries.

(A possibly very important exception to my hypothesis is Ireland).

But note something interesting. One area of the world which seems to be spiralling rapidly *in the opposite direction* - Latin America - is a profoundly Catholic region of the world.

One other thought. The Linzinkis have repeatedly cited the long history of Christian influence in America, an influence which arguably was even greater in years past but which they claim has not led to theocracy.

Think again - and please keep in mind that socialism is nothing but secularized Christianity.

With that in mind don't therefore overlook the increasing regulation of the economy, the progressive income tax, the Social Security system, etc. Specifically remember that much of the most important regulation in this march toward socialism was introduced by *Republicans*, e.g. the Anti-trust laws, the FDA, the Federal Reserve, Nixon's "wage/price controls, and now GWB's prescription drug plan.

In other words don't look for the influence of Christianity just in the more superficial areas of social control, but also economic control.

Keep in mind that if Christianity is defeated, so is its key ethical component: altruism/self-sacrifice. And with that gone or seriously undermined, you can wave good-bye to socialism.

In other words the insidious influence of Christianity has effected not just our bedrooms but also our bank accounts - and it continues to do so unabated.

In that regard Christianity therefore has us firmly in its grip and appears to be seeking in every possible way both in our personal and economic lives to increase that grip.

P.S.: Someone might say, "Whoa, Weiss, if you think you're so schmart, then explain why the greatest examples of freedom and capitalism, e.g. the USA and England, occured in Christian countries". My response is: was that the influence of Christianity or the influence of *The Enlightenment*? And note how it all gradually unravelled as the Christian influence reinserted itself and how even the best defenders of capitalism were unable to stem the tide because they would not challenge their basic Christian premises which are totally incompatible with capitalism.

P.S.S.: Reality of course cannot be defeated. So we've seen how the perfect embodiment of Christian values - communism - imploded. Christians and their secular, socialist fellow-travellers don't yet know what to make of it. They're befuddled. What a great opportunity for new ideas to move in and explain what happened and to chart a new direction. Objectivism of course.

But who is our greatest obstacle in this undertaking? Is it the socialists grimly holding on to their last vestiges of hope against hope that they can still salvage something from the communist carnage? Or is it the Christians who oblivious to it all are marching forward to fill the gap and who will destroy everything in their path, just as they did the Roman Empire?

Part IV Published: "What Went Right?"

Ronald Barbour's picture

This link:

http://journalsmith.blogspot.c...

Robert raises some interesting points that sound impressive...I wish I could understand them all...Darn it! What did I do with all my books on Objectivist philosophy?

Pajama Epistemology defined

Jeff Perren's picture

Orson,

Tracinski explains his use of the term here:

"The name is my homage to my colleagues in the daily news business, the scrappy "bloggers" who were dismissed by the mainstream media as "a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing"—until they ended Dan Rather's career, in the months before the 2004 election, by showing that they were more in contact with the news than their larger, older rivals."
Bloggers praised

RT - why "pajama epistemology"?

Orson's picture

Why does RT use the term "pajama emistemology"?

My guess is that his latest installment on the Big Question he's broached is influenced by the disaggregated labors of many throughout the world only recently made visible via the internet. My guess it that he chose that title out of appreaciation of the alternative news and comment aggregator launched recently (last year?) as "Pajamas Media."

A group of blogging talents launched by some major English language bloggers - mostly based stateside like Glenn Reynolds of "Instapundit.com" in Tennessee - Pajamas Media chose the bathrobe as its symbol. Like many other important terms like "capitalism," the brand was based on a critic's dimminishing quip. Instead, they chose to wear the appelation proudly!

Perhaps RT means very little by it - but perhaps not. One Pajamas Media outlet carries RT's columns regularly - RealClearPolitics.Accordingly, there is a streak of humane and respectful humility about the immensity of the human endeavor in these three essays, much in contrast with the Cline's tautologically self-conscious chiding. Ideas ARE important, but they are neither paramount nor insurmountable so long as human self-interest survives to achieve it.

Several years ago I edited a close friend's second book. The effort gained my buddy tenure teaching history at a major American university. Since I'm efforting to eventually achieve a similar position myself, I'm very intrigued to follow RT's thesis as is develops - and see how it does (or does not) differ from ARI's lectures on the subject (for instance LP's "The Role of Philosophy and Psychology in History").

Bush typical regarding Christian God-talk....

Orson's picture

Near the top of this thread, Mike_m avers: "conclusions about Bush can't be arrived at from some deduction from Christianity. You have to look at his espoused world view and his actions and how he justifies those actions."

I thought The Economist laid this issue to rest at the end of 2005 by examining and comaparing Bush's public statements with those of other recent US presidents - but as LP proves, apparently not:

"Mr Bush is in fact in the mainstream of recent presidents. As Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Centre points out, Jimmy Carter taught Sunday school while president. Bill Clinton talked about Jesus more often than Mr Bush and has spoken in more churches than Mr Bush has had rubber-chicken dinners.

"Nor, in the American context, is the president's belief that God is involved in the world's affairs exactly ground-breaking. The last paragraph of the declaration of independence—no less—starts by appealing to the 'Supreme Judge of the world' and ends 'with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence' Both references in America's founding document are considerably more sectarian than Mr Bush's comment about God not being neutral between freedom and fear. They associate God with America's national interest; Mr Bush did not.

"In these two core beliefs, then, the president's religiosity does not seem out of the mainstream." SOURCE "George Bush and God: A hot line to heaven" Dec 16th 2004

Bush mostly invokes God-talk in relation to natural rights and freedom, as any non-atheistic proponent of the Enlightenment should. The Economist then goes on to examine Bush's God-talk in some detail, finding that it is not Bush himself that is out of line but rather certain of his followers - mostly the most religious of them.

But just as we ought not to be persuaded by Bush's more biased supporters, neither should we be persuaded by his partisan detractors. Apparently LP is yet to get this sensible message.

More Info

Jeff Perren's picture

Not to go tearing down heroes, but I also add that it was under Reagan's watch, and with his approval, that Ed Meese instituted his witch hunts against 'pornographers' like Hugh Hefner. And it wasn't all talk, either.

Ed Meese

Even with all that, I still think Reagan was a good guy and a good President.

They Don't Know They're Fired

Billy Beck's picture

Phil:"But if they are no longer respected (at least in America, other Western countries such as France and Germany may differ to some measure) because they have been preaching nonsense for a hundred years, if no one (or virtually no one) is listening, it doesn't matter how powerful and fundamental their pure philosophical ideas are.

What we are seeing - and have seen for a good portion of the last century - is a rebellion against academic and fundamental philosophy. It is laughed at and loathed. And to some extent, if an academic philosopher says something, even many prominent intellectuals are likely to not only be skeptical but believe the opposite. When something collapses and stinks to high heaven there is a tendency to rebound toward the opposite (which is one reason why religion - the best known alternative to pure or academic philosophy - and the less rational alternatives such as superstition, witchcraft, magic, cults, etc. are seeing a resurgence: from Islam worldwide to various fundamentalisms in the West)."

+1. That makes good sense to me.

Get this, from my correspondence with a professional philosopher:

"Somebody needs to do the conceptual stuff we philosophers do. It has fallen to philosophers to do it. What do you expect us to be, preachers? Moralizers? But we have no moral authority. Our expertise is in logic, not living."

I went over it with him here, and it's pretty rotten. One of the earliest really incisive illuminations that I took from Rand was "the abidcation of philosophy". Invective can only hardly rise to its task in this matter.

Lindsay: Good clip on "pajama epistemology". Thanx. Now, I need to go read that stuff.

Ronald Reagan vs. George W. Bush

Jon Trager's picture

Mike, have you ever heard of Ronald Reagan's tract Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation? It's as religiously inspired as anything George W. Bush has ever said or written. RR was the President who helped birth the Moral Majority and gave mystic leaders a prominent voice at the public policymaking table. People who openly criticize the idea of a separation between church and state (e.g., Bill Bennett and Alan Keyes), were appointed to high office by Reagan, and he also nominated Robert Bork for the Supreme Court. During his tenure, RR lead the "moral" crusade to fill federal prisons with people charged with victimless crimes. In fact, Ayn Rand was so appalled by Reagan's obsequious kowtowing to the Religious Right that she condemned anyone who voted for him--despite his strong anti-communism and campaign promises to abolish the Depts. of Energy and Education (which unfortunately never happened).

I don't understand how an Objectivist can logically infer from the relevant evidence that Ronald Reagan was much better regarding religion than George W. Bush is--though I understand an Objectivist inferring he's not much worse.

"What Went Right?"—The most exciting thing ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... I've read in a while. A salutary reminder that we must stay reality-grounded and not succumb to self-indulgent, morbid pessimism via a string of progressively detached deductions.

It's not surprising that Objectivists are having this kind of argument, given the mixed signals from Rand herself. On the one hand, compromise was never to be countenanced since only evil stood to gain from it; on the other, voting, for instance—the subject of the current controversy—was, legitimately, "choosing the lesser of two evils." Another gentle admonition that we're on our own and must each use our own judgement as conscientiously as we can. This is very instructive from Tracinski and I look forward to its completion.

On a personal level I especially enjoyed this part:


The name is my homage to my colleagues in the daily news business, the scrappy "bloggers" who were dismissed by the mainstream media as "a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing"—until they ended Dan Rather's career, in the months before the 2004 election, by showing that they were more in contact with the news than their larger, older rivals. They were more in touch with the news because they were interested in learning from new facts, rather than forcing the news into a preconceived leftist story line. That is the attitude I wanted to capture.

That is also what I admire about our culture's "working intellectuals," the reporters, commentators, and amateur bloggers, most of whom have no academic or institutional sinecures but instead sing for their supper every day by reporting on and analyzing the day's events. You know who these people are, because I link to their articles every day. Theirs is a career path with one healthy epistemological consequence: the work of these intellectuals is relentlessly fact-driven. Every day brings new events whose causes and consequences they have to explain. They are driven both to provide the "big picture" and to show a mastery of factual details.

Pajama epistemology begins with the realization that the world is full of six billion people who get up every morning to think and act and do things—that at least some of those six billion people will think new thoughts and do unexpected things—and that the job of intellectuals is not just to condescendingly "guide" these individuals, but also to follow them. As I have discovered, it is a full time job just to keep up with the most important things that the world's six billion people are doing, and to draw the new integrations and new conclusions that they have made possible.

The attitude behind pajama epistemology is to ask: what can I learn by observing what these people have done and said today?

It reminded me what a slog it was churning out daily editorials for talkback radio for the duration of my Politically Incorrect Show, having to take a new concrete from the real world every day and demonstrate that it was an instance of such-and-such from which we could learn so-and-so; how exhausting and underappreciated it was, especially by those who considered their isolation from the real world in an ivory tower, their distance from smelly particulars, a mark of their superior intellect! Current daily bloggers like Peter Cresswell (and, I venture to suspect, Diana herself) will no doubt appreciate Tracinski's tribute!

Linz

Causes of Cultural Movement other than Pure Philosophy

PhilipC's picture

Most Objectivists, unlike most modern historians, understand the hidden but deep power of "pure philosophy", of the major answers and arguments expressed by Aristotle, Plato, Kant, Descartes, Rousseau, Hobbes, Locke, Nietzsche, Hegel, Dewey, the analysts, the existentialists, the postmodernists and others. Even if not consciously or fully accepted, they condition the culture, set the tone, the premises, the types of debate and create (and man) the institutions.

And they have done this down the centuries.

But what happens when pure philosophy has become discredited, when it has reached a dead end? When it is bankrupt and is -seen- to be bankrupt by anyone intelligent? When it is laughed at, and its major figures no longer command public respect, unlike nearly a hundred years ago when John Dewey could write for major newspapers and have his pragmatist theories debated across an entire nation by the intellectuals and by educated laymen? What happens when the universities find it hard to fill their philosophy classrooms and when the "pure theory" professors are ignored, even largely by their own (dwindling and unemployable) students? "I have a degree in philosophy, Mr. employer." "Great, that and a couple bucks will get you a ride on the New York subway, not a job with me."

Philosophy is -potentially- powerful and determinative of the direction of a civilization and it has been in the past. And may be again.

But can philosophy, sometimes in unique historical eras, for a time lose, not its full power, but a **great measure** of its power to build (or to destroy, as in the case of nihilist, relativist, and skeptic philosophies of the last century or more)? Does the explanation for the non-collapse of civilization rest in the fact that humans have free will and no one who is himself enormously influential as a transmission belt is taking seriously the ideas of the most recent generations of philosophers?

Does the vacuum today get filled by those who offer actual answers to the problems of life: religious movements, self-help books, counselors and therapists, by the paterfamilia and elders in more traditional societies (or traditional enclaves of advanced societies)?

Humans have free will.

That is why pure philosophy -alone- does not and cannot deterministically cause history.

Objectivists, for example, have chosen to reject totally all the malign philsophical influences they have been taught. And many of us were impervious to these ideas or were "a-philosophical" before reading Ayn Rand. Human beings can -choose- by the millions to reject or ignore a deep and fundamental theoretical doctrine, or the need to study them. (Whole societies have at certain points in the past rebelled against the deep philosophical wisdom of the times.) People may never have heard of the mind-body dichotomy, skepticism, intrinsicism, and a whole host of other positions and debates. They can drift, it is true, and be subject to random philosophical winds from past centuries. But they can also simply live with "market-driven" substitutes for the philosophies taught in the academy. They can and do live in a practical, everyday Aristotelian world of their professions and friends and families...and roll their eyes and shut their minds when they hear some Kantian or relativist or anti-common sense position advocated.

There once was a time in the West when major philosophers were treated with awe and respect by the educated public of their day: Dewey in the U.S., Kant and Hegel and Heidegger in Germany, Locke and Hume and Hobbes in England, Rousseau and Descartes and Sartre and Camus in France. And this made them enormously influential, simply because they spoke for the Queen of the Sciences, they were occupying the intellectual "commanding heights" and their ideas trumped or determined *every other idea* that would be accepted.

But if they are no longer respected (at least in America, other Western countries such as France and Germany may differ to some measure) because they have been preaching nonsense for a hundred years, if no one (or virtually no one) is listening, it doesn't matter how powerful and fundamental their pure philosophical ideas are.

What we are seeing - and have seen for a good portion of the last century - is a rebellion against academic and fundamental philosophy. It is laughed at and loathed. And to some extent, if an academic philosopher says something, even many prominent intellectuals are likely to not only be skeptical but believe the opposite. When something collapses and stinks to high heaven there is a tendency to rebound toward the opposite (which is one reason why religion - the best known alternative to pure or academic philosophy - and the less rational alternatives such as superstition, witchcraft, magic, cults, etc. are seeing a resurgence: from Islam worldwide to various fundamentalisms in the West).

Your civilization can't be destroyed by those whose ideas you as a culture are to a significant degree unwilling to listen to or take seriously.

This is not true of religion right now (it is not the object of widespread ridicule), but it does seem to be true of fundamental philosophy.

The "Non-Collapse of Civilization"

Jason Quintana's picture

"The problem for Objectivists, unfortunately, is that our intellectuals, who ought to be in the best position to observe and explain this phenomenon, have generally not done a good job of recognizing the non-collapse of civilization. For the most part, they are still too busy worrying over the imminent collapse of civilization to notice, study, or explain the actual trends in the other direction." (Tracinski)

I just read these three pieces and I believe that Mr. Tracinski basically has it right. I want to read all six parts before I give him my endorsement, but I think in this quote (which is found in part 1) is an excellent description of the problem with Peikoff and his (non drone) loyalists. I'm not sure that Peikoff has ever tried to make the argument that we should "regard philosophers as the only source of knowledge, which is only propagated downward to the special sciences." (Part III) as Mr. Tracinski claims.

But arguments from him and others like Diana to the effect that "the guiding philosophy of the Republicans is Christianity, therefore if they are not stopped we will all be subjected to totalistic crushing oppression" imply a similar level of understanding on their part that the rest of us don't have. Along with a few sprinklings of cherry picked "evidence", their main line of argument centers around the idea that they (as philosophers) have found "the essentials", those key pieces of knowledge about society, which via philosophy they are able to integrate and then identify key trends.   Thus they are able to say things like : "In essence... Republicans stand for religion, particularly evangelical Christianity".  Since this "essential" has been found among the Republicans all one needs to do (according to them) is understand the philosophy of evangelical Christianity to make deductions about what Republicans will do.

After all they might say, Ayn Rand herself consistently identified such essentials and constantly made statements about how certain ideological trends can lead to a totalitarian society. The difference is that Ayn Rand (on top of possessing a much greater level of intelligence and intellectual clarity) experienced the contrasts between the communist Russia of her childhood and America during her life as an adult. Her identification of philosophical essentials like altruism, collectivism and mysticism was based upon her first hand identification of them in real life. I also think that she had the ability to see things from a broad perspective. Even at her most negative moment I don't get the impression that she viewed American society as a culture that is walking on a very thin tightrope, and is just one or two missteps away from plunging into totalitarianism. Contrast that with Leonard Peikoff, who on his website says the following, (in the context of a Q&A session) :

Q: I am writing to inquire about your sentiments on the current state of America and the world.

A (LP) : I now read only the front page of the New York Times, dropping each story when it is necessary to turn the page. That way, what is happening does not become too real to me.

It seems that Leonard Peikoff comes to the table with a "tightrope" view of American (and world) society and is totally focused on those "essentials" which he believes are the destroyers of civilization (to the point where he doesn't even want to open up a newspaper for fear of finding more).  Any positive trends he might see in the world are entirely missed, and his deductions (which are supposed to take a wide view of philosophy and history) are really based upon a very narrow understanding of what is happening out in the world.   He sees the world as a contrast between the perfect ideal and the dire, and when he doesn't see the ideal then he believes that the trend must be toward the dire.

 - Jason

Update

Jeff Perren's picture

I've modified the start of the thread to point to online versions of Parts 1, 2, and 3 posted by Mr. Tracinski himself.

Jeff

Rob Tracinski posted a note

Mike_M's picture

Rob Tracinski posted a note about his series here. He says there will be six installments, so I'm not going to say any more on the subject until all six are available.

- Mike

> I have no plans to read or

PhilipC's picture

> I have no plans to read or respond to any more of your posts. [Mike M]

At last some good news.

Don't let the door hit you on the butt on the way out.

> I don't know why Diana or Fred bothers responding to you at all.

Fred and Diana, could you please follow suit and simply ignore me? Please!! After all, you -know- I'm only looking for attention.

> I think we're seeing the

PhilipC's picture

> I think we're seeing the beginnings of one of the most important debates ever within Objectivism, and it most emphatically is not about personalities [Linz]

I agree (although I wouldn't limit it to being within Oism). Knowing how ideas spread and win, whether they be fundamental, theoretical, practical, 'secondary' or 'middle range' , specialized or from the special sciences is crucial to our success, both individually, careerwise, and as a movement that wants to change the world.

> I haven't seen the Tracinski articles in question...I'm certainly keen to see all the relevant material and make my own contribution.

Send me your email privately and I will email them to you today.

Jeff

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I haven't seen the Tracinski articles in question, but it's clear to me also that the rigid, rationalistic "If this, then that ..." view that we've seen reiterated by the Hsiekovians in the Great Election Debate has been found, well before this particular controversy, to be bereft of empirical vindication. And to lead to batty prognoses. I think we're seeing the beginnings of one of the most important debates ever within Objectivism, and it most emphatically is not about personalities, though undoubtedly they'll intrude. Smiling More than ever it's vital that folk focus on the issues (while developing a much thicker skin than has been evident here lately), and not toe party lines. I'm certainly keen to see all the relevant material and make my own contribution.

Linz

jeff good, phil bad

Mike_M's picture

Jeff,

If Bush hasn't read Simon, and he just got those ideas through cultural osmosis, that makes them even less important to his thinking. However, I do recall reading somewhere that Bush is actually familiar with the book.

Why is CC more important for evaluating Bush? Bush's policies have not been consistent with his (supposedly) good ideas. His major policy decisions have been consistent with the ideas of CC (I refer you to the Thomson article on this last point). It's like this: Bush consistently governs as a CC, and with a few exceptions what he does is justified with CC type explanations. On occasion he says something very good, like what you quoted. However as far as I know his "very goods" are vastly out numbered with CC-type things. So there are two points. One is sheer numbers; he does and says CC type things much more frequently. The other is the fundamentality and scope issue. CC is applicable across the board, while the Simon type things he says would be more limited to environmental and economic issues. CC is an encompassing way of governing while the Simon principle is much more narrow.

As to CC the book driving me from conservatism, that was a personal thing. At the time I was becoming disillusioned with what I took to be the superficiality or non-seriousness of conservatism. I started looking for deeper defenses of capitalism and freedom in general. I read the bible and decided Christianity was a dead end. Then I read CC. Right after CC I read The Federalist Papers. I decided that I wasn't interested in "common-sense" conservatism, and that philosophically defined conservatism as outlined in CC was a pathetic joke. This was all when I was 15 and 16, so my thinking wasn't as deep as it sounds. I didn't know what philosophy was at the time. So CC was a tipping point for me. I was more at home with The Federalist Papers and von Mises. 18 months later I started reading AR.

Phil:
Besides, wouldn't the topic of the role of philosophy in history be more intellectually interesting than who-said-what and did-he-correctly-quote-x? You don't find the summary I posted of Tracinski's essay at all intellectually interesting or worth discussing, regardless of who he is agreement with?

Phil did you read anything I wrote? Or anything Rob wrote? He is critiquing what he thinks is the standard Objectivist view. Well what is his evidence that this is the Objectivist view, standard or otherwise? Three lines from AR and a few more from LP don’t cut it. He doesn't come close to proving that anyone holds this view.

Second. I know what you're trying to do Phil. You are trying to paint me as more concerned with various personalities that I am with the ideas. You don't want to come out and say it, so you are trying to frame the conversation in such a way as to make me look like the bad guy, or the Randroid, or whatever.

Frankly, you suck at it.

When you do this, it is obvious. Just come out and say what you think. Don't try to manipulate me into saying something you can use as "evidence" of whatever it is you want to paint Diana's friends as this week.

Phil, I think you are a complete and total poser. I can count all the intelligent points you've made on both of my middle fingers. I don't know why Diana or Fred bothers responding to you at all. So I won't. I have no plans to read or respond to any more of your posts.

And on that note, I retire for the night.

- Mike

Phil's request

Jeff Perren's picture

Phil,

Clearly Tracinski is onto something I've been mulling over myself for a while, particularly in light of the recent predictions of about the rise of the influence of religion, theocracy, etc.

So many of the predictions made on the basis on one interpretation of Objectivism have simply not come to pass. Other events, which following that interpretation should not have occurred, have occurred.

There has been no Nazi-style dictatorship; in fact, we are further from that than we were 25 years ago. Communist China is almost a misnomer today. And, how did Dubai happen?

There's no question that ideas do move history. But how and how fast, and in conjunction with what else, and many related questions are up for grabs.

Why?

Jeff Perren's picture

"Bush's reliance on Simon is far outweighed by the entire book on Compassionate conservatism that he endorsed." Mike Mazza

Why? (By the way, I didn't say anything about Simon. Quite probably Bush has never read a book by him and whether he has ever been influenced by anyone who has is an open question.) He endorsed the book (CC) he didn't write it.

Why do you choose to put so much weight on that aspect of his views, but so little on others? Further, though I'm not endorsing conservatism, why would that one book drive you away when there are so many other competing flavors?

> thread...was started with

PhilipC's picture

> thread...was started with reference to Rob's articles and links to criticism

That's context or background, I thought, while the very first sentence of the thread names the topic: "What is the Objectivist view of the role of philosophy in history? Does it need modification?" As does the name of the thread: Philosophy and History.

Besides, wouldn't the topic of the role of philosophy in history be more intellectually interesting than who-said-what and did-he-correctly-quote-x? You don't find the summary I posted of Tracinski's essay at all intellectually interesting or worth discussing, regardless of who he is agreement with?

bush and compassionate conservatism

Mike_M's picture

Jeff,

Bush's reliance on Simon is far outweighed by the entire book on Compassionate conservatism that he endorsed. A book, mind you, that says explicilty that conservative principles of government are based on Christianity and Judaism. If you haven't read Compassionate Conservatism it is a must read for evaluating Bush. It is the book that drove me away from conservatism.

Re Ms and DIM. I think there is a problem with the M category of DIM. The division between M1 and M2 is too vague. Bush is clearly more of an M than Reagan, and more than any other president I know of. But classifying him as M2 puts him in league with communists and Mullahs. I'm not comfortable with that. I didn't to derail the conversation into another DIM thread. I only made the reference to highlight the fact that Peikoff disputes the idea that Bush is a regular mixed bag. I'll say that I agreewith Peikoff that Bush is a new (M) animal, but not how extreme an M he is.

Phil,
Why don't we discuss the topic of the thread, the role of philosophy on history, as opposed to getting sidetracked on whether his view (or his view of his view) is consonant with those of AR, LP, on anyone else?

(a) it's not off topic, since the thread was started with reference to Rob's articles and links to criticism of those articles.

(b) Rob is claiming that this view he is after is "the standard Objectivist position." Shouldn't we want to know what some ACTUAL OBJECTIVISTS have to say on the subject to see if it is anyone's position, let alone the "standard" position?

- Mike

Tracinski's First Three Parts - Essentializing

PhilipC's picture

Tracinski:

1. Raises a provocative question: When civilization, in the first half of the twentieth century, seemed to be heading rapidly toward collapse with all trend lines pointing downwards and with philosophy being an open sewer, why did that trend (at least in large part) reverse itself in the post-war thru collapse of communism, rise of the developing world (India, East Asia, etc.) period when philosophy -still- was and pretty much still is an open sewer?

2. He provides evidence for both of these trends (first half of twentieth century: war, nihilism, depressions, totalitarianism, etc. second half: defeat or slowing or reversing of many of these, rising prosperity and greater freedom globally).

3. He asks the question: why? If fundamental philosophy is -either- the sole of primary motor of history & it is still in the grip of post-Kantian, postmodern, nihilist, relativist, subjectivist ideas as not yet defeated or fully challenged, how can these changes be possible...and *what caused them*.

4. He starts to offer an answer: Pure philosophy is important, but not the only cause. People can and do look directly and inductively at the evidence and can push the world in a direction either defiant of or ignoring of the sweeping culture and intellectual influences of the last few centuries of philosophy.

--I have taken some liberties and paraphrased what I take to be the thrust of his piece, putting it in my own words--

Example

Jeff Perren's picture

"But he nowhere tells us who is doing this! He doesn't analyze one instance of some intellectual advocating or using this view."

He may not have, but I did. That's what we are arguing about vis-a-vis the view of Bush held by you, Peikoff, et al.

straw

Mike_M's picture

Medworth quoting Tracinski:
He [RT] sees this theory as stating that not only do “ideas move history, particularly fundamental philosophical ideas” but that “only fundamental philosophical ideas have efficacy, that they directly and necessarily render irrelevant all other knowledge in a man’s mind, so that the wrong explicit convictions in epistemology, for example, render irrelevant good ideas in the special science of economics”.

Rob doesn't provide any examples of Objectivist intellectuals who think this explicitly, nor does he argue that any position taken by an Objectivist intellectual amounts to this view, or is inadvertently based on this view. All he does is quote an anonymous person who emailed him, and an anonymous person who posted on (maybe) HBL. He quotes Peikoff, but certainly not fairly.

Rob quotes Rand:

There is only one power that determines the course of history, just as it determines the course of every individual life: the power of man's rational faculty - the power of ideas.

He then writes, "But this has been widely interpreted by Objectivists to mean that onlyfundamental philosophical ideas have efficacy, that they directly and necessarily render irrelevant all other knowledge in a man's mind, so that the wrong explicit convictions in epistemology, render irrelevant good ideas in the special science of economics"

But he nowhere tells us who is doing this! He doesn't analyze one instance of some intellectual advocating or using this view. Not one! Perhaps he will take up examples in a future installment, but he should at least indicate a specific example of someone (someone who matters, not anonymous posters) actually doing this. It’s like he’s never heard Objectivists talk about implicit vs. explicit concepts or methods or philosophies, for example.

- Mike

Mixed, again.

Jeff Perren's picture

"Rather, he’s being evaluated by his actions, by the reasons he gives for those actions, and by his explicit political philosophy (Compassionate Conservatism)."

Why is it, Mike, that what counts for DIM is only words not actions, in the case of Einstein, but what counts in Bush's case is actions and words. And, if you want to talk about Bush's reasons for his actions, why are these words discounted:

November 2003 speech by President Bush:

"[T]he prosperity and social vitality and technological progress of a people are directly determined by the extent of their liberty. Freedom honors and unleashes human creativity—and creativity determines the strength and wealth of nations…. But…there are governments that still fear and repress independent thought and creativity and private enterprise—the human qualities that make for strong and successful societies. Even when these nations have vast natural resources, they do not respect or develop their greatest resources: the talent and energy of men and women working and living in freedom."

Why are these any less a part of the real George Bush? Are these words mere "window dressing?"

George Bush is no more M2 - an advocate of theocratic totalitarinism, if I have the hypothesis correct - than Ronald Reagan was. And, can anyone reasonably argue that Eisenhower and a great many other Presidents were any less sincerely religious, or motivated by it (at least they thought so) than George Bush? Or, was Eisenhower too, M2?

I'm sorry Phil

Ted Keer's picture

Did you apologize to Diana yet?
I'm getting so confused.

Nader in 2008!

Ted Keer's picture

I was an Objectivist (as opposed to Republican, which is what I think you mean) and voted for Independence party candidate Ralph Nader, since in NY by getting at least 5% of the vote, his party would automatically stay on the Ballot. Imagine an Objectivist voting for the only candidate running whom Rand herself had denounced in print!

I have never had the pleasure of voting for someone I actually wanted to win, or even who has won.

I hope to be able to vote Giuliani, as a hawk, but he's amixed bag of loose cannon himself. I have gotten to Peikoff's anti-Republican argument in DIM. I'll just say for now I don't buy it.

Focus on the ideas

PhilipC's picture

Someone emailed me the three part (so far) essay this evening. It is very thought-provoking. He mentions that these are preliminary thoughts.

Why don't we discuss the topic of the thread, the role of philosophy on history, as opposed to getting sidetracked on whether his view (or his view of his view) is consonant with those of AR, LP, on anyone else?

We could start by summarizing briefly what his view is on this...which I will do in my next post

i hear ya ted

Mike_M's picture

I supported Bush in 2000 because I was a Republican at the time. I was eventually won over by the talk of Bush showing his true Reaganite self after the electoin. Alas it never came.

- Mike

Credit where Credit is Due

Ted Keer's picture

"In 2000, I was a McCainiac. I still remember conservative pundits claiming that Bush's compassionate conservatism was a smokescreen to win votes, and that Bush was the second Reagan. Well none of that happen[ed]." - Mike M

Yes, I am still totally unconvinced about anything other than voting on merit (which "won" in the poll here, yay!) but I do seem to remember waiting for the mask to fall and the "conservative Bush" to be revealed.

Ted

two christians

Mike_M's picture

Jeff:
In other words, though George Bush is a typically mixed-premise American politician, the 'American' part of the mixture is completely irrelevant because of the Christian part.

But your first claim is what is under dispute. For example, Peikoff believes that Bush is a new animal, not your typical American politician. He's not mixed, he's completely lop-sided. The argument is that Bush is dominated by his Christianity, not that he's your typical mixed bag. To use DIM terminology, he's an M2, not an M1 like Reagan.

Let's look at Reagan. He was both a Christian and an Americanist (If I can coin a new term), but his Americanism was the dominant factor in his thinking. That Reagan was dominantly an Americanist can be seen by reading Reagan in His Own Word (A collection of notes Reagan wrote to prepare for his radio shows). Reagan was obviously an intelligent man driven by his Americanism, though flawed by his Christianity. From Reagan's own words, it isn't clear that he really in his own head thought his Americanist beliefs were justified religiously. Reagan certainly was religious, but I don't think he believed his Americanism was only justifiable religiously. He seemed have the two compartmentalized, only combining them publicly to win over religious voters. This isn't the case for Bush.

For Bush, read The Compassionate Conservative, (he wrote the book’s forward). Bush is dominated by his Christianity, with his Americanism being window dressing. His motivations aren't being deduced from for example his claim that Jesus is his favorite philosopher. Rather, he’s being evaluated by his actions, by the reasons he gives for those actions, and by his explicit political philosophy (Compassionate Conservatism).

While Reagan's Christianity was a factor in his political career, it wasn't a major factor in his thinking, and consequently only seeped into policy on a relatively few issues like abortion. Bush's Christianity dominates his thinking, as he himself explicitly says in Compassionate Conservatism. That is why Bush's Christianity shows up all over the place. What is another likely explanation of his big-government spending? Sure he quotes The Ultimate Resource, but are his economic policies consistent with it?

In 2000, I was a McCainiac. I still remember conservative pundits claiming that Bush's compassionate conservatism was a smokescreen to win votes, and that Bush was the second Reagan. Well none of that happen. As has been pointed out time and again, Bush expanded the government immensely, worse than Clinton. Why? To win votes? Not likely. As Reagan proved twice and Gingrich proved in '94, a small government conservative can win big if he sticks to his guns and means what he says.

In other words, Tracinski has grossly over simplified how Objectivists have come to their conclusion about Bush. These conclusions about Bush can't be arrived at from some deduction from Christianity. You have to look at his espoused world view and his actions and how he justifies those actions. It escapes me completely how one could listen to what Peikoff says in DIM, or what Brook says in his numerous lectures, or what Thomson or Lewis say in their articles and conclude that they are engaged in the method Rob is criticizing. Even if Peikof etc are completely wrong and are total rationalists, they still aren't using the method Rob is trying to refute.

(On another misunderstanding, look at what Rob says about the relationship between the sciences and philosophy. To say that the sciences depend on philosophy does not mean that one can develop philosophical theories without the data of history and the sciences).

- Mike

Medworth on Tracinski

Jeff Perren's picture

"Tracinski offers the example of a man who holds “a mixture of American individualism and Christian altruism” and rebuts the idea that he must really be a consistent altruist and that the individualist elements must be mere window dressing 'because the man must necessarily be consistent to his fundamental philosophical ideas'.

Again, I think this is a straw man: neither Ayn Rand nor Leonard Peikoff nor any other serious Objectivist has ever said anything like this to my knowledge. It is certainly true that ethics is more fundamental than politics, and so this man’s altruism would be “further down the skyscraper” than his individualism. But it does not follow from this that he must accept the more fundamental idea and reject the less fundamental one. What this man would find is that the two ideas would be constantly in conflict in his mind, in each relevant concrete situation he thinks about."

Medworth on Tracinski

But this is precisely the type of attacks we have seen on President Bush recently. His critics declare, in effect, that he isn't really interested in American self-defense because he has a flawed strategy for achieving it and that this strategy is the consequence of his 'altruism', which in turn is the result of his belief in Christianity.

In other words, though George Bush is a typically mixed-premise American politician, the 'American' part of the mixture is completely irrelevant because of the Christian part.

Arguments of this type have been put forth by Hsieh, Biddle, Lewis, Brook, and others. I take it no one would want to claim that these people are not serious Objectivists.

Sometimes, putting arguments in the form of Tracinski's example are NOT 'erecting a straw man' but simply drawing the logical (but unstated) implications of a view.

Andrew Medworth has

Mike_M's picture

Andrew Medworth has extensive comments here. I haven't reading all of his post yet, but so far they are of interest.

- Mike

tracinski's article

Mike_M's picture

I just finished my first reading of Rob Tracinski's article. I'm left wondering exactly who he is criticizing. The two Objectivists he quotes are Peikoff and an unnamed person from an unnamed discussion list. But as I believe Ed Cline pointed out, the OPAR quote is hardly representative of Peikoff's view. And quoting one unnamed person from wherever doesn't prove that the view he is criticizing is held by Objectivists. I can't think of any Objectivist intellectual who advocates the theory Rob is criticizing, so his argument strikes me as an elaborate straw man. Since I don't believe for a second that Rob would intentionally misrepresent his opposition I can only conclude that he hasn't understood the theory. I suggest asking Diana for a copy of the article if you haven't done so yet. (Sorry Phil I guess you'll have to sit this one out).

- Mike

More ASAP

Jeff Perren's picture

"Cline's post doesn't give me enough detail to really see what Tracinski's point or position is." Phil

If someone has, or I can find, Robert Tracinski's email address, I'll write to him and ask if I can post the entire essay. In the interim, as time allows, I will pull out some more quotes.

Since they weren't posted on a public website, I want to respect his copyright and prefer to err on the side of too little rather than too much. Hence, for the moment, I left it at what Cline chose to quote.

Jeff

P.S. It just occurred to me that my statement might be twisted to suppose that Diana is indifferent to copyright in this case, since she offered to email it to (almost) anyone who asked. I hasten to add, that she looked into that issue before sending the essays to me. I believe her, but as a writer am especially sensitive on the subject. I ask a little patience here. Update: I've written to Mr. Tracinski, requesting permission to reprint in full or part.

Jeff, Cline's post doesn't

PhilipC's picture

Jeff,

Cline's post doesn't give me enough detail to really see what Tracinski's point or position is. Until an actual argument and a host of concretes is presented I'm not fully clear where the debate or disagreement lies.

Yes and No

Luke Setzer's picture

Without following the links, I can already see some merit in the views of both men based on Objectivism.

At the risk of sounding like Bill Clinton, "It all depends on what the meaning of the word 'fact' is."

In Objective Communication, Leonard Peikoff defines reality as "existence as grasped by consciousness."  This implies that the abstract mental map a given consciousness calls "reality" will depend heavily on the thinking methods of that consciousness.  Ayn Rand wrote an entire book on epistemology to help readers to discover the most objective method of thinking possible.  This method requires the acceptance of the Law of Identity, the distinction of the metaphysical from the man-made, the distinction of external sensations from internal feelings, and so forth.

It also demands a deliberate focus on how one forms abstract concepts based on concrete percepts and, in turn, how one generalizes principles as well.  Anyone who wants to see the very concrete-bound, disorderly, non-hierarchical mode of thinking of the ancients needs only to read the "Laws of Hammurabi" for the resulting gobbledygook.

In Objectivism, the process of human behavior follows four steps:

1. Perception
2. Identification
3. Evaluation
4. Response

Identification itself subsumes a comparison of the observed concretes with stored abstractions of those concretes.  So what happens when one's philosophy remains so concrete-bound that he cannot do this?  He has trouble even grasping the bare facts, much less dealing with them abstractly at higher levels.

So if by "fact" you mean an isolated concrete perception, then yes, philosophy arises from a constellation of such facts.  Conversely, if by "fact" you mean a more abstract statement such as, "All men are mortal," then facts actually do arise from philosophy.

This dynamic between concretes and abstracts explains why Peikoff gives metaphysics and epistemology equal footing as the joint foundation of Objectivism.

Some comments on Cline's Response

Jeff Perren's picture

Cline projects and paraphrases the consequences of Tracinski's views thus: "Yes, philosophy is a bauble of the intellect. It has its uses, but the true referent is reality and men can abstain from taking it too seriously."

Isn't the 'true referent' reality?

"While it is not necessary for a journalist to be able to trace the ultimate origin of a fact, the fact remains that philosophy is the origin of facts." Cline

Isn't this Platonism? Aren't facts primary?

For those who believe I am pulling these quotes too selectively, and omitting important context, I encourage you to read Cline's post and request you show how including more would alter the interpretation or change the questions I've posted.

Jeff

P.S. [Aside: First, my gratitude to Diana Hsieh for sharing the first three of the four articles in the series. Since the subject bears directly on recent debates about the current and likely direction of the culture, the topic is important. Objectivists will understand that, even though the subject is abstract, it has very concrete and personal implications for every individual.]

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