What Causes History

PhilipC's picture
Submitted by PhilipC on Fri, 2007-01-19 22:22

The recent discussion of intellectual causation in Ancient Greece by several Objectivists is fascinating. Here is my own view of the sequence (and components) of historical causation that one will find not only in the ancient world, but over and over in different countries and eras in the modern world:

1. A civilization's basic orientation, conscious and subconscious, regarding man and reality.

[Robert Mayhew's formulation of the most fundamental meaning of the term 'philosophy'....also known in Objectivism as 'metaphysical value judgments']. In the case of Ancient Greece, this was an inchoate pro-man and pro-reason perspective which existed prior to formal or theoretical or systematic philosophy. If this proto-philosophy were fundamentally skeptical or irrational or oriented toward myths and supernaturalism, it would undercut the possibility of the next stage.

2. Knowledge and culture in the arts, the humanities, the sciences, and technical or practical areas.

This can build upon a basically rational orientation and enhance it and make further advance possible, as in Ancient Greece of the 8th through 4th century, or it can build upon an irrational orientation, or it can clash with the basic orientation, or it can be inconsistent and built upon an inconsistent base (modern America, for example). This stage or portion of what causes history is overwhelmingly the largest in terms of the sheer quantity of material which it includes. It is the most concrete. It is the longest in terms of years during which material is being added in any well-developed society (or the lifetime of any man). It is the 'bulky' part of historical causation, of what determines the actions, results, direction of events.

3. Systematization and Integration.

A major philosopher, in the full and formal sense, such as Aristotle, can absorb 1 & 2 and do several things: "solidifying that knowledge, making explicit its deepest assumptions and widest implications...The role of the philosopher [is] observer, defender, promoter, and intellectual amplifier." [Robert Tracinski] If no philosopher(Drunk does this for a society, it is usually done by the dominant religion(Drunk.

****

The reason each of these three steps is necessary [one could call both 1 and 3, 'philosophy', but the terms are used in quite different senses] is as follows:

Regarding the first stage, one has to have a fundamental approach or methodology which will color what one looks for, finds, and how one interprets. Without the pro-reason approach of believing there are answers not merely chance and caprice, for thousands of years no one looked for explanation or causation in the natural world (or wrote great, well-developed plays and works of art which had order and system to them).

Regarding the second, only concretes exist. One has to accumulate a vast base of facts, knowledge, examples of certain kinds of behavior, role models in the form of the people surrounding one, etc. before one can buttress wider systematic and integrative conclusions [RT argues something allied to this particular point in his January installment of his ongoing essay] or build further concrete knowledge in the special sciences. This second stage is analogous to the maturation process of a human being and the enormously greater knowledge he has as a child in say, 6th grade, as opposed to an unformed, unmatured toddler. There is an enormous weight of facts and empirical data, not merely in the sciences but in culture -- in the movies or plays or poems or songs, in the visual art and architecture which becomes part of one's mental furniture before an individual...or a culture...can reason or even grasp or form the broadest and most high level concepts (other than as floating abstractions). And that applies to the broadest concepts not only in philosophy, but in the sciences and in the humanities.

Regarding the third, the prior (second) stage is too vast to be held in the mind of an individual or to become the tenor of a culture without integration, either explicitly and precisely stated (as would the formal philosophers) or vaguely or implicitly or mystically (as in the case of religion-based cultures such as Egypt in the ancient world) or cultures lacking explicit and systematic and fully-developed philosophies (China with Confucianism).

Once an individual or a civilization has gone through these three stages (for the first time...there can be more than one cycle) it is fully formed in an important sense. This doesn't mean change is impossible.

[[ This would require another post to explore fully, but there is a fourth major category...I wouldn't call it a stage because it can occur at any time. I would lump a number of things together as "4. Environmental Factors", by which I mean all factors which don't fall primarily into the above, but are forces impinging from the outside. One category of examples include those things Diamond includes in "Guns, Germs, and Steel' [although viewing these as deterministic or totally independent of intellectual causes and of philosophy is wrong...it is a deeply flawed book.] Such as climate and biological conditions and geography (lack of domesticable animals, prevalence of disease and malaria or swamp and jungle land, the rocky topography of Greece as opposed to fertile river valleys without natural barriers). Another category of examples is war and chaos and instability from outside aggression. For example, the Dark Ages did not begin to end and the first commercial stirrings, trading routes, universities, importation of outside ideas such as the translation of the Greeks, etc. until a minimal level of stability and predictibility had arrived: the outside invasions (Moors, Vikings, Mongols) had subsided. ]]

--Philip Coates
Jan. 19, 2007


( categories: )

Thanks, Stephen for that.A

PhilipC's picture

Thanks, Stephen for that.

A great quote from same is worth a thousand exhortations to read a book. I will now get a copy of Russell's history. Someone can be a lousy or stupid philosopher and still have many useful insights into the history of ideas, of philosophy.

Russell 1945

Stephen Boydstun's picture

“To understand an age or a nation, we must understand its philosophy, and to understand its philosophy we must ourselves be in some degree philosophers. There is here a reciprocal causation: the circumstances of men’s lives do much to determine their philosophy, but, conversely, their philosophy does much to determine their circumstances.” (xiv)

“Throughout this long development, from 600 B.C. to the present day, philosophers have been divided into those who wished to tighten social bonds and those who wished to relax them. With this difference others have been associated. The disciplinarians have advocated some system of dogma, either old or new, and have therefore been compelled to be, in a greater or less degree, hostile to science, since their dogmas could not be proved empirically. They have almost invariably taught that happiness is not the good, but that ‘nobility’ or ‘heroism’ is to be preferred. They have had a sympathy with the irrational parts of human nature, since they have felt reason to be inimical to social cohesion. The libertarians, on the other hand, with the exception of the extreme anarchists, have tended to be scientific, utilitarian, rationalistic, hostile to violent passion, and enemies of all the more profound forms of religion. This conflict existed in Greece before the rise of what we recognize as philosophy, and is already quite explicit in the earliest Greek thought. In changing forms, it has persisted down to the present day, and no doubt will persist for many ages to come.” (xxii-xxiii)

From the Introductory of A History of Western Philosophy. Bertrand Russell 1945.

Addendum

Stephen Boydstun's picture

I would like to note a remark of Rand's consistent with the Friedman conception I had displayed in the post "Further Role of Philosophy." I had written the following in that note:

"Here is a further reason supporting the idea that physics—at least fundamental physics—cannot continue always to progress without philosophy at work in the minds of physicists. This comes from the chapter 'The Role of Philosophy' in Michael Friedman’s Dynamics of Reason (2001). Professor Friedman suggests that during the transitions between radically different conceptual frameworks in scientific revolutions, 'distinctively philosophical reflections play a special and characteristic role'. During such revolutions, thought at a meta-scientific level is essential.

"For example 'Einstein was able rationally to appeal to practitioners of the preceding paradigm in (classical) mathematical physics partly by placing his articulation of fundamentally new coordinating principles within the long tradition of reflection on the question of absolute versus relative motion going back to the seventeenth century. But this tradition is itself largely philosophical' (105). 'Einstein’s final articulation and elaboration of his theory [GR] was essentially, and rationally, mediated by [a certain] philosophical debate—without which . . . it is indeed hard to imagine how the application of non-Euclidean geometry in physics could have ever become a real possibility and thus a genuinely live possibility' (115)."

That fits nicely with a general picture expressed by Rand in "Philosophy: Who Needs It?" She writes: "In the realm of cognition, the special sciences are the trees, but philosophy is the soil which makes the forrest possible."

 

The America example -- why

PhilipC's picture

The America example -- why it leads the world -- could certainly be fleshed out in much greater depth. In fact, I'm currently teaching economic history and am doing some of this in my class.

What i'm going to say next is a broader subject than the "inventions and technology" topic of my post, but in some of my recent reading to prepare for this class, there is often a pattern of a lot of ink devoted to the industrial revolution -originating- in England, but not as much devoted to the industrial and inventive and corporate revolutions as -perfected and triumphant and in full flower- in America.

Or what Ayn Rand said of America, "the brilliant rocket explosion of her youth".

They want to talk more about robber barons and the frontier and the Indians and the progressives (politics) instead of economics. They want to jump to talking about the decline of laissez-faire without having fully discussed its rise.

Or how this was so different from all the centuries and al the civilizations which went before. (I hardly need to say I'm not making this mistake with my students.)

Jason, it was an

PhilipC's picture

> This could be fleshed out a lot more

Jason, [unless you are talking about the America example and post] this is exactly the length I wanted the theory to be for a brief overview--doubling or tripling its length or adding lots of subcategories to the four would have made it unwieldy for the purposes of a very abstract summary and a "checklist". The fleshing out is in part done by applying the four categories to see if they are useful in analyzing concrete historical examples...such as the America one I just did...and seeing if any major 5th or 6th category of similar fundamentality is missing I would have to add which is forced into existence by parsing of multiple examples.

> the premises you identify were influenced by explicit philosophy [possibly]

I would say that both explicit and implicit philosophy are woven into each of the four categories. My objective with those categories, which even though abstract are actually more concrete than "philosophy" - leaving vague or equivocated upon whether explicit or implicit - is to go deeper than the debate over whether "philosophy" drives history (which has become floating and loaded with both equivocation and factionalism) and to offer some detailed categories which do drive history...and it then becomes obvious that philosophy is a major determinant -of- what is in such categories as, for example, #1 fundamental premises/a civilizations' basic orientation & #3 systematization and integration - often done by a major philosopher. (Which I suggested in that original post.)

Phil

Jason Quintana's picture

This could be fleshed out a lot more, but I think you are generally on the right track. You have in a very general way identified (at least some of) the advances that took place in America and (at least some of) the premises that lead to them.

Looking at the question like this isn't as fancy as trying to describe history in general as a function of the history of philosophical thought and the influence of certain philosophers but I think it leads us to a more reality based understanding the role of ideas.

The argument will be made that if we look back far enough we will see that the premises you identify were influenced by explicit philosophy in some form in previous periods of history. Possibly, but they were also influenced by the steady advances in knowledge, technology and culture that were not explicitly part of any formal integrated philosophy because they were new, fast moving innovations that were the result of a succession of concrete lessons. Only after the fact can we look at these concretes and integrate them.

- Jason

Jason D. Quintana is not associated with the Ayn Rand Institute -- neither as a writer nor as a speaker.

Concretizing 'What Causes History'

PhilipC's picture

I'm wondering if part of the reason I haven't gotten a lively and sustained response to my original post is partly my fault in that it was too abstract? So I would like to concretize by applying my 4-fold sequence or list of components of historical causation to an example:

theory (Phil's fourfold taxonomy):

What sets history's deepest patterns and tides?
1. A civilization's basic orientation, conscious and subconscious, regarding man and reality
2. Knowledge and culture in the arts, the humanities, the sciences, and technical or practical areas
3. Systematization and Integration
4. Environmental Factors

application (one example):

Since the Industrial Revolution and today, America has been overwhelmingly the world leader in inventions and technology (from the days of the Wright Brothers and Edison and all kinds of mechanical products of "Yankee Ingenuity" to today's Silicon Valley, biotechnology, nanotechnology, medical innovations, aerospace, military technologies.)

Why? Why not Germany? Why not Japan? Why not Russia, with a strong educational base? Why not England? Here are a few reasons cast in terms of 1-4:

1. Premises - America's basic orientation, conscious and subconscious, since the time of the first settlers has been one of exploration and pioneering and experimentation and openness to new ideas. These are all four major premises or attitudes needed to produce innovation in the sciences and technology. If your culture is more hierarchical or conformist or less innovation-admiring and focused, all other things being equal and barring historical 'supernova' geniuses, you will produce (and nurture) fewer people and organizations breaking new ground.

2. Concretes - Across the centuries, America has built an inventory of skills, specialists, and institutions knowledgeable in technologies (example: in computers and software technology alone, its major corporations - the IBMs and HPs and Apples and Intels and Microsofts; or in aerospace - the Boeings and Lockheeds and McDonnell Douglas's and Nasa's). And it has built educational institutions which produce and warehouse these skils (the MIT's, Caltechs and so on). In regards to 'culture', the American culture has been rewarding of and respectful to innovation in technology. The people have been admiring, the property rights institutions (patents and other legal protections) have been protective and supportive. All of these factors flesh out and allow the potential in point 1 to develop and be built upon.

3. Integration - First the great industrialists and tycoons and bankers (Ford, Carnegie, Rockefeller, Morgan) and then the great corporations of our day have allowed the individual inventions and innovations to be made productive and profitable by systematizing and coordinating and integrating and building working enterprises and building a multi-trillion dollar "high tech" economy, the strongest on earth, in large part on these advances and inventiveness.

4. Environment - America is a continental economy in a temperate climate (unlike, say, the larger country of Canada) with a wide range of natural resources. This allows the businesses, ventures, undertakings created by 1-3 to flourish and become profitable and successful.

(A similar analysis of Fundamental Premises-Concretes of culture and knowledge-Systematization and Integration-Environmental Factors could be made for, for example, why Rome rose and why Rome fell...and all kinds of other major large-scale historical occurrences.)

--Philip Coates, 02/11/07

Stephen

TRowland's picture

Sorry for the spelling error. And thanks back for the leads to your essays. I will read them with great interest.

Stephen

Fred Weiss's picture

Stephen, if I'm reading you correctly, I think we are essentially in agreement as regards the influence of philosophy on science, physics in particular. I don't think Rand would disagree.

If you still think there are points of disagreement, I'd be happy to hear them.

Dogpile on Tracinski | Gate of the Good

William Scott Scherk's picture

Good Tom Rowlands tweaks and paraphrases my lament ('Bad PR') and comes up with:

  "Good Public Relations"   !=   "the truth"
-- which might imply the corollary:

  "Bad Public Relations"   !=   "lies"

A further implication would be: good PR is not truth, bad PR is. Which I can't quite get my head around.

As if the public face of Objectism is irrelevant to its progress.

As if Dogpile on Tracinski, complete with denunciations and shunning, is not part of Objectivism's public displays.

The preceding post does put a good question --

Why in the world would anyone want a person to read
Atlas Shrugged or the Fountainhead (a novel whose
theme is individualism) because of good PR?

But Atlas Shrugged has the greatest PR of anything in the corpus -- haven't ya heard? -- it's second only to the Bible. In any case the context of my remarks was broad: schisms, shunnings and Dogpile on Tracinski and included debate beyond SOLO -- not the glory of the already glorious.

Atlas Shrugged has its own PR, as will Dogpile. Atlas Shrugged with continue to sell 5 millions copies a decade. I, Fred and Tom will toddle to our graves, Peikoff too, Perigo also, and the schisms may or may not be fixed or permanent. SOLO by then will just be a fading smear on the windshield of history.

For those professed-Objectivists naturally-incensed by genetic endowment or/and careful upbringing, denunciations and accusations of apostasy are usually good things, not bad things. This is what I don't get, and that which makes Objectivism at times look deranged in the larger world.

I grieve just a little bit for unnecesary internecine conflict, and the wounds it so engenders, the drag it adds to progress. It's a little death. It is a pointless hope, perhaps, but I have hoped that in my lifetime I would see Objectivists united.

Is the O-world doomed to another thirty years of purging evil deviationism and scuttling about with daggers drawn?

If my questions make me a tea-party hen clucking about (about solidarity and about purpose and about valiant concerted effort), I'm okay with that.

Although neither preceding note answers any of my questions, which is too bad, Tom's note does take a poke at metaphor:

As though intellectual tone were a good substitute
for argument on the merits. As though heated debate
were the same as force.

We agree -- in the larger contours of the debate, as cited previously, the gate is closing against the enemy yet again, in this case heretic Tracinski. Those who decry the gates are 'apologists' for and 'mouthpieces' of the enemy, and worthy of good old scorn and more. For some, like Good Tom it seems -- and Good Fred, as ever, the gating is good.


WSS

Further Role of Philosophy

Stephen Boydstun's picture

Fred,

You asked, concerning dicta of method for mathematical physics from Geroch, “how much philosophy underlies, and he is taking for granted” in such statements. I assure you that in the case of this particular physicist, he is highly conscious of philosophical presuppositions of science.

As of the 50s, Rand had a mistaken sociological view of professional physicists, which she expressed in her novel Atlas Shrugged (787). She represented typical physicists as being unconcerned with philosophy. My experience with physicists has been uniformly to the contrary. True, they often find professional philosophers ignorant of science and mathematics and the practices of those disciplines. But that does not mean that physicists do not themselves hold conscious philosophies joined to their special intellectual skills.

I was unclear in the post “Philosophy and Physics” in expressing my present agreement with Rand’s remark that “if philosophy perishes, science will be the next to go.” I spoke of why I had rejected this idea as of twenty years ago, and I indicated in the remainder of the post one reason for thinking Rand’s idea true, under a fresh construction. The reconstruction is to not think of philosophy as it fares among professional philosophers, but to include within the scope of Rand’s statement the pertinent elements of philosophy in the minds of professional scientists.

Here is a further reason supporting the idea that physics—at least fundamental physics—cannot continue always to progress without philosophy at work in the minds of physicists. This comes from the chapter “The Role of Philosophy” in Michael Friedman’s Dynamics of Reason (2001). Professor Friedman suggests that during the transitions between radically different conceptual frameworks in scientific revolutions, “distinctively philosophical reflections play a special and characteristic role.” During such revolutions, thought at a meta-scientific level is essential.

For example “Einstein was able rationally to appeal to practitioners of the preceding paradigm in (classical) mathematical physics partly by placing his articulation of fundamentally new coordinating principles within the long tradition of reflection on the question of absolute versus relative motion going back to the seventeenth century. But this tradition is itself largely philosophical” (105). “Einstein’s final articulation and elaboration of his theory [GR] was essentially, and rationally, mediated by [a certain] philosophical debate—without which . . . it is indeed hard to imagine how the application of non-Euclidean geometry in physics could have ever become a real possibility and thus a genuinely live possibility” (115).

There are also just

Fred Weiss's picture

There are also just coincedental factors which even if they are not decisive in determining the course of history, they can certainly cause "bumps in the road". Look, for example, at the difference it made to Wellington's defeat of Napolean that it rained at Waterloo or that a dense fog descended over Washington's retreat from Brooklyn Ferry. Or that Columbus was mistaken in regard to the circumference of the earth or that Fleming's plate culture of Staphylococcus was contaminated by a blue-green mold.

And so on.

WSS

TRowland's picture

Bad PR? There are, I suppose, things in the culture that are matters of "good public relations" as opposed to ... hmmmm ... maybe the truth? They don't interest me.

Why in the world would anyone want a person to read Atlas Shrugged or the Fountainhead (a novel whose theme is individualism) because of good PR?

As though intellectual tone were a good substitute for argument on the merits. As though heated debate were the same as force.

Please god, save me from the why-can't-we-all-be-friends people.

Fred

TRowland's picture

Thanks for the reminder regarding optional values -- things that are nothing more than matters of taste and have limited historical significance, if any. I suppose that the fact that chocolate is the favorite flavor of ice cream for the majority of people might cause a war but it would be the fact of war, not the fact of chocolate that would get philosophical treatment as a matter of force versus reason.

Tom

Schneerk - or whatever

Fred Weiss's picture

I vote for the one where the turret turns around and blows you up.

Schismatorium

William Scott Scherk's picture

I've ploughed through the Tracinski and the Mayhew, many more opinionated blurts on Noodlefood, on OL and the Speicher's list, on RoR and in a couple of other likely places (Tom's Blog, Fred's links) and so I must say thanks to Stephen Boydstun for paying attention to this lengthy thread, and for bringing something fresh to it.

I am not a fan of any kind of Objectivist-inflected 'shunning' the present Tracinski dogpile is in danger of achieving. It smacks of disfellowship, like Jehovah's Witnesses at their snakiest -- at least to these Canuckistani eyes.

It seems disagreement and contention must become a hoedown in the online Objectivist world, at least in some circles.

And a real howling Objectivism hoe-down seems incomplete without denunciations and lashings of 'enemy' talk among the naturally-heated (Fred, Diana). It's like a friendly game of T-ball that degenerates into one team (Fred's) team using tranquilizing darts and explosives to take down their opponents. Good-faith intramural league? Maybe some folk here need to volunteer at a daycare or get vaccinated or something.

I am puzzled with the tone of some Tracinski critiques. What does finger-pointing at a new, fresh deviationist achieve? How does trashing Tracinski play well?

It's bad PR for Objectivism, and it's bad PR, period.

In a time of crisis, I want my Objectivists valiant, engaged and fully human. I feel solidarity with Objectivism when it makes my heart sing; The trashing of Tracinski is discordant and unnecessary at such a time. Such a ferocious parochial squabble over purity only the 17 permutations of the Canadian Communist party had previously perfected. As the world begins to burn, let's turn on each other, huh?

Stephen brings the kind of considered tone that fits an intellectual argument -- launched by Tracinski's essays. Certain others on this thread might consider going outside to play GI Joe or Tank Gunners or the new 'Cheney Nukes Iran' game.

Yo, Fred! -- I am torn between these pictures for your temporary avatar. Which one approximates your natural beauty and aplomb?

I vote for the Abrams.

WSS

Tom

Fred Weiss's picture

Tom, I far more agree with you than disagree with you. I believe that the influence of philosophy in nearly every aspect of culture is pervasive and huge, even if unacknowledged by most people. See the Taggart Tunnel scene in Atlas Shrugged.

However, once a direction is set and the basic philosophical premises of a culture are established and pervasive, many individual decisions and specific events can have relatively little or even nothing to do with philosophy. To take an extreme example, whether I prefer chocolate to vanilla ice cream. I think a lot depends on how far you want to apply the concept "philosophical". Pushed too far I think it loses its meaning and actually diminishes its significance. Not taken far enough, as you and I agree, and the broad direction of history cannot be explained.

But as it pertains to this debate, I completely agree with you that philosophy is much more prominent, even explicit, than Tracinski acknowledges - and in fact explains quite easily why (many) things have "gone right" in recent decades and civilization hasn't (yet)collapsed. It also fully explains the Golden Age of Greece, the Carolingian Renaissance and the development of capitalism. He's got his facts all wrong - and his "Pajama Epistemology" needs to get dressed and get out more.

Stephen

Fred Weiss's picture

I'd ask you first, Stephen, about this quote you offered from Prof. Geroch,

"One takes care at the beginning to be sure that 'the mathematics is appropriate for the physics,' that is, that everything in the mathematics has physical meaning and that all of the physics one wishes to talk about is describable in terms of the mathematics. In particular, one tries to avoid structural features (e.g., a basis for the vector space) which have no physical significance."

I wonder how much philosophy underlies, and he is taking for granted in, such a statement. For example, that mathematics which doesn't exist per se in the physical realm (it's a concept of method) nonetheless can and should apply to the physical world and that the physical world has an identity which is measurable.

I say "taking for granted" because I think that scientists who are the products and beneficiaries of the Enlightenment and of the Industrial Revolution do take its philosophical premises for granted - most especially, the efficacy of reason as a broad and basic epistemological given but more specifically that the methods of modern science, e.g. experimentation, are valid and that the more primitive views, e.g. superstition, are invalid (and scorned).

Science may seem to "not wait on or look to developments in philosophy for direction" perhaps because it thinks it has got all it needs from philosophy already. Such was the power of the Enlightenment and The Age of Reason which brought with it the complete break with religion and superstitition and which thus resulted in a breathtaking explosion of scientific and technological discovery. What more does science need?

Ayn Rand's concern was - and I think what Tom was suggesting as well - that these basic premises are under attack and that confidence in them is being eroded, some of which is being seen in science itself, e.g. junk science, or from the culture, e.g. in the suspicion and hostility toward biogenetics. Science may think it is immune to this attack, that its achievements and benefits are too clear and obvious to everyone. But they aren't. See Atlas Shrugged.

I also found your comment about this quote from Ayn Rand interesting,

"Science was born as a result and consequence of philosophy; it cannot survive without a philosophical (particularly epistemological) base. If philosophy perishes, science will be next to go."

You say you don't agree with the *second* part of this statement. Curiously, I find that part far more obvious. Even Tracinski seems to -sort of - agree with it, though it's not entirely clear. But he clearly doesn't agree with the first part. And that I thought was the more contentious issue in this debate. Am I reading you correctly?

Philosophy and Physics

Stephen Boydstun's picture

Thanks for the note, Tom. The spelling of my name is with the ph. Thanks for the reference in The Objective Standard. I will try to subscribe to that and look at those back issues.

Here are some works of my own pertaining to the relation of philosophy and science in the case of physics. These are pretty narrowly focused studies, not studies in general philosophy of science. If any readers here would like to obtain these essays, follow the instructions at the Objectivity website http://www.bomis.com/objectivity/ or, for copies free of charge, simply contact me right here through SOLO.

One study of mine was the Objectivity essay "Chaos" (1994). A good Abstract of this study is available here at SOLO in the Science section. The other study of mine very pertinent to the relation of philosophy and physics was the essay "Space, Rotation, Relativity" (1995-1998). This is a four-part essay of 134 pages, beginning with Descartes and ending with Einstein. Abstracts for this study are available at the Objectivity website.

> I am reading two so far

PhilipC's picture

> I am reading two so far excellent books on economic history as we speak: "An Empire of Wealth" by John Steele Gordon [U.S. economic history from colonial times / popular, inspirational, story-telling] & "A Concise Economic History of the World" by Rondo Cameron [world economic history from ancient times / more academic, professional, technical].

I posted the above on Friday 1/26 on this thread. Now that I am further along in both books, I can't recommend either one as highly: Not so much outright errors as omission -- huge gaps in coverage of major aspects central to economic history.

Phil,

TRowland's picture

Actually I pretty much agree with your analysis of the causes. I see the whole thing very much as analagous to the way a baby learns the world. Until the age of about three all they are doing is running experiments in perception that, with the first words, become concepts that become chains of concepts, in a neverending spiral grounded in A is A.

Tom

Steven

TRowland's picture

Of course a student won't need his philosophy books or classes to get his conception of method in physics, etc. As you point out, it doesn't work that way. But that doesn't make Rand's second sentence false.

After all, what would it mean to have philosophy parish. For Rand it would mean that the law of excluded middle would no longer be recognized, that cosmology would return to haunt philosophy, that induction would be thought invalid, etc. So why would science parish? Because the validity of its methods rests on the law of excluded middle, of having cosmology to itself, on the posibility of actually collecting data and having it yield knowledge. Should philosophy start spouting off like Stadler in AS, and scientists believe the rubish, we're in trouble.

I really recommend David Harriman's articles on the history of physics in the Objective Standard for a demonstration of the relationship between science and philosophy. As Peikoff says in OPAR there is a difference between those who focus on the trees and those who focus on the forest. Same set of facts, different perspective. Both valuable.

Tom

opps

TRowland's picture

I sent it twice. proof positive, i suppose, of something.

Phil,

TRowland's picture

If "one does not fully grasp the causes of history without the kind of intellectual analysis [you] did in post #1" you must be a genius of Ayn Rand proportions and why should I argue with genius at that level? I, on the other hand, while smart and thoughtful, only have time to discuss philosophy with those who I stand a chance of convincing, which person, what with your genuine and obvious superior intellect, ain't you.

Tom

Fred,

TRowland's picture

I hate to disagree with a fellow Hsiehkovian, but I must (Do I hear the sound of a disbelieving intake of breath from the suddenly attentive crowd? Does this portend a division in the ranks?) Actually I think that even the mentally challenged Philerigo acts on the basis of what he believes about the world and his relation to it (i,e, on an implicit metaphysics, epistemology and ethics). It is not the case, I think, that we have too broad a definition of philosophy, nor do I think that Tracinski trades on such a view, but rather he construes philosophy quite narrowly as "explicit technical philosophy formulated in books by college professors and "trickled down" into the culture."

There is a very germane passage in a rarely cited piece by Ayn Rand called "Don't Let it Go" in Philosophy: Who Needs It. The first paragraph reads as follows: "In order to form a hypothesis about the future of an individual, one must consider three elements: his present course of action, his conscious convictions, and his sense of life. The same elements must be considered in forming a hypothesis about the future of a nation" She then spends a goood deal of time talking about how one determines a nation's fundamental sense of life. Tracinski has the most trouble with this aspect of philosophical causation and with his evident belief that "causation" here means deduced from a previous idea in an impossible infinite regress unless it halts at some specific knowledge discovered by the scientist and not otherwise available to the philosopher. Contrast that with Ayn Rand's comment in ITOE 2nd edition, pg 289: "Philosophy by its nature has to be based only on that which is availalble to the knowledge of any man with a normal mental equipment. Philosophy is not dependent on the discoveries of science; the reverse is truue."

Bottom line. Most men act on the basis of their sense of life (including Philegio). Some act on their conscious convictions (philosophy in the formal sense). All of them act on the basis of what they believe about the world and their relation to it The aggregate of those actions constitute a nation's history.

BTW, I'm revising what is on the blog almost daily at www.trowland.blogspot.com

Tom

Dependence of Science

Stephen Boydstun's picture

Fred reminded me of an old criticism of Rand's views in this area that I have long held and which I mentioned to Rob and his buddies back when they were undergraduates at Chicago (late 80s). Fred quoted these statements from Rand:

"Science was born as a result and consequence of philosophy; it cannot survive without a philosophical (particularly epistemological) base. If philosophy perishes, science will be next to go."

I thought that second statement was surely false for the following reason. By the end of the Scientific Revolution, science had become a much more autonomous discipline. It had developed its own distinctive methods, informed by its specific successes, and these continue to be refined within the scientific community itself as it continues to roll back the darkness. Modern science has continued its advance of human knowledge and technology without pause for over three hundred years now. It does not wait on or look to developments in philosophy for direction.

That was how I viewed things and how I would put it to Rob and his classmates twenty years ago. Today I'm inclined to look for the philosophy important to science within the sciences themselves. These are minimalist epistemological and metaphysical views. Particular scientists will have wider views, but the minimalist epistemological and metaphysical views accepted in these working communities is enough to get on with finding out the world. So it seems to me now that Rand may have had too narrow of a conception of where philosophy lives and develops.

My first degree was in physics. I minored in philosopy. I took a course in philosophy of science and another in the history of science. The latter was the more valuable. My problem with the interests in the philosophy of science, as a subdiscipline of philosopy, was that it was purely about method and at a level too abstract (forty years ago). To get more serious, it needed to get with the content and history of science, not only with the broad strokes of method.

In closing let me quote a little on method as it is taught for a portion of physics, within that discipline. The student will not need to turn to philosophy classes or philosophy books for this conception of method in his discipline. Here is Robert Geroch [yes, the same who wrote the commentary for the centenary edition of AE's Relativity: The Special and General Theory (2005)] writing in his text Mathematical Physics. Having given a detailed example of the application of mathematical vector spaces and multilinear mappings to a physical situation (Minkowski vector space of special relativity), Professor Geroch writes:

"One takes care at the beginning to be sure that 'the mathematics is appropriate for the physics,' that is, that everything in the mathematics has physical meaning and that all of the physics one wishes to talk about is describable in terms of the mathematics. In particular, one tries to avoid structural features (e.g., a basis for the vector space) which have no physical significance.

"One allows physical things to be described by the mathematics which naturally describes them. For example, one does not regard a vector or a multilinear mapping as 'less real', 'less physical', or 'less explicit' than a number or a function of one variable.

"To answer a physical question [in the subdiscipline that is mathematical physics], one first translates that question into various objects (including only objects which are relevant to the question) in the mathematics, with various properties describing the physical setup. Then one manipulates these objects within the mathematics and translates results back into physical terms. (These 'translations' ultimately become automatic.)" (p. 86)

The Tracinskis were friends

Fred Weiss's picture

The Tracinskis were friends of mine. I never met them face-to-face but we used to talk on the phone often. TIA published a number of reviews and/or excerpts from books I published and I used to advertise in the publication. Also, over the years I've generally admired Rob's writing, some of which has been particularly outstanding. (I still refer people to his brilliant demolishing of Kelley's "Truth and Toleration".) So I regard his departure from Objectivism as very sad - and very puzzling.

But TIA is no longer the standard bearer Objectivist publication - and for that matter many Objectivists stopped reading it years ago (as I did). I told Rob at the time that a "journalistic" publication didn't interest me much. Now, it seems he has elevated this "journalism" into some kind of philosophical position. It is extremely concrete-bound or "empiricist" as some have described it. Most importantly, it is profoundly anti-philosophy and anti-philosophical. Many of his proponents, relishing it, are extolling the virtues of blatant anti-intellectualism - often the very same people now rushing around with their heads cut off to start a "political party" and who are typically the least intellectually qualified for such an endeavor. Ayn Rand would be turning over in her grave.

Btw, the new standard bearer publication is appropriately named, The Objective Standard, which represents the kind of elevated quality and philosophical analysis that one should expect from a serious Objectivist publication.

Tracinski's Intellectual Adventure

Bill Visconti's picture

Tracinski is interesting from another perspective. If I'm not mistaken, he was part of the Ayn Rand Insititute's graduate school program (and I am no expert on what that entails). With that background, he should have moved past these errors. Its as if Tracinski is just now going on an intellectual odyssey which he should have gone on years earlier. I would have no problem with this but for the fact that he is doing it through what used to be the standard-bearer publication of the Objectivist movement.

He should of taken a few years off from his TIA writing and done extensive research and then come back and disagree with Rand if that's what he arrived at. But the way he went about it; letting the TIA print edition fall behind schedule by what seems like a decade and then his Kelly and Bidinotto - like smears of Peikoff and other "Objecitivist intellectuals" which is code for ARI writers; all of this is just shitty (to use an expression).

Philosphically, it seems that he understood Objectivism rationalistically and now he has gone to the other end of the spectrum and become an empiricist. Its a shame as he is a good writer and does make some fine identifications. But in the end, as it stands, he is not an Objectivist. He has rejected some of its core premises and because of his popularity due to TIA, there is potential that he could set the movement back with yet another sideshow. For these reasons and others, I dislike him. Also, because of his pussified war posture. I can't abide people that show sympathy for the enemy. There is a virtue to ruthlessness.

Proud ARIan Warmonger

Linz

Fred Weiss's picture

Linz, your continual repeating of Tracinski strawmen as if I haven't previously addressed them is getting extremely tiresome. No Objectivist has ever said,

"...only fundamental philosophical ideas have efficacy, that they directly and necessarily render irrelevant all other knowledge in a man's mind."

That is just a blatant absurdity. You should know by now that when someone feels compelled to resort to such gross distortion it suggests a serious lack of confidence in the validity of their argument.

Also Ayn Rand is talking very generally when she says, "only one power that determines the course of history". She is clearly referring to the most fundamental and primary power, since she is talking about "the course of history", not its incidental events.

As regards the wrong epistemology and its effect on science, this is what Rand actually said in "For the New Intellectual": "Science was born as a result and consequence of philosophy;, it cannot survive without a philosophical (particularly epistemological) base. If philosophy perishes, science will be next to go." That is not the same thing as Tracinski's strawman of bad philosophy "rendering irrelevant all other knowledge". This is a chronic pattern throughout his article and you are merely spitting it back.

And again with the distortion about the philosophical ideas pre-Aristotle. Tracinski's account of it is not correct. Have you read Mayhew's rebuttal? Have you thought about it yourself for even a minute. Though you claim not to be Tracinski's mouthpiece you sure sound like it.

So, his account of it is not a "straightforward matter of historical fact". At least acknowledge that you are aware of the critiques of his position by scholars who know much more of the history and culture of ancient Greece than he does.

But I accept your offer to "chew" these ideas - and anyone else, including Phil, who wants to join in. But it has to be a real "chewing" not ignoring what you want to ignore and merely repeating strawmen and distortions. And I don't want to hear anymore about the "Orthodoxy" or "the Party Line". If you can't argue for your position, then shut the fuck up and leave it to those who can.

Fred

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Linz,all you are doing is repeating Tracinski's strawman argument, e.g."the primacy of ideas is sometimes made manifest a little more subtly than a philosopher's writing a book." Gee. Ya think? And I love this "a little more subtly" coming from you. How soon are we going to get "a little more nuanced" so that we can know for sure that you are devolving into just the kind of POMO bullshitter you loath.

It'll be a cold day in Hell before that happens!

The question which both you and Phil are evading is really very, very simple: does Tracinski uphold the idea of the primacy of philosophy? Yes or no. If he does, provide me a quote(Drunk where he says that explicitly.

Problem is, Fred, I'm not Tracinski's mouthpiece and don't/can't speak for him. I'm reluctant to give an answer that might misrepresent him. But it seems to me he accepts the primacy of philosophy while disagreeing with the "prevailing Objectivist view" as to how it is manifest and how history therefore has to move from here (downward, if you listen to most Objectivists). Thus he cites Ayn 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." Then he says, "But this has been widely interpreted by Objectivists to man 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."

As I see it, he's right. Objectivists will deny believing that only fundamental philosophical ideas have efficacy but behave as though they did believe it. For instance, the way Objectivists tell it, Philosopher X writes a book. A book with a bad epistemology (except to Fred Seddon). Within decades the world is going to hell in a handcart. Mass death and concentration camps eventually, inexorably become the norm. Without The Critique of Pure Reason this would not have happened; with it, it had to happen. Whereas the reality is much more "nuanced" (oops!) than that, and there are those like Fred S who'll tell you that the bad stuff happened in spite of Kant, certainly not because of him. But I digress. I think Tracinski is arguing for a refining, not an overturning, of the conventional Objectivist view.

He does tell us that philosophy is important, even "crucial" - that's his hedge. But he does not say it is primary. What he *does* say is that the "special sciences" are primary and that philosophy *follows* them. That is his argument re: Thales and his successors and his strawman argument that Aristotle had little influence on the Golden Age of Greece.

Well that's a straightforward matter of historical fact, Fred. The special sciences flowered before philosophy qua philosophy. The first philosophers' questions were what we would now classify as "scientific"—what is the world made of?, etc.. By the time Aristotle identified what the hell had been going on ... well, it had been going on!

You are completely ignoring our last exchange on this subject - and merely repeating Jason thug smears about "the party line" and the "orthodoxy". You are attacking Ayn Rand pure and simple and you won't admit it*, just as Tracinski won't. This is typical Branden/Kelley subterfuge and dishonesty. One of course expects that from Phil whose brain has turned into oatmeal through constant exposure to them. It is coming from you in this instance because Tracinski is another club for you to bash Peikoff without having to embrace Branden/Kelley

Ah, that must be it.

(although surely you have noticed that they are crowing with glee over this and all of sudden - surprise, surprise - becoming big Tracinski fans).

Who? Branden and Kelley? I haven't seen a thing. Where have they commented?

Phil at this point isn't worth responding to any further since he hasn't engaged this issue at all. All he's done is rant and bluster and engage in ad hominem. You haven't done much better. I have made my case repeatedly (as have others) and neither you or any of the other Tracinski defenders have been able to answer it with anything other than arm-waving and blatant denial. It's as simple as that.

Just as you say, Fred.

But I do wish it were possible to "chew" these questions without having to fend off accusations of trying to subvert Objectivism at its root, attack Rand and Peikoff, etc..

Linz

PS—Edited to add, after reading Fred's last post: It'll also be a cold day in Hell when Phyllis becomes Queen of Linzylvania!

PPS—See also Merlin's excellent post on "primary": it ain't a matter of chronology!

Primary and secondary

Fred Weiss's picture

Tom, I don't agree that by "philosophy is primary" is meant "all human action, and thus history, is explained with reference to it." That's way too broad, is not the Objectivist view, and is the strawman Tracinski easily knocks down.

Consider the following by way of example.

The king of Linzylvania, a great tyrant, taken to great rages and to effing cutting off people's heads if they displease him, finally to the great relief of the populace, dies. Their wild joy is tempered however by the realization that his successor, his son Philerigo, although intent on pleasing everyone, is shall we say a bit on the side of mentally challenged. Now, the consequences of this particular turn of events cannot in its particulars be ascribed to philosophy one way or the other. The bad genes of the Linzanyian family is certainly not a philosophical issue.

However that there are rumblings in the streets of the capital, meetings being held in dark corners and basements, and citizens arming themselves at great risk to their lives is a consequence of philosophy. (Being Hsiehkovians, influenced by the brilliant philosopher Hsiehkoff, their intent of course is to bring the joys of liberty to Linzylvania). If these rebels eventually succeed it would certainly be a consequence of philosophy. Many of the details however of the specific battles fought may just be entirely coincedental.

In other words, the broad trends and general direction of the history of Linzylvania is most certainly primarily influenced by philosophy. But not necessarily every single detail of that history.

Other than that, I'm through

PhilipC's picture

Other than that, I'm through with these side debates on Tracinski...and always bringing onto every thread the books on AR....and other side matters or distractions or recriminations.

( I posted a thoughtful original essay on this thread. Why can't people devote the mental energy and effort to dissecting WHAT ARE IN PRINCIPLE the causes of history as opposed to simply whether some dude over or understated the role of philosophy? Remember that there are a series or sequence of causes and one does not fully grasp the causes of history without the kind of intellectual analysis I did in post #1. )

> You have evaded the facts

PhilipC's picture

> You have evaded the facts re Tracinski in exactly the same way Phil has re Valliant/PARC.

Linz, did you miss that

i) I've posted before that I don't -have- a position on the incidents of Ayn Rand's life as presented in "The Passion of Ayn Rand" and "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics" for the very simple reason that I haven't made it a priority in my life to read either book
ii) I've never posted a position on whether Barbara Branden's or Jim Valliant's book is more accurate since I haven't read them.

Merlin,

TRowland's picture

"Primary" is being used in both of the senses you ascribe to it. Philosophy is first in that it comes before its effects, and is most important in that all human action, and thus history, is explained with reference to it. I would argue that, on Tracinski's view, as well as Marx's, capitalsm had certain practical consequences that cause the prolitariate to rise up against it irrespective of any philosophical support (altruism, collectivism) that it may have.

Tom

www.trowland.blogspot.com

Phil,

TRowland's picture

Your demand for an exact quote in which Tracinski says that philosophy is not primary is not legitimate as a general policy and says nothing about "'proof."  Certainly we are all aware of the necessity to "make a case" for a person's guilt in the absense of a confession.  In this case, Tracinski begins with the supposition that philosophy is not primary in the very set-up of the problem.  Tracinski says that there is a phenomenon--the non-collapse of civilization--that can't be explained with reference to philosophy as a primary cause.  The reason that it can't be explained in such terms is the absense of any explicit philosophy that is generally accepted in the culture that supports capitalism.  In fact, if anything, nihilism and subjectivism , which do not support capitalism, are the rule. So Objectivism's philosophy of history, that philosophy is the primery cause of history, must be wrong.  That is, it must be wrong that philosophy is the primary cause. Therefore, philosophy is not the primary cause. q.e.d.  This is, in fact the subject of the first part if my reply to Tracinski at www.trowland.blogspot.com 

Tom

Clarity

Merlin Jetton's picture

Fred Weiss: "The question which both you and Phil are evading is really very, very simple: does Tracinski uphold the idea of the primacy of philosophy? Yes or no. If he does, provide me a quote(Drunk where he says that explicitly.   He does tell us that philosophy is important, even "crucial" - that's his hedge. But he does not say it is primary. What he *does* say is that the "special sciences" are primary and that philosophy *follows* them."

Fred is correct in a sense. However, what meaning of "primary" is being used? It can mean first in time or first in importance. Trancinski says less abstract knowledge precedes more abstract knowledge, philosopy being the latter. I should hope so, else a concept is not grounded in reality. So he used "primary" to mean first in time. However, Fred tries to cram his own words in Tracinski's mouth -- the special sciences are more important than philosophy as a mover of human history. 'Philosophy is the most important mover of human history' is the alleged Objectivist position that Fred holds and says Tracinski wants to undermine.

Even if one holds that philosophy is the most important mover of human history, that does not mean that philosophy has to be the most important in each and every instance. Philosophy can be most important in some instances and most important overall. However, it may not be most important in every instance, and this is Tracinski's position on capitalism. And I bet he would say the opposite on communism/socialism.

It would be helpful for people to be clear about their use of "primary."

More Denial

Fred Weiss's picture

Linz,all you are doing is repeating Tracinski's strawman argument, e.g."the primacy of ideas is sometimes made manifest a little more subtly than a philosopher's writing a book."

Gee. Ya think?

And I love this "a little more subtly" coming from you. How soon are we going to get "a little more nuanced" so that we can know for sure that you are devolving into just the kind of POMO bullshitter you loath.

The question which both you and Phil are evading is really very, very simple: does Tracinski uphold the idea of the primacy of philosophy? Yes or no. If he does, provide me a quote(Drunk where he says that explicitly.

He does tell us that philosophy is important, even "crucial" - that's his hedge. But he does not say it is primary. What he *does* say is that the "special sciences" are primary and that philosophy *follows* them. That is his argument re: Thales and his successors and his strawman argument that Aristotle had little influence on the Golden Age of Greece. He repeats it again in regard to the Carolingian Renaissance and the philosophical foundations of capitalism. He is extremely clear on that point and in fact it is the whole point of his essay. It is what gives him his "explanation" for why things have supposedly "gone right" in the last few decades whereas (certain unnamed) "Objectivists" have predicted the end of civilization.

You are completely ignoring our last exchange on this subject - and merely repeating Jason thug smears about "the party line" and the "orthodoxy". You are attacking Ayn Rand pure and simple and you won't admit it*, just as Tracinski won't. This is typical Branden/Kelley subterfuge and dishonesty. One of course expects that from Phil whose brain has turned into oatmeal through constant exposure to them. It is coming from you in this instance because Tracinski is another club for you to bash Peikoff without having to embrace Branden/Kelley (although surely you have noticed that they are crowing with glee over this and all of sudden - surprise, surprise - becoming big Tracinski fans).

Phil at this point isn't worth responding to any further since he hasn't engaged this issue at all. All he's done is rant and bluster and engage in ad hominem. You haven't done much better.

I have made my case repeatedly (as have others) and neither you or any of the other Tracinski defenders have been able to answer it with anything other than arm-waving and blatant denial.

It's as simple as that.

*Which of course is why Phil won't answer Boydstun.

Fred

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I hate to say it, but Phil has you well pegged here. He is vulnerable on his point iii) precisely because he has indeed offered succour and sanction to some truly unsavoury people and never confronted the fact. Possibly this is like recognising like. You have evaded the facts re Tracinski in exactly the same way Phil has re Valliant/PARC. You have misrepresented Tracinski and singularly failed to furnish back-up for your misrepresentation. He does not argue, explicitly or "in effect" for what you say he does. He does demonstrate that the primacy of ideas is sometimes made manifest a little more subtly than a philosopher's writing a book and—lo!—within a couple of generations there it is in the newspapers, cinemas, lecture halls and legislatures, running the world, as per some rationalistic artifice. Contrary to both you and Phil, he doesn't discount Thales or his immediate successors. Take a look at his comments on the Sophists, for instance. He does put you parroters of the party line, you sluts and hacks for automatised orthodoxy, on the spot re Aristotle.

Reality, reality, reality. Facts, facts, facts!

Linz

Trying to Bluster Your Way Out of the Fact You Have no Proof

PhilipC's picture

Here is my original (not all that complicated) question from yesterday:

" According to Tracinski philosophy is not primary - Fred Weiss. CHALLENGE: Give an exact quote from Tracinski's piece, long enough to not be taken out of context which clearly says this. "

............

Fred Weiss's technique when unable to answer a reasonable request for simple evidence:

i) He offered an equivocation, twisting the meaning of the word "primary" -and- putting words into the mouth of RT (and...get this.... in an act of mind-reading, he suggested that RT -- by not actually offering a quote of the kind requested -- was being dishonest and really believes what he did not actually say)

ii) When I explained both of these points in separate posts, he was trapped by having his logical fallacy exposed. Instead of acknowledging any of my points, he switched his ground and jumped to the attack:

iii) He responded (today) by trolling through past threads to find OTHER OUTSTANDING QUESTIONS to raise instead in response [in a form of the schoolyard "yeah, well you're another" tactic to take the heat of yourself and switch the discussion to someone else's faults.]

iv) This is so that he can launch a *counterattack* switching the topic to these new questions. Thus hoping inattentive readers will forget that he NEVER ANSWERED the orginal request for hard evidence. See his last post just above for a classic example of this.

All Mr. Fred Weiss does is spread destruction on thread after thread. It is as if he were being paid to subvert a noble philosophy.

I suggest that we cease engaging him. (I will certainly try to avoid his stinkbombs in the future.)

Ayn Rand would have had the utmost contempt for what he is now doing.

And the epistemological level of abandoning the rules of proof . . . and simple fairness . . . to which he has sunk.

Phil?

Fred Weiss's picture

While we are the subject of pots calling kettles, and Phil stamping his feet and demanding that you answer his questions, I'm wondering why Phil never answered Stephen Boydstun's very reasonable question posed to him a few days ago on this thread titled, "Coates contra Rand?".

Phil?

As typical of him, Merlin's

Fred Weiss's picture

As typical of him, Merlin's latest post is a total distortion of what I said - and of what I said about Tracinski and of Ayn Rand's position in regard to the philosophical basis for capitalism

I have already answered him on precisely these very points. All you need do is read my post in response to him for yourself. I will reprint it here, omitting the parts addressed to Linz:

____________________

Of course Merlin merely confirms precisely my point - and in fact the whole point in this debate.

In addition Merlin merely affirms and underlines the massive confusion - and chronic strawman - in the Tracinski position and contributes therefore as he (Merlin) has in the past to a major distortion of the Objectivist position.

Ayn Rand - and no Objectivist since - has ever said that all knowledge flows from philosophy - that, for example, one could deduce the details of the special sciences from philosophy. The idea is absurd on its face.

As far as capitalism is concerned that, "Neither its moral nature nor even its political principles had ever been fully understood or defined” is not equivalent to nothing about it was known. Not "fully understood" is certainly not the same thing as "not understood at all".

_________________

If Ayn Rand had wanted to say "has ever been understood" she would have said so. Instead she said, "ever been *fully* understood" which obviously has a distinctly different meaning.

Phil: Put Up or Shut Up Yourself

Fred Weiss's picture

It's not hard to notice the total absence of any substance in Phil's latest rant - or any attempt to address any of the points I raised. It's merely, as usual with him, a personal attack against me.

(How easily Phil ignores his own "Prime Directive" which is "Let's all get along and play nice").

Question to Phil:

Does Tracinski think that philosophy is the primary and fundamental causal factor in history? If he does, please provide a quote where he says that.

Put up or shut up.

Pot and kettle

Merlin Jetton's picture

Fred Weiss: "What Tracinski does or doesn't say explicitly or in crystal clear language sufficient to suit you is irrelevant. He is saying it. You just don't want to see it. Just as you don't want to see the Brandens or Kelley. Of course he hedges and feints, ducks and dodges, affirms and then denies - just as they do. They are all trying to have their cake and eat it, too. Notice how Ayn Rand never does that, nor does she have to."

Never? Compare what she said about philosophers being commander-in-chiefs in FNI and capitalism never having a philosphical base in CUI (see my prior post).

Fred says Tracinski dismisses John Locke's role in capitalism. That is blatantly false; Tracinski credits Locke with laying the political foundation. On the other hand, Rand entirely dismisses Locke's role in capitalism in CUI (see my prior post). Of course, we see nary a word about that from Fred.

Fred wrote: "You are a classic case of someone who is blind because he has eyes and there is absolutely nothing anyone can say to get you to open them." Fred is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.

MIND-READING & HOW TO ABANDON FAIRNESS AND OBJECTIVITY

PhilipC's picture

Mr. Fred Weiss is offering a non-proof oriented view of knowledge and of backing up one's claims.

The proof of this is his inability for the last two days to come up with a clear, direct quotation from Mr. Robert Tracinski which says "Philosophy is Not Primary".

Only mind-reading can tell us RT really believes something but...doesn't want to tell us what he REALLY believes but is concealing from us in a cowardly manner:

"Of course he hedges and feints, ducks and dodges." [Fred Weiss]

Leaving aside the question of how one can argue for something by "feinting" . . . or whether this seems to be Mr. Robert Tracinski's pattern in his past decade or two of writing in his magazine The Intellectual Activist . . . this (like FW's hair-trigger argument from intimidation quickness to repeatedly post on thread after thread and issue after issue that people who disagree on a wide range of topics are motivated by willful evasion or dishonesty) is equivalent to the religious view of "mystic insight" or revelation from some special source of knowledge.

And it is a perfect way to smear someone.

If you can get away with pinning something on him he didn't say but you can trump up some phony argument that something which is not really the same ((in this case, saying philosophy did not come first -chronologically- is "in effect" the same as saying: "there is no explanation for culture...this is clearly not the Objectivist view." [Fred Weiss] )), then its "Deuces Wild", as Ayn Rand would say.

Anything goes.

You can pin anything on anyone if you are not limited to what they actually said, a positiont they clearly and unambiguously took and realize the implications of.

In other words, a person who wants to attack someone for what he did not actually say does this:

i) he takes a bizarre position which the person never advocated,
ii) he claims that he must 'in effect' believe it,
iii) he denounces the phony position never claimed (and in this case probably not even believed).
iv) he rebuts the demand for a quote in which the person claimed the bizarre position by saying he feints, dodges, and conceals...but I can read his mind and/or add up the hidden clues.

And if I (or someone else) doesn't agree with Fred's position, if I am not a mind-reader but hold to the old-fashioned, naive view that ***YOU ONLY ATTRIBUTE A POSITION TO A MAN THAT HE CLEARLY, EXPLICITLY, UNMISTAKENLY COMES OUT AND SAYS HE HOLDS***....then in our case the only conclusion is we "just don't want to see it" [Fred Weiss].

Our inability to possess mystic insight, you see, means that we are willful evaders.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Fred Weiss's picture

"Fred, you've inadvertently endorsed Tracinski's thesis. I'll let it stand as a teaser to other SOLOists to identify how." - a very amused Linz.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Phil

Fred Weiss's picture

It really isn't that complicated, Phil. This isn't one of those issues where there are multiple possible interpretations.

I'll put it to you this way. What caused all of those preceding occurences in the "special sciences" and how do you explain why the bulk of them in one particular culture (say, Ancient Greece) leaned toward pro-reason/pro-reality whereas either they don't occur at all in other cultures (say, ancient Egypt or China) or they don't lead to an "explicit" pro-reason/pro-reality philosophy later "inductively" based on it as Tracinski claims?

Or, what "caused the causes"? Tracinski in effect is maintaining that these earlier occurences are "irreducible primaries" and thus that there is no explanation for culture and why one culture is rational and another isn't.

This is clearly not the Objectivist view. Ayn Rand was as clear as anyone could possibly be on it. And of course Tracinski is profoundly mistaken.

Furthermore, he is clearly twisting the facts to support his thesis - or is simply profoundly ignorant of intellectual history (in which case he shouldn't be theorizing about it). Of course you obviously are as well.

Mayhew has already pointed out the errors in his discussion of ancient Greece - and it is much, much more than just Thales, as you mention. Btw, since when does someone have to have the letter "P" stamped on their forehead before they can be considered a philosopher. Ayn Rand herself for example was mostly a novelist in the earlier stages of her career and yet there were profound philosophical insights in those novels (just as there have been in other novelists - not to mention dramatists, poets, and scientists).

Or look at the profound influence of the Bible which can hardly be considered systemized philosophy but yet which is infused with a profound philosophical outlook which was a cultural tsunami and which in its various forms guided the lives of millions, if not billions, of people over the centuries and up to the present day.

The pro-reason/pro-reality premises of the earlier Greeks leading up to Aristotle were not just implicit. They were *explicit*. And *that's what* caused the "Golden Age of Greece" of which Aristotle was the culmination. Philosophy was the primary causal factor. It just wasn't the fully systemized philosophy of an Aristotle. Or nothing was the causal factor. Tracinski's explanation is no explanation. It is simply an historical and philosophical nullity that explains nothing.

You might get away with scratching your head and not finding the influence on some one person and why they pursued some profoundly important endeavor in a "special science" which was very pro-reason/pro-reality in its implications and implicit premises. But you can't do that when it infuses an entire culture intellectually.

If you look at Tracinski's explication of other periods - whether it is the Carolingian Renaissance or the Enlightenment - you will see the same exact error (and that error is clear in the quote I provided you which you choose not to see).

What Tracinski does or doesn't say explicitly or in crystal clear language sufficient to suit you is irrelevant. He is saying it. You just don't want to see it. Just as you don't want to see the Brandens or Kelley. Of course he hedges and feints, ducks and dodges, affirms and then denies - just as they do. They are all trying to have their cake and eat it, too.

Notice how Ayn Rand never does that, nor does she have to.

You are a classic case of someone who is blind because he has eyes and there is absolutely nothing anyone can say to get you to open them. You have demonstrated that time and again. I get into precisely the same kind of discussions with Fred Seddon on Kant. It is essentially a waste of time.

Fred, your long quote from

PhilipC's picture

Fred, your long quote from RT indicates he believes that formal or explicit philosophy in Greece didn't come *first chronologically* but jelled later (out of special sciences, out of what was a form of -implicit- philosophy.) Whether he is right on this in the case of Greece (and I think he oversimplifies, e.g., Thales is in advance of most of the special sciences), it is not the same as saying philosophy is not -a primary-, the (or one of the) *driving forces of history*.

In other words, you are equivocating on the word "primary":

taking a statement that something else happened chronologically first as identical with saying that something else is more primary in the sense of **fundamental, important, driveing, causative**.

So, just as I thought you can't dredge up a quote. Having read RT very carefully, I was still willing to be open to the possibiity that I had missed where he said "philosophy is not primary"...

...but just as I suspected:

Ya got bupkus.

Yawn

Fred Weiss's picture

"Fred, you've inadvertently endorsed Tracinski's thesis. I'll let it stand as a teaser to other SOLOists to identify how." - a very amused Linz.

Yawn.

Phil Confesses

Fred Weiss's picture

Phil confesses that he hasn't read Tracinski's article, which if he had it wouldn't be necessary for me to provide him with quotes of what Tracinski is clearly saying and which in fact represents his very thesis. He would instead actually engage in the debate and offer a defense of that thesis instead of wasting my time.

However, I will indulge him this once - but not again.

I will not do Phil's work for him and tolerate him thinking he can discuss this subject without making the effort to familiarize himself with the relevant material - which at this point includes more than just Tracinski's piece. It also includes the several critiques of it which are readily available on the Internet. There is no point in merely repeating what has already been said.

"...history suggests a progression that should, in fact, seem natural and unsurprising: that new ideas arose first from achievements in the special sciences—from physics, mathematics, history, medicine, biology, and politics. These achievements were paralleled by advances in literature and art, which expressed, often in implicit, non-verbal form, the new conception of human life that was suggested by advances in other disciplines. Then at the end of this process, a great philosopher was able to explain what made all of those previous achievements possible, to identify their implicit method, and to draw, in explicit terms, the widest implications for our conception of human life and potential...the philosopher is, in a sense, following the achievements of those in specialized fields..."

Clear enough?

And thus we have the basis for Tracinski's purported explanation of why things are "going right" when they supposedly should be going wrong (if philosophy were primary).

Fred dodges the request

PhilipC's picture

"According to Tracinski philosophy is not primary" [Fred Weiss]

CHALLENGE:

Give an **exact quote** from Tracinski's piece, long enough to not be taken out of context which **clearly says this**

,,,,

Just as I thought: you are unable to do this.

Earth-to-Phil

Fred Weiss's picture

Phil, have you read his essay - or is that asking too much?

(Or perhaps, like Linz, you've read it but obviously don't understand it.)

Earth-to-Phil, according to Tracinski, if philosophy is primary then things shouldn't be "going right" since the prevailing philosophy of our age should be destroying us.

Or, one couldn't explain the wonders of Ancient Greece, since the wonders occured before Aristotle and thus before there was any explicit recognition of a pro-reason/pro-reality philosophy.

Or, the "Carolingian Renaissance" under Charlemagne.

And so on.

One of his more incredible statements is, "what is interesting is that the Industrial Revolution and the development of American capitalism was not the direct product of any previous philosophical projection." Then in a single wave of his hand he dismisses John Locke - though he would claim to only be diminishing him - merely because Locke (and others who were absolutely critical in setting the foundations of capitalism)did not "predict the degree to which the Industrial Revolution would transform human life". In other words, they weren't omniscient and other thinkers were required to impliment and apply their ideas. Gee.

Put Up or Shut Up

PhilipC's picture

"According to Tracinski philosophy is not primary" [Fred Weiss]

CHALLENGE:

Give an **exact quote** from Tracinski's piece, long enough to not be taken out of context which **clearly says this**

...and instead of a lot of bluster or your usual ad hominems and name-calling:

"The thoroughly dishonest manner in which the Tracinski position is being presented" [Fred Weiss].

Can't do it? (And don't use the cheap debater's trick of issuing a counter-challenge or attacking the speaker while evading answering the question)

We are very amused!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Fred, you've inadvertently endorsed Tracinski's thesis. I'll let it stand as a teaser to other SOLOists to identify how.

Linz

Yeah, Linz

Fred Weiss's picture

Look, Linz, when you first announce that there is no significant difference between what Tracinski is propounding and Objectivism - and then you go on to say, "...that a philosophy was made explicit only after its implicit embodiment in specialised fields had been identified is not to deny the primacy of philosophy, of ideas", you are in fact underscoring that very difference. It's vacuous to say that ideas are implicitly embodied in specialized fields without identifying precisely what those ideas were. The Chinese for example were very advanced technologically - in fact in many respects far more advanced than the West for many centuries. What was supposedly not "implicit" in China but was in, say, Greece which led to Aristotle or later that led to The Enlightenment?

Mayhew and Lewis are in fact arguing that the pro-reality/pro-reason ideas of the earlier Greeks leading up to Aristotle were in fact *explicit* in many respects. In other words, that Aristotle was heir to a great deal of preceding explicit pro-reason philosophy. It just wasn't systematized.

You know, the fact that someone does something presumptively "pro-reality" doesn't mean they have a fundamentally pro-reality metaphysics, implicitly or otherwise. I mean, look for example at the ancient Egyptians and their culture of death - and yet some of their advances in mathematics and engineering were extremely important and taken alone, compartmentalized, it had to require a certain pro-reality orientation at least to the extent they needed for their accomplishments. (Or more recently look at the Nazis or the communists).

How about for a change looking at the actual facts instead of rationalistically defending Tracinski.

I recommend that you stay on your toes. You will need to do a lot more acrobatics in whatever effort you undertake to defend Tracinski.

Um, Fred ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

And of course Linz is now denying what he was previously affirming and soon will be denying again, which is also what one is seeing in Tracinski's latest statements and in his own somersaults and those of his apologists.

Um, what exactly is that, Fred?

Massive distortion

Fred Weiss's picture

Of course Merlin merely confirms precisely my point - and in fact the whole point in this debate.

And of course Linz is now denying what he was previously affirming and soon will be denying again, which is also what one is seeing in Tracinski's latest statements and in his own somersaults and those of his apologists. That and deliberately trading in massive ambiguity - for example over the use of terms like "ideas'

In addition Merlin merely affirms and underlines the massive confusion - and chronic strawman - in the Tracinski position and contributes therefore as he (Merlin) has in the past to a major distortion of the Objectivist position.

Ayn Rand - and no Objectivist since - has ever said that all knowledge flows from philosophy - that, for example, one could deduce the details of the special sciences from philosophy. The idea is absurd on its face.

As far as capitalism is concerned that, "Neither its moral nature nor even its political principles had ever been fully understood or defined” is not equivalent to nothing about it was known. Not "fully understood" is certainly not the same thing as "not understood at all".

There are also apparently no limits to the depths this will go - and I suppose it should be no surprise that it emanates from Perigo, as for example when he spews, "The Aristotle example is not "irrelevant"—it's just inconvenient for rationalists." Meaning what? That those Objectivist "rationalists" - Ayn Rand I suppose among them - are maintaining that Aristotle had an influence on history *before he was even born".

But such is the thoroughly dishonest manner in which the Tracinski position is being presented, merely continuing the same pattern of the previous debate over the voting issue.

Huh?

Merlin Jetton's picture

Fred Weiss: “Yeah, that according to Tracinski philosophy is not primary - hence the irrelevant point about Aristotle - which is the entire debate which you are denying which can only make me think you haven't actually read Tracinski's article.”

If Fred did read it, then he misread it. No surprise there, and Perigo read it right. Nowhere does Tracinski say that philosophy is not a prime mover in human history. He does say:

1. “I do not mean to deny the crucial importance of fundamental philosophical ideas ...”

2. “All of these factors will be missed if we regard philosophers as the primary source of knowledge, which is only propagated downward to the special sciences.”

Note the second carefully. It says “the primary source of knowledge”. Obviously he meant all kinds of knowledge, not only philosophic knowledge, or knowledge developed by philosophers.

Tracinski discusses capitalism in The Summit and the Foundation and says it “was not the direct product of any previous philosophical projection.”  Ayn Rand made nearly the same point: “[C]apitalism never had a philosophical base.” “Neither its moral nature nor even its political principles had ever been fully understood or defined” (CUI, 30-31, pb).

Capitalism had no “commander-in-chief philosopher”, a metaphor used by Rand (see FNI, 26). In that regard capitalism surely contrasts with socialism or communism, for which was Marx was a fundamental and primary cause.

Fred

Lindsay Perigo's picture

How very strange. Of course I've read the article. All five instalments. And we are currently discussing Part 5, no? Where's the bit that says that philosophy is not primary? To say that a philosophy was made explicit only after its implicit embodiment in specialised fields had been identified is not to deny the primacy of philosophy, of ideas. The Aristotle example is not "irrelevant"—it's just inconvenient for rationalists.

Linz

Huh?

Fred Weiss's picture

"The point is that Aristotle didn't make possible what preceded him"

Ya think?

So?

Why does Tracinski - or you- bring this up as if it is relevant to anything?

Let's take it as given that Aristotle's influence on history did not occur until...umm...Aristotle existed. Ok?

"I think the two just differ as to how philosophy and the specialised disciplines interact."

Yeah, that according to Tracinski philosophy is not primary - hence the irrelevant point about Aristotle - which is the entire debate which you are denying which can only make me think you haven't actually read Tracinski's article. When you do, let me know and we'll resume the conversation.

(Discussing this with you has that same eerie alternate universe feeling I get when discussing Kant with Fred Seddon. It's like, huh? are we talking about the same thing?)

Fred

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Linz, why do you keep ducking the question? You say about the early Greeks, "the fact that they were thinking was certainly a crucial part of the cultural milieu." When are you going to tell us *what they were thinking about* that made Greek culture distinctive (as compared, say, to the Chinese or the Persian or the Aztec or, etc. etc - all great civilizations, but none of which culminated in an Aristotle).

But I already did. This world. But there's no argument from me on that. Or Tracinski, I'm sure. So?

The point is that Aristotle didn't make possible what preceded him—he wasn't here to do it! He identified that it was reason applied to reality that had made it possible and rendered that explicit in a philosophy upholding same, systematically and for the first time. That in turn made possible ... well, you know the rest. Renaissance, Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, all of which involved ongoing reciprocal reinforcement between ideas and their existential effects. And without the Industrial Revolution, let me remind you, Objectivism would not have been possible, according to its founder. No rationalist, our gal!

Actually, the question perhaps isn't so much *what* they were thinking about (although that is certainly part of it). Isn't it more *how* they were thinking about it?
That was Mayhew's (and Lewis's) point and that is what Tracinski is explicitly rejecting.

How? Where? What did I miss?

And if he is not rejecting it then he isn't saying anything fundamentally new or different.

There we agree. He isn't, as far as I can tell. That's why I'm surprised at the demonising. "There is no dichotomy between philosophy and specialised factors" (Peikoff). Does Tracinski say otherwise? I think the two just differ as to how philosophy and the specialised disciplines interact. Plus there is some sort of agenda to demonise Tracinski, for whatever reason. I assure you, Fred, I'm not his "apologist"—I don't know the man from Adam, "Linzinski" notwithstanding. I agree with what he's written on this matter (and the fatwa of course); that's the extent of my "apologetics" on his behalf. I also enjoy and recommend his TIA Daily.

But I've noticed both on this site and others that Tracinski's apologists continually do backing and filling, forward and backward somersaults, as if they really don't know themselves what the hell they are saying and at the same time both trying to differentiate their view from Objectivism while at the same time denying that it differs. This of course is classic dishonest pseudo-Objectivism of the Branden/Kelley variety, i.e. of trying to "have their Objectivism while denying it, too".

Oh, that's me for sure Fred. You got me good this time. Damn!

How's this for an example of what I mean - and something of a confirmation of Tom Rowland's observation that a kind of Kantian false dichotomy is at work. This is from Jack Wakeland on the Speicher Forum,

"Please don't forget -- not for a moment -- that the first cause of history is not ideas. It is man. History is the product of the choices of men. It is the story of their lives. Man uses ideas to organize and coordinate his actions over time to achieve long term goals, and, thus, ideas play a decisive role in historical change. But it is the specific choices and actions of creative and destructive (good and evil) men that decide history. Among men it is leaders in intellectual, artistic, political, and (since the industrial revolution) business fields who dominate the historical scenes."

Jack Wakeland

This is a similar to saying, we're not just minds, we're also bodies.

So, gee, don't ever forget that whatever your fancy, highfalutin ideas, you've still got to deal with that body of yours. Uh, huh. So tell us something we don't know. Ayn Rand dealt with this phoney dichotomy so many times in so many different ways I assume it's not necessary to discuss it further here.

I agree with you on this, and disagree with Jack Wakeland, whoever he is. He's kinda forgetting that choices don't occur in a vacuum either. "The first cause of history is man"?! Oh dear! Duh!

But this is precisely what is at the root of this phoney "actual facts" vs "rationalism" dichotomy which you guys are flinging around. The real distinction is between *concrete-boundness* and *floating abstractions* - and both are *wrong* epistemological approaches. And you damn well know it - or should.

Of course they're both wrong. That's why I keep trying to steer you away from floating abstractions, Fred.

Linz

Well done, Lindsay!

Ross Elliot's picture

"...but man the thinker, man the achiever, man the proud, this-wordly hero, was not an explicit part of a systematic philosophy till Aristotle. By which time man had already been doing one hell of a lot of thinking and achieving and heroing without the benefit of such an explicit, systematic philosophy."

And that's *exactly* the great Romantic idea in Atlas Shrugged; with Galt, the Aristotelian savior.

Linz, why do you keep

Fred Weiss's picture

Linz, why do you keep ducking the question?

You say about the early Greeks, "the fact that they were thinking was certainly a crucial part of the cultural milieu."

When are you going to tell us *what they were thinking about* that made Greek culture distinctive (as compared, say, to the Chinese or the Persian or the Aztec or, etc. etc - all great civilizations, but none of which culminated in an Aristotle).

Actually, the question perhaps isn't so much *what* they were thinking about (although that is certainly part of it). Isn't it more *how* they were thinking about it?

That was Mayhew's (and Lewis's) point and that is what Tracinski is explicitly rejecting. And if he is not rejecting it then he isn't saying anything fundamentally new or different.

But I've noticed both on this site and others that Tracinski's apologists continually do backing and filling, forward and backward somersaults, as if they really don't know themselves what the hell they are saying and at the same time both trying to differentiate their view from Objectivism while at the same time denying that it differs. This of course is classic dishonest pseudo-Objectivism of the Branden/Kelley variety, i.e. of trying to "have their Objectivism while denying it, too".

How's this for an example of what I mean - and something of a confirmation of Tom Rowland's observation that a kind of Kantian false dichotomy is at work. This is from Jack Wakeland on the Speicher Forum,

"Please don't forget -- not for a moment -- that the first cause of history is not ideas. It is man. History is the product of the choices of men. It is the story of their lives.

Man uses ideas to organize and coordinate his actions over time to achieve long term goals, and, thus, ideas play a decisive role in historical change. But it is the specific choices and actions of creative and destructive (good and evil) men that decide history. Among men it is leaders in intellectual, artistic, political, and (since the industrial revolution) business fields who dominate the historical scenes."

Jack Wakeland

This is a similar to saying, we're not just minds, we're also bodies.
So, gee, don't ever forget that whatever your fancy, highfalutin ideas, you've still got to deal with that body of yours. Uh, huh. So tell us something we don't know. Ayn Rand dealt with this phoney dichotomy so many times in so many different ways I assume it's not necessary to discuss it further here.

But this is precisely what is at the root of this phoney "actual facts" vs "rationalism" dichotomy which you guys are flinging around. The real distinction is between *concrete-boundness* and *floating abstractions* - and both are *wrong* epistemological approaches. And you damn well know it - or should.

Actually, no it's not.

PhilipC's picture

Actually, no it's not.

Primcess Phyllis

Lindsay Perigo's picture

You'd moan if your bum were on fire. And if it weren't.

I created it to try to start to list what causes history and how it works specifically.

That's what we're doing, in case you hadn't noticed. Smiling

Linz

Sticking to the Original Topic Which Has not been Fully Explored

PhilipC's picture

I created this thread to not be another thread about Tracinski, nor one *primarily or exclusively* about whether philosophy is the fundamental, the explict, the implicit, or one of many drivers of history. Or about who is or is not planning? abandoning Objectivism. There are other threads for those things. (No, I don't want to parse Peikoff or Rand's very general summary...I want to move to more specifically more concretely or in more detail how one lists the causes and how they work.)

I created it to try to start to list what causes history and how it works specifically. (You will find -within- that the ways in which philosophy works through the causes -- both implicitly and explicitly.)

Unfortunately, people would rather make this a copy of the other threads by simply porting their subjects over here (and those subjects are sometimes worthwhile ones) and hijack it for that purpose.

Ted and Fred

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Thanks Ted. The thing that puzzles me is that anything I said in those two paras should be controversial!

Fred—I've read Mayhew's critique. I fear it misrepresents Tracinski as claiming that the thoughts of the earliest Greek philosophers had nothing to do with the scientific, medical, artistic, etc., advances of the time. He doesn't say that. In fact, he explicitly says the opposite. His point—again, if I've followed him correctly—is that the fact that they were thinking was certainly a crucial part of the cultural milieu, but man the thinker, man the achiever, man the proud, this-wordly hero, was not an explicit part of a systematic philosophy till Aristotle. By which time man had already been doing one hell of a lot of thinking and achieving and heroing without the benefit of such an explicit, systematic philosophy.

Mayhew says Tracinski has an agenda to "show that philosophy--whatever its merits and importance--is not the prime mover in human history." Has Tracinski said that or are his demonisers inferring it?

I can't speak for Tracinski, but I believe it would be more accurate to say that explicit, systematic philosophies are not always the prime mover in human history, though ideas certainly are; the more explicit and systematic they are the greater their potence; and with Objectivism we have the opportunity to make history "go more right" than ever. Doesn't mean that without Objectivism there's no hope, that it's either Objectivism or the Apocalypse, with the latter imminent. There is hope as long as there is (reality-oriented) thought, as daily life should constantly remind us.

Linz

Bravo, Linz!

Ted Keer's picture

The two most concise and well expressed paragraphs I have read in this debate, which boil Tracinski's argument and a proper defense of him down to its essence are these:

"I couldn't agree more; but neither does a morbid pessimism help. Again I say, Objectivism would surely enjoin us to make sure we're identifying inductively what's actually going on before reaching conclusions about where we might be headed. That's Tracinski's approach, which I would have thought is the truly "orthodox" one. The rationalist approach is to say, deductively, "Bad premises abound; the inexorable [and who's the Marxist exactly?!] result will be calamity, which can be circumvented only by Objectivism."

Everywhere we're assailed by the ignoble, most notably in the arts. Yet there is much nobleness as well. And everywhere we're "assailed" by the products of the most excruciatingly sophisticated thought, such as the means by which we're communicating right now, or the Rach I'm listening to as I type. Where there is thought there is hope. Tracinski's point, if I've got him correctly, is that the Greeks, for instance, were magnificent in the absence of an explicit philosophy because they were thinking. And the existential fruits of their thinking led to more thinking, and eventually to formal philosophy (not the other way round), which in turn had existential effects, which in turn catalysed further thinking, and on & on. This in no way naysays the driving power of ideas! Quite the contrary I would have thought. It's just a matter of how ideas have their influence. Never in or from a vacuum! Did Rand herself not say that the conceiving of Objectivism would not have been possible prior to the Industrial Revolution?" -Linz

Ted

What leads some group of

Fred Weiss's picture

What leads some group of thinkers in one particular culture to think with "a reality-orientation" and another not - such that it will explain the difference between Greek and, say, ancient Chinese culture?

Is it conceivable ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... that Fred needs to have it spelled out that by "thinking" in this context I mean "thinking with a reality-orientation"?

Meanwhile, it's not only conceivable that I'm unaware of Mayhew's critique, it's true. At least, it was until now. Naturally I shall acquaint myself with said critique forthwith.

Linz

Is it conceivable that

Fred Weiss's picture

Is it conceivable that Perigo is unaware of Robert Mayhew's critique of Tracinski's account of the interplay of philosophy and culture in ancient Greek culture - so much so that he can baldly declare of Tracinski's claims, "...the Greeks, for instance, were magnificent in the absence of an explicit philosophy because they were thinking. And the existential fruits of their thinking led to more thinking, and eventually to formal philosophy (not the other way round)..."

Please tell me in what ancient, advanced culture weren't men "thinking"?

In any event, this is what Prof. Mayhew had to say on this subject:

"In the first half of the penultimate installment of "What Went Right?" ("The Summit and the Foundation"), Robert Tracinski presents a view of the development of ancient Greek philosophy, and its relationship to classical Greek culture generally, that is deeply flawed. Further, these flaws seem to stem not simply from his ignorance of the subject matter, but from a desire to have his alternative to the Objectivist philosophy of history seem to fit the facts."

Mayhew's full article can be read here:

Mayhew

Commenting on Mayhew's article, Prof. John Lewis added that the Greeks did have a philosophical view that predominated in their culture prior to Aristotle. "For the Greeks, this was the conviction that this world, including our moral characters, could be understood rationally, without recourse to divine will--as Solon said of Athens. This is the fundamental idea that connects all of these thinkers, including those who made honest errors. Without a commitment to this idea, nothing can follow--and nothing ever has. This is the real Greek philosophical revolution."

But one can of course ignore the ancient Greek scholars Mayhew and Lewis because they are obviously "rationalists" who aren't looking at the "actual facts".

I won't respond to the rest of Perigo's comments except to note that they consist mostly of question-begging or strawmen.

I'm still waiting for any of the Tracinski apologists to answer my question about 1928. To repeat, wouldn't someone looking at the "actual facts" - most especially, the technological marvels and the booming economies of the period - have regarded everything as honkey-dorey and the future bright? Incidentally, as a small additional detail, it is at least arguable that electing the Republican Hoover was the worst thing the country could have done. It was his policies more than any other which contributed to the crash of 1929. (see Richard Salsman's article on the subject in...umm...TIA). And of course for the rest of the century it was "the Republicans who caused the Depression and the Democrats who rescued us from it."

Jon

Lindsay Perigo's picture

But we Objectivists don't help matters when we pretend that the culture today ago is rosier than it really is, or that we're moving in the right direction.

I couldn't agree more; but neither does a morbid pessimism help. Again I say, Objectivism would surely enjoin us to make sure we're identifying inductively what's actually going on before reaching conclusions about where we might be headed. That's Tracinski's approach, which I would have thought is the truly "orthodox" one. The rationalist approach is to say, deductively, "Bad premises abound; the inexorable [and who's the Marxist exactly?!] result will be calamity, which can be circumvented only by Objectivism."

Everywhere we're assailed by the ignoble, most notably in the arts. Yet there is much nobleness as well. And everywhere we're "assailed" by the products of the most excruciatingly sophisticated thought, such as the means by which we're communicating right now, or the Rach I'm listening to as I type. Where there is thought there is hope. Tracinski's point, if I've got him correctly, is that the Greeks, for instance, were magnificent in the absence of an explicit philosophy because they were thinking. And the existential fruits of their thinking led to more thinking, and eventually to formal philosophy (not the other way round), which in turn had existential effects, which in turn catalysed further thinking, and on & on. This in no way naysays the driving power of ideas! Quite the contrary I would have thought. It's just a matter of how ideas have their influence. Never in or from a vacuum! Did Rand herself not say that the conceiving of Objectivism would not have been possible prior to the Industrial Revolution?

In its early stages at least philosophy had to make sense of things after they had happened. Objectivism identifies that "things went right" because of reason. Objectivism has the rest of the kit and caboodle sussed as well. Because of Objectivism we have the opportunity to get things more right more consciously than ever before. In the meantime, we may well get the breathing space we need because because there's enough reason, enough thinking going on out there, still.

Linz

Good Replies

Jon Trager's picture

Lindsay, I appreciate your response. You're right that my list wasn't exhaustive; I limited my points to the major political trends in the USA. Of course there are some new positive cultural developments I didn't mention. There are also negative ones I didn't mention either, such as the rise of thug-worship (like in the gangsta rap you despise), the growing emphasis on race and ethnicity over merit, and the burgeoning popularity of "alternative" (i.e., scientifically unproven) medical treatments.

Yes, the economy has continued to grow, as productive giants like Microsoft continue to innovate. Notice, however, that this very firm is the poster-child for baseless attacks by government officials (first in the USA with that absurd antitrust case a few years ago and now overseas by the EU) as well as many others who envy its success. In Atlas Shrugged, as the culture was obviously collapsing, companies like Rearden Metal continued to create as well--until the existential conditions brought about by bad philosophy caused them to stop.

Jason claims some of the cultural pessimism amongst Objectivists is because some Objectivists are older. Well I'm only 28, and I wish that the future seemed brighter than it does now. But my observation of the facts make me think otherwise, and as an Objectivist I try to keep my beliefs tied to the facts. There's a difference between unwarranted pessimism intended to position oneself as a martyr for a cause and pessimism that's rationally justified.

I'm NOT saying, of course, that the culture is doomed. As Ayn Rand repeatedly pointed out, men have free will, so it's still possible for them to rethink their philosophical premises and thereby change the course of history. But we Objectivists don't help matters when we pretend that the culture today ago is rosier than it really is, or that we're moving in the right direction.

Jason

TRowland's picture

Name calling is ad hominem, and you do it quite well. However, saying that Tracinski's argument contains a "whiff of Kantianism" in a footnote, because Tracinski divides the thinkers in the world into those who deal with reality hands on (economists, engineers, etc.)(the world of appearance conditioned by space and time) and those who deal with such abstract concepts as the structure of philosophy (who the hell cares about abstract metaphysics?), is an attempt to identify (in a minor way; hence the footnote) what is going on philosophically -- what informs Tracinski's argument. That is neither name-calling nor ad hominem. It is an attempt to understand.

Now, I've had enough experience at SOLO to know that some of the people here are not much taken with abstract philosophical discussion. They would much rather sound off in a KASS-like manner, whether verbally or pictorially. I, on the other hand am not much taken with such antics. So, if you do want to engage with me, make your point and argue for it. I think, if you bother to read what I've written all the way through, you'll find that I'm rather polite to Mr. Tracinski.

Fair enough?

The actual facts

Fred Weiss's picture

To expand on Stephen Boydstun's excellent post, the following needs to be added because it has been chronically omitted in characterizing the Objectivist position.

"Objectivism does not deny that "many factors" are involved in historical causation. Economic, psychological, military, and other forces play a role. Ayn Rand does not, however, regard all these forces as primaries.

"There is no dichotomy between philosophy and the specialized factors. Philosophy is not the only cause of the course of the centuries. It is the ultimate cause, the cause of all the other causes. If there is to be an explanation of so vast a sum as human history, which involves all men in all fields, only the science dealing with the widest abstractions can provide it. The reason is that only the widest abstractions can integrate all those fields.

"The books of philosophers are the beginning. Step by step, the books turn into motives, passions, statues, politicians, and headlines.
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.
In order to grasp the role of philosophy in history, one must be able to think philosophically, i.e., see the forest. Whoever sees it knows that history is not the domain of accident." OPAR "Epilogue—The Duel Between Plato And Aristotle"

Strictly speaking

Fred Weiss's picture

Jason refers to "the strict orthodox view about how ideas influence history".

That's what exactly?

Ayn Rand's view?

What is a not so "strict" or "orthodox" view? Perhaps, one that Ayn Rand wouldn't agree with but that you want to nonetheless still call Objectivism, e.g., the Kelley charade - which is simply trying "to have your Objectivism while eating it, too".

Of course one could just simply come out and say, "I no longer agree with Objectivism" (as Bill predicts Tracinski will). That would be the honest thing to do. But honesty is not exactly the hallmark of pseudo-Objectivists, now is it?

You declare that ideas are important, in fact "absolutely critical". But what? Not as important as some other things such as economics or technology or science, etc., as Tracinski argues? These instead operate how exactly independent of ideas?

You haven't answered my question about 1928 - though I assume you continue to proclaim that you are committed to "actual facts" vs. the "rationalism" of those "strict" and "orthodox" Objectivists. Let's try another question. Here's an actual fact. Isaac Newton was perhaps the greatest scientist up till his time, perhaps of all time. But philosophically he was a mystic. How is that possible if philosophical ideas are the primary causal factor in history (not to mention in a man's life) - or does it show that they are not?

Hint: Why did Newton emerge in 17th-18th Century England and not in, say, China?

Coates contra Rand?

Stephen Boydstun's picture

Phil,

Is your conception of what causes history in any way different than Rand's conception of what causes history, insofar as she wrote about that? Is yours in any way contrary to Rand's?

Rand writes in her essay "Is Atlas Shrugging?" as follows:

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. If you know a man's convictions, you can predict his actions. If you understand the dominant philosophy of a society, you can predict its course.

In her essay "For the New Intellectual," Rand writes:

Just as a man's actions are preceded and determined by some form of idea in his mind, so a society's existential conditions are preceded and determined by the ascendancy of a certain philosophy among those whose job is to deal with ideas. The events of any given period of history are the result of the thinking of the preceding period.

In his 1976 lecture series The Philosophy of Objectivism, Leonard Peikoff (speaking under Rand's auspice) says (Lecture XII) that philosophy of history seeks the fundamental factors for why men act as they did in the past. He said that the answer must be referenced to man's fundamental nature, therefore to metaphysics and epistemology. History has causes, and these are not deterministic, not the will of God, and not simply practical, economic factors. Objectivist philosophy of history considers the causal role of ideas. Part of the uniqueness of Objectivism lies in the role it attributes to philosophy in human life. Philosophy determines only the essence of a man's life course and only the essence of human history. Given acceptance of certain principles by a society, the conclusions of those principles will eventually be enacted unless the principles are changed. Lastly, the Great Man theory of history is incorrect; their power comes as innovators, as transmitters, or as implementers of philosophic ideas.

Those were Rand's Objectivist views of the philosophy of history as of 1976. The preceding recitation of this lecture segment by Peikoff is from my own handwritten notes. If any readers here know my record to be inaccurate, please correct me.

Rand also approved of the way Peikoff cashed out her ideas on philosophy of history in his book on the NAZI epoch in Germany, his book The Ominous Parallels. Do you think the views on the role of philosophy in the historical developments addressed in this book are entirely correct?

Bill

Ted Keer's picture

Why the tizzy? Are you not influenced by Ayn Rand? Do you not disagree with her mistakes? And doesn't Mr T already have a job in the real world where he doesn't have to wear a scarlet "O" on his lapel to prove his manhood? Lordy!

Ted

Bingo

Bill Visconti's picture

So one wonders why he bothers - except of course the obvious (and the same reason motivating the Brandens and Kelley): to attack and undermine Objectivism and distance himself from it to promote his career (by making him more acceptable to the establishment).

I suggested this awhile ago in another thread and of course people read me the riot act. Tracinski is following the same path as the other "Objectivists" that eventually became enemies of Objectivism (all the while proclaiming that they were really the true Objectivsts as opposed to the ARIan cultists). Just look at how proud he is to be published on various Conservative websites (ie Pajamas Media). Would anyone at ARI water down Objectivism to win the approval of various Conservatives?

I've said it before, Tracinski has been called the "Fox News" of Objectivism. Now that label is never more appropriate. Tracinski will not be an Objectivist for much longer. He will declare himself to be someone who is "influenced" by Ayn Rand but who disagrees with her "mistakes". I will go on record as betting my left testacle on it. Pardon the phrase.

Proud ARIan Warmonger

And Mr Tammett

Ted Keer's picture

The word is venomous, not vociferous. Smiling

Ted

Bill

Ted Keer's picture

Mark's analysis of Mr Weiss is correct. I challenge you or him to come up with a single post by Fred anywhere that offers something new, something positive, something broadening. All Fred brings to the table is ad hominem invective. As to why you see yourself, who have actually posted some original thoughts and unhateful comments, tarred with the same brush, I don't see it.

Mark's post was clear and relevant without resorting to name calling or vulgarity, and I wish he would post more often, and I won't take it personally when I disgree with him on something he says in the future.

Ted

Mark

Bill Visconti's picture

If anyone could put their finger on what I'm struggling to identify, I'd be most indebted to them.

You're psychologizing and attempting emotional blackmail; ie "Fred's arguments leave me cold therefore he and anyone who agrees with him must be a rationalist." Its also known as bullshit.

Proud ARIan Warmonger

What's wrong with Objectivists?

Mark Tammett's picture

I've been asking myself for a while, why are the disagreements amongst Objectivists so vociferous? And why are the schisms into various groups and allegiances so numerous? I don't yet know the answer, but this discussion (particularly the latter contributions from Jason and Fred) has provided me with some clues.

When I was much younger I thought that if I was to ever meet someone who had read and agreed with Ayn Rand (and in those pre Internet days I didn't know any), I should agree with them on almost everything. That expectation was admittedly naive -- but if Objectivism is true, and most of us are honest in trying to apply it, I still believe we should be seeing much more agreement, and a lot less disagreement than we do in Objectivist circles.

No doubt there are some dishonest manipulative bastards, or just plain weirdos out there who call themselves Objectivists (and that's the cause of some conflict), but I think they must be a minority. Something else is amiss for two people, for instance Jason and Phil, who believe in the same philosophical principles to see things so completely differently.

When I read Jason's post, I started to think about, to coin a phrase from another thread, 'what actually happened'. I compared it to what I knew about the personalities he was probably referring to, their writings, and their history. Was it consistent with my observations or not? I thought it was. This by no means proves it true, but I gained a useful hypothesis that may help me to understand the world a little bit more.

When I read Fred's post by contrast, I gained nothiing. He pointed out that Jason had no proof for his hypotheses -- but that point was obvious. I also sensed that if I tried to address his argument I'd gain nothing. I disagreed with him for one, but you don't have to agree with someone to gain something from their ideas. (I even gain something from reading John Minto's socialist propoganda in the Christchurch Press every week). But there was something about Fred's style, or his purpose that was different. I sensed that any discussion with him would not be tied to "what actually happened", that it would soon turn nasty, and would get bogged down over arguing semantics. It would be unproductive. The word 'rationalism' came to mind.

I accept I've offered no proof for this, and perhaps not even much evidence. So I'm not saying that Fred is necessarily a rationalist, just a suspiction that any attempt to counter his points would have degraded into a rationalist discussion. In some fundemantial way, the thought process, the method, almost the sense of life; was very different in these two posts. What each gains from discussing ideas, their frame of reference is different - even though both apparently believe in the same explicit philosophy.

If anyone could put their finger on what I'm struggling to identify, I'd be most indebted to them.

PS - Apologies if this post is off topic.

"Of course, by the same

Jason Quintana's picture

"Of course, by the same reasoning, nothing Tracinski is writing will make much difference either."

No that actually ISN'T my position. That is the strawman argument you are trying to use to counter the arguments being made against the strict orthodox view about how ideas influence history. My statement about your philosophy's mediocrity has nothing to do with my overall position about the importance of ideas. They are absolutely critical. I wouldn't be here and I wouldn't be repulsed by you if I thought otherwise. I simply wouldn't care.

- Jason

Jason D. Quintana is not associated with the Ayn Rand Institute -- neither as a writer nor as a speaker.

Forgot about that!

Jason Quintana's picture

I'll tell you, I didn't think I would like it and at the beginning I wasn't liking it. But I ended up really enjoying it. Great group of characters. I especially liked the crafty Professor. I'll write something short in a few days. Sorry for the thread hijacks Phil, but don't even think about admonishing me!

- Jason

Jason D. Quintana is not associated with the Ayn Rand Institute -- neither as a writer nor as a speaker.

"Good luck trying to change

Fred Weiss's picture

"Good luck trying to change history."

Nothing to worry about, Jason. Ideas are not the primary causal factor, so nothing we do will make much difference anyway. Right?

Of course, by the same reasoning, nothing Tracinski is writing will make much difference either. So one wonders why he bothers - except of course the obvious (and the same reason motivating the Brandens and Kelley): to attack and undermine Objectivism and distance himself from it to promote his career (by making him more acceptable to the establishment).

Incidentally, just to further intellectually arm those who are following - and perhaps confused by - this debate, also look out for these code words flung at Objectivism, "rationalist set of philosophical positions" (this is also anti-intellectual code for: principles).

Jason, essentially being a thug, falls into this smear rather easily.

Jason

Ted Keer's picture

You obviously don't "understand Objectivism.

Good for you, some great posts. And where is that promissed review of Heinlein?

Ted

"Not surprisingly underlying

Jason Quintana's picture

"Not surprisingly underlying the Tracinski position - right under the surface so that a bare scratch reveals it - is a profound anti-intellectualism. As this debate proceeds this becomes clearer and clearer. Tom Rowland thinks he sees a "whiff of Kantianism". That may be but far clearer is the actual odor of Marxism, not of course in upholding class warfare specifically but in the rejection of the mind as the primary causal factor in history and its replacement by the historicism of economics and/or technology."

Talk about setting up a straw man! Tracinski complains about bad philosophizing and a lack of proper perspective and suddenly he and his supporters are Kantian/Marxian Objectivst bashers who are anti-mind and anti-intellectual who believe that economics is the primary cause of history.

As for ad hominem attacks I'll gladly employ them when it comes to you. You and your friends and your "leaders" are mediocrities who advocate a hollow, negative, rationalist set of philosophical positions. When someone breaks rank, and tries to bring things back to reality you guys scurry around like rats trying to defend your cherished orthodoxy. Good luck trying to change history with mindset like this.

- Jason

Jason D. Quintana is not associated with the Ayn Rand Institute -- neither as a writer nor as a speaker.

And now for something completely different.

Fred Weiss's picture

Like how about responding to Jon's post without (1) strawmen and (2) begging the question and (3)ad hominem. Jason, being a pro at it, manages to accomplish all three (although at least, fortunately as he assures us, he is not associated with ARI, while at the same time however suggesting the absurd and grandiose self-delusion that they would ever lower their standards to that extreme an extent so it would ever be possible for him to speak or write for them).

Let's put it in concrete terms, since afterall we are being importuned by the Tracinski apologists to deal with "actual facts" (although I've yet to see a clear definition of which "facts" we're supposed to focus on)*. The year is 1928. Would you be more justified in being positive - or negative - about the state of the culture and its future direction?

*"Let's deal with actual facts" in this context is code for pragmatist concrete-boundedness. It's actual meaning as used here is: let's ignore principles. Not surprisingly underlying the Tracinski position - right under the surface so that a bare scratch reveals it - is a profound anti-intellectualism. As this debate proceeds this becomes clearer and clearer. Tom Rowland thinks he sees a "whiff of Kantianism". That may be but far clearer is the actual odor of Marxism, not of course in upholding class warfare specifically but in the rejection of the mind as the primary causal factor in history and its replacement by the historicism of economics and/or technology.

Old Fogeys and "Self Rightous Negativity"

Jason Quintana's picture

I think that some of the Objectivist negativity can be directly linked to the fact that many of the Objectivist authority figures are getting old. A lot of the things that James discusses above are not part of the general Objectivist discussion because the people leading those discussions aren't in a position to fully understand the implications (economic, technological, social, cultural) of the actual progress that is taking place in the world right now. They see a bunch of bad or uncomfortable cultural annoyances and then over emphasize their importance.

There is also something to be said about focusing too much on the news. If someone can't put the news in proper perspective (i.e. that by its nature the news will usually report bad, unusual events) then it is very easy to come to the conclusion that the world is falling apart. While there is plenty of good news out there, one has to go out and find it and then be able to judge its importance. This is not an easy task. The daily news is spoon fed to us.

Most importantly there is the fact that "self righteous negativity" is a very good way to stir up the troops and at the same time promote one's own moral superiority. This seems to work very well in Objectivist circles because any kind of mixed analysis is perceived as being some sort of compromise. To avoid sounding wishy washy it is easier for an Objectivist to focus in on the negative. This the safe, "principled sounding" way to interact with a group of Objectivists. It is the easiest way to elicit the thumbs up from other people who want to sound strong and principled too. The trouble with this method is of course that it is irrational and leads to a flawed world view.

- Jason

Jason D. Quintana is not associated with the Ayn Rand Institute -- neither as a writer nor as a speaker.

Jon

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I saw your post the first time & thought to myself that while your list was accurate, it wasn't exhaustive. Every day there are concrete facts to remind us that Aristotle endures. For instance, this story this very day:

Five years in the making, Microsoft’s replacement for their flagship operating system Windows, goes on sale at midnight tonight in New Zealand.

The launch of Vista is being described as the most significant in Microsoft’s history.

The system is being touted as more secure and easier to use. It also has many extra features geared towards a public becoming more at ease with technology.

I agree that the overall trend is negative. No one despises most of what passes for "culture" nowadays more than I. I, like you, would single out pomo-wankery and green "science" for special dishonourable mention as underpinning the state of the culture—rather than a resurgent Christianity, though that too assuredly mandates vigilance.

The virtue of Tracinski's approach is that it enjoins us to keep faith with what's actually going on.

Linz

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