Alice in Objectivist Land, part nine

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Submitted by NickOtani on Thu, 2007-07-12 15:15

“And what do you think about consciousness?” asked Dr. P. “Is it a process also?”

“Yes,” answered the Mad Hatter. “I don’t see it as a thing acting on the body or in relation to the body, another thing.”

“Do you think we have volition?” asked Dr. P

“Yes,” answered the Mad Hatter. “I have to be able to control, to some extent, the input coming into me. I can focus or not. Otherwise, there would be just too much. Perhaps it is good that some things slip through the net. There’d be no way to isolate separate objects and categorize them if the net were a solid scoop rather than a net.”

“If some things will always slip through the net, you are saying that some things will always be unknowable, right?” asked Dr. P.

“Yes,” answered the Mad Hatter.

“Don’t you know that claiming a thing is unknowable entails a logical contradiction?” said Dr. P. “The statement that something is unknown assumes a previous knowledge of precisely that which is denied, which would be self-contradictory. Nathaniel Branden said, before he fell out of favor with Ayn Rand, ‘The assertion that a thing is unknowable carries the necessary epistemological implication that the speaker is omniscient—that he has total knowledge of everything in the universe…’”

“Well,” said the Mad Hatter, “Nathaniel Branden rejects the claims of “absolute unknowability” by asserting the contrary doctrine of “absolute knowability.” In so doing, he leaves himself open to precisely those charges which he levels against the proponents of absolute epistemological limits. It is only possible to state that everything is knowable if one knows everything already.”

“Anyway,” continued the Mad Hatter, “I don’t know everything, and that’s why I keep looking. If I thought I knew everything already, I don’t think I would care.”

“You mentioned William James,” said Dr. P. “William James was a Christian. Are you a Christian?”

“No,” said the Mad Hatter. “I don’t necessarily agree with everything William James said. I think for myself.”

“Well,” said Dr. P, “is he the most integrated pragmatist, or are you?”

“I am a pragmatist because I hold most of the essential views of a pragmatist, but I am not a carbon copy of other pragmatists,” said the mad Hatter. “I don’t have to be. Yes, I know Ayn Rand wanted her followers to accept her as a whole, but this is not a requirement for many other philosophers.”

“How about Existentialists?” said Dr. P, “Don’t you have irreconcilable differences with them?”

“Not necessarily,” said the Mad Hatter, “I don’t require everybody I meet to be a carbon copy of me. Some people focus on different things and, perhaps, have a different perspective. This is healthy. We can discuss things and learn from each other. It’s interesting this way.”

“Are you such a relativist that Hitler and Gandhi share the same boat. It’s just interesting that way?” asked Dr. P.

“No,” said the Mad Hatter, “I draw the line when people say some people are less than human and don’t deserve equal rights, and I certainly don’t like people imposing their views on others by physical force, as you are doing here. If someone thinks he or she has all the ultimate answers, we pragmatists are suspicious.”

“Okay, I’m though with this witness,” said Dr. P.

“You may take your seat, Mr. Hatter,” said the judge. “The defense may call its next witness.”

“I’d like to call on Miss Alice Blumenthal,” said Dr. K.

Alice took her oath and her seat.

“Please tell the court, Alice, what you like about Objectivism,” instructed Dr. K.

“I like the egoism and atheism,” began Alice, “I agree with the individualism and humanism. I like that Objectivism is opposed to forces that would dehumanize humans, forces that would objectify them. We agree that humans need ethics and that one makes oneself through one’s choices. For example, I love the “I” speech from Anthem. I agree with freedom and natural rights and the ideal of capitalism. And, Rand, Sartre, and Kant all agree about treating people as ends, not means.”

“What do you say about Heidegger’s Nazism and Sartre’s Marxism?” asked Dr. K .

“I hate Heidegger’s Nazism.” said Alice. “I don’t respect him at all for it. Yes, he said some things about authenticism in his philosophy which were worthwhile, but I condemn his Nazism. Sartre worked for the French resistance during WWII, so I can respect that, but I am not a Marxist. Since he is not a systematic philosopher, it is not necessary to accept all of his philosophy. I agree with some parts but not all. And, by the way, I like some aspects of Existentialism but not all. I consider myself a NickOtani’sNeo-Objectivist.”

“Dr. P read a quote by Peikoff which said Sartre held that the world is absurd, can you explain that?” asked Dr. K.

“Absurdism in Existentialism is the realization that there is no reason for our existence.” said Alice, “We find ourselves here. We didn’t ask to be here. Yes, we are special in that nobody else is exactly like us. We are individuals. However, the world would go on just fine without us. People die every day. We would like to think it matters that we exist, at least to ourselves and some other people, but we must also understand that, in the larger scheme of things, it doesn’t. We are both special and not special. It’s a paradox. It’s a contradiction. It is A is both A and not A, but it is still true.”

“He said that irrational passion is the only means to knowledge. What is the role of passion in Existentialism?” asked Dr. K.

“Passion in Existentialism is what makes us uniquely human, not reason, which a computer program possesses.” said Alice. “We feel. We are not simply cold, impersonal robots. It is through our passion that we empathize with others and understand fairness, justice. It is not right to treat people as means to an end. We are each ends in ourselves. And, it is through our passion that we strive to get the most out of life, not just waiting for the rationally safe move. We take risks. We work without a net. We sometimes leap before looking, yet we know we are responsible or what happens to us, not some reality over which we have no control. We are in the moment, making decisions as we go, not following some pre-determined logical path. We are forging our own paths. We don’t subjugate ourselves to God, society, or logic. We are the subjects which make things happen, not the objects which get acted upon.”

“What about this knowledge?” said Dr. K. “What is knowledge to an Existentialist.”

“Knowledge, for the Existentialist, is much like the knowing one’s self about which Plato spoke.” said Alice. “Knowledge of the outside world, the in-itself, comes through us, the for-itself. Objects are complete and fixed, yet humans are incomplete, still in a process of becoming, participating in working on our own natures, essences.”

“What does Sartre mean by “existence before essence?” asked Dr. K.

“He means that there is not some pre-existing mold into which he was poured or some prior purpose for his being here on earth.” said Alice. “Reality is absurd, and we really have no reason for our existence which we can discover. We have to create it. We don't find our purpose, we make it. That's what freedom is. We choose our projects and put meaning into our lives. We have to take responsibility for our essences. We are what we do. What does this mean? It means we aren’t heroes simply because we think we are. If we run away instead of taking a stand, we are what we do.

“We are not objects to be shaped and molded by external stimuli over which we have no control. We are not victims of our environment. We are subjects. Our natures are not fixed and completed, as are the natures of the things-in-themselves, the things without freedom. We are incomplete and participate in the creation of our own natures. We are the things-for-themselves, and we are still in a process of becoming. We exist, become aware of our existence, and then work on our essences. Existence prior to essence.”

“Is freedom a curse?” asked Dr. K. “Does it lead to fear and trembling, nausea, and is there no exit?”

“First, if we are subjects, if we participate in creating our own natures, if we are what we do; then we must choose.” answered Alice, “Not choosing is still a choice. We have no choice but to choose. We are, as Sartre said, “forced into freedom.” Second, yes, this can be scary at first. We find ourselves alone. We have to take responsibility for ourselves. We have no net, no training wheels, no crutches, and no security blankets. We have been kicked out of the nest. Of course we will be anxious for awhile. However, once we live on our own and get used to it, we prefer it to the security of going back to live with our parents, or even with the imaginary parent in the sky. We prefer to be independent.”

“Is there self-deception?” asked Dr. K

“You bet there is.” asked Alice. “People do deceive themselves that cheating is better than being authentic. They put their blinders on and convince themselves that being drunk all day is better than accomplishing a challenging task which could lead to self-actualization. They allow themselves to be deceived by evangelists who promise them everlasting life. Psychoanalysis works on getting people to talk and realize some suppressed thought which is bothering them. When it comes out, they are free of its influence over them.”

“Is system-building a self-deception?” asked Dr. K.

“It could be.” answered Alice. “Some of these systems are nice to look at, like homes in magazines which show off beautiful homes. However, like some of those homes which are nice to look at but impossible to live in, systems also tend to be impractical. Their foundations crumble when people need them the most. (The Spinoza of Market Street found this out, and so did Rand when she had a crises.)”

“What is the difference between Existentialism and Zen Buddhism?” asked Dr. K

“There is a difference between Existentialism and Zen Buddhism,” said Alice, “even if the samsara and the process of becoming aspects of these philosophies are the same. Existentialism tries to face obstacles in life and overcome them, to be something, but Buddhism and Hinduism tries to reduce suffering by reducing craving. This seems to me to be a withdraw from life, but Buddhists will disagree.”

“How about that reference to Castro?” asked Dr. K.

“Yes,” said Alice, “Sartre was a leftist activist who supported Castro for awhile and then broke with him when Castro imprisoned a Cuban poet, Heberto Padilla, for “counterrevolutionary attitudes.” Sartre still stood for freedom, as he did when he fought in the French resistance during World War II.

“There is a lot more to Existentialism and Jean Paul Sartre than this, and I don’t necessarily agree with everything Sartre said and did,” continued Alice. “However, my point is that if we read Peikoff and nothing more, we get a very slanted and incomplete picture of Sartre’s philosophy, among the philosophies of several other philosophers. I think respectable philosophers should be a bit more respectful of each other, don’t you? We can present each other’s views in the most persuasive light and then point out the problems if there are any. It’s a bit tacky and ineffective, even counter-effective, to characterize and ridicule someone’s views the way Peikoff presented Sartre.”

To be continued

Bis bald,


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