Rand on Aristotle's ETHICS

seddon's picture
Submitted by seddon on Tue, 2009-03-31 13:18

“The greatest of all philosophers, Aristotle, did not regard ethics as an exact science; he based his ethical system on observations of what the noble and wise men of his time chose to do, leaving unanswered the questions of: why they chose to do it and why he evaluated them as noble and wise.”

My text is a quotation from the second page of Rand’s essay, “The Objectivist Ethics.” Since I teach this essay every spring, I get a chance to re-read it on a regular basis. I have in previous posts addressed the two charges she makes after the colon, viz., that Aristotle did not try to answer the two “why” questions. But they are not what originally fascinated me. It was, rather, the first charge, that Aristotle “did not regard ethics as an exact science.” It struck me as doubly strange that she would (1) accuse Aristotle of not knowing that ethics is a science since when she herself thinks it a part of philosophy. But it also appeared strange that she would take him to task for (2) thinking that ethics was not an “exact science.” I do not know why that expression struck me as so odd. It didn’t seem to me that she would have written those words. I then began to suspect that she got it from another source. Maybe Peikoff had passed on an expression he heard at school. That speculation reminded me of the fact that in Peikoff’s HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY tape lecture series, he would often use ideas and even expression from W. T. Jones’s book, A HISTORY OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY.” Maybe Jones is the source, I speculated.

In order to make my speculation a little bit more understandable, a little bit of biography is needed. I really got interested in Objectivism in 1964 and send to New York for various items related to the philosophy. At the time they were running a book service and on their list of histories of philosophy were three titles: Clarke’s, THALES TO DEWEY, Windelband’s A HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY, and W. T. Jones’ A HISTORY OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY. I ordered them all. Years later I acquired Peikoff’s tape transcription set of lectures on the History of Philosophy and noticed that he was not averse to borrowing, sans citation, from Jones’ HISTORY. Maybe Rand did the same in preparing her lecture on the Objectivist Ethics. So I looked up the chapter in Jones on Aristotle’s ethics, and to my (slight) surprise my eyes fell on the following section heading on p. 214 “ETHICS NOT AN EXACT SCIENCE.” Eureka!

Since Rand doesn’t say too much to back up her claim, I asked myself how does Jones back up his. Jones’ reason is the fact that the Ethics “…is based…on opinions, on men’s judgments about the good, not on self-evident and certain principles.” Compare Rand. “Aristotle, did not regard ethics as an exact science; he based his ethical system on observations of what the noble and wise men of his time chose to do, . . .” Jones then goes on to quote Aristotle’s NE, Book I, ch. 3, first paragraph in full. Problem is, Aristotle never says that ethics is not an exact science. He doesn’t divide disciplines into two distinct groups, exact and not-exact, but rather a continuum of more or less exactness. Look at the text:

“Our discussion will be adequate if it has as much clearness as the subject-matter admits of; for precision [AKRIBES, also rendered as “exact”] is not to be sought for alike in all discussions, any more than in all the products of the crafts. Now fine and just actions, which political science investigates, exhibit much variety and fluctuation, so that they may be thought to exist only by convention, and not by nature. And goods also exhibit a similar fluctuation because they bring harm to many people; for before now men have been undone by reason of their wealth, and others by reason of their courage. We must be content, then, in speaking of such subjects and with such premisses to indicate the truth roughly and in outline, and in speaking about things which are only for the most part true and with premisses of the same kind to reach conclusions that are no better. In the same spirit, therefore, should each of our statements be received; for it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits: it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician demonstrative [Jones, for reasons that pass my intelligence, changes this word to “scientific”] proofs.” (Ross trans. 1094b12-27)

From this I would conclude, along lines suggested by Aristotle last sentence, that Ethics is less exact or precise than mathematics.
But this still leaves the unsolved problem of why she considers it a criticism of Aristotle to say that ethics is not an exact science when she herself holds ethics to be a branch of philosophy and not a science.

Fred


( categories: )

Mindy,

seddon's picture

I forgot to include in my last post an issue close to the one we've been discussing. James Lennox is an Objectivist and former director of the Center for the Philosopy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh--a colleague of mine at that Center of which I'm an associate. He has translated Aristotle's PARTS OF ANIMALS and has authored ARISTOTLE'S PHILOSOPHY OF BIOLOGY. In the latter he has an essay in which he addresses the "problem" of Aristotle talking the talk about EPISTEME in the POSTERIOR ANALYTICS but not walking the walk in his biological works, esp. PARTS OF ANIMALS. The essay is entitled, "Putting Philosophy of Science to the Test: The Case of Aristotle's Biology." He suggests a way of reading Book 1 of PARTS OF ANIMALS that interprets it as a blueprint for doing natural science, and thus bringing Aristotle's ANALYTICS closer to his actual work in the natural sciences, esp. biology.

Fred

Mindy,

seddon's picture

"The "rest of the sentence" supports the characterization of the quote as Rand's opinion of Aristotle!"

Correctomundo. That is the point. Rand means to say, among other things, that you can tell Aristotle does not think ethics is an exact science because "he based his ethical system on observations of what the noble and wise men of his time chose to do" etc.

Fred

Surreality

Ptgymatic's picture

is beginning to set in.

The "rest of the sentence" supports the characterization of the quote as Rand's opinion of Aristotle! It certainly is not Aristotle saying, "[I] failed to ask these two questions: why they chose to do it and why [I] evaluated them as noble and wise."

Mindy

Mindy,

seddon's picture

“If "not an exact science" is possibly Jones' words discovered in Rand's mouth, then the "science" in that phrase is Rand's sense of the word, not Aristotle's. That is why I have been sticking with her use of the term. That is why I keep trying to leave out Aristotle's distinctions regarding "Episteme," etc.”

You said you referred to my original post. But you ignore the rest of the sentence. Let me requote it to demonstrate that she is referring to Aristotle's and not to her notion of science. She writes, after the semi-colon,

“he based his ethical system on observations of what the noble and wise men of his time chose to do, leaving unanswered the questions of: why they chose to do it and why he evaluated them as noble and wise.” ( have answered the last two objections in previous post.)

This is what I have been referring to as the dialectical method. In later posts with you, I then went on to contrast it with two notions of science that we find in Aristotle, to wit: EPISTEME and PHRONESIS.

ROUND 9

Fred

Whose "scientific" and "developed through dialectics"

Ptgymatic's picture

I'm putting the summary in the introduction to try to keep on track.

We've circled the question of whose definition of "scientific" we're talking about too many times for there not to be a glitch here. I went in search of it.
Your original post took Rand to task for taking Aristotle to task for not regarding ethics as scientific. Was Rand supposed to be characterizing Aristotle as not scientifc, or to be "quoting" him as characterizing it so? If the former, it is her definition of "scientific" that is in question. If the latter, it is his. I've been on the track of the former, and, I think, you've been on the track of the latter.

When you go on to search out the possible source of that "is not an exact science," and you note it is Jones's words on the subject, I am led to believe that that original "ethics is not an exact science" is Rand's description of Aristotle, not her "quote" of his take on how precise ethics needs to be. Rand's words may have come from Jones, as Peikoff's seem to have sometimes, that is how the post goes.

If "not an exact science" is possibly Jones' words discovered in Rand's mouth, then the "science" in that phrase is Rand's sense of the word, not Aristotle's. That is why I have been sticking with her use of the term. That is why I keep trying to leave out Aristotle's distinctions regarding "Episteme," etc.

Science vs. dialectics:

If the above confusion hadn't taken place, we wouldn't have gotten onto the importance of dialectics in Aristotle's theorizing. I don't know if that remains of interest, especially as you are bringing in two senses of dialectics. If you aren't tired of all this, I would like to sharpen my understanding of the Greek and "modern?" definitions of dialectics. Lead on.

Otherwise, I agree that the key point is "developed through dialectics." For Book X, the first three subdivisions of the outline are chiefly dialectic, and the following two mark the contrast.

Mindy

Mindy,

seddon's picture

IMHO. I have a colleague at Penn State who has on the door to his office, “This is an acronym free zone.” Also, it seems to imply that when you don’t preface a remark with IMHO, you’re lying. Reminds me of the Danny Devito’s line in OTHER PEOPLES MONEY. A second-handed asks, “Can I be honest,” and Devito says, “No, lie to me.”

“That Aristotle employs dialectics in reviewing the state of the art, in preparation to building and arguing for his own theory of ethics, does not mean his theory is developed through dialectics.”

Here the key words seem to be “developed through dialectics.” Well, let’s look at the text. Even in the last book of the NE we see Aristotle still collecting the opinions of others. In X, 1 he does the people; in X, 2 he does Eudoxus and Plato. This is part of what dialectics mean. It is as if Aristotle is continuing Socratic dialectic but without the literary casing. One thing for sure, he ain’t writing like Euclid. He style is not scientific mathematical. But maybe you just don’t like the word “dialectic.” Maybe I do. Bottom line. What he is doing in the NE, the METAPHYSICS, DE ANIMA etc. is closer to the TOPICS than to the POSTERIOR ANALYTICS.

On 402b26. Sounds like J. A. Smith’s translation. Here are two others. W. S. Hett: “"...definitions which do not enable us to know the attributes, . . .are clearly laid down for arguments sake and are uttlerly valueless.”
Joe Sachs (I written about him before) closes the sentence thus: “. . .are formulated in a merely logical way and are all empty.” Neither chose to use "dialectical" since it might mislead the non-Greek reader. Robin Smith tells us that Aristotle uses “dialectical” in two senses, a good and a bad sense. The bad kind (sometimes called SOPHISTIKOS) is a “kind of fraud . . . resting on premises APPARENTLY accepted by the answerer, and APPARENTLY deducing some conclusions which follow from these.” I read you quotation that way.

“In so far as an ethics can be, Aristotle's ethics, taken as a whole, is scientific.
Aristotle's thought isn't essentially dialectical.”

I have already granted this point. There is SURELY a sense in which on can construe the NE as scientific. But that is not the sense in which Aristotle uses the word, either in the POSTERIOR ANALYTICS sense or in the NE, VI, 3 sense. Unless you want to claim that we are eternal. Science, in the NE VI, 3 sense studies the eternal. “We all assume that what we know scientifically (EPISTEME) is not capable of being otherwise.” NE 1139b19. Your not maintaining that we humans are immortal?!

ROUND 8

Fred

IMHO,

Ptgymatic's picture

the music of a merry-go-round is playing in the background as we speak! That's In My Honest Opinion, IMHO, in "text-speak."
That you brought Aristotle's more technical distinctions into the discussion, I don't mean to contradict, just that the one sense of "scientific" I was referring to was the general sense of the term, such as Rand meant when she spoke of the possibility of ethics' being scientific.

Unscientific doesn't mean irrational, but one still might be both.

As to life requires deliberate action as an adequate basis for ethics: Yes, Aristotle seems to have thought so. I was hoping you'd wish to argue the contrary?

That Aristotle employs dialectics in reviewing the state of the art, in preparation to building and arguing for his own theory of ethics, does not mean his theory is developed through dialectics.

I'll parry your quote, "A dialectical deduction...is one which deduces from what is acceptable," with one of my own: "...definitions which do not enable us to discover the derived properties, or which fail to facilitate even a conjecture about them, must obviously, one and all, be dialectical and futile." (emphasis added; De Anima 402b, 26)

Now it does sound as if I disparage dialectics, so let me say it is a matter of the right tool for the job. (I'll let Aristotle defend himself.)

Mindy: Aristotle's ethics is much more than a survey of what the best people thought and did.
In so far as an ethics can be, Aristotle's ethics, taken as a whole, is scientific.
Aristotle's thought isn't essentially dialectical.

Round 7?

Mindy,

seddon's picture

“...in just that quote, in your opening post, is the meaning in question, and the meaning I've been using. Whether Aristotle's practices meet the standard implied by "scientific" as used there is the question I'm putting.”

But I did put Aristotle’s meaning on the table in my opening post. See paragraph #4 where I wrote, “I asked myself how does Jones back up his [claim]. Jones’ reason is the fact that the Ethics “…is based…on opinions, on men’s judgments about the good, NOT ON SELF-EVIDENT AND CERTAIN PRINCIPLES.” [Emphasis added.] The last clause refers to Aristotle’s notion of science as it appears in the POSTERIOR ANALYTICS.

What is “IMHO?”

"For our study of soul it is necessary, while formulating the problems of which in our further advance we are to find the solutions, to call into council the views of those of our predecessors who have declared any opinion on this subject, in order that we may profit by whatever is sound in their suggestions and avoid their errors." (Oh, damn the man, how could he be so irrational and unscientific! )

I’m confused. That is he definition of dialectic. See the TOPICS. Robin Smith introduces a translation of the TOPICS in the Clarendon Aristotle Series with the words, “The TOPICS is Aristotle’s treatment of dialectical argument. . .”
“how could he be so irrational and unscientific!”
The unscientitic is NOT irrational for Aristotle. “A dialectical deduction. . . is one which deduces from what is acceptable,” in contrast with a “demonstration” “which deduces from what is primary.” TOPICS 100a25-30.

“It is a new thought to me, but is the fact that man lives by art, by deliberate, chosen actions, not an adequate foundation for ethics?”

Aristotle seems to have thought so. If you interested in a REAL deep analysis of phronesis in particular and all of the intellectual virtues in general, Heidegger does a masterful job on this (EN, VI) in his book, PLATO’S SOPHIST. He devotes about the first 130 pages to Aristotle’s EN, book VI. But be prepared to read Grelish—a combination of Greek and English. Most sentences are about 40% Greek and 60 percent English.

Fred

Rand's meaning of "scientific,"

Ptgymatic's picture

...in just that quote, in your opening post, is the meaning in question, and the meaning I've been using. Whether Aristotle's practices meet the standard implied by "scientific" as used there is the question I'm putting. If Rand complained that Aristotle's ethics failed to be scientific, she had to have in mind some way in which ethics may be scientific. Not correct, not fully developed, but "scientific."

So Aristotle's several meanings, as interpreted through the ages, of the term don't enter into it, as far as my own questions go.

Dialectics is a kind of analysis of opinion, aimed at refining it, sharpening comparisons, and, famously, synthesizing improved formulations...IMHO it is irrelevant to science, though not to understanding and wisdom and philosophy.

When Aristotle begins various of his words with a critical survey of what other thinkers have concluded on the subject, he is not employing dialectics! He isn't building his theory, even, but preparing the ground to do so. It would be ridiculous for anyone to undertake to study a subject without first considering what is already known! And that is what Aristotle is doing, as he tells us in the De Anima, 403b, 20: "For our study of soul it is necessary, while formulating the problems of which in our further advance we are to find the solutions, to call into council the views of those of our predecessors who have declared any opinion on this subject, in order that we may profit by whatever is sound in their suggestions and avoid their errors." (Oh, damn the man, how could he be so irrational and unscientific! Smiling )

It is a new thought to me, but is the fact that man lives by art, by deliberate, chosen actions, not an adequate foundation for ethics? I guess the difference might lie in whether the emphasis falls on "lives by" or on "deliberate, chosen actions." Thoughts?

Thanks for your efforts to elucidate this for "me," Fred.

Mindy

Mindy,

seddon's picture

“What scientific consists of, in that context, cannot be other than what a theory of ethics might achieve”

This may be a notion of scientific (though I have never heard of it and it is certainly not either of Aristotle two usages that I detailed in my last post.)

“I cannot see why he is characterized [in the METAPHYSICS, DE ANIMA, NE, and POSTERIOR ANALYTICS] as reasoning or arguing by dialectics!”

You seem to think, and maybe I’m misreading you, that dialectics is something second rate, at least when compared to science. You write, “The manner in which he adduces facts, makes comparisons, forms and divides concepts, etc., always with the example at hand, is a marvel of empirical and inductive reasoning.” But that is not enough to make what he is doing science, in the Posterior Analytics sense of that term. You can have strict and rigorous reasoning and yet not have science. Both science and dialectic have strict and rigorous reasoning, but the difference between the two is, shall I say, directional. Science proceeds FROM self-evident starting points or axioms (ARCHE), whereas dialectic proceeds from opinions from ordinary people or eminent thinkers in order to test them and so eventually arrive at first principles, or if not that, then at least opinions that are more secure and warranted than the ones we started with.

“I cannot see why he is characterized as reasoning or arguing by dialectics!”

Sure you can. “See” is almost the right word to use here. Look. Look at the three books you cited, viz., METAPHYSICS, DE ANIMA and NE. METAPHYSICS Book I he collects opinions from everyone from Thales to Plato. In NE, I, 5 he collects the opinions of the many and in 6 he brings in Plato, Pythagoras, Speusippus etc. And finally, in the DE ANIMA, I, 2, he begins collecting the opinions of Democritas, the Pythagoreans, Anaxagoras etc. This is the method of dialectics and that is why I maintain that he is dialectical, not scientific (in the POSTERIOR ANALYTIC sense) in these works.
Now open your Euclid. SEE the difference. Even Spinoza is closer to the science of the POSTERIOR ANALYTICS than any of the works of Aristotle that we have been discussing.

“how does the hypothetico-deductive model lay sole claim to being the method of science, either past or present?”

It doesn’t! My claim is that if by science you mean what Aristotle means in POSTERIOR ANALYTICS, then he is not scientific in the NE, to say nothing of the other works. But you can make him scientific if you change the definition. If by “science” you mean a method that “adduces facts, makes comparisons, forms and divides concepts, etc., always with the example at hand, is a marvel of empirical and inductive reasoning,” then NE is scientific, and Rand is wrong. But note, she’s wrong only given your meaning of the word, not Aristotle’s.

Your last paragraph gave me pause and I think that I would say that they use different approaches to ethics. Aristotle doesn’t even do meta-ethics, at least not in Rand’s sense. Her approach, or answer, is biological. Why does man need a code of morality? Because of the kind of biological being that he is. Etc. and you know the rest.

As to your quest for an epistemological standard, perhaps the proof is in the pudding. But how to judge the pudding? If you pick influence and longevity, game over. Will philosophers still be chewing Rand 2500 years from now. Hell, I don’t even know who going to win the Superbowl next year.

Fred

The chosen meaning of the term...

Ptgymatic's picture

...is the one brought into focus in your initial post, right, Fred? The starting place is Rand's being dismissive of Aristotle's ethics on the basis of its failure to be duly scientific.
What scientific consists of, in that context, cannot be other than what a theory of ethics might achieve, and, more specifically, of how Rand's own ethics can be said to scientific.

Second, I have read the Metaphysics, De Anima, the Nichomachean Ethics, the Posterior Analytics, and some others, not everything. I have read some of those several times, and I wrote a graduate paper on the Posterior Analytics, with a verbal defense of it. I cannot see why he is characterized as reasoning or arguing by dialectics! The manner in which he adduces facts, makes comparisons, forms and divides concepts, etc., always with the example at hand, is a marvel of empirical and inductive reasoning.

I may be naive here, (not regarding Aristotle) but how does the hypothetico-deductive model lay sole claim to being the method of science, either past or present? It dominates experimental science, is that it?

Either way, the point that is worth pursuing is whether there is some epistemological standard--including logic here--which Rand's approach to ethics rates but which Aristotle's doesn't, or don't, if my analysis of the NE's three approaches is valid. Can anybody fill me in on what that standard is?

Mindy

Mindy,

seddon's picture

“This may be attacked as incomplete, or not fundamental enough for a fully satisfactory ethics, but it is hardly ‘unscientific.’”

Everything hangs on the meaning of ‘scientific.’ W. T. Jones’ cites Aristotle’s statements in POSTERIOR ANALYTICS 99b20 ff. as to one meaning of ‘scientific’ (= EPISTEME). A discipline is scientific if one derives theorems from self-evident propositions. Here the paradigm is geometry. One can see this is not how NE is written.

A second meaning of EPISTEME is to be found in NE, VI, 1039B19 where Aristotle tells us that we have scientific knowledge “when what we know is not capable of being otherwise.” In other words, EPISTEME deals with the eternal. Obviously not ethics. In fact, in the same book names PHRONENIS as what ethics deals with, viz., it is an active condition of the soul which “discerns the right means to the right end in particular circumstances.” 1144a6-9.
In both of these senses, Rand is right. Ethics is not an exact science, but not simply for the reason she stated, but because it is not a science at all.

“That analysis is hardly ‘unscientific.;“

True, but now the word no longer means what it means in Aristotle. I would agree with Joe Sachs who calls it “dialectic.” It is Aristotle’s preferred way of writing. For examples, see not only the NE and the RHETORIC, but also the METAPHYSICS, THE PHYSICS AND ON THE SOUL etc. Joe writes on p. 2 of his translation of the PHYSICS, “The tradition speaks of physics, metaphysics, ethics and so on as sciences in the sense of conclusions deduced from first principles, but the books written by Aristotle that bear those names contain no such “sciences.” What they all contain is dialectical reasoning, argument that does not start with the highest knowledge at hand, but goes in quest of it, beginning with whatever opinions that seem worth examining.”
This claim is easily verifiable by simply reading the texts mentioned.

BTW. I cannot recommend Joe Sachs' many translations of Aristotle and they are the only translation I use in my classes. So far he has translated the METAPHYSICS, the PHYSICS, ON THE SOUL, NE, RHETORIC, POETICS. He attempts to always bypass the Latin tradition and follow Heidegger in attempting to let the non-Greek reader experience the way Aristotle actually wrote. He's a treat.

Fred

Brought to order...

Ptgymatic's picture

I see three ways Aristotle approaches ethics.

The account he draws together of how the best people live and what they value is the one he is most criticized for. It is the least useful. It is a survey, though, and is not unscientific in that particular respect.

The first analysis he makes, however, involves thinking through what are means and what are ends, and, ultimately, what is always an end, and never a means to an end--happiness. That analysis is hardly "unscientific." That this analysis is a proper basis of ethics, he tells us, comes from the fact that, "Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, it thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim." (Opening sentence of NE.) If the reader is tempted to see this as circular, look at the fact that man is faced with, and makes, choices, because man does inquire and act and pursue, and these things imply means and ends. This may be attacked as incomplete, or not fundamental enough for a fully satisfactory ethics, but it is hardly "unscientific."

Third, the bulk of NE is a tour of what man's virtues, motivations, social relations, psychological strengths and weaknesses, etc. are. Impulsiveness, courage, temper, and what ranks high versus low in intellectual pursuits, etc. are gone over with an eye to what adds to man's happiness. This is observational, with that genius of analysis only Aristotle has ever possessed. I don't see how it is unscientific.

It is in the Politics that Aristotle moves on to the question of laws and constitutions, etc., which are the large part of Objectivist ethics.

This thread begins with the opinion that Aristotle was too little scientific in his ethics. That is the received opinion. I don't see it.

Mindy

Linz

seddon's picture

You make an excellent point.

Fred

Fred ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

You brought Campbell into the conversation, including by praising his article on Peikoff and arbitrary assertion. I'm not sure what that has to do with Rand and Aristotle. Prof. Campbell is welcome to post the article here if he wishes. I've already made clear what I think of him and why.

Dear Linz and Robert

seddon's picture

Aristotle wrote a book called THE NICOMACHEAN ETHICS. Just thought I would try to get this post back to the topic, Rand on Aristotle's Ethics.

Fred

Perigonian Procedure Revisited

Robert Campbell's picture

Mr. Perigo hastens to add that I haven't merely displeased him.

I've mightily displeased him.

I'll have to take my place in line behind several hundred million human beings who committed that gravest of offenses before I ever got around to it.

Robert Campbell

Prof. Campbell

Lindsay Perigo's picture

It's nothing to do with mere disagreement. Over a series of threads you lied, smeared and obfuscated; defended Ms. Branden's lies, smears and obfuscations; and were her #1 cheerleader in the lynch-Linz-mob. Open exchange of ideas? Don't make me laugh. You are not an intellectual's anus. You're a shyster. I wouldn't read anything you'd published if I were paid to.

Perigonian Procedure in a Nutshell

Robert Campbell's picture

Mr. Perigo appears to believe that no one who has ever displeased him has ideas or arguments worth contending with.

Since nearly everyone in the world has displeased Mr. Perigo at one time or another, he has a ready excuse for his recurrent failure to respond to the substance of any position.

Robert Campbell

Mindy,

seddon's picture

You're probably right. Who knows what Rand would have accepted or rejected from knowledge she didn't have.
Fred

The psychology of virtues and self-esteem

Ptgymatic's picture

What might an advanced psychology have told Rand about self-esteem, or--would it address such?--the virtue of pride, that would have assisted her in formulating or proving her ethics?

It is odd to ask the question: what will we eventually know, and what difference would it have made to have known that at this earlier point in history, but I can't come up with any idea at all of how more "science" on self-esteem, "virtues" or pride would have made, or would now make, any difference to Objectivist ethics.

Mindy

Stephen

seddon's picture

Talk about coincidence. I recently attended at "love-fest" [a series of two talks and Edouard's reply] directed to Edouard Machery and his new book, DOING WITHOUT CONCEPTS. He has spoken before the West Virginia Philosophical Society and gave me the name of a few good restuarants to try when I last visited Paris, his former home. He is here in Pittsburgh and my daughter Ayn can't believe anyone would give us Paris for Pittsburgh, but there it is.

Fred

Debating Concepts

Stephen Boydstun's picture

However far Rand got it right or wrong, she took the cognitive development of humans from infancy, and especially from about the onset of language, to be integral to her own theory of concepts. She did not shy away from the findings of developmental or cognitive psychology as it pertained to her account. I have taken that same approach in my extensions of Rand’s monograph (but I give references, to put it mildly). I make a distinction, more constantly than did Rand, between the analysis of what concepts are and the theory of how we get them. Revisions in the latter need not always affect the former. The partition between analysis and genesis is not a divide between philosophy and psychology, though philosophers are typically more highly honed in analysis than are experimentalists.

At her epistemology seminar (p. 200), when Professor H (thought to be Michael Berliner) pointed out that attaining the ability to count lags substantially the ability to talk, Rand effectively revised what she had said in her essay. She did not try to argue that somehow the careful observations and testing by psychologists must have gone awry.

Some Big Guns

A Study of Concepts
Christopher Peacocke
MIT 1992

Concepts: Where Cognitive Science Went Wrong
Jerry Fodor
Oxford 1998

Furnishing the Mind: Concepts and Their Perceptual Basis
Jesse Prinz
MIT 2002

Doing without Concepts
Edouard Machery
Oxford 2009

Moral Psychology

Stephen Boydstun's picture

From the Introduction to Volume 1 of Moral Psychology
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, editor
(MIT 2008)

“Philosophy and science used to be close friends. Many philosophers from Aristotle to Descartes and Leibniz were leading scientists as well. Philosophers who did not do experiments still often cited contemporary science to support their philosophical views. And almost all philosophers at least tried to make their views compatible with the most recent empirical discoveries.

“This friendship became strained during the twentieth century. One influence seems to have been specialization within universities. Science became so technical and labs became so large that it was practically impossible for mere mortals to do science well and also engage in philosophy. . . .

“G. E. Moore’s (1903) diatribe against the so-called ‘naturalistic fallacy’ set the stage for twentieth-century ethics. The main protagonists for the next sixty years—intuitionists and emotivists—were both convinced by Moore that empirical science is irrelevant to moral philosophy and common moral beliefs. Even in the 70s and 80s, when a wider array of moral theories entered the scene, few moral philosophers paid much attention to biology and psychology. . . .

“Since the 1990s, in contrast, many philosophers have begun to mine cognitive psychology and brain science, as well as evolutionary biology, for general philosophical lessons. Philosophers have also begun to conduct their own experiments designed specifically to address philosophical issues. These collaborative projects are pursued vigorously by biologists and psychologists working with philosophers, although they have encountered stiff opposition from some more traditional philosophers. This new way of doing philosophy has reached philosophy of mind, epistemology, and philosophy of science, but it is especially strong in ethics or moral philosophy.”

Rand's ethical philosophizing was in the pre-twentieth-century mode. She was casting an eye—and an essay in the case of Skinner—over what was being discovered or contended in psychology. However, the way in which Rand’s ethics can be said to be based on science in an especially strong way is in biology, not psychology. When she wanted to work up a definition (or two) of life upon which to cast her theory of value, she turned to biology texts. When she wanted to craft a value called self-esteem or a virtue called pride, to what psychology texts would it have been helpful to turn? (An Arnold before 1960?) Would they have been particularly scientific?

To be sure, Rand’s is an ethical theory shot through with what is traditionally called philosophical psychology. That would be rightly informed by everyday experience and modeling of mind, by clinical psychology, and by scientific psychology. One issue that will be debated next week at the session of the Ayn Rand Society is the precise extent to which humans are capable of creating their own character. How far are humans able to design their own temperaments? Design the extent of their degrees of susceptibility to empathy? And how widely can those character traits vary while not affecting the creation of one’s moral character? What findings in scientific psychology bear on these questions?

Epistemology, genetic epistemology, and cognitive psych

Ptgymatic's picture

Modern philosophy has always stumbled over the hypocrisy of deciding what man could know before setting out to see what he did know. (Hopefully, Kant has made that pratfall permanently passe. Eye)

Epistemology, genetic epistemology, and cognitive psychology deal with the exact same phenomena to a large extent, though with different abstract purposes. How are you making these distinctions in the case of the psychological base of Rand's ethics and in ITOE?

Mindy

Further

Stephen Boydstun's picture

Early Development

ABSTRACT for “Capturing Concepts” by Stephen Boydstun
(Objectivity – 1990)

Concepts are thoughts indicating and specifying kinds and sets of items. Concepts are marked and evoked by words. Starting with that general view of concepts, Boydstun brings the research of developmental cognitive psychologists to bear on philosophic accounts of what concepts are and how we acquire our earliest concepts. He reviews the phenomena of categorical perception, perceptual recognition, and iconic representation (i) for their contributions to our concepts and (ii) for the ways they are different from our earliest genuine concepts.

Boydstun examines Ayn Rand’s distinctive theory of concepts as abstractions from perceptual concretes by a process of measurement-omission. He draws forth the theory’s kinships with the views on abstraction of Aquinas and Ockham, as well as its contradiction of the view of Berkeley and Hume. Boydstun holds to Rand’s view of what concepts are, the view of concepts standing as with measurements omitted from the particulars they subsume. Rand’s conjectures concerning the formation of our earliest concepts are critically reviewed in light of developmental psychological research: on the acquisition of language; on the early method of classification, by overall similarity; on the emergence of a principle of identity privileged over similarity; and on the eventual ability to organize classifications according to abstracted ordinal dimensions.

Good Lord!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

You guys defend and promote that lying, smearing lynch-mobber Campbell? If that's where your erudition takes you, shove it. And JARS too.

Stephen

seddon's picture

Another great post Stephen. You write, “I notice that Rand's view of the state of psychology as a science needs to be evaluated for its implications for the psychological bases of her ethics.” To say nothing of her epistemology. A lot of ITOE is really psychology, don’t you think, esp. child psychology. So if “psychology is barely making its first steps” then Objectivist epistemology has some immature foundations. I have often wondered how much Objectivist epistemology could be done in absence of the child psychology stuff present in her monograph. You are right to point out Campbell’s article as a good first step toward this process of evaluation. Also, let me mention another great essay by Campbell in the latest JARS entitled “Peikovian Doctrine of Arbitrary Assertion.” Enjoy.

Fred

Couple More

Stephen Boydstun's picture

I find a couple of other places where Rand refers to ethics as a science. In “The Psycho-Epistemology of Art” (1965), she writes: “Ethics, the normative science, is based on two cognitive branches of philosophy: metaphysics and epistemology.” In “Art and Moral Treason” (1965), we have: “Morality is a normative science—i.e., a science that projects a value-goal to be achieved by a series of steps, of choices . . . .”

In those two cases, Rand seemed to be referring to ethics (and other areas of philosophy) as a science to indicate only that it is an organized, systematic, rational body of knowledge. Rand’s biological bases of ethics are not part of the immediate contexts in these two discussions, unlike in “The Objectivist Ethics.” So that additional cargo of the “science” of ethics is not on board here.

Rand has an interesting characterization of the discipline of ethics in “Philosophy: Who Needs It” (1974). Metaphysics and epistemology are “the theoretical foundation of philosophy. The third branch—ethics—may be regarded as its technology.” This would seem to be putting ethics in a contrast with theoretical philosophy as engineering is in contrast with science. One needs to be careful not to inflate that latter contrast, but Rand does seem here to be taking ethics to be less like science than the theoretical branches of philosophy are like science, in the full-bodied, modern sense of the word science.

The usual contrast is between theoretical philosophy and practical philosophy. Rand would want to avoid that pair of labels, even though she would agree with the broad tradition of taking ethics to pertain to practice, to choice of goals, actions, and character.

Under the entry “Pyschology” in the Lexicon, we find Rand writing (1971): “As a science, psychology is barely making its first steps. It is still in the anteroom of science, in the stage of observing and gathering material from which a future science will come. This stage may be compared to the pre-Socratic period in philosophy; psychology has not yet found a Plato, let alone an Aristotle, to organize its material, systematize its problems and define its fundamental principles.” I imagine that, in her analogy, Rand is thinking of Plato and Aristotle concerning logic, epistemology (e.g., definitions), and metaphysics, not concerning ethics on its more theoretical side. I doubt she would think Aristotle had advanced notably over Plato or other contemporaries concerning the organization of ethics, the systematization of its problems, and definition of its fundamental principles.

I notice that Rand's view of the state of psychology as a science needs to be evaluated for its implications for the psychological bases of her ethics. Then too, from the scientific status of cognitive psychology, there are implications for any characterization of epistemology as scientific beyond the sense of science as an organized, systematic, fully rational discipline. In connection with the latter, one might look into Robert Campbell’s “Ayn Rand and the Cognitive Revolution in Psychology” in V1N1 of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

Rand expresses some of her ideas about what sciences, such as physics, are not in her essay “Kant versus Sullivan.” She there defends the observational, empirical bases of science. I should mention that that sense of the word science—the most common usage today—is distinct from the sense in the phrase exact science encountered in titles such as Neugebauer’s The Exact Sciences in Antiquity or Friedman’s Kant and the Exact Sciences. We moderns, especially we in synch with our physics professors, are careful to set formal disciplines such as mathematics outside the tent science. Admittedly, in the days of Euclid (and even in the days of Lambert?), such a militant distinction between geometry and arithmetic on the one hand and astronomy, optics, and harmonics on the other hand would not have been warranted.

Stephen

seddon's picture

Thanks Stephen for your remarks. Do you concur that OE is the ONLY place she ever refers to ethics as a science?
Another problem. She never defines what she means by science. There are three references to the word in the LEXICON, but alas, no definition. And wouldn't it be anachronistic to use science in the modern sense when referring to Aristotle?

Fred

As a Science

Stephen Boydstun's picture

Thank you, Fred, and Mindy and Leonid, for your reflections in this thread.

I have noticed that Rand thought of ethics, in one sense of the term ethics, as a science. She wrote:

“What is morality, or ethics? It is a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions . . . . Ethics, as a science, deals with discovering and defining such a code” (OE 13).

“What, then, are the right goals for man to pursue? What are the values his survival requires? That is the question to be answered by the science of ethics” (OE 22).

“No philosopher [until Rand] has given a rational, objectively demonstrable, scientific answer to the question of why man needs a code of values. So long as that question remained unanswered, no rational, scientific, objective code of ethics could be discovered or defined. [Then, remark on Aristotle.]” (OE 14)

In the first two of these three excerpts, Rand seemed to be contrasting ethics as a science from ethics as a practice, or application. That is an old, broad sense of the term science, meaning an organized, systematic body of knowledge. My first philosophy professor, a Thomist, would speak of the science of ethics or the science of metaphysics.

In the end, in connection with her own organization of the field, Rand is speaking of ethics being scientific by also being based on facts of biology. That is a strengthening of the meaning of calling ethics—her ethics, anyway—scientific. Guyau took the same turn with the term in connection with his ethics and for the same reason, as here.

Rand’s use of “exact science” in contrasting her ethical theory with Aristotle’s was unfortunate. She may be right to say that hers is scientific in a stronger, more saturated way than Aristotle’s (cf. Epicurus v. Aristotle [205]). However, we use exact to mark a broad divide within science, and biology is landed among the hard sciences, with the exact sciences being a subgroup of those, a subgroup that does not include biology. Insofar as employment of the mean suffuses Aristotle’s ethics, I expect one could say Aristotle’s ethics is more like an exact science than is Rand’s. That is only a point of curiosity, not gravity.

Leonid

seddon's picture

“I think, these statements of Aristotle and not Jones gave to Ayn Rand sufficient ground to make her claim.”
I don’t think so. I picked Jones because of the phrase, “exact science” and you’ll note from my longish quotation from NE, I, 3 that Aristotle does not use the word science anywhere in the paragraph. Nor does he say that ethics is not exact or precise. He uses the comparative—it’s not as precise as mathematics.

I also disagree with the Rackham translation “for these come under no SCIENCE or professional tradition..." (Caps mine) [Sidebar: my professor of ancient Greek used to refer to the Loeb editions as “low ebb.”] The Greek word that Rackham renders as SCIENCE is the Greek word TECHNE. Joe Sachs translates the sentence as follows: “For it falls under no ART (TECHNE) nor under any skill that has been handed down…” Aristotle devotes an entire chapter of NE 6 to TECHNE and another to EPISTEME (science) and Rackham confuses us by confusing the two. I’m reasonably sure that Rand did not have the Rackham translation. NBI was selling the McKeon edition with W. D. Ross’s translation of the NE. He translates the sentence in question as follows: “they do not fall under any art [TECHNE] or precept…” If Rand did use this edition then she could not have gotten “science” from it since it’s not there.

Fred

Seddon

Leonid's picture

"So I looked up the chapter in Jones on Aristotle’s ethics, and to my (slight) surprise my eyes fell on the following section heading on p. 214 “ETHICS NOT AN EXACT SCIENCE.” Eureka! "

You also can look up the chapter in Henry B. Veatch " Aristotle, a contemporary appreciation " on p 100. He says " For Aristotle the difference between physics and etics is no mere difference in the subject matter of our knowledge; rather, it is a difference in the very character and mode of our knowledge of that subject matter. As Aristotle would put it, it is a difference between a knowledge that is stictly theoretical ( in the sense of the Greek word , "theoria, which signifies simply a viewing or looking) and a knowledge that is practical or productive ( " praxis and poesis which signify respectively a doing and a making).
Or, as Aristotle himself put it " For here we are speaking of practical thinking and of the attainment of truth in regard of action...Of course, the attainment of truth is the function of any and all thinking, but of practical thinking its function is the attaining of such truth as is in accordance with right desire"(NE VI,2, 1139a 26-31, Rackham's translation in the Loeb Library). " Matter of conduct and expendiency have nothing fixed or invariable about them. hence but little precision is possible in dealing with particular cases of conduct;for these come under no science or professional tradition..." (Ibid,1104a, 2-10}
I think, these statetments of Aristotle and not Jones gave to Ayn Rand sufficient ground to make her claim.

Parallel mistakes?

Ptgymatic's picture

My version, the McKeon, has it: "Presumably, however, to say that happiness is the chief good seems a platitude, and a clearer account of what it is is still desired."
The tribulations we scholars face!
I couldn't dispute the earlier references. I should have said Aristotle recognized...apologies to any I might have misled.

I get carried away in the presence of the opportunity to display to my fellow Objectivists some of the tremendous things Aristotle set out, but which they usually, if innocently, attribute to Objectivism. Aristotle is so rich a thinker! I knew Objectivism first, then re-discovered everything Rand had said in Aristotle. Take that "everything" with a few degrees of lattitude; it seemed like everything.

As to the other similarities in wording, Fred, I can't comment, I didn't mean to impugn those examples by association.

More on this later, I trust.

Mindy

Mindy,

seddon's picture

On one: you may have a point here. When I was researching this I consulted the Loeb edition of the NE and in the gloss found the following: "Political Science not an exact science." My points were that the wording sounded strange to me--since Rand thinks ethics is a branch of philosophy and that the paragraph in question does even contain the word "science" EPISTEME in the Greek. The Greek here is APODEIXEIS = demonstration. Science uses demonstration from self-evident premises; dialectic uses demonstration from non-self-evident premises.

"Aristotle is the author of the precept that the purpose of life is happiness"

Actually one can find this idea already in Socrates. See, e.g., the SYMPOSIUM, 204e ff., and the Philebus, two dialogues that immediately come to mind. Even Aristotle admits that to say that "the supreme good for man is happiness is a truism." (NE 1097b23). Hardly something he would say if he thought the idea was original with him. Now of course everything depends on how one defines happines and there is scholarly disagreement on what Aristotle's final position is. Is it contemplation, or it a grab bag of goods, i.e., good of the body, goods of the soul and external goods like friendship, honor, money etc.

Fred

On Aristotle's methodology in the Nichomachean Ethics

Ptgymatic's picture

One: I don't think the statement, "Aristotle held that ethics is not an exact science," is the sort of pronouncement that needs attribution. It doesn't need to be credited to an author. Do you think Jones, for example, came to this conclusion through his own, independent study? Or that he likely learned as much from his own readings of secondary sources? You don't make an argument that he is the "author" of that insight.

Two: Aristotle is the author of the precept that the purpose of life is happiness. He is also the author of the precept that man's life, qua man, is his ultimate goal, including the explanation that qua man means living as a fully rational being. (See Bk. I, Ch. 7, 6-8; and 13-15.)

unfinished...

Mindy

(Why does "save" mean post...and where are the italics and underlining buttons??)

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