Simple Exercise

James S. Valliant's picture
Submitted by James S. Valliant on Sun, 2009-05-10 18:08

This is a paragraph from the ethics section of Wikipedia's article "Objectivism."

It's so very bad that it provides beginning students of Rand's thought with a (simple) exercise: how many misstatements of Rand's ideas can you detect?

"In The Virtue of Selfishness [Rand] attempted to derive ethical egoism from first principles. Value is relative: something can only be valuable for a particular being, and it can only be valuable if that being has a choice. Only living things are able to choose, therefore values only exist for living things, and whatever a living thing acts to gain or keep is a value for that thing. Every living thing maintains its life for its own sake, and - according to Rand - for any living thing, only its own life is valuable for its own sake. On the assumption that every living thing should do or ought to do whatever is valuable for itself, it follows that it should do whatever promotes its own life. But people can only live if they are rational. Since reason is man's means of knowledge, it is also his greatest value, and its exercise his greatest virtue. 'Man's mind is his basic tool of survival. Life is given to him, survival is not. His body is given to him, its sustenance is not. His mind is given to him, its content is not. To remain alive he must act and before he can act he must know the nature and purpose of his action. He cannot obtain his food without knowledge of food and of the way to obtain it. He cannot dig a ditch––or build a cyclotron––without a knowledge of his aim and the means to achieve it. To remain alive, he must think.' Therefore everyone ought to be rational."

My list.

1. Values require choice? Not according to Rand, who said that only conceptual consciousness is volitional. Or, is it that values require an "alternative" according to Rand? (For example, a living organism can adapt [either modifying its behavior within its own life-span or through mutation and natural selection]. Such adaptation is a kind of value pursuit that does not necessarily imply a volitional choice.)

2. Values are "relative"? Does this mean that values imply "of value to whom and for what?" That's certainly true, but it also here seems to require a state of consciousness.

3. Values are that which are pursued, sure, but, are values then subjective, i.e., "whatever" happens to be pursued?

4. Get this: "Every living thing maintains its life for its own sake"? IF ONLY!

5. Does Rand "assume" that "every living thing" should do "what is valuable for itself"? Is this idea any part of Rand's case? Isn't this precisely a circle Rand avoids -- and answers? (Talk about upside down and inside out.)

6. "People can only live if they are rational"? Say what?! As Rand knew and dramatically depicted, irrational people survive all the time -- but even for them, reason is their basic tool of survival, of course.

7. Finally, my favorite, the last "therefore" -- as if Rand's argument had just been recounted!

I've said it before and will say it again: Criticism, rational criticism, is a good thing. It sharpens that tool of survival to its finest edge. But the two sorts of criticisms which have unfortunately marred most of Rand scholarship are: 1. ad hominem, i.e., the Branden and Rothbard based lies and distractions about Rand herself, and 2. gross misstatements of what Objectivism says, i.e., the Nyquist, Whittaker Chambers, Robert Nozick, and, now, the Wikipedia, stuff.


( categories: )

"They were careful editors, as well"

Robert Campbell's picture

Jim Valliant, whose book is no longer deemed a reliable source by Wikipedia editors, now expects us to believe of his shadowy publisher Durban House that

They were careful editors, as well, demanding substantial verification for each of my claims.

That oh-so-careful editing must explain why The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics is shot through with Valliantcites and Valliantquoats.

Mr. Valliant and his book are now so discredited that just one uncertainty remains: When will the Ayn Rand Bookstore truck its remaining stack of PARCs to the pulper?

Robert Campbell

Well, Lindsay

Brant Gaede's picture

does this mean Barbara has corrupted your means? Look, there is not one produced yet drop of evidence she did anything to James Valliant's PARC on Wikipedia or complained directly or through any third parties respecting him there. There is considerable evidence someone in the Valliant household has made 1300 additions and changes to articles on Rand and Objectivism there and that person has been shut down for now for that and various related particulars. That it was someone in his household is not in dispute and acknowledged by someone using the same IP address. This means it was probably Casey Fahy, James or most likely his wife, his natural champion considering how much she loves him.

--Brant

B. Branden Stuff

Lindsay Perigo's picture

James got it in the first instance, and showed it to me. Over to him whether he reveals his source or not. But remember, Brant, I have an advantage over everyone else currently alive in the world when it comes to her—first-hand experience of being smeared by her. I *know* beyond reasonable doubt the depths to which she'll stoop in her effort to blacken and silence anyone who disagrees with her. You yourself once said she fought dirty. She sure does. She is a creature without conscience and without scruple. Some kind of sociopathic freak. Maybe she caught it from Nathan.

Where'd u get this "B.

Brant Gaede's picture

Where'd u get this "B. Branden" stuff, L.P.?

--Brant

What a Farce

James S. Valliant's picture

And, in that discussion, I am told it has become important for me to say, here and in public (one more time), that my book was not "self-published" or "vanity" published in any way, shape or form. I state as a matter of record that I signed a standard "two book" deal with Durban House, with a standard royalty agreement, and that I paid nothing to have it published -- nor would I have. It was Durban who shelled out even what PR moneys were spent on the book -- not me. I went with Durban House precisely because it was liberal publishing house that believed in my work. They were careful editors, as well, demanding substantial verification for each of my claims.

(P.S. It'll be curious to see how Wikipedia handles critics -- and honesty.)

There is discussion of

gregster's picture

There is discussion of censoring Jim's book here: Valliant Revisited on Wiki.

Not wiped from Wiki history completely yet, I googled for a cached Wiki page still existing:

The Nathaniel Branden Institute

The 1960s saw a rapid expansion of the Objectivist movement. Rand was a frequent lecturer at universities across the country. With John Hospers, Rand hosted a radio program on Objectivism at Columbia University. NBI hosted lectures on Objectivism, the history of philosophy, art, and psychology in cities across the country (see the Nathaniel Branden Institute). Campus clubs devoted to studying Rand’s philosophy formed throughout the country, though operated independently of NBI. Rand was a frequent guest on radio and television, as well as a semi-annual lecturer at the Ford Hall Forum.[13] At the peak of its popularity, NBI was delivering taped lectures in over 80 cities.[14] By 1968 NBI had arranged for the lease of an entire floor in the Empire State Building (which would have been shared with Barbara Branden's book club and The Objectivist).[15]

In 1968, Rand publicly broke with Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, accusing both of personal deception and Nathaniel Branden of intellectual "drift" from Objectivism, financial exploitation, and dishonesty in his private life.[16] In their later biographical works on Rand, the Brandens would counter that the break was linked not to deception and exploitation, but to Nathaniel’s desire to end his ongoing romantic relationship with Rand – and their own admitted four-year deception of Rand regarding Branden's secret affair with a married actress, Patrecia Scott,[10] However, in a letter sent to the mailing list of The Objectivist in 1968, Branden accused Rand of desiring an affair with him, but had claimed that, for him, their age difference was "an insuperable barrier" to such a relationship. (Neither Rand nor Branden admitted to the affair they actually had had for many years.) In 2005, Rand’s contemporaneous notes on the subject were published in James S. Valliant's book, The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics. That work argues that these notes, along with the Brandens' later biographies, show that the romantic relationship had already ended between Rand and Branden some months prior to Rand's breaking with the Brandens. In later interviews, Nathaniel Branden would admit to a number of growing differences with Objectivism. Valliant and his supporters interpret all of this evidence as vindicating Rand and demonstrating dishonesty on the part of each of the Brandens.[17][18] This interpretation is strongly contested by the Brandens.[19]

Though The Objectivist continued publishing without the Brandens until September 1971, the NBI was closed.[16] The Brandens continued to sell several NBI lectures through their company, Academic Associates, though neither was involved with the Objectivist movement again until 1996. Peikoff later described the Brandens' expulsion as the first "of the many schisms that have plagued the Objectivist movement."[20]

[..]

The Peikoff-Kelley split

In 1989 there was another split within the Objectivist movement, this time explicitly philosophical. David Kelley, a philosopher and lecturer then affiliated with the ARI, was criticized by Objectivist Peter Schwartz for lecturing under the auspices of Laissez-Faire Books (LFB), a libertarian book store.[35] Schwartz argued that Kelley had violated the Objectivist moral principle of sanction, both because LFB was an explicitly libertarian organization and because it promoted books which Schwartz interpreted as unjustly hostile and defamatory towards Ayn Rand and Objectivism.[36] Kelley responded, in a paper titled "A Question of Sanction", by disputing Schwartz’s interpretation of the sanction principle in particular and moral principles in general. Subsequently, Peikoff wrote a response to Kelley’s paper, titled "Fact and Value", endorsing Schwartz’s view and arguing that Kelley’s argument in that essay contradicted fundamental principles of Objectivism. Peikoff announced that he would no longer allow ARI (which he controls by charter) or the Estate of Ayn Rand to co-operate with Kelley.[20]

Kelley responded to the Peikoff-Schwartz critique in his monograph, Truth and Toleration, later The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand.[30] He responded to his ostracism by founding the Institute for Objectivist Studies (IOS) (later The Objectivist Center (TOC), currently The Atlas Society (TAS)) with the help of Ed Snider. Kelley was joined by Objectivist scholars George Walsh and Jim Lennox, as well as one-time Rand friends, Joan and Allan Blumenthal.[37] However, the later association of Kelley's group with Nathaniel Branden caused the Blumenthals', along with Lennox, to withdraw. For similar reasons, others withdrew following the publication of The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics, by James S. Valliant, which published Rand's own journal entries regarding Branden.[38][39][40][41]

[..]

In The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics, Valliant writes that his one-time teacher Rothbard once told him that Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult was "highly fictionalized." For example, "no one was ever 'excommunicated' from Rand's circle for not liking the music of Rachmaninoff as Rand did," as he had alleged. Valliant critically examines the factual basis for allegations such as these, and argues that Rand never exercised personal power or leadership beyond withdrawing her personal endorsement, demanded the opposite of "blind faith," and never promoted herself as a "guru."[81]

Babs the Book-Burner?

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Apparently as a result of a complaint by one "B. Branden," all references to James Valliant's PARC are being removed from the Wiki Objectivism entry on the grounds that it's not reliable. If this be true, it's a travesty. And who could be less reliable than B. Branden?

Ha!

Kasper's picture

Slayer are shit Mr Goode. It is just a state of affairs. Nothing personal Evil

Dr. Goode

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... goodness is a property of certain states of affairs, e.g., the existence of intelligent life on Earth.

What on earth does that mean? The existence of intelligent life is good? In and of itself? Because ...?

What other "states of affairs" have this "property" of "goodness"?

ROFLMAO

Jeff Perren's picture

"No, ugly is not compulsory
Submitted by gregster on Mon, 2009-05-18 21:08.

But it serves to advertise the music without misrepresentation."

And, that, in a nutshell is all the 'argument' one needs to prove Perigo's thesis re: headbanging caterwauling. Now back to our regularly scheduled sitcom.

No, ugly is not compulsory

gregster's picture

But it serves to advertise the music without misrepresentation.

humor moment

jeffrey smith's picture

Slayer is not a "he". Slayer is a band comprised of four individual band members.

Is there an law in the world of metal bands that dictates that band members must be as ugly as possible?

We infer the existence of

Kasper's picture

We infer the existence of gravity from our observations that things fall down, etc.

This is just semantics - things fall on earth, small or large with equal resistance to air they fall. As far as I'm concerned gravity is being demonstrated observationally.

"goodness is a property of certain states of affairs"
Goodness is not demonstrable without a relative agent. How do you *explain* 'goodness' without a relative agent. This should be easy for a person who thinks no relative agent is necessary.

You say: "Existence of intelligent life is good on earth"
I say "Existence of intelligent life is bad on earth" - for arguments sake.

Given the same set of circumstances gravity can be deduced as the culprit. Things fall at 9.81 m/s on earth. One says no they don't, another says yes they do - it gets tested and vua la.

Good versus bad. Who is correct between you and me on the above two statements?

Gravity and goodness

Richard Goode's picture

Gravity is observable

No, it's not. We infer the existence of gravity from our observations that things fall down, etc.

and doesn't exist on its own.

That's right, it exists as a property of certain things, e.g., planets.

In the same way, goodness is a property of certain states of affairs, e.g., the existence of intelligent life on Earth.

haha

Kasper's picture

Duly noted Richard. My apologies. Let's continue.

Photo op

Richard Goode's picture

he is a good thing

Slayer is not a "he". Slayer is a band comprised of four individual band members.

Slayer

Mr Huemer

Kasper's picture

States just as Rand states. Except unlike yourself I think she did a little more than that. She explained.

Gravity is observable and doesn't exist on its own. It is always gravity towards or off something....Isn't it......

Goodness isn't...... When it is stated that intelligent life on earth is good with no relative agent then you have a problem.
Firstly it is in coherent as there is no such thing or phenomenon as 'goodness'.

I would say Rand was identifying the relationship of something to the observer. Goodness affirmed something to the agent relative. The speculation of her thinking, however, is not really that important to me.

What is, is your intrinsic idea of 'Goodness' with no relative agent so far is meaningless.

What if I said it is bad that there is intelligent life on earth. How are you and I going to battle that knot out without using an agent relative?

Kasper

Richard Goode's picture

Explain how no agent relative is necessary and how you can coherently still label something as being good? Please.....

Michael Huemer explains...

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The absolutist view is that it is possible for some things to be good, simply, or in an absolute sense; whereas agent-relativists think that things can only be good for or relative to certain individuals, and that what is good relative to one individual need not be good relative to another...

Another way to put the issue is this: absolutists think that value exists as a property of something--most likely, as a property of certain states of affairs. For instance, if I say, "It is good that intelligent life exists on the Earth," I am saying that the state of intelligent life existing on the Earth has a certain property: goodness. Agent-relativists think, instead, that value exists only as a relationship between a thing and a person. For instance, an agent-relativist might say, "It is good for me that intelligent life exists on the Earth," and this would mean: the state of intelligent life existing on the Earth bears a certain relationship to me: it is good for me. But an agent relativist would not say it is good simply.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The assertion is being made because there is no observable 'goodness' or 'badness' in things of themselves.

Perhaps. Who knows what Rand was thinking? But lots of things whose existence it would be foolish to deny cannot be observed. Gravity, for instance.

Richard

Kasper's picture

The assertion is being made because there is no observable 'goodness' or 'badness' in things of themselves.
Just like there is no observable soul in the human body.

Good affirms something to the agent relative and that is how not only objectivists use it but others also. The moment you try to explain why something has been labeled good it requires an agent relative.
It can be life affirming, or ticking a box on a values list etc.
You call slayer good because it gives you a sensation that your like. If you thought slayer made you fell like shit, you still might label him good for musical talent or bringing about a different genre. If you hated slayer all together but saw others liked him then you still might say he is a good thing because others like him and appreciate him and you see the value in it for them.

All of these explanations are the relative backboard required to justify the 'goodness'.

Explain how no agent relative is necessary and how you can coherently still label something as being good? Please.....

Kasper

Richard Goode's picture

Michael Huemer says,

Rand bases her ethics on the agent-relative position, but she offers no argument for it, only a bald assertion.

You respond with another bald assertion, viz.,

The process of making a value judgment such as good and bad presupposes to whom or to what

This is simply a restatement of the agent-relativist view. It still begs the question.

Absolutists deny that things can only be good or bad relative to someone or something.

Linz, for example, is an absolutist about aesthetic value. He denies that Rachmanikov is only superior relative to him and his fellow Romantics.

Richard this appears obsurd.

Kasper's picture

[Start quote] Value is agent-relative; things can only be valuable for particular entities.

One of the central groups of opponents Rand is facing is people who believe in absolute value, and not just agent-relative value. The absolutist view is that it is possible for some things to be good, simply, or in an absolute sense; whereas agent-relativists think that things can only be good for or relative to certain individuals, and that what is good relative to one individual need not be good relative to another. (N.B., this should not be confused with what are commonly called "moral relativism" and "cultural relativism.")

Another way to put the issue is this: absolutists think that value exists as a property of something--most likely, as a property of certain states of affairs. For instance, if I say, "It is good that intelligent life exists on the Earth," I am saying that the state of intelligent life existing on the Earth has a certain property: goodness. Agent-relativists think, instead, that value exists only as a relationship between a thing and a person. For instance, an agent-relativist might say, "It is good for me that intelligent life exists on the Earth," and this would mean: the state of intelligent life existing on the Earth bears a certain relationship to me: it is good for me. But an agent relativist would not say it is good simply.

Rand bases her ethics on the agent-relative position, but she offers no argument for it, only a bald assertion. [End quote]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
She did not merely make an assertion. She described this premise in a two fold manner:
The process of making a value judgment such as good and bad presupposes to whom or to what?
Secondly, inherent goodness or badness is meaningless and non existent with out the 'agent relative'.

How would you possibly make a meaningful (graspable or comprehensible) case of 'good' or 'bad' without an agent relative? It would fly in the face of making the value judgment.
It is a stolen concept problem. You want to make the judgment using the process which you are trying to deny.

Richard this appears obsurd.

Kasper's picture

Value is agent-relative; things can only be valuable for particular entities.

One of the central groups of opponents Rand is facing is people who believe in absolute value, and not just agent-relative value. The absolutist view is that it is possible for some things to be good, simply, or in an absolute sense; whereas agent-relativists think that things can only be good for or relative to certain individuals, and that what is good relative to one individual need not be good relative to another. (N.B., this should not be confused with what are commonly called "moral relativism" and "cultural relativism.")

Another way to put the issue is this: absolutists think that value exists as a property of something--most likely, as a property of certain states of affairs. For instance, if I say, "It is good that intelligent life exists on the Earth," I am saying that the state of intelligent life existing on the Earth has a certain property: goodness. Agent-relativists think, instead, that value exists only as a relationship between a thing and a person. For instance, an agent-relativist might say, "It is good for me that intelligent life exists on the Earth," and this would mean: the state of intelligent life existing on the Earth bears a certain relationship to me: it is good for me. But an agent relativist would not say it is good simply.

Rand bases her ethics on the agent-relative position, but she offers no argument for it, only a bald assertion.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
She did not merely make an assertion. She described this premise in a two fold manner:
The process of making a value judgement such as good and bad presupposes to whom or to what?
Secondly, inherent goodness or badness is meaningless and non existent with out the 'agent relative'.

How would you possibly make a meaningful (graspable or comprehensible) case of 'good' or 'bad' without an agent relative.

Apples and oranges

Richard Goode's picture

Objectivism itself is a hideous distortion. That's tantamount to stating that life as man is a hideous distortion.

No, it's not.

You are comparing your life with a philosophical system to guide the course of your life. That would be like comparing apples and oranges, except that apples and oranges are both fruit.

Um ...

Richard Goode's picture

Please elaborate.

I already did. Eye

How about a reprise?

Irony

Richard Goode's picture

Dr. Goode seems pleased with the distortion of any philosopher's ideas

Where do I seem pleased with the distortion of any philosopher's ideas?

You do not hesitate to insinuate that I'm dishonest and cast aspersions on my professionalism.

It's ironic, given that you are the author of a book defending another philosopher from smears and misrepresentation.

Jeremy....

Jameson's picture

You may be "just happy to be here" but if you're gonna post we need your photo and name in your profile. There is no anonymous content on this blog.

Thanks,

Glenn

The discussion page is full

Jeremy's picture

The discussion page is full of laughs.

If shoddy "documentation" wasn't enough to keep one from taking anything on Wikipedia seriously, the point-counterpoint crossfire of dozens of retarded people should be.

yes Dr No Goode

gregster's picture

I look forward to your exposition. (I'll be disappointed.)

Objectivism itself is a hideous distortion. That's tantamount to stating that life as man is a hideous distortion.

Are you that unhappy? Too much Death metal?

Dr. Baade

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Objectivism itself is a hideous distortion.

Please elaborate.

Wise Joe

James S. Valliant's picture

Well said, sir.

And that Dr. Goode seems pleased with the distortion of any philosopher's ideas -- even those he most strongly objects to -- only reflects on his own "professionalism." He teaches what? "Philosophy"... somewhere?

BTW, the Wikipedia text in question has reverted to a better version. (Maybe we do exert an influence -- even there.)

Here we go...

Jmaurone's picture

No one said it wasn't easy to change the text. What's futile is the constant tug-of-war of two sides with an agenda vying for control on a forum like Wikipedia; God and Satan are more likely to head out for a beer together. I don't have time for that, I'd choose a better battlefield.

Don't blame me

Richard Goode's picture

And none of this alters the fact that the Oism entry is a hideous distortion.

Objectivism itself is a hideous distortion. Nothing to do with me - blame Rand!

Dr. Baade

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Intriguing. I just checked that link. Yes, Muriel shouldn't be there. But shouldn't you remove half the others as well?

And none of this alters the fact that the Oism entry is a hideous distortion. Yours, too, I presume?

Excuses are futile

Richard Goode's picture

it's so easy for anyone to change the text.

Only yesterday, I removed Muriel Newman from Wikipedia's New Zealand libertarians category.

I can do it, so can you.

Futility

Jmaurone's picture

Ted Keer and Steve Wolfe led a... valiant...campaign a few months ago, to no avail. The page was locked down and moderated; it's going to continue, I fear.

Dr. Goode

James S. Valliant's picture

If you read the "history" section of the article, you'll see that a perfectly sound description of Rand's ethics stood there about a month ago. The exercise you suggest is a futile one, precisely because it's so easy for anyone to change the text. The wiki world is like that of Heraclitus's description, all is change, nothing is, everything is becoming, and you can never step into the same wiki twice, etc... and all that constant "fire" and "strife" does not always lead to progress, as the instant development shows.

The worst ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

The worst error is in the first sentence. "Rand attempted to derive ethical egoism from first principles." A shocking case of the R word. But I'll let others have fun with this, and I'll be interested to watch, since I know many Oists would actually think it was correct as written.

I guess we know why it's such a hash—Goode, PhD, wrote it! Eye

Another simple exercise

Richard Goode's picture

Editing the page to remove the misstatements of Rand's ideas - go for it, James!

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