Saturday, January 14, 2012

Consorting With the Devil

Over on Facebook, where I sometimes ruminate to my demise, there pops up, now and then, like a multi-headed hydra out of a jack-in-the-box, the epi-phenomena of friends demanding their friends de-friend other friends who aren't acting like friends. That is, acquaintences in the virtual drawing-room of the web who are -- shall we say? -- consorting with the devil.

I think there are multiple reasons for these recurring moral pronouncements and condemnations of moral turpitude, with accompanied vitriolic demands for "de-friending".

The most superficial of the rationalizations for these assertions is that anyone disagreeing with Ayn Rand or Leonard Peikoff on this or that issue are corrupting Objectivism, damaging a great value, etc. Therefore if you stand for truth and goodness and don't wish to sanction evil, you must prove your rectitude in the court of public opinion and dissociate yourself from the blight, as well as dissociate yourself from the blighters of the blight.

Let's go beyond superficialities. I think the real underlying notion motivating these pronouncements is less about religious conformity than it is the false notion that a self-evident argument can be made in a simple assertion--from which comes the conviction that anyone who fails to acknowledge the facts of a matter (as presented and presumed by an apparently omniscient presenter) is inherently dishonest.

I'm intentionally not naming names on either side of the equation. I'd prefer that people form their own judgments without coloring things with personalities. For the purposes of this point, I'm asking everyone else who comments here not to name names, either.

Sometimes the pronouncements and demands are simple ones, but sometimes they are accompanied by such overwhelming "evidence" as can be crammed into a paragraph on a Facebook thread -- a link to a damning blog post, a youtube video, the latest insult, the bloodied candlestick in the broomcloset of Colonel Mustard. But it's all held up as incontrovertible proof of intellectual dishonesty, corruption and even evil, which only a blind man can't see and a dishonest person won't see.

You see the syllogism at play here: "I present here incontrovertible proof of the evil of person X. Here it is. If you won't grasp it, you are evil, too. And if you know someone who won't grasp it, they are evil. And if you don't divorce yourself from all evil associations, you are even more evil. So there. Listen up and fly right. Yours, God."

Or at least, Demi-god.

Strangely, I think the people most often associated with this technique (I won't call it reason) are generally honest and well-intentioned in some way. At least, as I've seen it on Facebook. They want to do right. They want to stand up and defend the good. But along the way, they are betraying the very thing they claim to be standing up for.

Their error is a disastrous form of intrinsicism.

I don't mean that the way some are going to jump to the conclusion -- a religious orthodoxy. That may be the eventual consequence. Hold that thought if you wish. More specifically, I mean:

The idea that a rational mind can grasp truth by simple statements.

That is, the idea that the truth is inherent in simple statements -- as if an assertion and a few randomly selected words and facts constitute sufficient intellectual grounds for another mind to reach a complex judgment about another person's thoughts and motives.

I wish I could color that statement in red, highlight it, capitalize it, enlarge the font and add a screaming voice with a brooding background musical accompaniment.  Oh, wait.  I can:

The idea that a rational mind can grasp truth by simple statements is false.
Sans musical accompaniment, unfortunately.

Many people take from Ayn Rand the idea that moral pronouncements and praise of the good or condemnation of the evil is proper. Well, yes, it is. If you know what the hell you are talking about. But in lieu of that it's foolish, stupid, or evil in itself.

Moral pronouncements are easy. Anyone with vocal chords can make them. Rational judgment and reasoned arguments are much harder. And in a contest between those two, I've noticed that people who lack the ability to do the former particularly well are much more inclined to do the latter. Call it a form of empowerment.

But if reasoned argument is hard, it appears that respect for the independent minds of those to whom the assertions are made is the most difficult of all.

Let me say this unequivocally: any person who attempts to impose by threats their assessments on others is operating on a standard of social metaphysics and acting completely contrary to the most fundamental principles of Objectivism.

Those who claim to be defending Ayn Rand or Leonard Peikoff while employing a method that openly rejects the Objectivist positions on independence and reason are themselves guiltier than those making errors about any other aspect of the philosophy.

By way of reminder, here are some quotes from Ayn Rand on the subject.  The particular sources will be left as an exercise.  In no particular order:

"We never make assertions, Miss Taggart," said Hugh Akston. "That is the moral crime peculiar to our enemies. We do not tell—we show. We do not claim—we prove. It is not your obedience that we seek to win, but your rational conviction. You have seen all the elements of our secret. The conclusion is now yours to draw--we can help you to name it, but not to accept it-the sight, the knowledge and the acceptance must be yours."

"I don't ask for opinions."
"What do you go by?"
"Well, whose judgment did you take?"
"But whom did you consult about it?"

"I am not committing the contemptible act of asking you to take me on faith. You have to live by your own knowledge and judgment."

"If you want to see an abstract principle, such as moral action, in material form--there it is. Look at it, ...You had to act on your own judgment, you had to have the capacity to judge, the courage to stand on the verdict of your mind..."

"Consider the reasons which make us certain that we are right," said Hugh Akston, "but not the fact that we are certain. If you are not convinced, ignore our certainty. Don't be tempted to substitute our judgment for your own,"
"Don't rely on our knowledge of what's best for your future," said Mulligan. "We do know, but it can't be best until you know it."
"Don't consider our interests or desires," said Francisco. "You have no duty to anyone but yourself."

"Cherryl... Cherryl, you poor kid, ...You don't have to see through the eyes of others, hold onto yours, stand on your own judgment, you know that what is, is--say it aloud, like the holiest of prayers, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise."

"No, you do not have to live; it is your basic act of choice; but if you choose to live, you must live as a man—by the work and the judgment of your mind."

"The most depraved sentence you can now utter is to ask: Whose reason? The answer is: Yours. No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it. It is only with your own knowledge that you can deal. It is only your own knowledge that you can claim to possess or ask others to consider. Your mind is your only judge of truth—and if others dissent from your verdict, reality is the court of final appeal. Nothing but a man's mind can perform that complex, delicate, crucial process of identification which is thinking. Nothing can direct the process but his own judgment. Nothing can direct his judgment but his moral integrity."

"Learn to distinguish the difference between errors of knowledge and breaches of morality. An error of knowledge is not a moral flaw, provided you are willing to correct it; only a mystic would judge human beings by the standard of an impossible, automatic omniscience. But a breach of morality is the conscious choice of an action you know to be evil, or a willful evasion of knowledge, a suspension of sight and of thought. That which you do not know, is not a moral charge against you; but that which you refuse to know, is an account of infamy growing in your soul. Make every allowance for errors of "knowledge; do not forgive or accept any breach of morality. Give the benefit of the doubt to those who seek to know; but treat as potential killers those specimens of insolent depravity who make demands upon you, announcing that they have and seek no reasons, proclaiming, as a license, that they 'just feel it’

"Independence is the recognition of the fact that yours is the responsibility of judgment and nothing can help you escape it—that no substitute can do your thinking, as no pinch-hitter can live your life—that the vilest form of self-abasement and self-destruction is the subordination of your mind to the mind of another, the acceptance of an authority over your brain, the acceptance of his assertions as facts, his say—so as truth, his edicts as middle-man between your consciousness and your existence."

"This much is true: the most selfish of all things is the independent mind that recognizes no authority higher than its own and no value higher than its judgment of truth. You are asked to sacrifice your intellectual integrity, your logic, your reason, your standard of truth—in favor of becoming a prostitute whose standard is the greatest good for the greatest number.

"Every man will stand or fall, live or die by his rational judgment."

"You have cried that man's sins are destroying the world and you have cursed human nature for its unwillingness to practice the virtues you demanded. Since virtue, to you, consists of sacrifice, you have demanded more sacrifices at every successive disaster. In the name of a return to morality, you have sacrificed all those evils which you held as the cause of your plight. You have sacrificed justice to mercy. You have sacrificed independence to unity. You have sacrificed reason to faith."

"...conviction requires an act of independence and rests on the absolute of an objective reality."

"The basic need of the creator is independence. The reasoning mind cannot work under any form of compulsion. It cannot be curbed, sacrificed or subordinated to any consideration whatsoever. It demands total independence in function and in motive. To a creator, all relations with men are secondary."

"The choice is not self-sacrifice or domination. The choice is independence or dependence."

"The code of the creator is built on the needs of the reasoning mind which allows man to survive. The code of the second-hander is built on the needs of a mind incapable of survival."

"Independence is the only gauge of human virtue and value. What a man is and makes of himself; not what he has or hasn't done for others. There is no substitute for personal dignity. There is no standard of personal dignity except independence."

"Notice the malignant kind of resentment against any idea that propounds independence. Notice the malice toward an independent man."

"Don't you know that most people take most things because that's what's given them, and they have no opinion whatever? Do you wish to be guided by what they expect you to think they think or by your own judgment?"

"God damn you!" he screamed. "God damn you! Who do you think you are? Who told you that you could do this to people? So you're too good for that building? You want to make me ashamed of it? You rotten, lousy, conceited bastard! Who are you? You don't even have the wits to know that you're a flop, an incompetent, a beggar, a failure, a failure, a failure! And you stand there pronouncing judgment! You, against the whole country! You against everybody! Why should I listen to you? You can't frighten me. You can't touch me. I have the whole world with me!...Don't stare at me like that! I've always hated you! You didn't know that, did you? I've always hated you! I always will! I'll break you some day, I swear I will, if it's the last thing I do!"
"Peter," said Roark, "why betray so much?"

"As a matter of fact, Mr. Roark, I'm not alone in this decision. As a matter of fact, I did want you, I had decided on you, honestly I had, but it was Miss Dominique Francon, whose judgment I value most highly, who convinced me that you were not the right choice for this commission--and she was fair enough to allow me to tell you that she did."

"When facing society, the man most concerned, the man who is to do the most and contribute the most, has the least say. It's taken for granted that he has no voice and the reasons he could offer are rejected in advance as prejudiced--since no speech is ever considered, but only the speaker. It's so much easier to pass judgment on a man than on an idea."

"And what, incidentally, do you think integrity is? The ability not to pick a watch out of your neighbor's pocket? No, it's not as easy as that. If that were all, I'd say ninety-five percent of humanity were honest, upright men. Only, as you can see, they aren't. Integrity is the ability to stand by an idea. That presupposes the ability to think. Thinking is something one doesn't borrow or pawn. And yet, if I were asked to choose a symbol for humanity as we know it, I wouldn't choose a cross nor an eagle nor a lion and unicorn. I'd choose three gilded balls."

"Gail Wynand was not good at taking orders. He recognized nothing but the accuracy of his own judgment."

"You're beginning to see, aren't you, Peter? Shall I make it clearer. You've never wanted me to be real. You never wanted anyone to be. But you didn't want to show it. You wanted an act to help your act--a beautiful, complicated act, all twists, trimmings and words. All words. You didn't like what I said about Vincent Knowlton. You liked it when I said the same thing under cover of virtuous sentiments. You didn't want me to believe. You only wanted me to convince you that I believed. My real soul, Peter? It's real only when it's independent--you've discovered that, haven't you? It's real only when it chooses curtains and desserts--you're right about that--curtains, desserts and religions, Peter, and the shapes of buildings. But you've never wanted that. You wanted a mirror. People want nothing but mirrors around them. To reflect them while they're reflecting too. You know, like the senseless infinity you get from two mirrors facing each other across a narrow passage. Usually in the more vulgar kind of hotels. Reflections of reflections and echoes of echoes. No beginning and no end. No center and no purpose. I gave you what you wanted. I became what you are, what your friends are, what most of humanity is so busy being--only with the trimmings. I didn't go around spouting book reviews to hide my emptiness of judgment--I said I had no judgment. I didn't borrow designs to hide my creative impotence--I created nothing. I didn't say that equality is a noble conception and unity the chief goal of mankind--I just agreed with everybody. You call it death, Peter? That kind of death--I've imposed it on you and on everyone around us. But you--you haven't done that. People are comfortable with you, they like you, they enjoy your presence. You've spared them the blank death. Because you've imposed it--on yourself."

"That, precisely, is the deadliness of second-handers. They have no concern for facts, ideas, work. They're concerned only with people. They don't ask: 'Is this true?' They ask: 'Is this what others think is true?' Not to judge, but to repeat. Not to do, but to give the impression of doing. Not creation, but show. Not ability, but friendship. Not merit, but pull. What would happen to the world without those who do, think, work, produce? Those are the egotists. You don't think through another's brain and you don't work through another's hands. When you suspend your faculty of independent judgment, you suspend consciousness. To stop consciousness is to stop life. Second-handers have no sense of reality. Their reality is not within them, but somewhere in that space which divides one human body from another. Not an entity, but a relation--anchored to nothing. That's the emptiness I couldn't understand in people. That's what stopped me whenever I faced a committee. Men without an ego. Opinion without a rational process. Motion without brakes or motor. Power without responsibility. The second-hander acts, but the source of his actions is scattered in every other living person. It's everywhere and nowhere and you can't reason with him. He's not open to reason. You can't speak to him--he can't hear. You're tried by an empty bench. A blind mass running amuck, to crush you without sense or purpose. Steve Mallory couldn't define the monster, but he knew. That's the drooling beast he fears. The second-hander."

"By seeking self-esteem through others. By living second-hand. And it has opened the way for every kind of horror. It has become the dreadful form of selfishness which a truly selfish man couldn't have conceived. And now, to cure a world perishing from selflessness, we're asked to destroy the self."


In response to some personal comments posted elsewhere, I'd like to add that there are two aspects to my post: independence and epistemology, and they're closely related in this context. Let's say Person A wants to inform other people about grievous errors by Person B. How do they do it? I am in no way against this. I am only for doing it rationally, in a manner Ayn Rand would smile upon--not because I want to imitate everything she did, blindly, but because she was the best example I've ever seen of how to engage in reasoned argument, and I think that gets forgotten by many people.

It takes many forms. Sometimes it's open insults, four letter words, this person is a louse, don't have anything to do with them, etc. Sometimes people are explicit and say "de-friend them or you're no friend of mine". Sometimes that's left implicit. And everything in between. But most people can read between the lines.

Sometimes it's got a veneer of reason behind it -- some limited attempt to provide a reasoned explanation for the shortcomings of Person B, with implications of "you'd better look into this and get with the program". But insufficient reasoning for anyone else to really form any kind of proper judgment, and by implication, insufficient respect for the priorities of other people in expecting them to find the reasoned argument you didn't provide.

But what's the proper way to raise an issue about someone's errors or dishonesty? Believe me when I say, that's the thrust of my original comment.

Genuine intellectual dishonesty isn't so hard to treat. It may still take the presentation of a lot of evidence and explanations to actually prove, but comparatively, not so hard to treat. It should not involve screaming and insults and endless moral condemnation, as so much is done on FB -- it should be, in the words of Joe Friday, "Just the Facts, Ma'am". Well, mostly, but the facts leading to a conclusion of moral turpitude. It's not simply that superficial, emotionally laden arguments set a bad example (though they do that), or that it makes O-ism look bad (it does that). The fundamental is that it's not how you persuade people. It's not a process of reason. That is what I'm arguing against.

But here's the deal: intellectual dishonesty isn't usually the issue, even though most people seem to think it is. Most people just do a really crappy job of assessing honesty in other people, and the rush to condemn someone as dishonest -- which is the only proper basis for the flurry of condemnations of "evil" people -- is just horribly misplaced and destructive when the evidence as presented is insufficient and the argumentation sucks. ("Crappy" doesn't really capture just how utterly putrifyingly shitty most of the reasoning is that I see in this context.)

I think this is vastly more destructive to Objectivism than errors by any Person B I've seen. (There's more than a few.)

What I would like to see is more genuine reasoning -- on both sides of the aisle, because that's the only way to make one side.

I'd like to see more genuine recognition that many people can be blind to their errors without being dishonest.

I'd like more recognition that an honest person genuinely trying to understand the truth needs a reasoned argument and that no amount of insults and condemnations are a reasoned argument.

I'd like recognition that you don't make allies out of friends, but out convincing opponents of the truth -- and the truth requires a well-reasoned argument.

And I'd like recognition of the fact that pointlessly alienating and dissociating yourself (and asking others to dissociate themselves) from those who are honest and are trying to understand the truth is destructive in itself -- because you only expand your ranks by persuading those who aren't in your ranks. And nothing is as hopelessly stupid as alienating an honest person who agrees with you on 98% of everything.

All that said, I am defending no one's views here beyond those of my own. I am defending a process, and my comments apply to both sides.

I do sympathize with the frustration of those who see people who vociferously advocate points of view that are wrong (sometimes catastrophically) on important issues, or which seem to willfully be blind to the broadest context, or which just trivialize philosophy with inane "lifeboat situations" or worse. Again, I'm trying to leave those issues out of this discussion. I've just seen very bad reasoning on both sides. That's my point.

I'm simply saying, if you want to win the argument and bring people to your side, you have to be the most rational, and set the best example.

Footnote #2:
In later discussion, I remarked elsewhere,

1. Moral condemnation over intellectual disagreements is always inappropriate when the disagreements are honest.
2. Public condemnation demands a high standard of evidence, and mere suspicion of dishonesty in intellectual disagreements is not adequate.
3. There is no such thing as "quality control" in a proper intellectual movement. The only arbiter of "quality" is rational persuasion about ideas. Condemnation is not an argument.

A gentle reminder about focusing on the positive. Reason is the positive in this context -- the method of identifying what's true.

My interest is primarily in reminding people that advocates of reason should be focused on making rational arguments about ideas, not about getting into arguments.

My primary value is reason, and persuading people with reason. I don't really give a damn about spending time on other things; Ayn Rand certainly didn't. She was the model par excellance about how to conduct an intellectual movement. Spending time on minutiae is mostly a waste of time and effort and accomplishes nothing in the end. If people are wrong, reality will be the ultimate arbiter of that. If people are dishonest, that too.

Much more important, and difficult, is persuading people what is right. If people want to be exemplars of Objectivism, they'd better spend their time learning how to make coherent, persuasive arguments. Even if you don't persuade your opponent with those arguments, if there's an audience you'll reach other people. That's what spreads the right ideas.

Put it another way: you don't spread the right ideas by spending all your time talking about every mistake that other people have made. People want to know what you know that is right, and why.

They also want to see integrity in action -- that is, if integrity is loyalty to values, and loyalty is consistency, they would want to see, in advocates of reason, really skilled reasoning in advocating the ideas that reason implies, qua Objectivism. But if they see advocates of reason who don't care to take the time and effort to form comprehensive arguments, with precision in formulation -- the right choice of word or phrasing, the attention to answering obvious questions, reference to source materials and facts, etc., the argument is lost by the appearance of a lack of conviction among the advocates.

Ayn Rand was the master of all these qualities. Review how she conducted herself. No one was attacked more viciously than her, but she always conducted herself with class, above the fray. Even if her questioners were antagonistic (for example, Mike Wallace, Phil Donahue), she would always answer questions with detailed, respectful arguments--that is, she took them seriously.

I'm not saying she turned the other cheek when it was clear someone was dishonest, nor that she never expressed anger, but her primary focus was always on making rational arguments for her ideas.

As a further addendum, one thing that drives disputes over intellectual matters far too much is an unwillingness to admit error. Very few people like the feeling of loss of self-esteem that accompanies admission of error to an opponent.

But the genuine intellectual is interested in truth, and doesn't indulge the self-licking ice cream cone of confirmation bias -- the quest for only those arguments and facts that support their position, to the exclusion or evasion of arguments that don't. The genuine advocate of reason simply delights in discovering the truth of things, and if an opponent (or, better, a colleague) discovers it first and makes one aware of it -- the emotion is delight and gratitude, not fear of admitting wrong.

Consider it in the context of, say, some new theory of gravity. You'll have the advocates of General Relativity and the Big Bang fighting for their position, and the Newtonians and Galileans fighting passionately for their viewpoint. And along comes John Galt, let's say, who shows them a new anti-gravity motor he built, based on a completely different theory that makes General Relativity and Newtonian mechanics as obsolete as stone knives and bearskins. What would a rational man feel on being proved wrong? To quote Ayn Rand, "It's so wonderful to see a great, new, crucial achievement which is not mine!"


  1. To what you have, let me add the following. At a crucial point she uses the word “equipped”. I think that this word sums up an important point that is implied in several of your quotations, that is that to make judgments knowledge is required, but two kinds of knowledge. Knowledge of the specific case being judged, and knowledge of the process of judgment, i.e., how your mind works and of the tools you need, e.g., logic. There is a lot of work required to reach the level of achievement that allows judgment, of a person or a bridge.

    (Ayn Rand Answers, p. 143) Question: “Apart from basic moral premises, is it ever proper to speak of an Objectivist position on an issue? Shouldn’t one’s own mind be the sole determinant of one’s stand?”

    Ayn Rand’s answer (1976): This is not an honest question. What does the questioner think a basic moral premise is: ‘A is A.” “thou shalt not steal,” “try to be honest”? That’s not enough. The basic premises of philosophy are the axioms. But there is an enormous distance between philosophical axioms and the actions of your life – so many issues and subissues, so many questions and consequences – that anyone who thinks his own mind can handle these without the help of principles cannot be interested in principles, philosophy, or his own mind. He’s interested in his whims. Objective, rational positions – that is, principles and their application – are not a violation of one’ mind, but an aid. If it is proved to you why a certain course of action is right, and according to what premises, then your own mind is saved a lot of time. It is thereby much easier to consider a case and evaluate it than to do so by yourself from scratch. This is the function of philosophy: to save time.

    “But if this questioner thinks his own mind should be the sole determinant of his stand on an issue, I’ll ask him by what standard, and by what right? Right is a moral – that is, philosophic – concept. Why should his mind be the sole determinant? Is he properly equipped? No. He would have to be a professional philosopher, and then perhaps by early middle age he would begin to be qualified – that is, to pass judgment on issues strictly on the strength of his own mind alone, unaided by anyone else’s philosophy. He would need to return to the pre-Socratic philosophers. Anyone is free to originate his own philosophy if he can do it. But then he must start from scratch. He must define his premises and objectively demonstrate that his system is right. Then he can practice it on his own, with his own mind as the sole determinant of his actions.

    “…The serious error here is the failure to differentiate between principles and their application. What philosophy gives you are principles, which are abstract. What philosophy doesn’t tell you is how to apply those principles to the events and the choices of your life. In that regard, your mind is the sole determiner of what to do. Nobody can or should help you. Your own mind must decide how to apply principles.”

    You actually didn’t offer an argument to your large, red declaration. I don’t think that the length or brevity of an argument, including the presentation of evidence, is a criteria for truth. I can think of several specific, short, factual presentations that would convince me that I do not wish to associate with someone. Some of these issues would lead me to wonder about friends who ignored these issues.

    But, your original issue is one that I generally agree. Demanding that other people, many of whom you hardly know, reject someone that neither of you hardly know, to show that you have the proper morals, is improper. Usually, I end up being de-friended.

  2. Let me add, I'm mildly troubled by the exact formulation my own "large red declaration". I've changed it twice now. What I mean is partly that "The idea that a rational mind can grasp truth **about the thoughts and motivations of people** by means of simple statements is false," though I left it more general to think about. I'm inclined to also re-phrase as, "The idea that a rational mind can grasp *deep* truths by simple statements is false." Off the top of my head, I can't think of any deep truths that can be shown by simple statements. There's always an enormous context of knowledge and experience required to grasp a deep truth. I think that simple statements can at best *summarize* a deep truth or assessment of someone's character, but they can't prove it. That's my thinking, anyway. Open to other observations or examples. --Robb

  3. Well, when you throw in the word "context" you get something very different. Here the context was that all the readers/friends were supposedly Objectivitists (a term that seems to have a broader meaning than we might think). With in that context, how about three examples (taken from real life!):
    1. So-and-so has read a lot of Ayn Rand and thinks that Nathanial Branden is a fine fellow.
    2. "I am an Objectivist intellectual and I think that the Communist Chinese leaders are merely mistaken and shoule be tolerated."
    and 3. (the inclusion of which in this trio is not intended to imply any similarity to the morality of the other two) "The idea that a rational mind can grasp "deep" truths by simple statement is false."

  4. In one of Dr. Peikoff's courses -- I think it was his Logic course -- he told a story about Ayn Rand's reaction to his guilt over failing to see how an abstract principle applied to a particular situation. "You're not Aquinas's Angel" she told him.

    She then explained that Aquinas believed that angels automatically understood all the implications and applications of every idea but that human beings did not. They had to think through and understand every single application as a separate mental process. Also, unlike angels, they were not infallible, so they could make mistakes when applying ideas.

    Ayn Rand's point was that Dr. Peikoff should not feel guilty. On the same grounds, we should not condemn others simply for making errors. Correct applications are not self-evident because we're not Aquinas's Angels.

    1. Betsy, you hit one of the fallacies of irrational condemnation on the head. One can have thought extensively and deeply about a subject with a fully focused honest mind, and yet arrive at a false conclusion. It happens in science, for example, all of the time. Not being Acquinas's Angles means that man cannot know before he discovers it all the truth that is needed to know a final answer to any difficult problem. So, with that in mind, I suggest we go back and read or re-read Peikoff's article entitled 'Fact and Value' and see if we agree or still agree with its pronouncements. For those pronouncements and premises are, in my opinion, the root cause of the immense arrogance and pseudo-indignation of those who believe that they are morally required to condemn as 'bad'(immoral) those who hold ideas that are 'wrong'(erroneous). If you accept Peikoff's arguments in that article, you are left with the very dangerous premise that being wrong is immoral. You see, that he never 'got' what Ayn Rand said when, alluding to Acquinas' Angles, she scolded him for feeling guilt about his error. To him, the error implied immorality, therefore justified guilt. On this fundamental issue, Ayn Rand is right and Peikoff is wrong. No, Peikoff is not a cognitive extension of Ayn Rand. His thoughts and interpretations of Objectivism are his own, just as yours are your own. Only Ayn Rand was the ultimate authority of her own philosophy.

  5. ...and I'll add, if error is possible, and no one allows for error, what is the point of the concept? But I think the central issue with many (not all) people is that they view certain types or classes of errors as prima facie evidence of dishonesty. This is what my main point was intended to address -- that such type-identification is a form of intrinsicism, the idea that the truth is inherent in things, and can be grasped self-evidently via a simple process -- "Look! See?" It's an assumption that a rational mind functions at almost a perceptual level, or at least a very simple conceptual level.

    Reasoning doesn't work like that. That's why it's called "reason" -- a process that normally requires much more effort once we get past the age of about three. That's why we go to school. But then, to extend the premise of self-evident judgments to the most complex thing in the universe -- to judgments of the motives and thought processes of other human beings -- that's just silly.

    I'll add, there's a second motive that I *know* exists, because I've seen it too many times. Some people have an online persona that is extremely abrasive and a style that can only be compared to a bulldog in attempting to gnaw down opponents with endless nuanced repetition of a basic point. (A point that can be wrong, but is taken as a fundamental premise by the bulldog.) And many people either can't make compelling counter-arguments, or they don't type well enough to elucidate their arguments, or they simply don't have, or want to make, the time to do so -- so they confront the online bulldog who has scads of time to type endlessly in answer to every critic, and the critics feel helpless.

    You combine this with the bulldog's irritating, sometimes grossly insultingly offensive style, and there's a formula for dislike. The critics of the bulldog shift then shift to arguments they *can* make, within the capacity of their ability and time and typing skills -- they revert to moral pronouncements. This allows them to write short, pithy condemnations, rather than long, detailed, and damningly logical and factual rebuttals. The leap to condemn is a wonderful rationalization that saves a lot of work and self-esteem.

    1. Robb, right again. One of Ayn Rand's statements that I took to heart and never forgot is this: 'Nothing is self-evident but the evidence of the senses.' It is a fallacy of context to believe that after much thought and struggle, having arrived at the right solution, one can now 'see' it as self-evident. It is not and never was. Of course, one must automate valid premises. For without that capacity we could never move forward and would have to re-validate every concept before we uttered or discovered the next. But cognitive automation must never be reduced in ones mind as a species of the self-evident.


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