Daniel Barnes

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Everything posted by Daniel Barnes

  1. For those not familiar with the details, Popper got badly shot down by his student, Bill Bartley, on this. Ultimately, however, this was one step backwards, three steps forwards. He had the good fortune to have critical students, even if he found their criticism hard to take. Popper's beloved theory of verisimilitude was shot down by David Miller (who is still probably overall his staunchest defender). For a comparison of critical cultures, imagine the DIM Hypothesis being destroyed by, I don't know, Andrew Bernstein or someone. And attacks on the Logical Positivist doctrine of the meaninglessness of metaphysics can be found in his The Open Society And Its Enemies from the '40s. He's been on at them ever since the LScD. Apropos of nothing, it looks like Lakatos ripped off Popper's "MRPs" for his own "Research Programs".
  2. Oh, just in case you misunderstood, I meant my acerbic one-liners, not yours... I'd be happy to drone on at length about Worlds 1, 2 & 3 on my return, sounds like fun. I am probably too hard on Peikoff, there is no doubt something he has written somewhere that is worthwhile. But reading him reminds me of Pauline Kael's remark about "Heaven's Gate", which was something like: "I could see what you would cut. I just couldn't see what you'd keep."
  3. If you mean a reliable (ie infallible) test for truth, I am not being flippant by replying you wouldn't be human any more.
  4. I think RH's comment here nicely demonstrates a key confusion that a dose of Popper can quickly clear up. This confusion arises between the meaning of the word "truth", and a criterion, or reliable indication of or test, for truth. A zillion philosophers have made the same distinction. Okay, maybe "zillion" is an exaggeration, but there are many. Good, let us hope that it becomes better known then so we don't have to rearrange quite so many pixels on internet forums.
  5. I think RH's comment here nicely demonstrates a key confusion that a dose of Popper can quickly clear up. This confusion arises between the meaning of the word "truth", and a criterion, or reliable indication of or test, for truth. RH claims, quite rightly, that most people, even 4 year olds, know, roughly, the meaning of the word "truth." Thus the issue of meaning is not "problematic". The "problematic" part is finding a criterion of truth. Let's use a simple analogy. We know what we mean, roughly, by "cancer". However, what's much harder is discovering a reliable indication or test for cancer -a criterion for cancer, if you like. In fact it might require a battery of such tests before a diagnosis can be made, and even then it might be uncertain. So now you can see there are really two issues here conflated in comments like the above. 1) The meaning of the word, "truth", which of course most 4-year olds know, so can't be considered a real problem. and 2) A criterion or reliable test for truth. This is far more difficult, unless we think 4 year olds somehow just "know" how to tell truth from falsehood. It's this part that is "problematic", and with no real solution in sight.
  6. Sorry, I meant that you seemed to have a low opinion of Popper in general. Not that there's anything wrong with that...;-)
  7. I'd be delighted to. As it happens, I first encountered Popper via the "3 Worlds" conjecture; in an article in the New York Review of Books as I recall. The article was highly negative. But I thought the ideas being dismissed sounded more interesting than the person doing the dismissing, so I looked further. So I'd be happy to defend it, although I am aware it is hardly flawless. In fact it's a pretty soft target. And I am sure Merlin has his World Series Edition baseball bat standing by...;-) The only issue is that I am off to Europe shortly, and am rather busy before then. So if you want to attack it amongst yourselves and be content with my acerbic one-liners now and then via iPhone from some airport somewhere, then fine. Otherwise it will have to wait.
  8. So what? Tarski himself said his theory only applies to formal languages and not natural languages. The site you linked even says so: "It is important to note that as Tarski originally formulated it, this theory applies only to formal languages. He gave a number of reasons for not extending his theory to natural languages" [snip]. Don't believe everything you read in the Wikipedia. Of course, I don't believe everything Karl Popper says either. Just most things...;-) But perhaps he has blundered. Susan Haack thinks so. The situation is actually mired in some controversy. What isn't?! But then I didn't it claim it was unproblematic in the first place, just less so AFAICS than Peikoff's hopeless attempts at an argument.
  9. The term "truth" is problematic in respect to Randian epistemological theory. This is because, contra Peikoff's dissembling, Rand's theory does lead to relativistic and subjectivist consequences. Peikoff's only defense against this amounts to some word-games combined with some rhetorical attempts to intimidate. If you don't like word-games, and are not easily intimidated, you will not find his arguments at all credible. It's not so problematic in terms of your own field, semantics, where we find Tarski's theory, as promoted by my main man Karl Popper, renovates the old Correspondence Theory. So why we need "structural similarity" I have no idea.
  10. I think I agree with most of this critique. Which is very boring of me. However I will not be able to discuss for a couple of days due to other commitments. So my misc. caviling will have to wait.
  11. Oh well we are on the same page for a lot of things then. Excellent. Shame I haven't read your book, it would have saved me a lot of work! Never mind, I will trawl Amazon for a copy forthwith.
  12. Ok, seeing this is the title of this thread, I'm going to saddle up my standard hobby horse here. We're talking about what we might more accurately call "contextual moral certainty" right? This strikes me as having the same problem as Rand's epistemological "contextual certain knowledge". That is, it's simply an oxymoron. Even if we give it the most charitable interpretation, it amounts to a standard form of skepticism. The problem then being merely the fact that Rand damned skepticism to the lowest rungs of hell. I think her "contextual moral certainty" is a similar oxymoron. To show this, I will start by borrowing Fred Seddon's simple formulation of Rand's epistemological theory: We may know p, but p may be false. (Incidentally, as to the question of whether Seddon is right to express it this way, it seems to me that anything much stronger is going to only emphasise the contradictions Rand's phrase threatens. Hence I think it is a charitable interpretation - for example it could easily entail a subjectivist and relativistic theory of knowledge, which would be the pits of hell themselves!). Now, this AFAICS is indistinguishable from a radical skeptical theory such as Karl Popper's. Everything we know is actually hypothetical, as it may be proven false tomorrow.* It seems to me we can simply make a transposition of the epistemological expression and the moral one: We may know p is good, but p may be bad. This seems to be a straightforward rendition of the actual consequences of her theory. The problem then is not so much a logical clash as a rhetorical one; this is clearly represents a fallible, tentative, indeed uncertain approach to ethics. Which is nothing like the swashbuckling, radiant "certainty" Rand projects. Anyway that's it in a nutshell. No doubt I have missed many niceties. So have at it. *Or as Scarlett O'Hara might have said: "Tomorrow is another context!"
  13. It's ok. I don't spy for the ARI...;-) Of course as you know "existentialism" was Rand's first choice for a name for her philosophy, but she found it had already been taken. Actually so had objectivism, but she rolled with it anyhow. Good brand names are hard to come by. Thanks, I enjoyed the exchange.
  14. OK, but perhaps other readers aren't, so I thought I'd better supply the context. I never have. In fact I think I've gone to some lengths to make my questions as simple as possible. However, I do appreciate your additional efforts, and so won't detain you further. To finish, perhaps for now, I'd like to emphasise first what I see as a strong point of agreement between us. You write: "...ultimately the abstract discipline of ethics cannot command someone that he ought to adopt happiness as a goal. Thus, in this sense, a personal -- or, if you prefer, "subjective" -- decision and commitment are necessary before a person will pay any attention to the factual value claims of theoretical ethics." I completely agree with this, and your comparison of an objective discipline of ethics to, say, the objective rules of mathematics, or the rules of logic for that matter. These can, indeed, stand "outside ourselves" in the objective sense (for example the tablets of the Ten Commandments). And we do indeed subjectively decide to adopt or not adopt these rules and standards. As you may or may not be aware, we Popperians refer to this as the dichotomy between facts and decisions. (I personally think this is a bit clearer than the standard fact vs value, as obviously the decision to adopt or not adopt this or that value is where the rubber hits the road. But anyway). So I think we both agree that an objective ethics is possible; just not a comprehensively or fully objective one. That is, there is always a subjective element in the form of a personal decision to adopt this or that code. Now, as subjective is something of a hate word in Objectivism, I offer a mild renovation of the term, as I have done before. That it is, in this case, not really a bug, but a feature. For I would argue that it is this personal, subjective element that delivers its moral quality. If it was something you had to follow, like a law of physics, or if it could be endlessly derived like a book of log tables, it would have about as much moral content as either ie none. Our personal decision to act according to this or that code makes us responsible for the consequences of us acting according to this code. This more positive view of subjectivity is a point where we may differ, but now you know how I see it. It seems then, any quibbling over terms aside, we are reasonably in agreement. Let me know if otherwise. We do disagree on one thing however: whether Rand's theory closes the traditional "is-ought" gap. For the position I have outlined above is actually fully consistent with the "is-ought" gap, hence should be unsatisfactory to Rand. From this I conclude that Rand did not solve the problem. You may claim otherwise but we can leave that for another day.
  15. I think this is a little unfair. It's not like O'Neil suddenly and arbitrarily introduces a "genuine deontological 'ought'" to stack the deck and get him out of a bind. In fact he provides his reasoning quite clearly in the sentence directly prior to the passage you cite above: O'Neil: "The other alternative, the supplying of a benefit - either directly positive or the absence of a negative sanction-indicates a telelogization of the moral maxim, and for this reason is unacceptable, for it makes the maxim depend upon the individual, subjective human will." (my italics) So O'Neil is saying the price of bridging the prescriptive/descriptive gap is, in this case, a complete concession to subjectivity. Which is of course something of a problem for a claim to a fully objective ethics AFAICS. You cite Rand repudiating what O'Neil considers to be the type of "ought" in the problem turns on ie a non-subjective one, one not dependent on the individual will. Rather than this refuting O'Neil, I suggest this is merely another example of how Rand seems to be in fact "solving" something rather different from what is generally considered to be the problem.
  16. Well, I've debated enough Objectivists to know that what many of them mean when they say "rational" or even "logical" is something other than what most non-Objectivists mean by it. So I apologise if that came across as patronising, it certainly wasn't intended as such. I was just making sure we were talking about the same thing. As to what you've written to date, I am paying attention to it. However, in my experience a lot of internet debate - and debate in general - starts around people trying to solve two different problems. And you don't find this out till after about post #457. Hence, blasted Popperian that I am, I like to start with a clear agreement on what the problem is at hand right upfront. Currently I think we don't have that. I want to talk about the problem as it is put in Hume, as this seems to pertain directly to Rand's most controversial ethical claim. You've specifically said you want to talk about not-Hume - though you have indicated this is kind of a preliminary position to the big question. So unless you've got Hume in your long term sights, we should both spare each other the debate, though I will certainly enjoy reading what you have to say on the not-Hume side. If you think it would take a book to answer the options A, B, C, as I put them, well let's simply let the matter rest there, as I wouldn't ask you to write a book live here on Objectivist Living....;-) These forums are for cavalry charges, not marathons. Blasted Popperian that I am, that is pretty much it.
  17. I just looked out my window, and saw the sun moving through the sky! It's that simple. What is it with all you people who argue that the earth moves, and not the sun? Isn't it obvious?..;-) whYNOT, hope you don't mind the analogy, but the point is that often very plausible-sounding theories turn out to be false on close examination. I don't know you, but I'd be willing to bet you haven't really spent a lot of time really examining this plausible-sounding theory of Rand's. It's not that I don't think you're clever enough, I'm sure you are. It's just a question of getting your head around the problem in the first place. Which takes a bit of time and effort. And having done so myself, I'm pretty sure that Rand didn't only not solve the problem, but that she didn't really grok it in the first place. But I could be wrong. The only way you'll know is to try to find out yourself. The fact is that the "is/ought problem" is one of, sigh, logical derivation. Kinda boring sounding, I know, compared Rand's more exciting rhetorical expressions about "man's highest values" etc. But there it is. You can read a pretty good technical exposition of where she goes wrong courtesy of a fellow I quoted earlier, Patrick M O'Neil. Read it a couple of times. If you can't fault his arguments - I couldn't - then you get a choice between believing what Rand claimed, and what the force of logical argument tells us (one of the great benefits of things like logic is that it can pitilessly unmask things we somewhat lazily believe as, unfortunately, being false). If you're not happy with that, read a bunch of other stuff, for and against until you feel confident you've got the issues. Which do get a bit complex. The point is, of course, not to win any debates, but so you know in your own mind you understand it, and don't have to take the word of someone like me, or Ayn Rand for that matter, on the subject. That's what I'd recommend.
  18. So when I ask you to give a straight answer to this: A: Rand did solve the traditional Is-Ought problem B: Rand did not solve the traditional Is-Ought problem C: Rand did not solve the traditional Is-Ought problem, but made a significant step towards it What I get is a little hissy fit. Stick to posturing, scholastic misdirection instead George. There's probably a career in it.
  19. I didn't say I was lesser than you...;-) Go ahead! Say it! Get it over with! You left yourself wide open for that one...;-)
  20. Thank you. If, by "rationally justified" you mean justified by logical means, then I understand you. I look forward to your demonstration. This was the other question I sought to clarify. And just as well, because just as I suspected we have some potential sources of confusion right here. Firstly, I'm not sure everyone would agree with you that the relationship between facts and values is not basically the same as the traditional Is-Ought problem. For example, AFAICS neither Patrick M O'Neill nor David Ramsay Steele make this distinction in their critical discussions of Rand's ethics. Neither does Barbara Branden, who writes in her The Passion of Ayn Rand (and handily quoted in Steele) "... the problem that haunted philosophers since the time of Aristotle and Plato: the relationship of 'ought' and 'is' - the question of in what manner moral values can be derived from facts." I don't think any of the above requires a 101 course in Ethics, Logic, or History of Philosophy (although Branden is mistaken to attribute the problem to the Ancient Greeks, as Steele points out). But let us be open minded and accept your claim anyway. So we then have two problems: 1) The relationship between facts and values 2) The traditional Is-Ought problem While I found your brief exposition interesting, and I do intend to track down your book at some stage, it seemed to me to aim at what you've nominated as 1) and to "leave Hume aside." Unfortunately, 2) is the problem Rand claimed to have solved. She indicates this clearly in the quote I provided from The Virtue of Selfishness: "The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the issue of the relation between “is” and “ought.” Further, most other Objectivists make out Rand solved 2) as well (though I note Barbara Branden in the extended verson of the above quote is more tentative, and says Rand took only "a major step toward" it). We can test how widespread this belief is by simply going on to a typical Objectivist forum and asking them whether Rand refuted Hume on this issue - but I think I know what answer we'd get...;-). Finally, I'm not aware of Rand herself making the distinction you're making. So even granting your distinction, 2) seems to be the important claim, making 1) somewhat beside the point. Perhaps your 1) is part of a build-up towards a Randian solution to 2). Or perhaps not? Perhaps you want to talk about "values" on the way to a vindication of objective "moral values". Or perhaps not? Either way it would be good to know where you intend to end up regarding 2) as this is still not apparent. In short, do you think that: A: Rand did solve the traditional Is-Ought problem B: Rand did not solve the traditional Is-Ought problem C: Rand did not solve the traditional Is-Ought problem, but made a significant step towards it. I would not be much interested in debating B or C, so we could save each other a lot of typing if we get this clear out front....;-)
  21. I didn't say I was lesser than you...;-)
  22. I don't regard Rand as a fool. On the contrary, I think she was a quite brilliant woman. Why would I waste my time criticising a fool? On the other hand, quite brilliant people can sometimes hold very foolish ideas. And sometimes very much lesser people, such as myself, can do them a favour by pointing them out.