Daniel Barnes

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  1. Hi Darrell >I guess that I'm not really interested in debating whether Rand solved the problem until we agree on whether there is a solution to the problem or not. Well, more correctly speaking, the "is/ought" (or the fact/decision) problem has been solved - Hume solved it, negatively. What Rand is supposed to be challenging is this solution. But it is hard to see how her solution even addresses the problem. >I would not, however, underestimate Rand's grasp of the facts. I think Rand's grasp of the facts is often highly overrated, I am sorry to say. Hence my additional example of Hume's problem of induction, where the situation is crystal clear. I cannot tell you the number of times Objectivists have told me how Rand completely refuted Hume's skepticism. Rand herself certainly believed it. Yet the problem of induction is absolutely central to Hume's skepticism, and the modern variants thereof. [(Betrand Russell, as I recall, in a rather despairing discussion of it in his History of Western Philosophy, called it the timebomb placed under modern philosophy). And yet Rand in her own words plainly admits she has never even done any work on this problem. One can only conclude she indeed had very little grasp of the facts of the matter. If someone told you that they had completely refuted Rand's epistemology, yet at the same time had not even begun to think about her theory of concept formation, would you think they had a sufficient grasp of the facts? BTW, you mentioned earlier you might be interested in discussing a point in Huemer that I considered a strong one. I offered his Point 5, about fudge words and Man Qua Man. I am happy to discuss this as well.
  2. Michael K > I have a nasty suspicion that Hume was talking about one thing and Rand another, but I will save this for later. Actually, shortcut: I think you might be right.
  3. Michael K >Is this the correct Hume citation just for starters? Yes indeedy. I'm back on the road tomorrow however, and may not reply for a few days. regards Daniel
  4. Victor: >His remark “Fine words butter no parsnips in logic” shifted a change in how I approached him. Well, I'm sorry, but I didn't consider that a particularly offensive remark. It is true at any rate. >I also argue that the onus of proof is on Daniel to prove his case that there is a gulf between IS and an OUGHT—not the other way around. Victor, I am going to have to give the 411 on this. Listen up: just because a decision may involve a fact, or be based around a fact, or suggested by a fact, or influenced by a fact, does not mean it is logically derivable from that fact, nor that it can be logically reduced to that fact. All decisions involve a fact of some kind - yet the same facts can give rise to all kinds of different decisions - even opposite ones. Thus the fact it is sunny outside means I might decide to go out, or stay in. Thus - and follow the bouncing ball here - these decisions cannot be logically valid derivations. Now, there is no difference in principle here between this trivial decision and important ethical ones. The distinction is the same (and actually becomes very important for the concept of individual responsibility, as it means we cannot entirely fob our decisions off on to some abstract system) It is not a "gulf" - nor is it completely "arbitrary" or random or any of the other things you are repeating somewhat thoughtlessly. The artificial - such as a decision - is not the same as the arbitrary - another distinction regularly missed by Miss Rand. A novel or work of art is artificial, and is not entirely reducible to any fact or set of facts, but no-one would call it arbitrary. >You (Michael K) consider Hume's position as a serious philosophical arguement for the IS/OUGHT position. Michael is right. It clearly is. >I established Rand’s central points on a firm grounding—but more: I also argue that the onus of proof is on Daniel to prove his case that there is a gulf between IS and an OUGHT—not the other way around. See the above. Look, my friend, you are an artistic and imaginative fellow (I'm a creative type myself). Let me try to persuade you - just for a short while - to imagine the unimaginable - that what Rand said about important philosophic issues, and what you may passionately and sincerely believe, may in fact be completely incorrect. We all have had that experience where our deepest, most dearly held convictions turn out to be wrong. Well, just go with it for a while as the debate plays out. You never know...;-)
  5. Victor: >Objectivism is a philosophy for living on earth. All life is subsumed by ought conditions and if those conditions are not met, the living creature dies—and this is a constant observable fact that is substantiated time and again. To attempt to establish guidelines that ignores those conditions (to think about Oughts not derived from Is) is suicidal. The fact that what reality IS determines how one OUGHT to deal with it—and this seems so simple to grasp that it’s no wonder it eludes modern academics. Hi Victor All this sounds very stirring, but...how does this solve the problem of valid logical inference from "is" to "ought"? This is what you have to keep coming back to I'm afraid. Fine words butter no parsnips in logic. This is a serious issue, and unfortunately will not be drowned out by arias, no matter how boldly sung...;-)
  6. Victor: >How do you argue that Rand’s not sufficiently dealing with Hume's famous "problem of induction" as a monumental case—a positive case--for an is/ought dichotomy? What is the connection? It's intended as merely another example - both clear cut, and powerful - that Rand often did not solve the problems she (and others) claimed she did. Why do you think the debunking of an antique idea like vitalism as a doctrine is related to the "is/ought" problem? One is a discarded biological theory. The other is a basic problem of valid logical inference, as I have already explained. It's like trying to say the law of the excluded middle should be discarded, because scientists don't believe in phlostigon. There is no relationship between the two, let alone any 'cuddling'...;-)
  7. studiodekadent: >Just because Objectivism has a different conceptual framework to analytic philosophy does not mean it is 'selfcontradictory jargon.' We frequently explain our definitions, and we frequently point out we do not use the term "Objective" in the sense that the analytic philosophers use the term. This discussion thread unfortunately did not sufficiently specify that and as such you are attacking Objectivism for not being intrinsic. studiodekadent, may I politely ask what's up with the "analytic philosophy" biz? Who is arguing here from an 'analytic' point of view? The term usually refers to conceptual or linguistic analysis-type philosophies, or Logical Positivism some such, and I believe those philosophies to be in serious error too - and even share to some serious errors with Objectivism. I'm not interested in attacking Objectivism for not being "intrinsic" etc. Nothing could be more tiresome IMHO.I'm interested in basic logical and factual errors in Rand's arguments, and the "fudge" words and jargon that concealed them from her readers, and especially, I believe, Rand herself. For Rand often did not realise she had not solved the problem she thought she had. The "is/ought" example is a typical one. The other one that is amazingly obvious - so much so that people who have a lot of confidence in Rand's claims can scarcely believe it is true - is that Rand did not in fact refute Hume's famous "problem of induction" - the basis of all modern skepticism. Not only did she not refute it, she had not even done any work on it. For this, you do not need to rely on my say-so. She admits this with crystal clarity in her own words in the ITOE. Let's review this remarkable passage in full: (ITOE p304/5) Professor M asks - admittedly not very clearly - how one can verify scientifcally that Newton's theory of gravitation is correct. Rand replies: "After it has been verified by a great many observations, not merely the verification of one prediction, then at a certain time one can accept it as fact. But taking your example as an illustration of what you are asking, if the sole validation for Newton's principle was that it predicted that orbits will be elliptical, that wouldn't be sufficient proof. Epistemologically, it wouldn't be enough. You would have to have other observations, from different aspects of the same issue, which all support this hypothesis. (Historically Newton validated his theory by means of a great many observations of widely differing phenomena)" Prof M:"The question is: where does one stop? When does one decide that enough confirming evidence exists? (emphasis DB) Is that the province of the issue of induction?" Now we will pause briefly here, as anyone even faintly familiar with Hume's famous philosophical problem will recognise this question as the induction problem in a nutshell. Of course, Hume's answer to this question is simply: Never! For no matter how many observations you make, you can never positively establish the truth of a universal law. The logical inference is always going to be invalid, as the universal truth of the conclusion will always exceed the truth of the premises (or observations), which will always be limited to some extent. Further, appeals to some kind of "inductive validity" as opposed to purely logical validity also fail, because it is circular. So it is a mother of a problem alright - as Rand then acknowledges. AR: "Yes. That's the big question of induction. Which I couldn't even begin to discuss - because a) I haven't worked on that subject enough to even begin to formulate it, (emphasis DB) and b) it would take an accomplished scientist in a given field to illustrate the whole process in that field" That's right - just read that passage again. The problem of induction, Hume's big Kahuna that informs his other skepticisms, such as causality, and kicked off modern skepticism, not to mention Immanuel Kant - and she hasn't worked on that subject enough to even begin to formulate an answer to it! (Her appeal to some "scientist" to come along and explain it only indicates that she doesn't realise the nature of the problem; for the problem of induction is a logical one, not an empirical one). Knowing this, it becomes extremely difficult to take the oft-made claims that Rand refuted Hume's skepticism seriously. In her own words, she has barely even thought about the subject!
  8. Darrell offered the following as an example of an "obvious error" in Huemer's piece: "2. Something is valuable to an entity, only if the entity faces alternatives." Huemer wrote: "Premise 2 seems to be false. If I knew that I was inevitably going to get a million dollars tomorrow--there's no way I can avoid it--would that mean that the money will have no value? Again, Rand offers no defense of this assertion." Darrell criticised Huemer as follows: >If I was going to receive a million dollars tomorrow, that would not convert me into a being that is not faced with alternatives. If I receive a million dollars, I must still decide how to use it. Hi Darrell, I'm sorry, but this does not seem to be an error - or at least not an obvious one. If anything, I might politely suggest you have mistaken Huemer's point. First of all, we should note Huemer is rather tenative about this criticism - he talks about what Rand "seems" to be saying and it's certainly not one of the errors he calls "egregious". Secondly, the prima facie point is is about whether or not the enforced $1m will have value to you - not whether it will "convert" you "into a being not faced with alternatives". Whether the enforced money will still have value to you is the initial point at issue. That, in the first instance, I am sure most people would say "yes" to. Now, of course we may take the next step and expand to a secondary point as you suggest - but Huemer raises a question mark as to whether this is what Rand actually meant, because it seems Rand herself did not offer this defense. (Huemer may be wrong; however I can think of anywhere she did offhand. Do you know where Rand defends it? If you do then this might show Huemer up as not having done his homework, which is always handy) If you don't, you are of course welcome to speculate what you think Rand might have said in reply, but then this would hardly make Huemer's questioning an "obvious misinterpretation." So I don't think Huemer's argument is "silly" - or at least there is no rebuttal of it in Rand's work. >I haven't read the whole thing, but if you think he makes a good point somewhere, we can debate that. OK, well his "5. Man qua man and fudge words" seems both powerful and accurate to me, and well-supported by the text. Have a look and let us know what you think.
  9. studio dekadent >This is precisely why I pointed out that the Anti-Rand side are using different definitions than the Pro-Rand side. The Anti-Randians are obviously using the analytic philosophy definition of objective, which is, to the Pro-Rand side, Intrinsicism. Actually, the Anti-Rand side - well, those on this forum at least - are using plain English anyone can understand, and not relying on dodgy selfcontradictory jargon...;-)
  10. Victor: >I don’t see how studiodekadent has demonstrated how the is/ought dichotomy still stands, and that Rand did not provide a solution. Hi Victor, Do you know about the basic rule of a valid logical inference? That the truth of the conclusion cannot exceed the truth of the premises? That is the problem here (and one of the problems of induction BTW) >Meanwhile, for those who don’t have the time to read the lengthy argument that Dragonfly linked, why don’t you condense the Is/Ought dichotomy and argue as to how Rand failed to solve this age old problem that has vexed previous philosophers. I attempted to do that in my first post. Obviously not well enough....;-) Have a quick look at that and come back to me with anything seems unclear. (sorry to be brief but I am travelling)
  11. Darrell: >Michael Huemer's piece is fraught with rather obvious errors. He does not properly identify her premises or conclusions and his objections rely on rather obvious misinterpretations of what Rand meant. Hi Darrell, Could you give some examples of the "obvious errors" in Huemer's piece? >Rand may have been somewhat careless in her use of language from time to time, but I think it is unreasonable to require a writer to put every possible qualification on every statement at every point in a derivation. This is not what I meant at all. What I meant is that she has a consistent pattern throughout her work of using confused and confusing terminology. A typical oxymoron is, for example, her phrase "contextual absolute" - because, obviously, an 'absolute' is something that doesn't change, no matter what the context! For example, an absolute law of physics is something that is true in every time and place in the universe ie: every possible context. Words have meanings, after all! Such a construction is really no better than saying something is free, except you have to pay for it. That kind of thing. It's not profound, it's simply playing with words in a highly misleading fashion, IMHO.
  12. Victor: >where do you stand with Rand’s ethical system? I think it is almost certainly false for the most part, though of course it might contain elements of truth. Michael Huemer's piece above is a brief but thorough refutation. The most obvious problem is of course her equivocation over man's "life", which early in the "Ethics" essay she uses in the sense of "survival", but then later shifts to mean "man qua man" - that is to say, just about anything she pleases! That in itself is enough to render her theory useless. The other obvious problem is the "is/ought" issue, which she obviously doesn't solve as studiodekadent points out below - whoops, I mean above! - (what she/he calls the "narrow sense" of the problem is the only important sense in my opinion). There are also her usual problems of fudge words and oxymorons etc etc that bedevil the rest of her work, but aren't specific to this theory. (I don't agree with the rest of what studiodekadent says, BTW. The problem with Rand's ethics has nothing to do with any definitions of Objectivity - and even less to do with Logical Positivism - but quite simple matters of verbal equivocation and valid logic. Once again, see Huemer's essay Dragonfly posted above)
  13. Victor: >Daniel, You saw nothing egregious?...No one particular 'passage' jumps out from the total that is this book. But I’m going to refresh myself and go through the book again—tomorrow--and offer an overview of it. Oh, don't worry about the whole thing. Better just to keep it on-topic. All I'm after is any passages where Walker clearly distorts her ethical system in order to attack it. As I say, I recall that his arguments in this regard at least seemed pretty sound. But I will have a look again tonite.
  14. Hi Victor I haven't read ONeill's book - didn't look that interesting - but I have read the Jeff Walker book a while back. Do you have any particular passages in mind where Walker clearly distorts her ethical system in order to attack it? I'll go back and have a look at it myself, but I offhand don't recall anything egregious in that regard. His arguments seemed pretty straightforward to me.
  15. Victor: >You know, I have read critiques of the Objectivist ethics by thinkers and writers who have—at least--studied Rand! There is no question that they know her thought inside and out. Of course, instead of addressing their critique from a mistaken premise, they merely feel at liberty to distort her system in order to attack it. (Ah, gotta love those intellectuals). Hi Victor May I ask which critiques you've read of Objectivist ethics, and maybe give us an example or two of how those thinkers have distorted her system?
  16. Stephen: Here is a contemporary and important book addressing issues raised in this thread concerning objective values and the fact-value dichotomy: The Collapse of the Fact-Value Dichotomy 2002 Hilary Putnam Stephen, are you able to briefly summarise Putnam's argument against Hume?
  17. Logically valid reasoning is how you're supposed to get to the "ought", yeah, if that's what you mean.
  18. The main point of my post was, BTW, to illustrate that the common assumption that many Objectivists have that Rand somehow comprehensively refuted Hume is quite incorrect. (And of course, Hume posed the fundamental problems that Kant - unsuccessfully - tried to solve). She clearly did not solve 1)the "is/ought" problem (even tho it seems she thought she did) and did not even begin to address the big one 2) the problem of induction which as a Popperian I think flows into and is more important than Hume's better known criticism of causality. It may well be she had not fully grasped either of the above.
  19. Hi Michael, I think that, minor as it seems, the shift you suggest above from Rand's "The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do" to your modification "What a living entity is determines what it ought to do" basically changes the problem. It moves from the classic problem of the lack of logical relation between fact (is) and decision (ought) - which Rand is undoubtedly referring to when she talks about "those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends and values and the facts of reality" - to the different and quite innocuous claim that what something is determines to some extent what it does. I have no problem with that obviously as the opposite - that what something isn't determines what it does - would be hard to believe! So it's not actually the same issue AFAICS. Hey Dragonfly, good to be here, sadly am just dropping in briefly as I don't even have enough time to update my own blog at present....;-)
  20. Michael K: >Objectivism differs from most all other ethical systems in that it uses reason to determine the premises (core values). That is how it derives the "ought" from the "is." Hi Michael I might just drop in on this topic briefly. It seems to me when it comes to Rand's proposal for deriving "ought" from "is" we should take it straight from the horse's mouth: "In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends and values and the facts of reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value for which any given living entity is its own life. Thus the validation of value judgements is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the relationship between "is" and "ought." - Rand, 'The Objectivist Ethics', VOS, italics in original. Now there are a number of problems in this passage and the essay as a whole, particularly her key equivocation over man's "life" which Huemer (and Nyquist) have already dealt with thoroughly. But let's just leave these aside for a moment and focus on the single issue of whether Rand really has solved Hume's famous "is/ought" problem. She certainly seems to think she has, but I am not sure she actually understands it. The "is/ought" dualism can be simply grasped as the distinction between facts and decisions - "here is a fact, what ought I do?" (This can also be understood as the difference between descriptive statements and prescriptive statements) The problem is this: that a decision cannot be validly derived from a fact, or any number of facts. From the fact it is sunny outside as I type, I may make any number of decisions - to stay inside or go outside, to go surfing or to visit my mother, to stop writing and make coffee or to finish my post to O-living despite the glare on my computer screen. All these things are perfectly possible and reasonable choices, but I would never dream of claiming that any of them can be logically determined in the same way that we can validly determine "Socrates is mortal" in the classic syllogism - for of course we have no choice but to come to this conclusion. Now it does not matter what type of decisions we're talking about, ethical or otherwise, or what type of facts, natural or man-made. The problem remains the same. So it turns out the fact that a living entity "is" does not and cannot validly determine which of a vast range of decisions it "ought" to make. Thus there can be no sound "validation" of value judgements by the facts of reality - a situation which, interestingly, returns us the other great Humean problem, the problem of induction. (At least Rand plainly admits she has not solved that one - p303/4, ITOE - although once again it is not clear she fully understands it) So much for Rand's solution to the problem of the logical relationship between "is" and "ought."