Daniel Barnes

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Everything posted by Daniel Barnes

  1. Yes, I did notice that you were discussing Bacon's ideas. No, I did not misunderstand what you wrote. However I will apologise anyway, specifically for calling it a "dire, Rand-lite caricature". That was unfair of me, and I regretted it once I wrote it. Thanks for the opportunity to apologise. My reply to you is simple, and rather like your comment to me about Bacon: if "contextual certainty" means Rand isn't a skeptic, then neither are Critical Rationalists! But far from arguing over the meaning of words, which is boring, I am suddenly getting interested in your criticism of Popper's criticism. It would really rock a few CR forums if Popper turned out to be wrong on this particular dogma!...;-) Destroy his arguments effectively and I will be only too happy to push your critique out to the Critical Rationalist community.
  2. Now I have no idea whether you're being serious. But there's a simple way you can prove you are. Popper's arguments against the Aristotelian method, in that chapter and its lengthy notes, are primarily logical, and directly relevant to this thread. Just explain where his logic goes awry, and I'll take you seriously. Incidentally, I actually think the next chapter, on Hegel, while very funny, is probably the weakest thing in the book.
  3. I don't think you know, or want to know, what I'm getting at. PS: When I read passages like this from your book like this: "The skeptic who denies that we can ever attain certainty is like a person who, after observing the limited power of the naked hand, declares that man will never be able to build a cathedral" ...I think that the fact that you would seriously offer this dire, Rand-lite caricature makes me wonder if, despite all your obviously learning, whether you've made a serious effort to understand what the likes of Popper were getting at.
  4. Goodness, now you can't even read. Here's the comment you're referring to. I refer to "two different theories"; I don't say there are "only two alternatives". And what am I actually referring to with this remark about "two different theories"? Why, in fact it's this and this post by Ellen, where we are discussing - wait for it - nominalism and essentialism, particularly that of Karl Popper. These are the two different theories we're discussing. We're not even discussing conceptualism. Duh! So the howler is yours. How embarrassing, not to mention amusing. But of course I won't get an apology - you just will continue to leap about, shaking your cap and bells. Actually, all this shows is you know jack-shit about my line of criticism. Actually, my argument comes from Popper's criticism of the Aristotelian essentialist theory of definitions found in his Open Society, Chapter 11, and the logical problems associated with the idea that precisely defining one's terms is of the utmost importance. Rand, like the Scholastics, picked idea this up from Aristotle, but I think it causes the same problems for her philosophy that it did for the Scholastics. So my criticism is of Rand's adoption of methodological essentialism, and has been all along - a point I am not sure Ellen has quite clicked with. So it's quite clear you don't know what the hell I'm even arguing on this particular issue. Go read either that chapter, or the adaption of it, Two Kinds of Definitions in Popper Selections, if you want to get a clue - which is itself a pretty unwarranted assumption given your egregious performance to date. Oh, and incidentally far from just "throwing around" any old criticism, I've actually pursued this and a few other lines consistently for a long time now. I consider them fundamental to Objectivism's lack of visible output in the 50 years since Atlas Shrugged. But don't let that stop you from saying it anyway. As a matter of fact I rather politely explained my interpretation of the first here. The second was a remark to MSK that you have interpreted in your comically and perpetually outraged way. (I can't be bothered looking it up, but as I recall as usual it didn't mean what you thought it meant.) I couldn't disagree more. The ITOE seems to me to be a bill of goods, largely relying on word-games to bluff its way through. But oh well... time will tell. If you want know what I consider a work of genius in epistemology, it's this. And not just cos Ken Hopf says so....;-)
  5. Ellen doesn't have a bug up her butt about Rand, and she actually knows a lot about Rand's ideas. You fail in both respects. Let's see now. When Ellen, who is undoubtedly more familiar than me with Rand and Objectivism, calls her a "accidental scientific skeptic" you don't feel the sudden need to unleash a tirade of personal abuse, or denounce this theory as a tale told by an idiot. This is because she's basically sympathetic to Rand. So apparently when she says such outrageous things you merely say this is "wrong" and then proceed to look out the window. Whereas after I, being basically unsympathetic to Rand, call Rand an "accidental skeptic" - the deluge! Likewise, when I suggest Rand is basically an "essentialist", you claim that I must inhabit some kind of "alternate universe" and that this is evidence of my astounding ignorance etc etc. Yet when Ellen agrees with me that Rand is basically an "essentialist", you again suddenly decide to look out the window. I offer this not to use Ellen's views to justify mine, but only to illustrate the striking difference in your reaction when two similar positions are put forward by two people with different motivations. Further, not only is the position similar, but from what Ellen has said so far it seems I would almost entirely agree with her argument, with my main difference being that she does not go quite far enough with it. I can't help but conclude on this basis that you are for some reason more concerned with supposed personal motivations than the arguments that are being put forward. For this reason I seriously doubt there is much more that I can discuss with you, but I will push forward nevertheless for a while. In fact, someone else might actually find it rather interesting that someone who is extremely knowledgeable and sympathetic about Rand, and someone who is admittedly less knowledgeable, yet unsympathetic to Rand, might end up with a very similar position based on their reading of Rand's work. But that would mean a somewhat more adult attitude than you're currently displaying. So in short, it might be time for a bit fewer assertions of your intellectual superiority, and a bit more evidence of it. As to whether I am "hiding behind [Ellen's] skirts" - well, I first put forward the idea that Rand's theory of contextual certainty* entailed an unwittingly skeptical outcome several years ago. I have had a reasonable amount of general correspondence both on and offline with Ellen over the years and I do not recall her directly calling Rand a skeptic - accidental, scientific, or otherwise. I took her recent adaption of my "Accidental Skeptic" phrase, which she amended to include "Scientific", to indicate, if anything, a growing similarity in our readings of Rand on this issue, despite our differing attitudes. Of course we are not identical in our positions, nor do I claim that she got the idea from me. I bring this up only to show that I'm hardly relying on Ellen to put this contention forward. This is not my "argument." Just because I point out that your description of Rand's epistemology is compatible with skepticism doesn't mean your description is my argument. My argument can be made from a number of directions. First, and most simply, that adding "contextual" to terms like "certainty" or "absolute certainty" is just adding a qualifier that effectively neutralises the relevant term. This makes it not so much an epistemological innovation overcoming the traditional skeptical view that all our knowledge is uncertain as merely double-talk, allowing the speaker to present themselves as presenting an alternative to skepticism whilst in fact embracing it sotto voce. If "contextual certainty" merely means what we know to be true today may turn out to be false tomorrow, this seems to be merely playing with words for a misleading effect - the equivalent of selling "contextually fresh" fish. Second, I think if we approach it along Ellen's lines we end up in the same destination: that is, roughly, if all our knowledge rests on definitions, and all definitions are hypotheses, and all hypotheses are inherently uncertain, it seems to me that one is forced to conclude that all our knowledge rests on the inherently uncertain. Now if this isn't fully compatible with the skeptical attitude, I don't know what is. Of course I don't think for a moment Rand was out to endorse skepticism. When Fred Seddon summarised the intent of her epistemology as "I may know p, but p may be false" - he seemed to me to be either mistaken or revisionist or both. (Oh, by the way, that's another person both highly knowledgeable of, and highly sympathetic to Rand who's come up with skeptical implications from her thought. How very ignorant of him...;-)). I think she was after foundations just the same as so many before her. But she didn't find what she thought she had. Well, there is no doubt that I am a complete philosophic ignoramus compared to yourself. I am a businessman who left school at 17 with no tertiary qualifications. I have a strictly amateur interest in philosophy, and what little I know is self-taught. I am certainly no Professor, and have never pretended otherwise. We have a small but vocal collection of Objectivists here in my hometown of New Zealand - some of whom I'm personally friendly with - and over the years as I've argued with them in bars, cafes, and online I've developed a view as to what I think is wrong with Rand's philosophy. As a matter of fact, I think that though fresh eyes I see that much of what Rand thought were philosophical solutions turn out to be merely verbal ones. Familiarity is not immersion. Immersion makes things harder to see. Ever since I was a kid, I've always liked taking things apart and then putting them back together to see why they worked, or perhaps didn't work. I've also found Karl Popper's philosophy contains a handy toolkit for this kind of thing in an intellectual sense. Now, I may be entirely wrong on this contention of mine; but if I'm even half-right, and Ellen 3/4 right, there are some interesting consequences.
  6. Well, that's as well as may be, but at least you can't accuse Ellen of coming up with such a theory purely as a result of her ignorance of, and bias against, Objectivism. Even more horrendously, she also inhabits the "alternate universe" where Rand is an essentialist! (I would stress that Ellen and I also have our differences, btw) This may perhaps give you pause in your increasingly brittle comments. Or perhaps not. George, have you even vaguely been paying attention to this thread? If so, what part of "Accidental Skeptic" don't you understand?
  7. I'm happy to roll with Ba'al's formulation. I'd have a few cavils but seeing as we're on the verge of singing Kumbaya down the back of the bus I'm hardly about to play the buzzkill...;-)
  8. This obviously does not describe Rand's position, so, by your own standard, Rand was not an epistemological skeptic, whether in science or in any other field. Well, you suspect wrong. Clearly you missed this: Ellen: "As to the identity or non between Rand's and Popper's epistemology -- see point #3 of your post #477 -- I think they are quite close. I've said so a number of times before. " She doesn't think they're identical. But obviously close enough for rock and roll. Please keep up. If you don't think Rand is an epistemological skeptic, then I think you need to be a little more careful in the way you describe her theory, as I point out in my prior post. The problem seems to be with your standard, not mine.
  9. What's downright perverse is to claim that the statement: "No person can claim omniscience or infallibility, so there always (my emphasis) is the possibility that later knowledge will require revisions of our current scientific theories" ...isn't a skeptical position. It means all of our knowledge might possibly be found to be false - ergo it is hypothetical, ergo it has no final justification. If this is what Rand believed, then she's a skeptic. A certain flavour of skeptic, but a skeptic nonetheless. To demonstrate this, the same statement can be put into the mouths of the skeptics I have already mentioned with no problem whatsoever. There is a problem for Rand, as this clashes with her rhetorical position. But I have already said this repeatedly. If that wasn't what Rand believed, then the statement might be more like: "No person can claim omniscience or infallibility, so there is the possibility that later knowledge will require revisions of some of our current scientific theories. Others of them are indubitably true and can never be revised." Then the issue becomes one of how the second type of theory's eternal truth is established...but hey, let's let that slide for now. PS: The descriptor "Accidental Skeptic" obviously entails confusion on Rand's part between what she thought she'd achieved, and what she actually achieved. Once again, I think this is the confusion you're seeing.
  10. I tend to agree with this, while Ellen makes the "scientific skepticism" distinction. But it's not a detail I care to quibble over for now. And if it turned out that her ethics were, beneath a layer of double-talk, fundamentally indistinguishable from Christian ethics despite her pronouncements to the contrary, then she'd be an Accidental Christian too.
  11. Well, if Ellen agrees with me that Rand is an "Accidental Skeptic" (or "Accidental Scientific Skeptic") then she clearly doesn't know the fuck what she is talking about either. Actually, I think Rand didn't know what the fuck she was talking about. Her skepticism, if it exists, is almost certainly accidental. And that's the confusion you're seeing.
  12. Michael has yet to come to grips with a couple of things. Most fundamentally, there is this important distinction: 1) The truth. and 2) Our knowledge of the truth. That is, the absolute, unvarnished truth does exist. But it is not the same thing as our knowledge of it. Capice? Now, certain things follow from this. But just getting his head around this would be quite a big step forward, and would help him begin see his misunderstanding above. Then there lesser is the issue of words having meanings. If you take a generally accepted term, but then apply it to a different, and even opposite meaning, to that which it is usually intended, this is generally called double talk. Rand has a pattern of doing this, wittingly or no - it's not just limited to this sole case. (Her "absolute precision" is another one I cite - the single actual example she gives of her "absolute precision" is something most other people would call an approximation.) So with Rand there is a layer of double-talk that creates a great deal of confusion. You can either cling to it, as Michael does, or try to strip it away.
  13. I think the authors of this page, and more, would deny it. Philosophical skepticism is way more complicated than your simplistic formulation. I for one seriously doubt that the authors of that page would not call Popper, Miller, Bartley etc "skeptics". As they hold the view "No person can claim omniscience or infallibility, so there always is the possibility that later knowledge will require revisions of our current scientific theories", it seems reasonable therefore to call this a skeptical view. Of course skepticism comes in many more exotic flavours than my simplistic formulation. But the idea that all knowledge is only ever hypothetical - ie always might turn out to be false - is most assuredly a skeptical one, and is quite clearly expressed by this formulation.
  14. Popper, Miller, Bartley etc hold exactly this view. They are indeed called skeptics - even absolute skeptics. We can describe it simply as "We know p, but p may be false." It seems odd to deny this amounts to skepticism.
  15. Intend to reply to your longer post - briefly, you will be relieved to know...;-) - when I get a moment. However, let me put it this way for now. Rand says her philosophy is certain, and that's one reason why you should adopt it rather than other philosophies. However, in the fine print it turns out that she doesn't mean "certain" in any customary meaning of the word. So she uses it as a brand differentiator, but it's the philosophical equivalent of misleading advertising - simply, it's doubletalk. For example: John says that his shop has fresh fish, and that's why you should shop there rather than at other fish shops. However, he doesn't mean "fresh" in any customary meaning of the word. Sheila says her new drug is safe, and that's why you should buy it rather than other drugs. However, she doesn't mean "safe" in any customary meaning of the word. Your lawyer says the contract she's drafted up for you to sign is legal. However, she doesn't mean "legal" in any customary meaning of the word. And so forth. We wouldn't take it from a lawyer, a chemist, or even a fishmonger. Why should we consider it acceptable from a philosopher?
  16. But that is just playing bait-and-switch with words. It allows Rand to brand her philosophy as "certain" - and does she ever! - whilst hiding a complete concession to the opposite in the fine print. Try Amazing New Objectivist Certainty*! Guaranteed to get rid of nasty philosophic uncertainty and all its deleterious effects! *Caution: Objectivism does not actually contain the ingredient normally known as "certainty". Yes. I like the "k". It seems to be nicer aesthetically for some reason.
  17. Does not match what concept? You'll have to define that concept first, so you're back to square one. One definition may be more practical than another one, but as long as a definition is not contradictory in itself, there is no "incorrect" definition. That a definition may not correspond to something in real life is not relevant, you can very well define gnomes, unicorns and circles. What Dragonfly said.
  18. BTW, I warmly welcome you to the "alternate universe" that GHs seems to believe those who might call Rand an "essentialist" inhabit....;-)
  19. I have no idea why you are recycling these posts. Perhaps this indicates an underlying misunderstanding. If so, let me put it this way: First, we have two different theories: 1) Nominalism 2) Essentialism Then recall that we have two different potential applications of these theories: 1) As a means (or a method) 2) As an ends You can probably put it together yourself from here.
  20. Generally, Ellen, when you're in a hole, my friendly advice is to stop digging....;-) Shall I just give you a very short list of the problems you face by sticking to this contention of yours? 1) Let's repeat: Nowhere, not in any of Rand's writings, does she refer to definitions as being merely hypotheses. After all, the word "hypothesis" implies something highly speculative, something merely possible, something that may or may not be true, something that is inherently uncertain. Can you really look me in the eye and try to tell me that if all our knowledge rests on definitions, and all definitions are hypotheses, Rand intended her argument to be that all our knowledge is hypothetical? That all our knowledge is uncertain? By making this claim you have effectively made Rand into an unadulterated epistemological skeptic. Now you must explain how your contention fits with the documented evidence to the contrary: that is, her plentiful screeds denouncing all forms of skepticism! Now, as it happens, the contention that Rand's epistemology naturally entails a comprehensive skepticism can indeed be made - I made it myself years ago, and have regularly called it skeptical both here and elsewhere. I can also explain the clash between this logical conclusion and Rand's vitriolic pronouncements to the contrary: Rand had simply not thought through the consequences of her own theory (this is quite common with all kinds of thinkers). She hated the idea of skepticism, whipped up what she reckoned sounded like a solution, and never thought much more about it, never dreaming that she might be entailing what she despised. She was an Accidental Skeptic. As she was mostly surrounded by sycophants, and she'd never been much for listening to criticism anyway, there wasn't anyone who would say to her "Hey...just a second...?" That's what I think. I have no idea how you intend to explain this clash, however. 2) But despite all this, in the spirit of debate let's bend over backwards and grant you that Rand indeed did intend to argue that "definitions are hypotheses". Unfortunately as I pointed out earlier, even if this was the case, it is still not sufficient to make her doctrine of the truth/falsity viable because this requires the hypothesis be testable. Now, once again there is nothing clearly stated in Rand anywhere whatsoever about testability of hypotheses being the source of their truth or falsity - this claim stands purely on your interpretation of a couple of typically vague, handwaving statements by Rand. Against this, I submit as counter-evidence the examples you yourself supplied of Rand applying her doctrine to the definitions of "selfishness" and "sacrifice". These are two central concepts to her philosophy, so one would think she would be careful in such application. However what we get are in your own words, two "goofs". Why are they goofs? Because they are untestable propositions. They are true by definition, and by definition only, thus untestable as on that basis they cannot possibly be false. Further, nowhere in her writings does she realise she has "goofed" and either attempted to correct the situation or disavow it. In fact I put it to you that she would have reacted with outrage at the suggestion that they were "goofs". So it seems almost impossible to seriously claim she is aware of the issue of testability. Finally, given that we have two notable applications of Rand's doctrine, which result only in two notable "goofs", we must ask: if her theory is as good as you claim, where are the plethora of notable non-"goofs" her theory produced? I have already asked you this question and so far you have declined to respond. I must say it might somewhat improve the chances of making your argument fly if you did. 3) But let's take the spirit of debate to the utmost, ignore all the above and grant that both of your contentions are true: that Rand really meant to say that a. "definitions are hypotheses", and b. testability is the condition under which they might be decided true or false. Where would that leave Rand? Well, for starters it would mean that her epistemology is identical with, and adds nothing to, that already expounded by Karl Popper some 30 years before Rand - and at that only a very brief, vague, sketchy, ambiguous version, with the very features that make it viable existing largely through implication via generous interpretation. In that case, you might as well just ignore Rand on epistemology and go to Popper for the straight dope, as he has volume after volume explaining it all detail, answering objections that Rand never dreamed of. So much for Rand as world-shaking epistemological innovator, I'm afraid. It also means a full banquet of humble-pie eating for what has obviously been a terrible misunderstanding about Rand's remarks about skeptics, not to mention a full concession by Objectivism to Hume's problem of induction. And as everyone has apparently misunderstood her, especially 99.999% of her own followers, clearly Rand was highly overrated as a communicator too...;-) I wonder what options that leaves? You could, I suppose, introduce the suggestion that not all definitions are, after all, hypotheses. But then that leaves the problem of now explaining what this other kind is, how it works, how its truth/falsity is established etc, so you'd be going back to square one. Or perhaps there are now going to be two types of hypotheses: certain and uncertain ones...;-) While I for one can hardly knock the idea of speculative interpretation of Rand, I can't see that your case rests on anything more than your confidence in your powers of interpretation. While these are undoubtedly strong, I cannot see how they can continue to resist the weight of the overwhelming arguments against your claim.
  21. Oh, and by the way Brant, I meant to add what with Fred Seddon and his "We may know p, but p may be false" (skip to the end of this essay) and now Ellen and her "definitions are hypotheses", at this rate Critical Rationalism and Objectivism will soon be holding hands and singing "Kumbaya" down the back of the bus...;-)
  22. Now, turning to this, it occurs to me that we might be looking at this from different ends. I'm starting from the other end if you like: from what I would call Objectivism's bent towards pseudoscience. The Objectivist variant of pseudoscience isn't the pyramids-and-UFOs-variety, but instead is more a deliberate and obstinate opposition to some of the most important and successful scientific theories of the last 100 years. And it's not like it's even a productive opposition. Quite the reverse. It's just blank hostility, seemingly combined with an urge to return to the age of Newton. Now, I see a clash a bit like Shermer's point: how does a philosophy ostensibly devoted to reason, reality, science, and free intellectual inquiry end up here? I then start groping backwards from that point: looking at Rand's comments about science - like everything else! - being "dependent" on philosophy, her habit of dictating what certain terms do and do not mean, the idea that philosophy might issue certain "provisos" which science must not question, the idea that the scientist - and anyone else! - who starts with the wrong philosophy will inexorably produce "corrupt" knowledge, and of course the idea that all other philosophies are wrong, and even corrupt, other than Objectivism. I put all that together, combined with a good dash of doctrinal egoism, and I see something like a kind of power struggle, with intellectual barricades being built up against anything that might challenge authority of the philosophy - and philosophers - at the centre. (This general tendency is of course hardly unique to Objectivism - but from its blurb, we should expect Objectivism to be far less inclined to it, not more.) And science is surely a prime candidate for this. Now of course this is all very piecemeal. But perhaps you can start to see how I might end up with my interpretation. And further, I think the difference between my interpretation and yours is that my interpretation starts to explain, and even predict, the outcomes we see.