How to Improve Objectivism (2002)


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Harumph! This is a re-posting of the piece that I put up a few days ago, and which our web-meister managed to delete. Harumph. I added a great deal of material to he original version posted in 2002, and I did not save that version of the piece. So...

I have a special request: did anyone download and save the original version I posted of this material? If so, please email it to me at rebissell@aol.com, and I would be very grateful. I will use it to fix what my aging memory does not remember from the original version. OK...

How to Improve Objectivism (2002)
by Roger E. Bissell

On February 3, 2002 on the old Atlantis email list, R. Christian Ross asked: "what, if any, ought to be the goals of Objectivism? If you were CEO of Objectivism Inc. what would you do? What is Objectivism 404?"

1. Rand's Trichotomy. Starting with his lectures on Objectivism in 1975-76, Peikoff has warped the intrinsic-subjective-objective trichotomy, due to his acceptance of the need to define the concept of "objective" in terms of volition. The trichotomy needs to be re-defined, so that each of the three members has a better definition, and so that the interrelationship of the three is seen more clearly. Peikoff's wonderful earlier discussion of the metaphysical status of sense data could then be resubsumed, where it belongs, under the trichotomy. [Update: I made a decent start at this in a paper I delivered to the 2003 TOC Advanced Seminar. The paper is being updated for submission to Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.]

2. Metaphysics. The structure of the Objectivist metaphysics needs to be more clearly spelled out, showing the progression of concepts needed to arrive at the Primacy of Existence. Also, it should be more clearly explained that the existence, identity, and consciousness are inseparable correlates of all human experience, and thus are indispensable axioms of all human knowledge. It does not mean that each of them is also inseparable from reality. Existence exists, and existence is identity, whether there is any consciousness or not. If there were no consciousness, there would still be existence and identity; on the other hand, it is impossible for there to be no existence and identity. Since the ways in which consciousness and causality are involved in everything that exists are derivative and limited (not everything has been, is, or will be the object of awareness, and not everything has been, is, or will be an entity or an action), the respect in which these two concepts are a proper part of metaphysics must be carefully explained. "Consciousness is conscious of existence" is the basic axiom of epistemology, along with its corollaries: the validity of the senses and the volitional (deliberate, self-aware) ability to detect and correct one's mistakes. "Causality is the relation between an entity and its actions" is the basic axiom of the sciences. Since each of these is of more limited application in reality than existence and identity, it would (in my opinion) be better to show them as metaphysical applications to the areas of epistemology and the sciences. Above all, it is important to distinguish between what is true of everything (existence, identity, and the independence of existence from consciousness) and what is true of all experience (existence, identity, consciousness), but not necessarily of everything (viz., consciousness is only true of everything in a restricted sense: everything is independent of it). [Update: to this I would now add some related improvements in the Objectivist epistemology. In particular, I think that how Rand's unit-perspective applies to propositions and arguments needs to be made explicit, and the distinction between fact and truth needs to be clarified. Also, it should be explained how axiomatic concepts and axioms differ and clarified which is being appealed to in a given argument. For instance, when you hear someone speaking about the "axiom of volition," he is not just talking about the concept, but about the proposition that "human consciousness is volitional." Also, it should be recognized that there are three basic kinds of existents in the world, corresponding to the three levels of conceptual cognition: simple existents which are grasped by concepts, compound existents or facts which are grasped by propositions, and complex existents or reasons which are grasped by arguments. I am aware that Bryan Register has done some work along these lines]

3. The Categories. The relations between entity and attribute and between entity and action need to be integrated into Aristotle's "four causes," and that into Chris Sciabarra's dialectics. (See Total Freedom.) This material then needs to be applied to analyzing causal situations of all kinds, as well as to the nature of the relationships between knower and known (with perception as the model). [Update: I am currently at work on a paper on this subject for JARS.]

4. Mental realism and introspection. Peikoff's analysis of perceptual realism needs to be applied, in parallel, to the issue of mental realism. There is no causally efficacious entity, consciousness, that is separate from the brain, any more than there is a causally efficacious entity, a red color patch, that is separate from a red object. Once introspection is seen in the same light as perception, it will be realized that our self-awareness of our conscious processes is the form in which we are directly aware of certain brain processes, and that it is not the mind, but the brain that has causal efficacy. Better: the mind is the conscious causal efficacy that the brain has. (The brain also has non-conscious causal efficacies, e.g., to regulate hormonal production.) [Update: this topic was discussed at length in my 2003 TOC Advanced Seminar paper, and it too will be revised for submission to JARS.]

5. Frozen Abstraction Fallacy. Rand's brief description and definition of the Fallacy of the Frozen Abstraction needs to be integrated into her overall structure of valid and invalid abstractions, so that the relationship of such faulty abstractions can be seen in relation to floating abstractions and valid abstractions. Learning to spot and avoid this fallacy should be part of basic Objectivist training. [Update: thanks to the unwitting cooperation of numerous Objectivists, I continue to accumulate more and more material on this fallacy, which I intend to publish some day as a book or on the Internet as downloadable files. Also, just in case there is any confusion, frozen abstractions are not the same as floating abstractions. I seem to recall that Barbara Branden does a good job of discussing the latter in her lectures on efficient thinking.]

6. Human freedom. Volition must be explicated as conditional, epistemic freedom of choice, in contrast to the presently accepted model of categorical, ontological freedom of choice. This will be seen to be compatible with determinism of a kind that does not require predeterminism or fatalism, and that does not preclude knowledge and correction of error, moral responsibility, and individual rights. [Update: Although I still hold that human freedom is conditional not categorical, I no longer refer to "free will" per se, after reading Locke's views. I agree with Locke that what is free is not the will, but a human being. It is just as absurd to say that the will has freedom as that the mind has causal efficacy. The will and freedom are both powers of humans, just as the mind and causal efficacy are both powers of humans. It is absurd to say that "a power has a power." This insight has long been resisted by Objectivists, and it's about time that the mental block is removed!]

7. Art as microcosm. Rand's definition of "art" must be taken literally as being about re-creation of reality, i.e., the creation of a microcosm, an imaginary "world" in which the spectator is able to see an abstract view of reality embodied in discriminable figures within the microcosm. This definition is broad enough to encompass music, without falling prey to naive, simplistic theories of music as "a language of the emotions," and to explain how architecture, though also utilitarian in its function, is a re-creation of reality and thus art. (This will require loosening Rand's criterion that art be strictly non-utilitarian -- or else Objectivists will have to boycott commencement ceremonies at which "Pomp and Circumstance" is played :-) [Update: I spoke on this at the 2002 TOC Advanced Seminar, and a considerably expanded version was published in JARS Vol. 5, No. 2. I pointed out similar views in Langer and Camus in a more recent essay, JARS Vol. 7, No. 1. Both of these essays are posted as PDF files on the second webpage linked below.]

This is a good start on the things that I think need changing and/or bolstering in Objectivist theory and practice. These views have gradually taken shape over 36 years of study and thought, and I hope to write about them in a more organized way at some point in the future.

Best to everyone for 2006!
Roger Bissell

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Michael, apology accepted.

There's a lesson to be learned here. One of the first things I learned (?) when I got a for-real PC and went online in 1995 was "save your work."

Let me repeat: SAVE YOUR WORK :!:

Computers crash. Even generous friends with websites make mistakes. Save your work!

I'm saying this for my own benefit, mainly, so that the less will sink in this time. (I say this, knowing that my computer crashes at least once a day, either because of driver problems or hard drive "failure," and that I have an external hard drive not yet hooked up for the purpose of saving my programs and my work, if the computer goes belly up for good.)

This is probably not apropros of the thread, but it is apropos of Michael's apology, so I'll close on that note.

REB

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  • 2 weeks later...

First off, I am not a technical philosopher, but it is not entirely unfamiliar to me. My thoughts lie both in the technical, and social, or "we" aspect of things.

Mainly, though, my concern lies with how Objectivism views empiricism, and modes of knowing.

There appears to be mixed use of narrow and (occasionally, if you look at it one way, and constantly, if you look at it the way I do)broad empiricism, but mostly narrow. Narrow empiricism, from what I can see, is not only narrow, but self-invalidating. The narrowness means confining experience to the sensorimotor level, only. There is no acknowledgement of any other form of experience, even though an interior process is used to make that assessment. There is a selective process, choosing which kind of interior experience is "valid," and which are not.

But, just as scientific method can be applied at the sensorimotor level (by scientific method, I mean an injunction or action, followed by an interior process formulating a representation or result, followed by a reproduction of the same result, preferably by another party), it can and is applied at the other interior levels.

But none of this is of any consequence unless Objectivism accepts the existence of other levels of knowing than evidence of the senses, which is but one form of knowing. It should be able to do this since it is already making use of an interior process (knowledge process, epistemology- which does not have a specific location like the data sensorimotor knowledge delivers).

It is entirely possible (and expectable) to apply scientific method (which I have given in three basic pieces) to other modes of knowing outside of the sensorimotor mode. For instance, in spirituality, I would expect that first, in order to access that way of knowing, something has to be done (an injunction), which in that case involves contemplation, a disciplined approach to the contemplative mode, and then, to be able to interpret, compare, and reproduce (by teaching, for instance) the same results.

Instead of this, Objectivism seem to dismiss the interior mode (while making use of an interior mode, of course) because it is not sensorimotor-based, therefore does not exist.

Just as spirituality needs to make concessions (such as admitting that the primary use of myth and miracle is for power), so does science, and any philosophy that runs off of a narrow empirical base. Classical empiricism, it is widely agreed, has been dead for a long time.

By using broad empiricism (applying the three essentials of scientific method to not only sensorimotor-based experiences, but to the internal, non-specifically located ones), science and spirituality can work more on parity with one another. And, of course, religion will come more in line with the modern environment, if it is stripped of its non-essential (and largely harmful) baggage.

On the behavioral level, on the street level, Objectivists have a fairly big set of problems to deal with. One is small numbers. Another is constant infighting (sometimes even on get-acquainted-new-potential Objectivist boards, in the course of answering a newcomer's questions). A third is a tendency toward built-in contempt for any non-atheist person, or, for that matter, anyone that acknowledges levels of apprehending reality that have developed beyond (but include) sensorimotor experience (again, though, not including itself in this).

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi Rich,

I'm interested in what you mean by the internal approach to knowing. More details would help me understand what you mean.

When I contemplate things, I'm contemplating based on reality that I have observed. So, while it's an interanl process, it is related to and derivitaive of my sensory experiences.

regards,

Ethan

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Ethan,

Well, there is no short answer! The shortest one might be to tempt you to visit the other side of the tracks, and read "The Marriage of Sense and Spirit" by Ken Wilber. That is a pretty quick way to get to the essentials of discussions like this.

There is a lot of extreme thought out there, ranging from hardcore scientific materialism to some very narcissistic and generally silly New Age stuff. On one end, modernism has, in my opinion, pretty much collapsed the interior dimension. That was a backlash, that was baby with the bathwater. It is the mirror opposite of extreme postmodern thought, which meanwhile is going around talking about how "you create your own reality."

There are higher levels of consciousness than the rational/awake level. They can be taught and repeated. There is the possibility of sustained nondual experience, and that state will inform us in ways that rational/awake will not. It does not mean disregarding rationality, it simply means continuing to evolve and integrate.

Contemplative practices such as the various types of meditation (say Zen meditation, for instance) require sustained practice, it is hard work.

Contemplation/meditation is a different way of knowing than what you see with the eye of the flesh, or the eye of knowledge.

Objectivism does not address any of this, which is not that suprising because in the West, at least, there was not that much available until recent decades.

One thing I am saying here is that there are practices that exist inside spiritual/wisdom traditions that can be looked at through broad empiricism.

EDIT: OK, I'm not convinced I was being as complete as possible with that answer, even within brevity, so I am going to go a little farther.

What you were talking about when you contemplate was not the same thing as what I'm talking about, although what you do is what we all do, and it is invaluable that we have evolved to the level of doing so- it is essential to our survival.

To try to describe or understand what a 4th consciousness state is using normal dialogue is not really possible. But we can talk about the processes, how it is taught, what measurable things we can see, how long it usually takes to develop, etc.

I've given a very simple example of it that helps to illustrate the challenge, though. That is to simply attempt to quiet oneself and see how long we can go without having an associative thought, or any internal dialogue- how long we can hold an "empty mind". This is a very difficult thing, most people cannot do it for even thirty seconds.

Of course, a fair question might be "why would we want to, and even if we could what value would it bring?"

Well, for one thing, my experience has been that anything that requires disiciplined, hard work usually has value attached to it. There's a short answer.

I was exposed to various meditational techniques pretty early in life, because of who I was involved with in the martial arts. But, it tended to be for more pragmatic purposes. Also, my various interests led me to research in various brainwave states. As opposed to the mystical state, which is normally a very transient one, there is more to be had in learning to sustain different states of awareness.

It is interesting to consider the possibilities that can be developed. One is the ability to bring one state into another. For example, to be able to engage in "lucid dreaming".

It is also interesting to consider the fact that there are those who can actually maintain a delta (deep sleep) brainwave state, yet be fully awake and superaware.

So, we are working with the mind in a more full way, an additional way to the rational/waking state we live in most of the time. Again, it does not mean dispensing with rationality, but simply acknowledging that rationality can be built onto.

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Hi Rich,

Thanks, I'll have to check that book out.

I understand the value of meditation personally. I even solve problems while dreaming. These are all function of my brain acting on information gathered directly by my senses.

Unless you think that, during meditation for example, knowlege is imparted to the individual in some way from outside the individual and beyond their experiences from perceptions of reality, I would think that what you're saying is compatible with Objectivism. Do you have any further thoughts on this?

Ethan

(Note from Administrator: Ethan Dawe asked to be removed from the member list before the forum was transferred to a new program, thus his member name was lost.)

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Unless you think that, during meditation for example, knowlege is imparted to the individual in some way from outside the individual and beyond their experiences from perceptions of reality, I would think that what you're saying is compatible with Objectivism. Do you have any further thoughts on this?

Oh, I don't know what for combatible. I stopped asking that question so long ago. What if something isn't, yet one accepts it? Then what? :D First thing: take it underground and don't tell the locals.

Probably not, because as well as it does what it does, Objectivism pretty much stops perceptually at the waking rational state, and this deals with the transrational. To my knowledge, Objectivism does not acknowledge the evolutionary differences between pre- and trans-; for that matter I don't think it even acknowledges the existence of the various transrational states- you're either rational or you are not. So this would be not, and, specifically, it would be mysticism.

I don't even know how Objectivism addresses things about transrational states that are even empirically flung in front of it. How does it feel about the fact that trained people can exhibit sustained delta brainwave states, yet be completely awake and highly aware?

So, unless Objectivism were to acknowledge and understand the transrational states as ones that have integrated yet differentiated from the rational states, there is basically no discussion.

Again, things within the interior domain have no specific location, so they are resistant to monological scrutiny (even though a non-specifically located process is used to make that scrutiny).

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I want to see Objectivism taken seriously as real philosophy, discussed in philosophy classes and included in textbooks. I want Ayn Rand's ideas respected by academia all the way down to everyday people and for Objectivism to catch on. As far as academia, Chris Sciabarra and the people at JARS have been working tirelessly in that regard and I thank them for it. I also appreciate what ARI is doing in their educational programs as well. But is it enough? Is Objectivism ever going to be seen as serious philosophy by the intellectual elite? Why hasn't the world changed yet? The ideas have been out there for over 50 years. What is missing?

Rand has been criticized for is sloppy scholarship and strong rhetoric. Where is the evidence and strong examples to back up her claims. Maybe there really are some holes to plug here. Just for a brief example, in Ayn Rand Answers (pg. 39) she mentioned contradictions in the United States Constitution allowing government to enlarge its powers. What specifically was she referring to?

Here is a little intellectual challenge for those who are more familiar with philosophy, especially others who Rand criticizes in her work. Dig deeper and find/create the missing footnotes for her non-fiction works, especially ITOE. Give examples. Where there is a reference to another's work, a notation needs to be made, and directly to the source. If she is criticizing Kant's idea, Kant's original work, not just a book about his work should be referenced. Being able to cite chapter and verse will help Objectivism gain respect, even from those who disagree with us.

Kat

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One place where Objectivism has and could continue to make useful inroads is in business, particularly with management people. There is definitely some resonance here- take a look at this article that came out a couple of years ago in USA Today, titled "Scandals Lead Execs to Atlas Shrugged."

http://www.usatoday.com/money/companies/ma...-ayn-rand_x.htm

Nathaniel Branden made some excellent inroads in his business consulting practice (a practice not that often discussed in Objectivist circles). If you look at his essay "The High Self-Esteem Leader" (available in a book called "Partnering: The New Face of Leadership" you can see the potential there as well.

As far as the more ethereal things that get argued in intellectual and individualist forums...

I am not a technical philosopher, but I didn't just fall off the turnip truck either. To me, Objectivist metaphysics are questionable, or at least in an arrested state of development- things stop at A=A, in a lot of ways. While that is somewhat practical and useful in day-to-day living (especially if you never thought of anything like that before), it doesn't go farther. A thing is itself, but it is also a part of another thing- consider Koestler's concept of "holons"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holon_(philosophy)

Objectivists have a great fondness for asking for "evidence," and sometimes I wonder if they know what "evidence" might actually consist of. I also do not see any thought towards the idea of integration and differentiation, which is kind of sad because that's exactly how Objectivism evolved, developed the emergent properties that make it valuable. But we are asked to make everthing stop after that, and I do not find that compatible with how the universe evolves. Objectivism is generally considered a "closed" system, and my experience in life tells me that "closed" anythings generally are not healthy.

The responses I often get (at least the civil ones) are that attempts at evolving Objectivism are not possible, it is self-contained and basically what I'm talking about is breeching the hull. I do not see this. What I see is where Objectivism evolutionarily sits; what came before it, and where things are leading next. Instead, the diehard generally has the view of a chaotic world of non-reason before Objectivism, which rose out of the ashes, and a world of postmodern crap after it. This is a naive and fragmented way of looking at things, and I can't help thinking that if it weren't so prevalent, Objectivism would become more attractive, and efficacious, in the world.

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  • 5 years later...

This was on another thread, but I decided to park it here too, since it deals with a position of Rogers that clearly improves Objectivism.

Peter

Adam wrote:

Quote

And she got abortion wrong anyway.

End quote

Philip Coates responded:

Quote

Nope.

End quote.

Rand’s original stance is expressed in, “Of Living Death,” The Voice of Reason, 58–59.:

“An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn).”

End quote

What many fail to acknowledge is that her stance DID BECOME MODIFIED CONTEXTUALLY. She later wrote in “A Last Survey,” The Ayn Rand Letter, IV, 2, 3.

quote

One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months. To equate a potential with an actual, is vicious; to advocate the sacrifice of the latter to the former, is unspeakable. . . .

End quote

I truly think that with what we now know about the growth of a human inside its Mother, that Rand would hold a closer proximity to the position of the brilliant, philosopher and musician, Roger Bissell. Once again, this proves that true contextual change to Objectivism will come from outside The Ayn Rand Institute.

Here is a quote from Roger Bissell's article, "Thoughts on Abortion and Child Support," that appeared in the September 1981 issue of Reason Magazine:

Quote

"Much earlier than previously suspected, according to recent findings, Neurophysiologists have made EEG measurements of developing fetuses and prematurely born babies and discovered that the patterns of electrical brain activity prior to the 28th week of development are radically and fundamentally different from those occurring *after* the 28th week.

In, "The Conscious Brain," Steven Rose, a British neurophysiologist, observes that ‘before 28 weeks the patterns are very simple and lacking in any of the characteristic forms which go to make up the adult EEG pattern.' Then, between the 28th and 32nd weeks, the theta, delta, and alpha waves of the adult make their appearance - at first only periodically, ‘occurring in brief, spasmodic bursts; but after 32 weeks the pattern of waves becomes more continuous, and characteristic differences begin to appear into the EEG pattern of the waking and sleeping infant.'

American neuroscientist Dominick P. Purpura concurs with Rose. In a recent interview, Purpura defined ‘brain life' as ‘the capacity of the cerebral cortex, or the thinking portion of the brain, to begin to develop consciousness, self-awareness and other genetically recognized cerebral functions as a consequence of the formation of nerve cell circuits.' Brain Life, said Purpura, begins between the 28th and 32nd weeks of pregnancy."

end quote

Adam and Phil, and all readers of what I now write, I think that in the contexts of Ayn Rand’s life at various times, her positions on abortion were *justified* though they were not *true belief* which is what we also call a *fact*. To this day pro-abortion proponents will argue that Consciousness in a baby that has gestated for 28 week is not a valid prerequisite for the imputation of rights; it must be born. I maintain that the moment a baby becomes conscious is the moment that it becomes a person. From that first moment onward, sensations and perceptions in and out of the womb are experienced, memories are stored, and a unique BRAIN is in existence inside its mother.

THIS NEW PERSON HAS AN IDENTITY THAT WILL REMAIN THE SAME THROUGHOUT ITS LIFE. The baby is thinking as evidenced by the brain wave patterns alpha, delta and theta that are also found in thinking adults.

A good measure of Aristotle’s and Rand’s law of identity is one that is based on the facts of reality as we observe them. After consciousness a fetus becomes a *person*. There are things in the universe that a person in the womb cannot know because it is not yet aware of them. For millennia humans did not know about the dark side of the moon. That does not affect Mr. Bissell’s argument. Omniscience is not required of a *person*.

A study of personal identity is not mysterious if you are talking about yourself. And it is still child’s play if we are talking about someone else. To be a bit silly let me posit a case of uncertain identity: “Mom? Is that you? Well, Mom, I can ‘t be sure. What is the password?”

How do we know a person’s identity persists from the 28th week of gestation? And how do we re-identify ourselves in the morning after awakening, or another person if we have not seen them since last month? Human beings have the least trouble re-identifying themselves or someone else, yet once again, pro-abortion rights group say there is no rights bearing entity present until after birth.

If it looks like a baby human, and it thinks like a baby human, it is a baby human. If it can be demonstrated that many of the modes of thinking are present at the age of 28 weeks of gestation, that are also present in a mature, conceptually thinking adult, then it obviously is a human person at a younger age.

To reiterate: fMRI’s show that a conscious fetus, sleeps, dreams and can redirect its attention. The fact of personal identity is primary: it is self-evident to you that you exist. You are conscious. You remember. Outside of Science Fiction, personal identity in yourself or others can be demonstrated, through brain wave patterns and physical presence.

Sound is present in the womb and the baby pays attention to the sounds it hears, and remembers them. When my daughter Sarah was born a tray was dropped by a nurse, over to baby Sarah’s left. She instantly turned her head left to look at the source of the sound. The nurse assured me that was normal unless a baby was lethargic from anti-pain shots given to the Mother.

The persistence of consciousness from its inception onwards, is self-evident. It exists at some point and does not cease to exist until death (which could also be complete and irreversible mental loss, though the body lives on.) A conscious baby in the womb is the same conscious baby out of the womb, and it will grow into the same conscious adult: this embodies the Law of Identity.

Oh, if I could speak to Ayn Rand today! SHE WOULD AGREE WITH ME! What a wondrous time it would be if Ayn revisited all of her works and within her PRESENT context she could make her writings *justified* and *true*.

Peter Taylor

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The basic question is whether a woman has a right to have an abortion. The answer is yes she does, at least in the first trimester or to the quickening. Then it becomes more and more a matter of the physical health of the woman--that is, sometimes a late-term abortion has to be performed to literally save the mother's life, if not the life of the unborn child. It's hard to accept the idea that a woman's right to an abortion a week after conception is just as strong a month before natural birth. It's impossible to say in the context of Objectivism and individual rights' theory as understood by the philosophy to say she simply has no right to abort any time during pregnancy much less say she has no right to practice any form of birth control save abstinence.

--Brant

Edited by Brant Gaede
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The basic question is whether a woman has a right to have an abortion. The answer is yes she does, at least in the first trimester or to the quickening. Then it becomes more and more a matter of the physical health of the woman--that is, sometimes a late-term abortion has to be performed to literally save the mother's life, if not the life of the unborn child. It's hard to accept the idea that a woman's right to an abortion a week after conception is just as strong a month before natural birth. It's impossible to say in the context of Objectivism and individual rights' theory as understood by the philosophy to say she simply has no right to abort any time during pregnancy much less say she has no right to practice any form of birth control save abstinence.

--Brant

A woman's right is the basic question, yes. Within that right are so many other basic questions with a thousand answers. I can only say that I know my great good luck that I was never to my knowledge pregnant when I did not want to be. When I was young and single and did not want to be a mother,considering it a remote possibility maybe when I was over 30 and had proven myself in the truly important realms of life, my ideas about unborn life and abortion were much as they are now, when I have two children and a grandchild.

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uh-huh,...Objectivists, as a whole, will abandon Rand's views on abortion when any one of the following events become an epistemological/metaphysical certainty: :P

1) Leonard Peikoff and Nathaniel Branden each write a preface to new editions of each other's surveys on Objectivism, in effect, "kissing and making up" (er, symbolically, of course). :wub::o

2) David Kelley's and Will Thomas's The Logical Structure of Objectivism is finally published with laudatory comments from Yaron Brook. And the book is published by ARI. :unsure:

3) Obama reads Atlas Shrugged and appoints Walter Willams as his economic advisor, and Thomas Sowell to head the Fed. :wacko:

4) The Pope issues an encyclical, endorsing Atlas Shrugged (with certain theological modifications). :wacko:

(insert a "flying pig" emoticon here)

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Brant wrote:

QUOTE

The basic question is whether a woman has a right to have an abortion. The answer is yes she does, at least in the first trimester or to the quickening.

END QUOTE

I don't disagree. There are varying layers to the equation when discussing the morality of any action that kills a human at any stage of development. There is less complexity when we are talking about killing a *person* with rights. (Somebody, better call Roger!)

I go back to my sliding scale of value. Is someone's collie worth more to them than a one day old fertilized human egg? Probably. We could extrapolate throughout any time frame.

The "quickening" you mention is another notch up the ladder, as is viability, and then after being born. But the essential moral questions are: When is a human a person? When do the mother's rights supercede her baby when it is still in the womb? That is a complex issue. I may discuss this again, After a shower. I cut the grass for the first time this year.

Maybe one more letter.

Peter

Edited by Peter Taylor
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Jerry, your cynicism is understandablem, however, do you actually remember Rand's evolved thinking on the matter? I mentioned two different formulations and both CAME FROM THE AYN RAND LEXICON UNDER THE AUSPICES OF YOU KNOW WHO AND YOU KNOW WHO!

At a later interview, a questioner was asking Rand if she thought a woman should be guaranteed an abortion up to the minute before the baby was born? Rand said no. Was the mother guaranteed a "dead baby?" Rand said no.

Gotta go.

Peter

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Brant wrote:

QUOTE

The basic question is whether a woman has a right to have an abortion. The answer is yes she does, at least in the first trimester or to the quickening.

END QUOTE

I don't disagree. There are varying layers to the equation when discussing the morality of any action that kills a human at any stage of development. There is less complexity when we are talking about killing a *person* with rights. (Somebody, better call Roger!)

I go back to my sliding scale of value. Is someone's collie worth more to them than a one day old fertilized human egg? Probably. We could extrapolate throughout any time frame.

The "quickening" you mention is another notch up the ladder, as is viability, and then after being born. But the essential moral questions are: When is a human a person? When do the mother's rights supercede her baby when it is still in the womb? That is a complex issue. I may discuss this again, After a shower. I cut the grass for the first time this year.

Maybe one more letter.

Peter

A fetus has no social context only a biological one and no rights. Once it starts kicking one might say it is interacting with the mother and the purely biological context starts to segue into a bio-social context.

--Brant

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  • 4 years later...

If definitions are not meant to be literal, or taken literally, how are they definitions? Are we now admitting figurative or metaphorical definitions into our thought processes? Good luck with that.

Also, "Take it any way that works for you" sounds a bit too pragmatic and subjective for my comfort. After 2000 years, we still have philosophers making big bucks arguing that the Law of Contradiction and the Law of Excluded Middle are not unvarying, axiomatic truths, so I suppose it's not realistic to hope that less fundamental principles and definitions will be spared from such fudging.

Anyway, here is an excerpt from my 2004 JARS article, in which I cite Peikoff and the Blumenthals and give my opinion that Rand would have endorsed this interpretation of her definition of art:

...there is a criterion that provides a sound basis for differentiating certain “fine art” objects from all other man-made objects. This criterion, based on a nuanced understanding of Rand’s definition of “art,” interprets the phrase, “selective re-creation of reality,” as referring to a certain kind of microcosm usually experienced as a kind of imaginary world. Rand does not use the word herself, but what she is clearly speaking of is the setting up within reality, using materials from reality, of a microcosm, an artist’s conception of reality. Peikoff (1991, 417) states this idea explicitly:

Guided by his own metaphysical value-judgments (explicit or otherwise), an artist selects, out of the bewildering chaos of human experience, those aspects he regards as indicative of the nature of the universe. Then he embodies them in a sensory-perceptual concrete. . . . The result is a universe in microcosm.

Among Rand’s own associates, Blumenthal and Blumenthal (1974a) note in a lecture available only in audiotape form that the ancient Greeks regarded music as a microcosm. In a work praised by Rand shortly before her death, Peikoff (1982, 169) explains how the work of most artists in a culture “becomes a microcosm” that embodies the basic ideas of some consensus within the culture. As noted above, he later states in passing that art in general presents a “microcosm” (1991, 417). Both the timing of the remarks by Peikoff and the Blumenthals, and the closeness of their association to Rand, makes it reasonable to assume that they were representing Rand’s own view of art as “microcosm,” even though she never publicly used the term herself.


8. My own use of this term in reference to Rand’s concept of “art” dates back to 1972 and is drawn from other sources, noted in the text. An earlier version of this essay was rejected for journal publication in 1974, when an anonymous pre-publication reviewer claimed that the concept of a “microcosm” did not provide significant clarification of Rand’s view of art.

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...there is a criterion that provides a sound basis for differentiating certain “fine art” objects from all other man-made objects. This criterion, based on a nuanced understanding of Rand’s definition of “art,” interprets the phrase, “selective re-creation of reality,” as referring to a certain kind of microcosm usually experienced as a kind of imaginary world. Rand does not use the word herself, but what she is clearly speaking of is the setting up within reality, using materials from reality, of a microcosm, an artist’s conception of reality. Peikoff (1991, 417) states this idea explicitly:

Guided by his own metaphysical value-judgments (explicit or otherwise), an artist selects, out of the bewildering chaos of human experience, those aspects he regards as indicative of the nature of the universe. Then he embodies them in a sensory-perceptual concrete. . . . The result is a universe in microcosm.

Among Rand’s own associates, Blumenthal and Blumenthal (1974a) note in a lecture available only in audiotape form that the ancient Greeks regarded music as a microcosm. In a work praised by Rand shortly before her death, Peikoff (1982, 169) explains how the work of most artists in a culture “becomes a microcosm” that embodies the basic ideas of some consensus within the culture. As noted above, he later states in passing that art in general presents a “microcosm” (1991, 417). Both the timing of the remarks by Peikoff and the Blumenthals, and the closeness of their association to Rand, makes it reasonable to assume that they were representing Rand’s own view of art as “microcosm,” even though she never publicly used the term herself.

8. My own use of this term in reference to Rand’s concept of “art” dates back to 1972 and is drawn from other sources, noted in the text. An earlier version of this essay was rejected for journal publication in 1974, when an anonymous pre-publication reviewer claimed that the concept of a “microcosm” did not provide significant clarification of Rand’s view of art.

I think "microcosm" is entirely accurate, and it's a shame that reviewer blocked your essay, Roger. In a clumsier rendition, I'd also suggest that a work of fine art is an 'omni-distillation' - all reality reduced to one, 'new reality'.

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Thanks, Tony. It's been over 40 years since I first heard the term "microcosm" and thought: how appropriate for naming what Rand is getting at in her definition of art.

This is a snippet of what I wrote back in 1974, when I was a very lonely Objectivist, transplanted from Iowa to Tennessee, trying to crank out a coherent understanding of music and art more generally.

Giorgio Tonelli goes a step beyond this [i.e., beyond Aristotle's view of art as imitation] and says: “The artist is not an imitator of nature in the sense that he copies it…[H]e imitates nature in the process of creating a world or a whole. [my emphasis]

Here Tonelli touches on a crucial concept for the philosophy of art, a concept dating back to the ancient Greeks, namely, that of a microcosm: “the notion that the structure of the universe can be reflected on a smaller scale in some particular phenomenon…”[ii]


Giorgio Tonelli, “Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten,” Encyclopedia of Philosophy, I, p. 256.

[ii] Katherine Everett Gilbert and Helmut Kuhn, A History of Esthetics (2nd ed; New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1972), p. 6.

The Gilbert and Kuhn was my source for the term "microcosm," and Tonelli drove home the point about the creation being a "world." I've always experienced music, literature, paintings, etc. as though I were looking (or listening or thinking) through a window into another world. Or, as Rand puts it, a stylized view of this world, the way this world might be or ought to be (channeling Aristotle again).

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