Barbara Branden's master's thesis


Recommended Posts

Does anyone know if a copy of Barbara Branden's master's thesis is available online somewhere? My searches are coming up empty. Info on the web is practically non-exist and it is not listed in the Bibliography of her works in JARS. It's not even mentioned by name in most sources that do reference it--it's simply stated she "authored a thesis on free will, under the direction of Sidney Hook at New York University."

As far as I can tell the title is: "Human Freedom and Human Mechanism", written circa-1956

As this piece appears to be the subject of a history unto itself I shall summarize my findings thus far:

1) It is the first(?) exposition of the Objectivist theory of free will in print.

2) Barbara gave a reading of it at her and Nathaniel's apartment in NYC for a group of Objectivists, with Ayn Rand in attendance. Events recounted by Daryn Kent-Duncan:

https://atlassociety.org/atlas-shrugged/movie-and-news/5463-how-i-met-ayn-rand

3) Nathaniel Branden accused Murray Rothbard of plagiarizing it in Rothbard's essay The Mantle of Science.

Another question for those in the know: Is there more to the history or reputation of this piece? Perhaps I'm reading into it too much, but it gives the appearance of being suppressed even by its own author. Which is surprising given its apparent historical significance to Objectivism.

Anyhow, to the original inquiry, I would be grateful for any leads on tracking this down.

Link to post
Share on other sites

  • 2 years later...

I could not find much about BB’s Master Thesis. I may have pasted these letters on OL before, but it is interesting to reread something after a lag of time. And there may some duplication because I had a bad habit of saving letters to two or more different threads.  Peter

From: "George H. Smith" To: "*Atlantis"  Subject: ATL: Re: Murray Rothbard and Ayn Rand Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2001 18:23:16 -0600. Greg Johnson wrote: "On the question of whether Murray Rothbard plagiarized from Barbara Branden's MA thesis, Peter Reidy writes that the "old debbil Kant had used it [the argument given by Nathaniel Branden and credited by him to Barbara, to wit that determinism is self-refuting] about 150 years earlier, and Brand Blanshard presented it in "The Nature of Thought" before anyone in the Rand circle." I do not, however, think that this is a relevant point, for two reasons.

"First, when I read the essay in question long before hearing about the plagiarism charges, I was struck that not only were the ideas the same as those expressed by Nathaniel Branden (I did not know their connection to Barbara at the time), but they were FORMULATED in almost exactly the same words. I do not have access to the essay now, so I cannot check the citation, but as I recall, it was entitled "The Mantle of Science" and was published in a volume called SCIENTISM AND THE STUDY OF SOCIETY."

Rothbard's article, "The Mantle of Science," was published in the anthology *Scientism and Values* (ed. Schoeck and Wiggins, Van Nostrand, 1960). Two of the relevant passages run as follows: "If we are determined in the ideas we accept, then X, the determinist, is determined to believe in determinism, while Y, the believer in free will, is also determined to believe in his own doctrine. Since man's mind is, according to determinism, not free to think and come to conclusions about reality, it is absurd for X to try to convince Y or anyone else of the truth of determinism. In short, the determinist must rely, for the spread of his ideas, on the nondetermined, free-will choice of others, on their free will to adopt or reject ideas. ...In fact, if our ideas are determined, then we have no way of freely revising our judgments and of learning truth -- whether the truth of determinism or of anything else.

 "Thus, the determinist, to advocate his doctrine, must place himself and his theory outside the allegedly universally determined realm, i.e., he must employ free will. This reliance of determinism on its negation is an instance of a wider truth: that it is self-contradictory to use reason in any attempt to deny the validity of reason as a means of attaining knowledge. Such self-contradiction is implicit in such currently fashionable sentiments as 'reason shows us that reason is weak,' or 'the more we know, the more we know how little we know.'" (pp. 161-2)

 Murray originally got these arguments from Barbara Branden's dissertation, but he didn't want to use a Randian source because, this being intended as a scholarly article, he felt that such a cite would appear disreputable. Thus, as Greg noted, he went searching for other sources that provided similar arguments. The irony is that he chose Thomistic texts, such as those by Phillips and Toohey, that had no more academic respectability than an Objectivist source would have had.

 Unfortunately, Murray pulled a similar stunt with his book, *The Ethics of Liberty.* The original manuscript had many citations to the legal scholar Randy Barnett. But later, after Murray and Randy had an ideological split of sorts --one stemming from a paper ("Justice Entrepreneurship in a Free Market") that I delivered at a Princeton conference in 1978 -- Murray deleted many (though not all) of the references to Randy in the published version of his book. Instead, Murray hired a friend of mine to comb scholarly journals in an effort to find other cites that could be substituted for Randy's. My friend delivered the goods, and Murray used these references without even consulting them.

 Greg wrote: "Aside from the fact that he was "getting even" with Rand and the Branden’s for calling him a plagiarist, I am sure that he thought--in a social metaphysical vein--that these would be more "respectable" citations than the MA thesis of Barbara Branden. Apparently Rothbard was so morally confused that he did not realize that this was tantamount to an admission of plagiarism. After all, one is a plagiarist if one does not cite the actual source of one's ideas. It does not matter if this source was not the originator of the idea in question. And one is still a plagiarist if one cites other works that were NOT where one learned the idea in question.'

 In my opinion, it is a moot question whether it is technically plagiarism not to cite the source from which one originally learned an idea, when that selfsame idea was advanced by others *prior* the source in question. As other posters have pointed out, Objectivists were not the first to advance the argument that strict determinism is self-contradictory and therefore self-refuting. (Indeed, this has been a fairly common argument throughout the history of the free-will debate.) I can think of circumstances where it would be proper *not* to mention such a source -- for instance, if one learned of an idea by reading a general history of philosophy and then went back and consulted the original philosopher -- but in this case there is no good reason why Murray should not have cited Barbara's dissertation. His behavior was best extremely petty at best, as was his later treatment of Randy Barnett.

 On a different but related issue -- I had a similar reaction to the fact that Ayn Rand deleted Nathaniel Branden from her dedication in later (post-split) printings of *Atlas Shrugged.* I faced a similar situation with my first book, *Atheism: The Case Against God,* which was dedicated, "To Diane, for the tender moments." By the time the book went to press, however, Diane and I had undergone a bitter split and were barely on speaking terms. Thus, in one of my less-than-tender moments, I considered omitting this dedication altogether, since it seemed so incongruous at the time. But I decided to let it stand, reasoning that the dedication reflected a past relationship and that to delete it would have been to falsify history, in effect. This was the right thing to do, and I have never regretted that decision. Ghs

 From: Chris Matthew Sciabarra To: Atlantis* Subject: ATL: On Rothbard Date: Thu, 20 Mar 2003 16:04:41 -0500. Just a brief note on Murray Rothbard. I spend half of my book, TOTAL FREEDOM: TOWARD A DIALECTICAL LIBERTARIANISM (Penn State Press, 2000), ~critiquing~ Rothbard's works; but that does not mean that I do not have enormous respect for his many contributions in many areas of study.  His studies of the American colonial period, on the history of banking, on the history of economic thought, on America's Great Depression, and on the origins of the US regulatory state are ~exemplary~.  His contributions to Austrian economics are important, including work on utility theory and welfare economics, as well as on Misesian methodology---which he reconstructed on Aristotelian realist grounds.  And while I do have major differences with aspects of his ethics and his politics, I think he was a provocative writer, worthy of study.

 I say all this because all these stories about who plagiarized whom, etc., have been around for a very long time, and have led to a lot of bad blood.  Whatever Rothbard said or didn't say about Rand while she was alive---and I just don't have all the facts---he stated ~on the record~ in Barbara Branden's biography of Rand that he was " 'in agreement basically with all her philosophy' and that it was she who convinced him of the theory of natural rights which his books uphold" (page 413, PASSION OF AYN RAND).

 Moreover, Rothbard defended Rand in print several times in his career, including a "Communications" letter on the nature of ATLAS SHRUGGED for the periodical COMMONWEAL (20 December 1957, pp. 312-13).

 As for Rothbard's position on the US and the USSR:  Rothbard had an alternative take on the origins of the Cold War, and thought that the US had engaged in provocative actions during that historical period.  He ~never~ defended the "morality" of the USSR, and was a great foe of communism and all forms of collectivism on both moral and economic grounds.  Like Mises, he believed that the communist system was living on borrowed time.

 I got to know Rothbard when I was an undergraduate in college; he had a huge impact on my early intellectual development.  I discuss some of these issues in this essay: http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig3/sciabarra1.html

 Cheers, Chris

 From: BBfromM To: atlantis Subject: ATL: Murray Rothbard and Ayn Rand Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2001 06:04:37 EST. Ellen Lewitt wrote me off-list, asking some questions about Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard, and saying I might send my reply to Atlantis if I wished. Here is my reply:

 << You asked if the rumor -- about Ayn Rand telling Murray Rothbard he must divorce his wife because she was religious -- was untrue. It was totally untrue. I was present at each of the (very few) meetings between Ayn Rand and Murray, and no such thing ever happened. Besides, it would have been totally out of character for her: she never told one spouse what he or she ought to do with regard to the other spouse.

 To answer your other questions: Murray was never at all close with Ayn Rand. Despite his writings to the contrary, he met with her only a few times -- because she disliked him from their first meeting. When I later interviewed him for THE PASSION OF AYN RAND, he spoke to me about their meetings, clearly acknowledging that this -- that they met only a few times -- was true; obviously, he knew that I knew the truth, and that he could not pretend with me. I have the entire interview on tape.

 Murray did not leave of his own choice. He had written an article (I forget for which publication) in which he clearly plagiarized my Master's thesis on the subject of free will -- that is, he used my arguments without giving me credit for them.  Nathaniel asked him to rectify this, perhaps in a letter to the editor of the publication; he would not have had to admit to plagiarism, but could say something to the effect that he had neglected to credit me. He refused, denying the obvious fact that he had plagiarized me -- and we ended our relationship with him.>> Barbara

 From: "George H. Smith" Reply-To: "George H. Smith" To: "*Atlantis" < Subject: ATL: Re: Murray Rothbard and Ayn Rand Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2001 18:23:16 -0600. Greg Johnson wrote: "On the question of whether Murray Rothbard plagiarized from Barbara Branden's MA thesis, Peter Reidy writes that the "old debbil Kant had used it [the argument given by Nathaniel Branden and credited by him to Barbara, to wit that determinism is self-refuting] about 150 years earlier, and Brand Blanshard presented it in "The Nature of Thought" before anyone in the Rand circle." I do not, however, think that this is a relevant point, for two reasons.

 First, when I read the essay in question long before hearing about the plagiarism charges, I was struck that not only were the ideas the same as those expressed by Nathaniel Branden (I did not know their connection to Barbara at the time), but they were FORMULATED in almost exactly the same words. I do not have access to the essay now, so I cannot check the citation, but as I recall, it was entitled "The Mantle of Science" and was published in a volume called SCIENTISM AND THE STUDY OF SOCIETY."

 Rothbard's article, "The Mantle of Science," was published in the anthology *Scientism and Values* (ed. Schoeck and Wiggins, Van Nostrand, 1960). Two of the relevant passages run as follows: "If we are determined in the ideas we accept, then X, the determinist, is determined to believe in determinism, while Y, the believer in free will, is also determined to believe in his own doctrine. Since man's mind is, according to determinism, not free to think and come to conclusions about reality, it is absurd for X to try to convince Y or anyone else of the truth of determinism. In short, the determinist must rely, for the spread of his ideas, on the nondetermined, free-will choice of others, on their free will to adopt or reject ideas. ...In fact, if our ideas are determined, then we have no way of freely revising our judgments and of learning truth -- whether the truth of determinism or of anything else.

 "Thus, the determinist, to advocate his doctrine, must place himself and his theory outside the allegedly universally determined realm, i.e., he must employ free will. This reliance of determinism on its negation is an instance of a wider truth: that it is self-contradictory to use reason in any attempt to deny the validity of reason as a means of attaining knowledge. Such self-contradiction is implicit in such currently fashionable sentiments as 'reason shows us that reason is weak,' or 'the more we know, the more we know how little we know.'" (pp. 161-2)

 Murray originally got these arguments from Barbara Branden's dissertation, but he didn't want to use a Randian source because, this being intended as a scholarly article, he felt that such a cite would appear disreputable. Thus, as Greg noted, he went searching for other sources that provided similar arguments. The irony is that he chose Thomistic texts, such as those by Phillips and Toohey, that had no more academic respectability than an Objectivist source would have had.

 Unfortunately, Murray pulled a similar stunt with his book, *The Ethics of Liberty.* The original manuscript had many citations to the legal scholar Randy Barnett. But later, after Murray and Randy had an ideological split of sorts --one stemming from a paper ("Justice Entrepreneurship in a Free Market") that I delivered at a Princeton conference in 1978 -- Murray deleted many (though not all) of the references to Randy in the published version of his book.

 Instead, Murray hired a friend of mine to comb scholarly journals in an effort to find other cites that could be substituted for Randy's. My friend delivered the goods, and Murray used these references without even consulting them.

 Greg wrote: "Aside from the fact that he was "getting even" with Rand and the Branden’s for calling him a plagiarist, I am sure that he thought--in a social metaphysical vein--that these would be more "respectable" citations than the MA thesis of Barbara Branden. Apparently Rothbard was so morally confused that he did not realize that this was tantamount to an admission of plagiarism. After all, one is a plagiarist if one does not cite the actual source of one's ideas. It does not matter if this source was not the originator of the idea in question. And one is still a plagiarist if one cites other works that were NOT where one learned the idea in question.'

 In my opinion, it is a moot question whether it is technically plagiarism not to cite the source from which one originally learned an idea, when that selfsame idea was advanced by others *prior* the source in question. As other posters have pointed out, Objectivists were not the first to advance the argument that strict determinism is self-contradictory and therefore self-refuting. (Indeed, this has been a fairly common argument throughout the history of the free-will debate.) I can think of circumstances where it would be proper *not* to mention such a source -- for instance, if one learned of an idea by reading a general history of philosophy and then went back and consulted the original philosopher -- but in this case there is no good reason why Murray should not have cited Barbara's dissertation. His behavior was best extremely petty at best, as was his later treatment of Randy Barnett.

 On a different but related issue -- I had a similar reaction to the fact that Ayn Rand deleted Nathaniel Branden from her dedication in later (post-split) printings of *Atlas Shrugged.* I faced a similar situation with my first book, *Atheism: The Case Against God,* which was dedicated, "To Diane, for the tender moments." By the time the book went to press, however, Diane and I had undergone a bitter split and were barely on speaking terms. Thus, in one of my less-than-tender moments, I considered omitting this dedication altogether, since it seemed so incongruous at the time. But I decided to let it stand, reasoning that the dedication reflected a past relationship and that to delete it would have been to falsify history, in effect.  This was the right thing to do, and I have never regretted that decision. Ghs

 From: Chris Matthew Sciabarra To: Atlantis* Subject: ATL: On Rothbard Date: Thu, 20 Mar 2003 16:04:41 -0500

 Just a brief note on Murray Rothbard. I spend half of my book, TOTAL FREEDOM: TOWARD A DIALECTICAL LIBERTARIANISM (Penn State Press, 2000), ~critiquing~ Rothbard's works; but that does not mean that I do not have enormous respect for his many contributions in many areas of study.  His studies of the American colonial period, on the history of banking, on the history of economic thought, on America's Great Depression, and on the origins of the US regulatory state are ~exemplary~.  His contributions to Austrian economics are important, including work on utility theory and welfare economics, as well as on Misesian methodology---which he reconstructed on Aristotelian realist grounds.  And while I do have major differences with aspects of his ethics and his politics, I think he was a provocative writer, worthy of study.

 I say all this because all these stories about who plagiarized whom, etc., have been around for a very long time, and have led to a lot of bad blood.  Whatever Rothbard said or didn't say about Rand while she was alive---and I just don't have all the facts---he stated ~on the record~ in Barbara Branden's biography of Rand that he was " 'in agreement basically with all her philosophy' and that it was she who convinced him of the theory of natural rights which his books uphold" (page 413, PASSION OF AYN RAND).

 Moreover, Rothbard defended Rand in print several times in his career, including a "Communications" letter on the nature of ATLAS SHRUGGED for the periodical COMMONWEAL (20 December 1957, pp. 312-13).

 As for Rothbard's position on the US and the USSR:  Rothbard had an alternative take on the origins of the Cold War, and thought that the US had engaged in provocative actions during that historical period.  He ~never~ defended the "morality" of the USSR, and was a great foe of communism and all forms of collectivism on both moral and economic grounds.  Like Mises, he believed that the communist system was living on borrowed time.

 I got to know Rothbard when I was an undergraduate in college; he had a huge impact on my early intellectual development.  I discuss some of these issues in this essay:  http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig3/sciabarra1.html

 Cheers, Chris How I Became a Libertarian by Chris Matthew Sciabarra

 Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, born to a Greek and Sicilian family, I had some conservative predilections as a young high school student. One of my earliest high school teachers had a big influence on me; his name was Ira Zornberg. He was a faculty advisor of a social studies newspaper called Gadfly that I edited. He was the first teacher to bring the study of the Holocaust to high school students. He very much encouraged me in my conservative politics, even though I was never completely comfortable with the conservative social agenda, especially with regard to issues of abortion and sexuality. It wasn't until I read Ayn Rand in my senior year in high school that I was able to sort those issues out.

 Being an outspoken political type in high school, I had been involved in some pretty terrific battles with the Young Socialists of America who had buried the school in their propaganda. My sister-in-law had been reading The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and she said, "I think you ought to read this woman, you'll find some similarities between what you're saying and what she advocates." I wasn't a big fiction reader, so I started reading Ayn Rand's non-fiction first – Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, The Virtue of Selfishness – and it was as if I had found a whole new world. At the time I was in an advanced placement course in American history, with another great teacher, Larry Pero, and I was able to bring to that class so many of the insights that Rand had on the history of capitalism. Rand also helped me deal with some pretty difficult personal health problems I'd been experiencing. Here was a woman who talked about heroism and potentials rather than limitations. It was an articulated philosophy that gave me encouragement not to wallow in self-pity and dismay, but to make the most of my potentialities. So on a personal level, her writings had a tremendous impact on my life – while also leading me to the works of every major libertarian writer, starting of course with Ludwig von Mises.

 By the time I got to NYU, as an undergraduate, I chose a triple major in economics, politics, and history, so I had a lot of great teachers. In economics, I took many electives with those who were in Austrian theory and enjoyed courses and lectures with people like Gerald O'Driscoll, Roger Garrison, Stephen Littlechild, Israel Kirzner, and Mario Rizzo. I interacted with many of the newer generation of Austrian theorists, including Don Lavoie. In history, where I did my senior honor's thesis as an undergraduate, I studied with the great business historian Vincent Carosso and also a labor historian, Dan Walkowitz. In politics, on the undergraduate, graduate, and eventually the doctoral level, I studied with Gisbert Flanz, and, of course, most important, my mentor, Bertell Ollman who is an internationally-known Marxist scholar, author of such books as Alienation and Dialectical Investigations.

 While an undergraduate, I met Murray Rothbard. I was a founding member of the NYU Chapter of Students for a Libertarian Society. We got Rothbard to speak before the society several times. I struck up a cordial relationship with Murray, and learned much from my conversations with him. He was a real character, very funny, and quite entertaining as a speaker. When I went into the undergraduate history honors program, Murray gave me indispensable guidance. I chose to examine the Pullman strike and I used his theory of structural crisis as a means of understanding labor strife.

 Murray gave me some very interesting pointers about how to carve an intellectual niche for oneself. He told me if I invested lots of time investigating the Pullman strike and other labor topics, I’d have a virtual monopoly among libertarians in the analysis of labor history. You end up thinking and writing more about a single subject than anyone else, and your work becomes indispensable to future research on the subject. It was good advice especially when one is compelled to defend one’s thesis: you’ve spent more time on the subject and know more about it than most others. You’ve written the book, so who better than you to defend it?!

 Well, I didn’t continue my research in labor history, but I sure did focus on one subject — dialectical libertarianism — in the years that followed. Of course, I seemed to have picked a topic with which few would even want to associate themselves, so there doesn’t seem to be any danger of losing my intellectual niche any time soon!

 I should point out that Murray’s influence on my honors thesis was significant. And I pretty much sailed through the honors program. What I didn’t know, however, was that I would face resistance from one of the three academics who sat on my oral defense committee. He was the Chairman of the Department of History, Albert Romasco. When Romasco started questioning me about my "ideological" approach to history — that’s a real buzz-word — he became almost hostile toward my reliance on Rothbard’s work. Though I ended up receiving an award for best record in the history honors program, Romasco was so disenchanted with my thesis that he told me: "Maybe you ought to go into political theory instead of history!" I guess I took him seriously. In any event, when I related the story of my oral defense to Murray, explaining how hostile Romasco was, Murray started to laugh. It seems that in the Summer 1966 issue of Studies on the Left, Murray published a scathing review of Romasco’s book, The Poverty of Abundance: Hoover, the Nation, the Depression. In it, Murray attacks Romasco’s welfare-liberal ideology, his "failures" and "misconceptions," his bibliographic "skimpiness" and "ad hoc, unsupported and inevitably fallacious causal theories." Murray figured I became the whipping boy for Romasco; here was Romasco’s chance to strike back at Murray Rothbard, by extension. Well, it was my first lesson in the politics of scholarship, even if it provided Murray with a hearty laugh. I sure wasn’t laughing in front of that committee!

 Eventually, through my efforts, the Department of History invited Murray to speak on "Libertarian Paradigms in American History" — a remarkable lecture extending from the colonial to the modern era — and it was one of the most well-received and well-attended seminars ever presented under the department’s auspices. In later years, I don’t think Murray was too thrilled with some of the criticisms I made of his work, but he was always cordial and supportive. Ironically, Bertell Ollman, who had known Rothbard personally because they were both members of the Peace and Freedom Party in the 1960's, encouraged me not only in my student radicalism, but also in my desire to write a doctoral dissertation on Marx, Hayek, – and – Rothbard. I’m only sorry that Murray didn’t live to see my published work on Rand, which greatly interested him, or my Total Freedom, which devotes half of its contents to a discussion of his important legacy.

 And so: that's not only how I became a libertarian... but also how I've become a libertarian scholar.

 December 19, 2002

 Chris Matthew Sciabarra [send him mail] is the author of the "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy," which includes Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. He is also a founding co-editor of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. A Visiting Scholar in the New York University Department of Politics, his homepage is at: http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra.

 Copyright © 2002 LewRockwell.com

  • Thanks 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Here are a couple of letters that mention Rothbard. Peter  

From: "George H. Smith" Subject: ATL: Re: Buridan's ass (was "Are mind and will an illusion?") Date: Tue, 27 Feb 2001 16:33:05 -0600/ Bill Dwyer quoted Murray Rothbard as follows: "If a man were really indifferent between two alternatives, he could not make any choice between them, and therefore the choice could not be revealed in action....  Any action demonstrates choice based on preference:  preference for one alternative over others." [_Man, Economy, and State_, HB, p. 65]"

Bill then concluded: "In fact, what free will would require is precisely the kind of indifference that Rothbard rejects.  For if we are not indifferent to which alternative we choose, then only one choice is possible, namely, the one that we prefer.  To be sure, there are times that we can and do act against our emotional inclinations, but only because we have a reason to -- only because we perceive a greater, long-range value in choosing the alternative."

Rothbard's discussion of revealed preference is irrelevant to the issue under consideration, for the praxeological meaning of "preference" differs from its psychological meaning. Praxeology, unlike psychology, does not take into account *why* a man chooses such and such; rather, it deals "with any given ends and with the formal implications of the fact that men have ends and employ means to attain them."  This is why "all explanations of the law of marginal utility on psychological or physiological grounds [e.g., the law of satiation of wants] are erroneous." (Murray Rothbard, *Man, Economy, and State,* p. 63.)

It should also be remembered that Rothbard was himself a vigorous defender of free will. As he wrote in "The Mantle of Science": "At the very best, the application of determinism to man is just an agenda for the future. After several centuries of arrogant proclamations, no determinist has come up with anything like a theory determining all of men's actions. Surely the burden of proof must rest on the one advancing a theory, particularly when the theory contradicts man's primary impressions. Surely we can, at the very least, tell the determinists to keep quiet until they can offer their determinations -- including, of course, their advance determinations of each of our reactions to their determining theory. But there is far more that can be said. For determinism, as applied to man, is a self-contradictory thesis, since the man who employs it relies implicitly on the existence of free will. If we are determined in the ideas we accept, then X, the determinist, is determined to believe in determinism, while Y, the believer in free will, is also determined to believe in his own doctrine. Since man's mind is, according to determinism, not free to think and come to conclusions about reality, it is absurd for X to try to convince Y or anyone else of the truth of determinism. In short, the determinist must rely, for the spread of his ideas, on the nondetermined, free-will choices of others, on their free will to adopt or reject his ideas." (*Scientism and Values," ed. Schoeck and Wiggins, p. 161.)

Bill wrote: "But, in order for that choice to be truly free, we must be indifferent to which alternative we choose, in which case, our choice is arbitrary -- not just seemingly arbitrary but ~really~ arbitrary, i.e., no more valuable to us than the alternative.  But in that case, why did we choose it instead of the alternative?  What motivated our choice? ~Nothing did~, according to the doctrine of free will."

Why must we be "indifferent" to an alternative in order for our choice to be "truly free"? This position doesn't become more cogent merely because Bill has stated it repeatedly. I have never said that free choices are unmotivated. Nor have I said they are "arbitrary" in Bill's sense of the word. What I have said is that motives and reasons do not function like mechanistic causes, that a rational mind must evaluate and assess various reasons and causes, and that in this process of decision-making there are a number of choices it can make.

Bill argues, in effect, that our preferences -- a vague catch-all word which he has never clearly defined -- somehow "determine" our choices. But he has not given any argument against the volitionist position that our choices can play a pivotal role in deciding what those preferences are. We can choose among various preferences; and if Bill wants to say that a choice, once it manifests itself in action, exhibits (or "demonstrates") a preference for the object of our action, then this is true (in a praxeological sense) by definition. For praxeologists, such as Rothbard and Mises, *define* human action as goal-directed behavior, as the attempt to replace a less satisfactory state of affairs with one that is more satisfactory, so the goal of a given action is necessarily that for which we have a preference. Bill does not seem to understand the purely formalistic nature of the Misesian praxeology which Rothbard employed.

I wrote: "When a normal person wishes to express the notion that he could not have acted differently than he did, he will usually say something like, 'I had no choice in the matter.'  But not so the soft determinist. When he wants to say that he could not have acted differently, he will say something like, 'I had a choice in the matter, but I was determined to choose as I did'."

And Bill replied: "We have to be careful here to specify exactly what is meant by someone's saying, "I had no choice in the matter."  If a man wants to marry his fiancée more than anything in the world (and sees no reason not to), he will not say that he has "no choice in the matter", but there is a sense in which he doesn't.  Given his values, he has no reason to choose otherwise.  In that case, the alternative of not marrying her is not ~psychologically~ open to him."

I would never use this kind of language -- i.e., I would never say that I have "no choice" but to marry someone (unless perhaps it is literally a shotgun wedding) -- and I don't recall ever meeting someone who thinks like this.  Moreover, to say that a person has "no reason to choose otherwise" in no way implies that his choice is causally determined -- unless, of course, we fail to understand the nature of "reasons" and insist on treating them like mechanistic causes.

Bill wrote: "However, one can still say that he has "a choice in the matter", if only in the sense that no one is forcing him to marry her -- that he could choose not to marry her if he ~preferred~ not to.  This is the soft determinist's sense of "having a choice in the matter".

This is an old dodge, one that goes back at least to Thomas Hobbes. And it is a perfect example of what I mean when I accuse soft determinists of engaging in word play. When the ordinary person says he chose (say) to go to a movie, he is manifestly *not* saying that his choice was not made under the threat of coercion. Rather, he means that he made a choice between that alternative and others.

The soft determinist want to substitute the *interpersonal* concept of a *voluntary,* non-coerced choice with the *intrapersonal* concept of a *free* choice. This merely bypasses the problem by cashing in on various meanings of "free." If you make a choice without a gun at your head (or some equivalent), then the determinist will say you had a "choice." Fine, but this is not the meaning of "choice" that is involved in the debate over free-will.

Lord Acton once estimated that the word "freedom" has been defined in 200 different ways. Although this rich vein of definitions may provide a good deal of wiggle room for the determinist, the practice of hopping from one definition to another doesn't solve any philosophical problems.

I wrote: "The soft determinist may have great faith in the power of this verbal legerdemain to solve complex philosophical problems. But I don't share this interest in word magic, so I will let the matter rest here and move on to more serious issues."

And Bill replied: "This sarcastic remark is completely unwarranted.  There is no verbal legerdemain here, no word magic, only a careful analysis of the issue in terms of customary parlance and the observed facts of human psychology."

I stand by my original statement. What Bill regards as "careful analysis," I see as definition-hopping.

In the final analysis, to say that a person acts on the basis of his preferences doesn't tell us anything at all about the free-will problem -- for it doesn't say *how* those preferences are formed; and it doesn't explain how, from a welter of conflicting preferences, one is eventually chosen over others. A theory should have at least some explanatory value, but soft determinism explains nothing at all. It is an article of faith based on the erroneous assumption that "reasons"  in the inner world of consciousness function exactly like "causes" in the external world of physical objects.

As I said before, I prefer to confront the phenomena of consciousness on their own terms, rather than resort to a pseudo-explanation that, in the final analysis, explains nothing at all. When the soft determinist is able to postulate a causal law of consciousness that will enable us to predict our future thoughts and actions, then I will be impressed. Until then, I will continue to regard soft determinism as a circular method of "explanation" that derives from a inappropriate analogy with physical causation.

As it stands now, the only prediction the soft determinist can make is that a person will ultimately act on the basis of his "strongest" preference. Never mind that he cannot specify what this preference is until *after* the choice is made. Never mind that this "prediction" is foolproof, because it can only be made *after* the fact. Never mind all this -- for the soft determinist has convinced himself that he is uttering a profound truth, even though it is little more than a tautology and one which most volitionists (including myself) would not dispute. Ghs

PaleoObjectivist To: atlantis Subject: ATL: In-Your-Face Radicalism -- Boon or Hindrance to Objectivism? Date: Sun, 22 Sep 2002 04:15:56 EDT A cardinal feature of Ayn Rand's philosophy of life -- and, not coincidentally, one of the key aspects of dialectics, and the major consequence of the "revolt against formal dualism" -- is the commitment to radicalism. This commitment is very simply the refusal to bifurcate human life into two hermetically sealed domains of theoretical, abstract, ivory-tower knowledge and practical, concrete, real-world action. Chris M. Sciabarra concludes his path-breaking work, Ayn Rand: the Russian Radical, with an examination of how Rand proposes to change things for the better, i.e., to implement "her vision of the ideal individual and the ideal society." (p. 352)

Sciabarra reveals that just as Rand's critical view of the dualistic ills plaguing people and society had a clear, extensive historical context, so did her proposed cures for those ills. Her decision to major in history in college was thus a prophetically wise one, for it was from history, as Sciabarra points out, that she was able to draw the understanding of what makes social change possible.

Historically, the human race has been ruled mainly by those in revolt against the nature and requirements of the human, conceptual mode of awareness--i.e., by faith (via the Witch Doctor) and by force (via Attila). (I am reminded of this passage, one of my favorites, from Rand's novel, Atlas Shrugged: "Power lust is a weed that grows in the vacant lot of an abandoned mind.") Only with the rebirth of secular philosophy through the efforts of Aquinas and his followers was this dualistic hegemony eventually, but only temporarily, overturned. In its place, for a time, was a pro-reason, pro-freedom orientation personified by two historically new archetypes: the Intellectual, who channeled philosophy into the production of ideas and knowledge, and the Businessman, who channeled science into the production of goods and wealth.

While the birth of modern science and the Industrial Revolution swept Attila and the Witch Doctor to the side, however, the latter gradually managed to "infiltrate secular philosophy and to undercut the efficacy of reason by clouding their mysticism in technical and scientific writing." For Rand, the pivotal and arch-example of this was Immanuel Kant. While this point is clear enough from various sources, Sciabarra's parallel point is not: "The Attilas began to use ever more sophisticated methods of predation to feast on the enormous productive power unleashed by the reasoning mind." Rand properly calls attention to various shameful actions of businessmen in the latter 1800s and early 1900s, including the seeking of government subsidies and support for the Interstate Commerce Act, various antitrust acts, the Income Tax Amendment, etc. These, however, hardly seem to occupy the same level of evil as Kant represents on the Witch Doctor side of the ledger.

The answer, I think, is provided by Murray Rothbard's multi-volume history, Conceived in Liberty, as well as L. Neil Smith's alternate history science fiction novels (notably, The Probability Broach). These writers depict some pretty nasty, crafty types involved in the early days of the United States of America, both during and just after the Revolution -- Alexander Hamilton, to name one. Since these people were in favor of a strong national government and mercantilist and other interventionist policies, they would certainly qualify as Attilas. And to the extent that they participated in the process of devising our Constitution and pushed for weasel clauses such as the Interstate Commerce clause, they certainly functioned as Attilas using "ever more sophisticated methods of predation..." So, rather than the much-(and rightly)-maligned Robber Barons, I think that the master Attilas in American history were the ones who deliberately sabotaged the free market with various Constitutional ploys such as the one discussed above.

 In any case, the Witch Doctors managed to undercut philosophy and to deprive free trade and free expression of a proper moral base, thus making inevitable the demise of (relatively laissez-faire) capitalism and, along with it, the businessmen and the intellectuals. The chief responsibility for this tragedy rests with the intellectuals, according to Rand, the reason being that the "leverage" for change in the social sphere is on the same "tier" as it is in the individual sphere: ideas or "conscious convictions," which in the social realm amount to "culture."

Within the area of culture, the leverage more precisely rests in the hands (i.e., minds) of the "philosophic system builders," who are like the commander-in-chief of any army, and who set the cultural-historical trends with their networks of ideas. Their "field agents," as it were, are the intellectuals, who apply the system's ideas to various disciplines. The ideas are further transmitted by scientists, businessmen, journalists, politicians, etc., through the various communications media and the arts. Discovering and clarifying this kind of historically recurrent pattern in cultural change is an important part of understanding human nature deeply enough to form a coherent, valid model of how change works and how it might be predicted and redirected. Rand apparently grasped this point by the time she reached college.

As for how change might be redirected in a more positive way, Rand's dictum "Check your premises" says it all. Spell out, and examine the foundation of, your own mixed premises -- and those of the culture in which you live. Remove the contradictions -- including the relational "contradictions," the false dichotomies -- from those premises, and you and/or the culture will inexorably move toward a more rational, integrated resolution. But since ideas exist in a material, historical, and psychological context, positive change may well not be swift and automatic.

Rand did not put much stock in either utopias or detailed blueprints of the ideal society. She preferred instead to work within the broad outlines of certain principles toward transformation of the personal, cultural, and structural levels of existing society. Her clear hope was that, eventually, enough people would come to accept her ideas that they would become the dominant philosophy of the culture and would generate reasons and desires that would motivate people to move away from the mixed, semi-statist status quo and toward freedom. Only once reason and freedom were consummated "on the personal and cultural levels," could they then be realized on the structural level, so that rational, free political and economic institutions could emerge.

To help her in the task of moving America toward a rational, free society, Rand conceived yet another archetypal figure. The New Intellectual's role is to conquer dualism by throwing out the soul-body dichotomy and helping reunite the Intellectual and the Businessman, apparently by wearing both hats himself ("a thinker who is a man of action"), when possible. (An aside: in comparing Rand's ideal man (portrayed by John Galt in Atlas Shrugged) with Neitszche's "superman" or Trotsky's man under socialism, Sciabarra apparently misspeaks himself when he says "Can there be any doubt that Rand's ideal man lacks [my emphasis] such harmony and grace?" Surely Sciabarra meant to say possesses.)

Just as Rand's ideal of an integrated human being required rejecting the soul-body dichotomy, so did her ideal of a free individualist society require rejecting the false alternative of theocratic vs. secular collectivism, based as they were on the monistic (one-sided) emphasis on either values or facts. But in being an arch individualist and anti-collectivist, Rand did not thereby fall into either pitfall of atomism or anti-community. Thus, she sought an ultimate "integration of individual and social harmony", on the premise that in a free society, a society of nonexploitative relations, there are no inherent conflicts between rational individuals.

In the meantime, of course, we must all merely do the best we can, in our struggle against the statist tendencies toward (in Rand's words) "gradual and general destruction." It will be a long struggle, indeed, one which will not likely resolve in our or our children's generation. But that is no reason not to fight for reason, freedom, and capitalism. Those who went before us gave their time, efforts, and (where necessary) lives in order to establish and preserve what freedom we still have. And, if I understand David Kelley's point correctly in Unrugged Individualism, it would be moral freeloading to not give as good to those coming after us.

Had Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry been able to travel through time and ask each of us: "Do you want us to fight for our freedom which, if we are successful, will also benefit you?," who among us would not say, "Yes, go, fight those Redcoats!" Who among us would want to take a chance with our own continued existence? (Remember, this is a science fiction thought experiment, OK?) That being so, by the rational, Objectivist virtue of benevolence, it behooves us to emulate those who made our freedom possible, by extending the same efforts here and now!

I frequently hear Objectivists voice the nagging concern (unfortunately, not always in a calm, civil manner) that linking Ayn Rand and Objectivism in any way, even methodologically, with thinkers she so despised as Marx and Hegel, will ultimately cause serious harm to the Objectivist movement and philosophy. As if Objectivism were some kind of hothouse flower that had to be jealously protected from a hostile environment! But as Rand herself was fond of saying about allegedly fragile situations, "A boat that cannot stand rocking, had better be rocked fast and hard."

Surely this dictum applies no less to her own system of ideas. And aside from those with a vested interest in the pristine isolation of Objectivism from rigorous academic scrutiny, it is difficult to imagine who could find fault with Sciabarra's masterful efforts in Ayn Rand: the Russian Radical to garner more mainstream attention to (not to mention respect for) Rand's philosophy. The truth will out.

I have also wondered a great deal about why some people are able to quickly and clearly see that Rand's philosophical approach is, as Sciabarra puts it, a thorough-going "revolt against dualism," while others struggle (in vain, it seems) to grasp it. The latter appear to prefer a view of Rand as having developed her wonderful philosophical insights in a cultural vacuum -- i.e., not in response to wrong-headed or inadequate ideas and policies currently ruling the culture, but simply as a solitary act of intellectual curiosity and ingenuity.

Even when it is (seemingly) grudgingly conceded that Rand sometimes engaged in a process similar to dialectics, the attempt is immediately made to minimize its importance in the overall scheme of Objectivist theory. To quote Tom Radcliffe (Moderated Discussion of Objectivist Philosophy [Internet], 8/13/96): "Dialectics is only appropriate when there are false dichotomies to be transcended. This may well make it the appropriate approach for radical social theory, as Chris says. That does not make it appropriate to all of philosophy."

There's no doubt that, on some occasions, someone might have asked Rand, "What is your view of x?," after which, if she didn't already know the answer, she would ponder the matter at some length, then arrive at her own position, with no apparent connection to resolving false dichotomies. As Peikoff details it in his essay on Rand's intellectual method ("My Thirty Years with Ayn Rand, an Intellectual Memoir," The Voice of Reason), this is how she arrived at her theory of measurement-omission.

But the evidence is overwhelming, both from Rand's cultural environments in Russia and America and from her writing, that she saw Western culture as being thoroughly infested with dualism and the job of the "New Intellectuals" as confronting head-on those dualisms personified by Attila and the Witch Doctor. This gritty scenario was the primary framework within which she did philosophy, not that of the solitary individual engaging in the private birthing of Immaculate Conceptions.

To Rand, philosophy is not a pristine activity, cloistered away from the world and all its practical concerns and imperfections, devoted to a reverent seeking after the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. Philosophy is a tool for living on earth, and the earth was massively screwed-up (and still is). In other words, philosophy is a necessity for coping with the many problems generated by our culture's unfortunate millennia-old love affair with dualism. It bears repeating: dualism is as old as recorded history (probably much older) and has a strong tendency to result in both social fragmentation and the failure of individuals to achieve personal integration.

When John Galt seized the airwaves in Atlas Shrugged, the world had reached the point of collapse from this diabolical romance, and he proceeded to spell out the roots and branches of the evils of dualism for his listeners. Now, this is Rand speaking through her hero, of course, and there is no clearer statement anywhere of the horrendous pitfalls of dualism than in "Galt's Speech," nor of the kind of radical alternative that is needed. The cure, of course, is "capitalism ideally understood", which is why, as Rand emphatically said, "the new radicals are the fighters for capitalism."

This is how Rand views philosophy and culture -- and the way to set them on the right track. Discover and point out the false alternatives and their pernicious effects, and propose the radical cure. So why then are some of Rand's admirers (including, unfortunately, a number of second- and third-generation Objectivist philosophers, upon whom we depend to carry the torch) not able to readily embrace Chris Sciabarra's dialectical thesis about  Rand -- the major corollary of which is the "revolt against dualism"? I confess I do not understand.

In a "perfect" world, perhaps we would have lives of cradle-to-grave rationality, and philosophy would serve not as a treatment, but as a preventive, along the lines of the "wellness" model of medicine. Even now, some people seem to think that if parents behave just so, their children will not develop irrational, unhealthy tendencies. These same people probably think that the numerous revelations of significant character flaws in leading proponents of Objectivism are just vicious propaganda to try and discredit the philosophy (rather than the attempt to strip away the mystique and portray them as real human beings). This only goes to show that denial (Da-Nile) is not just a river in Egypt!

Let's be realistic, people. Our culture is rife with dualism, and, to some non-harmless degree, all children will be affected by it, despite the best efforts of well-meaning parents. The revolt against dualism is an on-going war, and the battlefield casualties number in the billions. Rand was aware of this, and it's well past time for the rest of the Objectivist movement to get its head out of the sand and recognize it, too.

But how to fight dualism? One approach is the generous-hearted, civil, respectful way of defending one's ideas, while acknowledging the worthwhile points of those who disagree with one. This is the approach taken by people such as Chris Sciabarra. Certain critics of Sciabarra's approach have insinuated that these humane, diplomatic virtues, as well as Sciabarra's relatively greater interest in and success at garnering consideration in academia for Rand's philosophy, reveal a tendency to dilute the radical impulse in favor of a "yearning for respectability." It is this dualism between radicalism and respectability, they claim, that is a major factor contributing to the dissension among Objectivists.

I disagree. That is not the nature of the split among Objectivists, at least not fundamentally. We all want radical change, the replacement of the current mystic/altruist/collectivist status quo with a free, rational society – and I, for one, resent the insinuation that Sciabarra and others do not, or worse: would sell it out for something as shallow as "respectability" in other circles. This kind of social-metaphysical, second-hander motivation would be no more virtuous if aimed in the direction of the self-righteous, Inner-Circle kind of "respectability." Although this phenomenon most assuredly exists, however, neither I nor Sciabarra nor anyone I know would ever dream of accusing our critics of having fallen prey to it. It seems only fair for our opponents to extend the same benefit of the doubt to us, as well.

Now, within the broad umbrella of radicalism, it is true that some prefer to go the narrower path toward that change, by in-your-face polarization between Objectivism and everyone else. "We're right, we have the truth, and since we can't convince you of our monopoly on the truth, a plague take all your houses -- which we won't bother to inspect for possible aspects of the truth we might have overlooked!"

Maybe these people are right. Maybe the academic establishment is "savagely and unalterably opposed" to our ideas. Though Sciabarra appears to have intrigued and excited people in both the Objectivist and the Marxist camps with his bridge-building, common-ground-seeking approach, he has also clearly aggravated and outraged quite a number in each group. And maybe these latter voices will win out. But if they do, then the future of Objectivism will be as sterile and eventually dead as that of Marxism. We are operating in a social context, and we must infect the culture with both the most effective ideas and methods we have, if we are to achieve the massive paradigm shift from mysticism/altruism/collectivism that our goals require. And that, to some of us, means promoting the methodology of dialectics, in as rational and pure and uncompromising a form as possible.

Sciabarra's ongoing dialogue with the Marxists on the nature of dialectics is playing an important role in determining exactly how rational the methodology will be with which our culture moves into the 21st century -- and, as a corollary, whether the Objectivist philosophy will ultimately triumph or fade away. In his own vigorous, clearly-argued, no-holds-barred, yet diplomatic, scholarly way, Sciabarra is fighting a battle that serves something much more important than wangling a little extra respect for Rand's ideas and shelf-space for her writings in university bookstores. He deserves better than he has gotten (with noteworthy exceptions) from the Objectivist movement thus far.

In contrast, it is claimed, Rand reveled in antagonizing others, and diplomacy-be-damned. There is no doubt that she was a forthright, vigorous, critical commentator on 20th century culture. But if Rand enjoyed the "kick em in the nuts" approach as much as some have claimed, why was she more depressed after the publication of Atlas Shrugged than at any other time in her life? It was because whatever joy she got from "offending the bastards" -- and when did she ever offend "the enemy" more than by Atlas? – paled compared to her feeling of deep frustration and isolation from her magnum opus not having attracted someone she could consider an intellectual equal.

Rand may well have slipped into a more negative, malevolent framework at times, drawing emotional fuel from intellectually bashing her opponents, as some believe, but if so, it would not have been out of a healthy motivation. She rightly regarded polemics as a secondary focus in philosophy, and did right in passing along this perspective to Peikoff and the rest of us. It is up to those of us who want to spend most of our energies pursuing positives to make sure that we are not drawn down into such negative, isolationist cul-de-sacs as the "in-your-face" crowd are promoting. Best 2 all, Roger Bissell

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...
On 1/18/2021 at 3:50 PM, Brant Gaede said:

If Barbara got her masters at NYU you'd likely have to go to NYU's library to read it.

--Brant

I wrote to NYU philosophy department, they say they don't have so old archive.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now