Logical Structure of Objectivism


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By contrast, a science delimits its aim and begins to gain acceptance as a scientific discipline only when that delimitation succeeds. Moreover, in pursuing answers to particular questions, it constructs methods that allow it to bring new facts together and to coordinate their interpretation within a circumscribed domain. The upshot of all off this is that philosophers often disagree because of the inevitable differences of values that separate conceptions bearing simultaneously on the universe and the internal life, while scientists achieve a relative accord of minds. But science does so only insofar as it solicits agreement for solutions of restricted problems using equally restricted research methods...

The physical sciences succeed because they are rooted in the real (physical) world and the method is grounded empirically. Philosophy has been in a muddle since it was invented by the Greeks about 1500 b.c.e. The same questions are being asked and the same non-answers are being produced.

Physical science was thrice blessed when it parted company from philosophy.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Ba'al:

Are we jettisoning 3000 plus years of Eastern philosophy a tad to quickly here?

Adam

"Confucianing" is it not?

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What's up, Xray? I clicked on your link and an OL error page appeared. Did you try to make your own (faulty) device because the Acme Corporation wouldn't extend you any more credit? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wile_E._Coyote#The_Acme_Corporation :D

_21477BP~Looney-Tunes-Wile-E-Coyote-Posters2.jpg

What - an ERROR page?? What's up, Merlin? Isn't the world full of the just plain unexplainable: links leading to errors, "stolen concepts", "non-conceptual mentalities" (must be some aliens, hmmm, maybe it was they who were in the UFO Rand claimed to have sighted?

Merlin, we must get to the the bottom of this issue. Can't you gaze into a crystal ball or do something else to that effect, after all, "Merlin" suggests witchcraft.

I have a hunch: Could -- I mean, could this - what's his name - John Galt, be behind all that again?

Oh My Galt - looks like the world is careening towards disaster. :o

Thanks for the link to Wile E. Coyote, but I'm afraid he is not involved in this.

Just curious, Merlin: have you read Wile E. Coyote's recent press release where he, in an attempt to end all rumors, felt it necessary to state that the chasm he plummets into is NOT Galt's Gulch? :D

The Road Runner could not be reached for comment since he was on the road a usual.

But Bugs Bunny, who did have some encounters with Wile, could be reached.

BB said any rumors connecting the ACME Corporation to the ATLAS Society are just plain hil-hare-ious, but reading Atlas Shrugged gave him the impression that 'going Galt' might not be that different from 'going Ga-Ga'. :D

Now that should give you something to chew on, Merlin. I can't even say "close but no carrot" ;) since you are way off base.

But banter aside, MJ - here is the correct link, hope it works this time: :)

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/nut

Edited by Xray
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99funny-pictures93.jpg

Makes me think of Ayn Rand grappling with the fact that she herself acted differently from the heroes she invented. I'm paraphrasing ("John Galt would know how to handle this situation. I don't.")

No surprise there. For expecting fictional heroes to solve one's problems is bound to end in disaster.

Edited by Xray
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The point is that they both point at different things and each claims their definition is the "true" one, and the other's is false.

This is basically what Rand does with her definitions vs conventional meanings.

But she can't actually demonstrate the truth or falsity of said meanings, despite the fact that she claims that all our knowledge depends on this!!

This does not seem the most useful line of debate to support your point. Specifically, neither convention nor individual choice has any relevance to the accuracy of definitions. Definitions are merely truncated representations of abstractions, and accurate abstractions (defined as existing in reality) only need to be validated to be confirmed.

When two people use the same word, even if that word represents two different meanings(e.g. selfish as used conventionally and selfish as used by Rand), this double-use is fine so long as the individuals using their definitions state clearly the meaning of those definitions. Once doing so, communication can proceed. Truth or falsity (validity of the abstraction represented by the word) has nothing to do with the naming process.

Post edit: but if one group claims a definition is true given certain logical truths, then points to the wrong thing in reality... well, that person is conjoining an abstraction to a definition that does not represent the abstraction. In this case, their definition is wrong

Edited by Christopher
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This does not seem the most useful line of debate to support your point..(etc)

Christopher, are you able to actually demonstrate the process by which definitions are determined by Objectivists to be "true" and/or "false"? With some actual examples?

No-one's talking about "double use" or similar. We're talking about "true" and "false". OK?

I've conveniently offered you a couple of examples now. Or you can use some of your own.

Do you think you can actually do it, right here on Objectivist Living? Once you have, then we can perhaps discuss how useful my line of debate is on this one.

After all this process is supposedly kind of important. Because, according to Rand, all of our "conclusions, inferences, thought and knowledge" rests this crucial point.

That's quite a bunch of stuff.

And should you find yourself unable to do this, as MSK and Adam have failed to do so far, do you think you might just pause to consider that Rand's theory itself might be false?

(Oh, and no appeals to what Rand derides as "mere convention" now either...;-))

Edited by Daniel Barnes
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Christopher, are you able to actually demonstrate the process by which definitions are determined by Objectivists to be "true" and/or "false"? With some actual examples?

No-one's talking about "double use" or similar. We're talking about "true" and "false". OK?

Not the most gentle way to converse, but I'm game. Why don't you define for me what "definition" means, and then define what a "true definition" is and a "false definition" - ie what criteria you use for evaluation. That way I understand what you're talking about. If the whole point is to say that there can be no criteria for evaluation of definitions, I still need to know what you mean by the word "definition" in order to determine whether that assertion is true or false.

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Why don't you define for me what "definition" means, and then define what a "true definition" is and a "false definition" - ie what criteria you use for evaluation. That way I understand what you're talking about. If the whole point is to say that there can be no criteria for evaluation of definitions, I still need to know what you mean by the word "definition" in order to determine whether that assertion is true or false.

Dear lord!

If ever I wanted to demonstrate the sterile, pedantic scholasticism that Objectivism breeds, and the utter waste of intelligent minds such as Christopher's on trivial fool's errands I couldn't ask for a better example.

Define "definition"!?

This is as good as Joe Rowlands of Rebirth of Reason, who once demanded his poor interlocutor explain what he meant by "mean."

That Rand has persuaded so many that such verbalistic dead-ends represent vital intellectual endeavour is actually a kind of scandal. As Ba'al points out, it is endemic to philosophy in general, but man is it bad in Objectivism!

As I did with Adam earlier, let me introduce you to an amazing invention called the dictionary. You can find a definition of "definition" that will be perfectly acceptable to me.

As for what a "true definition" and "false definition" might mean, I have no idea! They're your philosophical tenets, not mine! I say they're not even possible - a point that I seem to be winning, as no Objectivist seems able to produce any example of either...;-)

They're as imaginary as Tinkerbelle, or John Galt.

Edited by Daniel Barnes
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In light of my earlier example with the banana I propose that instead of saying a definition is right or wrong we should be concerned with whether or not it is current. This allows definitions to change over time as required by new developments in any given field.

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And should you find yourself unable to do this, as MSK and Adam have failed to do so far, do you think you might just pause to consider that Rand's theory itself might be false?

This is a very typical example of what I am talking about, and it includes a totally inaccurate statement and a Rand-bash to boot.

Daniel's standards of true and false are not tied to observation—only to word games (although observation is included as a nonessential element that may or may not be present). Notice that I did demonstrate the truth of what I said, yet he denies it. That's because I didn't play his word game, but simply said that I can correctly identify what I am pointing at. And I can, too. My very life depends on it. Observing is the start of truth.

(This rests on the premise that our faculties of observation are made of the same stuff as the rest of the universe, thus they are perfectly suited to identify existents. I intend to write about this later.)

What makes Daniel's line of thinking about this funny (funny in the humorous sense) is that you have to observe something for it to be "demonstrated." And he demands a lot of demonstration of truth from others, even as he mocks and does not accept observation as a standard of truth.

Using his standard, how on earth he will be able to determine the validity of the very words he reads, I don't know. I can read this sentence I am typing and know I used the word "sentence." That is true. I observe it and anyone else can see it, too. Those who can't are either blind or ill. Hell, even people who don't speak English can see it.

Daniel needs this to be able to be falsified in a word game before he can know it is true.

It's a sad, sad state of affairs when you cannot live truth, but only play at it...

In other words, in his world it doesn't matter whether the demonstration is true or not because there is no real way of determining the validity of it by observation, that is, unless you wed it to the word game and then switch the observation for the word game. The rub is that the only way to arrive at the word game here and communicate it is... er... by observation.

:)

This is one big honking contradiction in his thinking.

Michael

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GS,

There's an erroneous presumption in your question. It has been mentioned before (not just with you), but for some reason it keeps coming back.

The presumption is that, in Objectivism, once a definition is formulated, it is set in stone and ignores facts that are discovered later.

If you read Objectivist literature, you will discover very clear statements explaining that concepts are open-ended to be able to include new discoveries about the same existents they reference. Obviously, if a fact discovered later contradicts a portion of a definition, you change the definition to accommodate the new information.

I am curious (and my intention is not hostile). Why is understanding this, or accepting it if it is understood, so difficult?

Michael

I am trying to understand how a definition can be considered true/false or correct/incorrect. If you change your definition of a banana upon discovering an orange one does that mean that the original definition was false or incorrect? It seems as if you are using 'true' to mean "temporarily true" in that case which is a whole different ball of wax.

Micheal, I am interested in hearing your response to this. There is a similar principle in general semantics called 'date indexing'. So, for example, atom1910 is not the same as atom2010. Is it possible that what is meant by a 'correct' definition is simply the most up-to-date one?

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GS,

Yup.

That's Objectivism.

You can even say, "XXX concept was true for the time it was used because all they knew back then was YYY."

As explanation, you would be correct to add, "Now we know where their knowledge was incomplete (or misleading) and the truth of XXX concept no longer applies in today's world because it is not true within this broader context of knowledge."

People sometimes have difficulty with this idea because "true" can mean one thing in logic, another in experience, another in terms of cause-and-effect, and it can even apply only to a part instead of a whole. Rand critics often try to attribute a false meaning to her ideas by mixing all these meanings up and attributing the inappropriate one (or ones) to Rand. Then they claim she was wrong.

As to definition per se, I happen to like the genus/differentia model, but I am starting to have a few differences with what is traditionally given in Objectivism.

For one, I consider genus to be a standard, not a frozen contextless category. Thus, in my current thinking, one can define man using life form, or animal, or primate as genus, depending on the level of detail you want in the definition or the scope of where you are using it. Also, I believe differentia is not necessarily limited to one characteristic. I certainly hold that there are priorities in distinguishing characteristics, but I hold there can be several of them as a "differentia group" in the same definition.

Michael

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GS,

There's an erroneous presumption in your question. It has been mentioned before (not just with you), but for some reason it keeps coming back.

The presumption is that, in Objectivism, once a definition is formulated, it is set in stone and ignores facts that are discovered later.

If you read Objectivist literature, you will discover very clear statements explaining that concepts are open-ended to be able to include new discoveries about the same existents they reference. Obviously, if a fact discovered later contradicts a portion of a definition, you change the definition to accommodate the new information.

I am curious (and my intention is not hostile). Why is understanding this, or accepting it if it is understood, so difficult?

Michael

I am trying to understand how a definition can be considered true/false or correct/incorrect. If you change your definition of a banana upon discovering an orange one does that mean that the original definition was false or incorrect? It seems as if you are using 'true' to mean "temporarily true" in that case which is a whole different ball of wax.

Micheal, I am interested in hearing your response to this. There is a similar principle in general semantics called 'date indexing'. So, for example, atom1910 is not the same as atom2010. Is it possible that what is meant by a 'correct' definition is simply the most up-to-date one?

GS:

Yes, it is one of the reasons that I enjoy using a number of Korzybski's concepts. Unfortunately, the one problem with that "date indexing" is it works when you refer backward, but when your are in the time slot of the latest date indexed word, you obviously use it, but it could still not be "true".

For example, during the time when the world was considered flat, being in that time, the word "world(1322) would still not be flat.

However, it is an excellent technique to use with students in order to provide them with the powerful understanding of the "semantic" that they are using, its limitations, as well as its expandabilities.

Good point you made.

Adam

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Daniel's standards of true and false are not tied to observation—only to word games (although observation is included as a nonessential element that may or may not be present)...etc etc...

I asked you to show how one definition is "true" vs another that is "false", and explain how you make this determination. My example was indeed people exercising the amazing Objectivist epistemological innovation of observing, and even pointing at things; only these were two different things, and each insisted that theirs was the "true" meaning of the word.

You couldn't do it then. You can't do it now. Will you ever do it? It seems not.

You can, however, waffle on. :rolleyes:

And this waffle is just projection. It is Objectivism that is the word-game philosophy, that diverts intellectual debate into pedantic trivia like the definition of 'definition'" (despite the existence of very handy inventions called dictionaries), and insists that supposedly "true" and "false" definitions are central to all human knowledge.

If only Objectivists could actual produce some of these fabulous creatures!

Waiting...

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Christopher,

If you get a handle on Popper's jargon, you will understand Daniel much better.

In his view, if you speak Popper-speak (and agree with it, of course), you are on the One True Path. If you do not, you are the unfortunate victim of an "utter waste of intelligent mind."

Of course, Objectivism "breeds" "sterile, pedantic scholasticism" because those who agree with it somehow do not find Popper to be mankind's savior. For a man on a crusade, that makes it a worthy enemy.

Google "definition" and "Popper" together, or use the search function here on OL. He has an essay on it and a lot of other online stuff. All this has been gone over before here on OL (and over and over and over...)

Michael

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I asked you to show how one definition is "true" vs another that is "false", and explain how you make this determination.

Daniel,

I did show and I did explain (that part about faculties of observation being made of the same stuff as the rest of the universe). You ignored it.

Anyway, how can I "show" anything to someone who does not hold to the validity of seeing as a measure of truth?

Oh... you mean explain it in Popper-speak...

:)

That's just some syrup for your waffle.

Michael

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Dear lord!

If ever I wanted to demonstrate the sterile, pedantic scholasticism that Objectivism breeds, and the utter waste of intelligent minds such as Christopher's on trivial fool's errands I couldn't ask for a better example.

Define "definition"!?

This is as good as Joe Rowlands of Rebirth of Reason, who once demanded his poor interlocutor explain what he meant by "mean."

That Rand has persuaded so many that such verbalistic dead-ends represent vital intellectual endeavour is actually a kind of scandal. As Ba'al points out, it is endemic to philosophy in general, but man is it bad in Objectivism!

As I did with Adam earlier, let me introduce you to an amazing invention called the dictionary. You can find a definition of "definition" that will be perfectly acceptable to me.

As for what a "true definition" and "false definition" might mean, I have no idea! They're your philosophical tenets, not mine! I say they're not even possible - a point that I seem to be winning, as no Objectivist seems able to produce any example of either...;-)

They're as imaginary as Tinkerbelle, or John Galt.

Daniel, I'm not going to deal with this type of attitude. Clearly you're not interested in an intellectual discussion, nor are you even interested in pinning down word meanings/concepts enough to discuss them.

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There are two standards about what can make a definition true invoked here.

1. The definition of a word is tied to reality, i.e. it successfully refers, a lot like the correspondence theory of truth.

2. All different users of the word must agree on the definition, a bit like the coherence theory of truth.

I align Ba'al, MSK, Ayn Rand and myself with #1 and Daniel Barnes with #2.

In my opinion Standard #2 can't even "reach first base" because it's easy to find two people who disagree about a word's definition or what the word refers to in reality.

Standard #1 is concerned that the word (definiendum) is tied to reality. The words in the definiens also need to be tied to reality, and consistently so that the multiple ties don't conflict, and the extension of both the definiendum and definiens agree. Note this is a vastly different test of agreement than that of standard #2.

Introductory logic textbooks, such as The Art of Reasoning, usually have a section on rules of definition, such as those given here. None of those rules seem concerned with agreement among different users of the same word. Rather they are all concerned with tying the definition to reality, i.e. meeting standard #1. In my opinion, standard #2 is way behind standard #1 already.

Daniel persists in his demand for how the Randian doctrine actually works. How about these rules of definition, Daniel? Supported by observation, of course.

Next consider an example. Suppose somebody defined "whale" as "a big fish with a blow-hole." Legend has it that long ago this was considered to be tied to reality. A whale lived in the water and was shaped like some fish. As more was learned about both whales and fish, the ties began to break. There were important differences. Whales are mammals (give birth to live young, etc.) and fish are not. Fish have permanent gills and whales do not. Fish are cold-blooded and whales are warm-blooded. So "whale" needed redefining in order to not categorize them as fish and make a more suitable definiens such as a modern one given here.

Even if two people were to agree on what kind of animals "whale" refers to in reality, they may not agree on the components of the definiens. Standard #2 falls further behind.

Standard #1 is not a "silver bullet" nor highly rigorous, but at least it affords the opportunity for an individual to tie his/her words and definitions to reality. In contrast standard #2 requires at least two people who agree, and it's possible that neither of their definitions correspond to reality. Standard #2 falls further behind. A lot of people aren't going to agree on definitions, especially in a field like philosophy with very abstract words like "moral", "concept", and "logical". So why even consider standard #2 viable in the first place?

Standard #2 is often called "conventionalism." Daniel would probably consider standard #1 "essentialism" or at least an important part of it. He loves to disparage essentialism. (Karl Popper disparaged it, too, poorly so in my opinion) But Daniel has offered no respectable competitor that can even get off the ground. Popper didn't either. Any why does Daniel invoke standard #2 to attack the much better standard #1?

Definitions (except ostensive ones) are tantamount to propositions. To declare that the truth of definitions is unimportant is tantamount to declaring that truth is unimportant period.

Inter-personal agreement on definitions makes communication and mutual understanding easier. However:

1. Some non-agreement does not make communication impossible, and

2. It is not required for an individual's tying his/her own words and definitions to reality.

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Micheal, I am interested in hearing your response to this. There is a similar principle in general semantics called 'date indexing'. So, for example, atom1910 is not the same as atom2010. Is it possible that what is meant by a 'correct' definition is simply the most up-to-date one?

For example, during the time when the world was considered flat, being in that time, the word "world(1322) would still not be flat.

This is true as far as it goes but there is something very important omitted. We did not know the exact shape of the earth in 1322 and we do not know it in 2010 either. But as time goes on we have the opportunity to know it better. Knowledge is about similarity of structure, not exact structure. the verb 'is' in the sentence "the earth is flat" works very much like an '=' sign in mathematics and implies exactness which is not available in the real world. Even now we cannot say the earth is round because it isn't. It's not a oblong ellipsoid either, but it's close.

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There are two standards about what can make a definition true invoked here.

1. The definition of a word is tied to reality, i.e. it successfully refers, a lot like the correspondence theory of truth.

But I think you need to qualify this by saying "it successfully refers at present"

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Micheal, I am interested in hearing your response to this. There is a similar principle in general semantics called 'date indexing'. So, for example, atom1910 is not the same as atom2010. Is it possible that what is meant by a 'correct' definition is simply the most up-to-date one?

For example, during the time when the world was considered flat, being in that time, the word "world(1322) would still not be flat.

This is true as far as it goes but there is something very important omitted. We did not know the exact shape of the earth in 1322 and we do not know it in 2010 either. But as time goes on we have the opportunity to know it better. Knowledge is about similarity of structure, not exact structure. the verb 'is' in the sentence "the earth is flat" works very much like an '=' sign in mathematics and implies exactness which is not available in the real world. Even now we cannot say the earth is round because it isn't. It's not a oblong ellipsoid either, but it's close.

Exactly. Language and semantics are process oriented to a great degree. One of the reasons that I am so enamored with Rhetoric is because it is an art and a technique. It is also the way we persuade people to act, be it think in a new way, vote a certain way, engage in physical acts etc. etc.

The Count was and is very helpful to me in those ways.

Adam

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GS,

Yup.

That's Objectivism.

You can even say, "XXX concept was true for the time it was used because all they knew back then was YYY."

As explanation, you would be correct to add, "Now we know where their knowledge was incomplete (or misleading) and the truth of XXX concept no longer applies in today's world because it is not true within this broader context of knowledge."

People sometimes have difficulty with this idea because "true" can mean one thing in logic, another in experience, another in terms of cause-and-effect, and it can even apply only to a part instead of a whole. Rand critics often try to attribute a false meaning to her ideas by mixing all these meanings up and attributing the inappropriate one (or ones) to Rand. Then they claim she was wrong.

As to definition per se, I happen to like the genus/differentia model, but I am starting to have a few differences with what is traditionally given in Objectivism.

For one, I consider genus to be a standard, not a frozen contextless category. Thus, in my current thinking, one can define man using life form, or animal, or primate as genus, depending on the level of detail you want in the definition or the scope of where you are using it. Also, I believe differentia is not necessarily limited to one characteristic. I certainly hold that there are priorities in distinguishing characteristics, but I hold there can be several of them as a "differentia group" in the same definition.

Michael

OK, thanks.

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Daniel, I'm not going to deal with this type of attitude. Clearly you're not interested in an intellectual discussion, nor are you even interested in pinning down word meanings/concepts enough to discuss them.

Christopher, thanks for the invitation but I am not interested in extended discussions "pinning down word-meanings/concepts."

Why? Because there already exist amazing inventions designed precisely for this purpose, which enable the user to "pin down word-meanings/concepts" in mere seconds, saving us all hours of pedantic scholastic debate!

Allow me to direct you to one. What's wrong with using it?

The scandal is that you have been persuaded somehow that "pinning down word-meanings/concepts" constitutes "intellectual discussion" when in fact it is a total waste of yours and my valuable time. That's because, as I mentioned from the start, it's a logical error.

I'm sorry if you find my attitude offputting. But it's funny how fans of the abrasive, abusive, argument-from-intimidation style Ayn Rand is famous for suddenly get an attack of the Victorian vapours when confronted with simple, direct questions about the fundamentals of their epistemology.

Edited by Daniel Barnes
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There are two standards about what can make a definition true invoked here.

1. The definition of a word is tied to reality, i.e. it successfully refers, a lot like the correspondence theory of truth.

2. All different users of the word must agree on the definition, a bit like the coherence theory of truth.

Merlin, you're quite good at logic.

What do you think is the problem with what you've written above? (Leaving aside your use of "successfully refers" when "refers" would do, that is...)

When you've spotted it, you can then amend the following:

I align Ba'al, MSK, Ayn Rand and myself with #1 and Daniel Barnes with #2.

Also: what do you think this has to do with the topic at hand? Let me remind you what it is.

We're talking about the supposedly vital importance of "true" and "false" definitions to the Objectivist theory of knowledge.

I am waiting for someone - anyone! - to produce some actual examples of these legendary creatures, and explain how their "truth" and "falsehood" have been decided - without recourse to "mere convention" of course.

Do you have some handy? Or perhaps you too consider Rand's pronouncements on this in the ITOE to be an error?

Waiting....

Edited by Daniel Barnes
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I'm sorry if you find my attitude offputting. But it's funny how fans of the abrasive, abusive, argument-from-intimidation style Ayn Rand is famous for suddenly get an attack of the Victorian vapours when confronted with simple, direct questions about the fundamentals of their epistemology.

Daniel,

Many of the people on OL like OL precisely because they get a chance to discuss Objectivism and related ideas without the nasty bluster. For instance, I don't think Christopher objected to your question so much as to your wrong assertion that he's your best example of an "utter waste of intelligent mind" on "trivial fool's errands."

I don't speak for him, but I am pretty sure this is correct. Surely you have an inkling of how condescending you sounded to him. Being wrong about him only compounded the sanctimonious impression you gave off.

If you take the time to read Christopher's posts, you should be able to easily discern that he is a seeker of knowledge and wisdom, not a preacher. And there's more. He is far too intelligent and intependent in his thinking to succumb to intimidation or preaching.

Yet you tried to intimidate him and you did preach at him.

For a man on a crusade, you are not doing well in the persuasion department. How do you expect to persuade a truly inquiring mind like Christopher by mockery? And then justify this by saying Ayn Rand did it?

OL is a place for independent thinkers interested in Rand's ideas, not Randian lockstep followers. If you treat independent and intelligent posters like that, you turn them off to your message and nothing more.

Is that how you intend to forestall the dire consequences of wrong Aristotilean thinking you are intent on forestalling (as per your earlier declaration), and thus save mankind from himself?

Turning people off doesn't seem very efficient to me as a way to go about that...

Michael

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