Sign in to follow this  
Michael Stuart Kelly

More on Open and Closed System

Recommended Posts

I didn't mangle anything. Look up the ITOE page (11) I gave in my # 46 post. Rand writes verbatim:

The child does not think not in such words (he has, as yet, no knowledge of words.

That is, no knowledge yet of words at all.

I didn't read the next paragraph a while ago. In any case, she didn't write "words at all" or "any words" like you try to cram in her mouth, did she? She may have meant "those words" or "the words", meaning the words to express the thoughts, but it didn't reach the book that way. Typesetters and proofreaders do make errors! Of course, I don't expect you to ever give her any slack about anything, even considering that English wasn't her native language.

If Rand writes "he has, as yet, no knowledge of words" and "the process which his mind performs wordlessly", her meaning is clear and unequivocal. You cannot just claim that she meant something different if you don't agree with those statements, nor blame typesetters and proofreaders or her poor command of the English language more than 20 years after she wrote Atlas Shrugged. You can only do that if there is an obvious error, like a missing negation or an unintended double negation, when it is clear from the context that the intended meaning is the opposite of the expressed meaning. There isn't any indication of such an error here, the rewrite squad is not needed in this case. This was no off-the-cuff remark, if she wrote it, she did mean it. I don't think she would have liked the idea that self-proclaimed clairvoyants would later claim that she in fact meant something different than she wrote.

No, it's not "a different issue altogether". It is an example of what I said immediately before -- one does not need to have the word to have the concept.

Answer this: Does one need to have the word to have the concept -- yes or no? Why or why not?

It depends on the definition of "concept", but while I think that you might perhaps defend the notion that you can have concepts for concrete entities without having a word for them (like "man", "cat", "food"), it seems to me that you cannot grasp an abstract concept like "length" without language. It may make sense to attribute to animals the ability to have concrete concepts, but no animal will understand the concept "length". That doesn't mean that animals or the child in the preverbal phase cannot distinguish different lengths and use those differences to their advantage, but those animals and those children cannot form the abstract notion of "length". You can point to a man or a cat, to a long object or a short object, but you cannot point to "length", you need a description in a language to grasp such an abstract concept.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This was no off-the-cuff remark, if she wrote it, she did mean it. I don't think she would have liked the idea that self-proclaimed clairvoyants would later claim that she in fact meant something different than she wrote.

Oh, I get it. You and Xray can be self-proclaimed clairvoyants and feel certain about what Rand meant, but it is intolerable for little old me to speculate about what she may have meant or what else may have happened. :) Frankly, I believe Rand slipped up in that sentence, but I'm not sure. If she said or implied the same elsewhere, then I could be convinced she really meant it the way you and Xray interpret it.

No, it's not "a different issue altogether". It is an example of what I said immediately before -- one does not need to have the word to have the concept.

Answer this: Does one need to have the word to have the concept -- yes or no? Why or why not?

It depends on the definition of "concept", but while I think that you might perhaps defend the notion that you can have concepts for concrete entities without having a word for them (like "man", "cat", "food"), it seems to me that you cannot grasp an abstract concept like "length" without language. It may make sense to attribute to animals the ability to have concrete concepts, but no animal will understand the concept "length". That doesn't mean that animals or the child in the preverbal phase cannot distinguish different lengths and use those differences to their advantage, but those animals and those children cannot form the abstract notion of "length". You can point to a man or a cat, to a long object or a short object, but you cannot point to "length", you need a description in a language to grasp such an abstract concept.

I agree as best I can tell. Length has a dimensionally-specific meaning that, for example, "size" and "bigger" do not. But I would have liked to seen Xray's answer w/o your help. :(

Edited by Merlin Jetton

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

True enough and point taken. But to me it's like a con man: I don't admire all of his "good stuff" so much once the facade is broken and his dishonesty is exposed when he screws you (or tries to). Quite frankly I think Rand would have done a much better job if she was honest. It's a shame really. I might have fallen for it hook, line, and sinker if I head read her in my teens.

I have often thought about that too: what would my reaction have been if I had read Rand in my teens. Can teenagers with so little life experience assess the implications of what they are reading? I certainly would not have been able to do that.

I recall how impressed I had been with Simone de Beauvoir whose work I discovered in my teenage years. I was not a naive person, but quite skeptical. In fact it had been my skepticism which had led me to Beauvoir. But my enthusiasm about Beauvoir's work was that of an impressionable teen, and any skepticism on my part played no role anymore when it came to Beauvoir.

As for suspecting Rand of being "dishonest" in her work: jmpo, but I don't think she was trying to con people with the message of her books - I'm convinced she did believe in the truth of her propositions. Imo the problem lies in the premises her philosophy is based on.

As for her ethical premisses, there are indicators that they are rooted in a problem Rand herself had with feeling empathy. Her condemnation of "altruism" has a lot to do with that, as well as her celebration of "ruthlessness" in her heroes and heroines, even in most intimate situations like the sexual scenes.

Nataniel Branden addresses these points in "The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand",

http://nathanielbranden.com/catalog/articles_essays/benefits_and_hazards.html

NB: If, in page after page of “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged,” you show someone being heroic by ruthlessly setting feelings aside, and if you show someone being rotten and depraved by, in effect, diving headlong into his feelings and emotions, and if that is one of your dominant methods of characterization, repeated again and again, then it doesn’t matter what you profess, in abstract philosophy, about the relationship of reason and emotion. You have taught people: repress, repress, repress.

If you want to know the means by which they were taught, notwithstanding all the celebrations of passion in Ayn Rand’s books, study the scenes in “The Fountainhead” that deal with Roark’s way of responding to his own suffering, study the ruthlessness toward their own feelings and emotions exhibited by the heroes and heroine of “Atlas Shrugged,” and study also consistent way in which villains are characterized in terms of following their feelings. And understand the power of role models to shape beliefs.

....

In preparation for this presentation, I re-read the opening chapter of “The Fountainhead.” It really is a great book. I noticed something in the first chapter I never noticed before. Consider these facts: The hero has just been expelled from school, he is the victim of injustice, he is misunderstood by virtually everyone, and he himself tends to find other people puzzling and incomprehensible. He is alone; he has no friends. There is no one with whom he can share his inner life or values. So far, with the possible exception of being expelled from school, this could be a fairly accurate description of the state of the overwhelming majority of adolescents. There is one big difference: Howard Roark gives no indication of being bothered by any of it. He is serenely happy within himself. For average teenagers, this condition is agony. They read “The Fountainhead” and see this condition, not as a problem to be solved, but as a condition they must learn to be happy about—as Roark is. All done without drugs! What a wish-fulfillment that would be! What a dream come true! Don’t bother learning to understand anyone. Don’t bother working at making yourself better understood. Don’t try to see whether you can close the gap of your alienation from others, at least from some others, just struggle for Roark’s serenity—which Rand never tells you how to achieve. This is an example of how “The Fountainhead” could be at once a source of great inspiration and a source of great guilt, for all those who do not know how to reach Roark’s state.

In “Atlas Shrugged,” admittedly, Rand does acknowledge that we are social beings with legitimate social needs. For many of us, our first introduction to Ayn Rand’s philosophy was through “The Fountainhead,” and that book makes an impression not easily lost.

So to those who hold the position that Objectvism is to be preserved as a closed system, the road is shut to seeing errors in the system, correcting them or discarding parts they don't agree with any longer.

It was huge step for A. Greenspan to admit he might have been wrong in believing in certain premises. I don't have the exact quote, but imo this is the gist of it.

The more science advances, the more problems Objectivism will have because its premises will continually be challenged by results of scientific research.

Edited by Xray

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh, I get it. You and Xray can be self-proclaimed clairvoyants and feel certain about what Rand meant, but it is intolerable for little old me to speculate about what she may have meant or what else may have happened. :)

Certain, certain... it's normal to assume that if someone presents a carefully prepared article (I think we may trust Rand in that regard), that you take his or her statements in that article seriously and don't assume that the writer in fact meant something different, unless there are compelling reasons for that, e.g. an obvious error as I indicated in my previous post, or additional evidence that the writer does not always write what he or she means. I've seen no evidence for that.

Frankly, I believe Rand slipped up in that sentence, but I'm not sure. If she said or implied the same elsewhere, then I could be convinced she really meant it the way you and Xray interpret it.

It's the other way around: if she did say or imply something different elsewhere, we might suppose that she expressed herself badly this time, but without such evidence it's normal to assume that she wrote what she meant, the more so as she's reputed to be painstakingly precise in such things. If you think that she said something silly here, you cannot just assume "oh, she must have meant something different". Do you do the same thing with other philosophers and writers?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you think that she said something silly here, you cannot just assume "oh, she must have meant something different".

I did not assume what you say. I said "may have", not "must." I think it's fair to judge by Ayn Rand's writing she didn't know a lot about the cognitive development of children. That does not invalidate what she said about adult-level thought.

Edited by Merlin Jetton

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, Merlin, nothing personal, but if you say that, then you are not only “unbelievably ignorant,” but also “pig-headed” and a “blowhard.” (How am I doing?) :lol:

I readily admit to being unbelievably ignorant about some things, e.g. musical notation, the Russian or Arabic language. But not about math, measurement and epistemology.

But you’re in good company. Dr. Stephen Hicks (Kant’s Skeptical Conclusion)—probably the sharpest mind at The Atlas Society—clearly qualifies as “pig-headed,” “unbelievably ignorant” and a “blowhard” as well. :o

Thanks for the odd compliment, I think. But I wonder how Kant's Skeptical Conclusion relates to anything I have said.

Merlin,

Sorry for the belated response. Somehow I missed this post of yours and I feel the need to clarify. I make it a point not to insult people and it bothers me that you may have misinterpreted my remarks. Both "happy face" comments were meant as a parody of the debate you referred to in your prior post (see below). I thought that the other controversy you were referencing involved a discussion of Kant, and that you would recognize the insulting phrases I was quoting ("pig-headed," et. al.).

Don't we need a little controversy to liven up OL? Or are Phil Coates and George H. Smith providing enough already?

I apologize if my intent and meaning were unclear.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Merlin,

Sorry for the belated response. Somehow I missed this post of yours and I feel the need to clarify. I make it a point not to insult people and it bothers me that you may have misinterpreted my remarks. Both "happy face" comments were meant as a parody of the debate you referred to in your prior post (see below). I thought that the other controversy you were referencing involved a discussion of Kant, and that you would recognize the insulting phrases I was quoting ("pig-headed," et. al.).

Don't we need a little controversy to liven up OL? Or are Phil Coates and George H. Smith providing enough already?

I apologize if my intent and meaning were unclear.

Apology accepted. It did not register with me at the time you intended a parody.

In post #26 did you mean that Ayn Rand's theory of concepts is brilliant as a whole, or the measurement omission part of it, or both? If not the first, what makes the measurement omission part brilliant?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In post #26 did you mean that Ayn Rand's theory of concepts is brilliant as a whole, or the measurement omission part of it, or both? If not the first, what makes the measurement omission part brilliant?

Merlin,

Truthfully, I find it astonishing that someone who has studied her theory would ask that question. I also do not find the back-and-forth exchanges on forums such as this terribly productive where technical philosophy is concerned. I will try to find some time to check out your article in JARS sometime soon. If I feel that my comments would be constructive, I will post them here.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Dennis,

I took the time to read a Google cache of "The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand" over the weekend and I will say it was very useful in answering my questions after reading "A Question of Sanction" and "Fact and Value." One issue I have is that I don't think Kelley clearly expressed enough why certain principles held in Objectivism are primary and why some are not. For instance, although Kelley states that the political implication of the Objectivist view of right is that government must be very limited, in the 2000 postscript, Kelley lists several "sticking points in Objectivism" that will be debated among Objectivists, one which being the question "Is anarchism or limited government the best system for protecting individual rights?" This suggests that Kelley does not consider the principles laid out in "The Nature of Government" to be primary to Objectivism. Is there anything written by an open Objectivist that goes into fuller detail about why certain principles are primary are why others are not?

John,

Sorry for the delayed response. It would surprise me to learn that Kelley did not consider the principles of limited government primary to Objectivism. Perhaps I need to read 'The Contested Legacy' again. It has been a while.

A great many articles were written about 'open' vs 'closed' Objectivism at the time of the Peikoff-Kelley schism. They are all over the web. Offhand, I could not cite one which provided the kind of analysis you ask about, but then, I work for a living--i.e., there is only so much time in a given day. There may well be such an article. The Objectivism Reference Center website would probably be a good place to start your search.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
Sign in to follow this