Off to Vegas for Free Minds 09 & Freedom Fest


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> good old fashioned Southern tough love...smacked a butt with it, the blisters would welt up...it took a month [MSK] And I'll keep giving you a no-nonsense Northern stomping whenever you make a po

Phil, As a practical matter, don't you think it's about time to present it? Decades of telling others how they should write and speak about Objectivism doesn't seem to have made much of an impact at a

Part 2. I was exhilarated. I knew I had solved the problem and developed a complete theory. I had shown the seamless connection between induction and deduction working in tandem across a human's lif

I leave tomorrow. First time in Vegas since "61.

I went there recently and hit the casinos. Filthy, dangerous place. I remember some guy throwing calling cards for cheap whores around in the streets. Another guy took to trailing me. Not much luck with the slot machines. Won 80$ and promptly lost it over the next ten minutes. :lol:

I won't be visiting that place for pleasure again. That's for sure.

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My only previous trip to Las Vegas was in '81.

I was en route to a pontoon boat trip down the Grand Canyon and it was the closest place with a big airport.

I figure that between food and shows there will be enough things to do outside the conference.

Robert Campbell

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It should be about 105 degrees. Bring your bathing suit. For a really great buffet stop in at Red Rock Casino & Resort, located in the NW section of town. Get there before 3P.M. Mon-Sat. and the cost is just 10.95.

Edited by Las Vegas
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Robert; I'll see you there.

Las Vegas; Thanks for the tip.

Michelle; Sorry about your bad experiences.

I hope to post about the conferences on my OL blog.

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Sessions just finished for the day at Free Minds 09. Tomorrow (the 4th) is an open day with no scheduled events.

Everything takes place in a medium-sized hotel ballroom. In mid-afternoon, it's divided down the middle for two parallel sessions. Everything is taking place in an Embassy Suites, which is comfortable and not too expensive. Food's better than in the university cafeterias that IOS/TOC/TAS relied on for so long. If TAS resumes these kinds of events, I hope David Kelley (who was here for the first couple of day) and Ed Hudgins (still here) will take note.

This morning Milo Schield talked about the current cultural relevance of Rand's ideas and what needs to be further developed to reach people who are not primarily drawn to atheism, egoism, or laissez-faire. He presented numbers similar to those that MSK has occasionally gone into, showing that Rand's fiction (especially Atlas Shrugged) is outselling her nonfiction by an order of magnitude or more. Milo argued that Objectivist epistemology needs further development (a position with which I agree, although I see less promise in the latter-day Peikoff and Harriman lectures than he seems to).

Mimi Gladstein gave a great talk on Atlas Shrugged at as a literary work. Some of it will be familiar from her chapter in the 2007 Ed Younkins book, and from her briefer presentation in Washington (also 2007), but I hadn't heard her address the Arthurian aspects before. She made a case for Galt's Gulch as a sort of Camelot with John Galt as the Arthurian figure (and Rearden as Lancelot).

After lunch, yours truly gave a highly condensed treatment of the doctrine of the arbitrary assertion, concentrating on Leonard Peikoff's treatment in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. I think I was able to communicate to everyone what a complete mess the doctrine is. I was able to briefly lay out alternative ways of dealing with questionable assertions or bad arguments (the onus of proof principle, refraining from tacking on ad hoc hypotheses, etc.). I also worked in a quick defense of parrot cognition against Peikovian putdowns (to be fair, OPAR was written before Alex the African Grey became known).

During the breakout session, I attended Tibor Machan's talk about rights (the rival event had Laura and Andrew Murray on legal defenses against eminent domain abuse). Good but familiar talk from Tibor; the main change I noticed is that he has moved a little closer to "the Dougs"" theory of rights (e.g., Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl, Norms of Liberty).

The final talk of the day was a pretty fair dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence, with some Lockean and legal analysis worked in. David Mayer has done this kind of thing at a number of TAS events, but Alex Cohen put his own stamp on it.

On Sunday, the scheduled speakers include Stephen Moore, Anne Heller, and Marsha Enright.

There is a really good book exhibit put on by Laissez-Faire Books (my first real contact with LFB since it was taken over by ISIL). LFB is offering the Nathaniel Branden lectures that Roger Bissell transcribed (with a little help from a couple of others) in a special limited edition. Publication is scheduled for September; the aim is to raise enough to pay for the first printing of a paperback edition.

Robert Campbell

PS. Laissez-Faire Books will be stocking Anne Heller's book when it comes out. I don't know about the Jennifer Burns volume; will ask tomorrow. They have no intention of carrying Jim Valliant's opus :) ; one of the LFB representatives told me that he considers it a "dishonest" book.

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Today was an off-day at Free Minds 09. We pick up again tomorrow morning at 9 am with a couple of panels, then a talk by Stephen Moore.

The LFB employee who told me that Jim Valliant's book is "dishonest" is Jim Peron. He expressed some trepidation about attending an Objectivist conference but no one here has given him any guff whatsoever.

Working the book stand with Mr. Peron is Joe Cobb, whom some OL readers may know.

Robert Campbell

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Free Minds 09 finished up yesterday morning, with a panel attended by around 35 people.

The main speaking schedule ended late Tuesday afternoon, at which point Laissez-Faire Books rolled up its book exhibit.

The overall quality of the talks I heard was really high. Average was higher than at the last TAS Summer Seminar I went to, and the standard deviation was smaller.

Fred Stitt and Kate Herrick have offered to run future conferences for TAS, or to continue with Free Minds if TAS doesn't resume its summer seminars.

More about Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday's events in a subsequent post (I'll be spending a lot of time on planes today). I do want to mention Doug Rasmussen's talk on Triumph and Tragedy in the Thought of Ayn Rand, which IMHO was the very best given at the conference, and Roger Bissell's talk on music, in which he was able to illustrate the key concepts of his theory, with easy-to-follow examples, in 45 minutes.

The Wednesday AM panel was asked to address unsolved problems in Rand-land.

Rob Bradley summarized his piece on "The Ayn Rand Problem" (an appendix to Volume 1 of his trilogy, Capitalism at Work). He presented Ayn Rand's affair with Nathaniel Branden as both arrogant overreach and codependency, and the collapse of NBI as an Objectivist mini-Enron.

I spoke about the ongoing downside of Objectivism (the belief that the ideas stand or fall with the moral exemplarity of their originator) and retold the publication and subsequent fate of The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics as a Jerry Springer opera in three acts. But in the wake of PARC's utter failure, Rand-land can now look forward to two full-dress biographies, one by Jennifer Burns and one by Anne Heller. (The one disappointment at the conference was Anne Heller's having to cancel because she was suffering from the flu.)

I also mentioned two future needs:

(1) The need for a thorough, informed net-out of Objectivism, with frank accounting of what is incomplete or subject to multiple competing interpretations, and without grandstanding rhetoric or "Wine Head Willie, Put That Bottle Down." Since OPAR utterly failed in that role, and "The Logical Structure of Objectivism" shows no signs of materializing, someone else will have to do this.

(2) Continuing to bring the Objectivist epistemology, ethics, esthetics, and political theory into direct confrontation with evolutionary developmental psychology (evo-devo, as some like to call it), neuroscience, and philosophy of science.

Mark Skousen, the organizer of Freedom Fest (which about a third of the Free Minds attendees have moved on to), conveyed his appreciation for Ayn Rand's contributions to the free market movement, but sharply criticized her ethics from a Christian standpoint.

A lively question and answer period was had by all.

Robert Campbell

PS. Mark Skousen described my treatment of PARC as finding "this little nut, and using a sledgehammer to crack it."

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Robert,

Thanks for your last post and thanks for keeping the evo-devo, neuroscience and philosophy of science topics on the front burner. I regret not be able to make it this year because of being in the middle of a move and having a 20 year high school reunion to attend . My brother reported being very impressed with the conference and I'm glad it came off well.

I just finished E.O. Wilson's Consilience and it points up a lot of the issues that I think are relevant for the future of the Objectivist movement. The fact that it was written about 10 years ago and has not been widely discussed in the Objectivist movement is surprising to me. His avowedly pro-Enlightenment call for pushing biology and psychology hard into the social sciences and humanities is one that should be taken up by Objectivists. The reason is simple, philosophy cannot be walled off as its own separate discipline. What I call the new human synthesis of philosophy, psychology and biology does not have easily marked or well-defined boundaries.

ARI has let psychological and biological topics lie, partly to wall off a fiefdom of pure philosophy where Rand could be defended and partly because of the cognitive styles of those who tend to ally with them.

IOS/TOC/TAS has taken up these topics repeatedly, but I think that an unapologetic, hierarchically reductionist approach to biology still grates with the Objectivist take on Aristotelian causality. I remember Jason Walker in 2005 giving an Advanced Seminar paper on why Objectivists should feel more comfortable with reductionism.

Thanks for taking time to comment on the Seminar here! Also, kudos to Fred and Kate for running the seminar this year.

Jim

Edited by James Heaps-Nelson
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Jim,

There were talks by John Chisholm on chaos and complexity theory, and on physics by Dave Saum and Scott Schneider. But nothing directly on evolutionary biology; the closest, among the ones that I heard, was Mark Frazier invoking some ideas from Richard Dawkins and the Cosmides-Tooby duo in the midst of a presentation on free trade zones.

I agree with you that Randians should read Consilience. The Liberty Fund was doing colloquia on it, back in 2000... But Wilson doesn't offer a consistent worldview—he hops from hard reductionism to epiphenomenalism to emergence, depending on the chapter.

At least TAS is continuing to support Jason Walker through its scholarship program :)

Robert Campbell

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Jim,

There were talks by John Chisholm on chaos and complexity theory, and on physics by Dave Saum and Scott Schneider. But nothing directly on evolutionary biology; the closest, among the ones that I heard, was Mark Frazier invoking some ideas from Richard Dawkins and the Cosmides-Tooby duo in the midst of a presentation on free trade zones.

I agree with you that Randians should read Consilience. The Liberty Fund was doing colloquia on it, back in 2000... But Wilson doesn't offer a consistent worldview—he hops from hard reductionism to epiphenomenalism to emergence, depending on the chapter.

At least TAS is continuing to support Jason Walker through its scholarship program :)

Robert Campbell

Robert,

I agree about Wilson's inconsistency, but I think his book is a good one to get people started on ideas on how to cross-pollinate between the sciences, the social sciences and the humanities.

I applaud your effort to maintain interest in brain science and evolutionary topics. I would loveto see a discussion of Robert Sapolsky and the physiology of stress with Objectivists on the panel for example.

I'm encouraged about the complexity theory presentation and the physics presentations, I'm hoping they will keep that up.

Jim

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Robert: "The need for a thorough, informed net-out of Objectivism, with frank accounting of what is incomplete or subject to multiple competing interpretations..."

How I would love to see that done in a systematic manner. Nothing else will allow the total of Objectivism to e taken with full seriousness as a philosophical system rather than as a set of disparate ideas.

If Fred Stitt wants to hold another conference, what a wonderful theme that would be.

Barbara

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Robert,

Thanks very much for taking the time to give a conference report. Too often people delay doing that until they are busy again with work and have forgotten all the details.

How many people attended the whole Free Minds conference?

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Phil,

I was told that 110 were registered. My rough estimate was around 100 through Tuesday. The final Wednesday morning was down to 35.

Robert Campbell

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I think that 110 figure includes the speakers. I don't think we ever had more than 80 in the room at any one time.

I made a few suggestion for any future event:

Start and finish on the weekends. This makes use of both weekends and makes it easier for people to take vacation.

Have less speakers and more time for the speakers and QA.

Have an east-west site rotation the way that IOS/TOC/TAS has always had since 1996. Their schedule was west in even-numbered years and east in odd-numbered years.

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I can't add much to Robert's report except to say that I thought Andrew & Laura Murray's program was well done. I must add the Robert's Campbell discussion of the arbitrary was highly revealing about Peikoff.

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In #13 Robert mentioned the desirability of a “frank accounting of what is incomplete or subject to multiple competing interpretations” of Objectivism. Here are contributions for such a compendium from three scholars.

Some parts of Chris Sciabarra’s Ayn Rand – The Russian Radical (1995) point to roughly hewn areas in Rand’s philosophical ideas. He gives leads as to how to smooth them, relying on Rand’s formal and informal discourse and on efforts of her expositors. Consider these sections of Dr. Sciabarra’s book: The Rejection of Cosmology; The Entity as a Cluster of Qualities; Rand versus Kant; and Internal Relations Revisited.

In a 1996 interview in Full Context, Douglas Rasmussen was asked: “Do you think that there are any gaping philosophical holes in Rand’s system, and if so, where?”

Rasmussen:

Well, don’t you think speaking of Rand’s “system” is a bit much? Aristotle, Aquinas, Spinoza, and Hegel had a “system” or at least a body of detailed work that tried to put everything together. Rand did not come close to that. So, I would be more inclined to say that she had some profound insights, but was incomplete regarding many things. Here is a list of some:

•The role of phronesis in ethics

•Establishing the exact character of rights

•A discussion of teleology

•A discussion of C.S. Peirce’s fallibilism and its relation to her axioms

•An examination of Kant, Hume, Hegel, Spinoza, and many others that was aimed at understanding their problematic

•A discussion of the scholarly virtues. For example, after pointing out what is wrong with some philosopher’s position, asking the following question: “What is useful in this person’s thought to our attempts to get at the truth? Can it be integrated into what we already know?” . . . .

•A serious attempt to note her intellectual and philosophic sources

•A serious discussion of Aquinas’ esse/essence distinction [cf. sixth paragraph]

•A careful discussion of Wittgenstein’s views regarding essence . . .

•A discussion of the nature of mind; intentionality; and human freedom—especially in their relation to teleology.

In his Ayn Rand (1999), Tibor Machan writes that Rand “left many philosophical topics—both in the fundamental branches and in the special areas of her focus—undeveloped, even untreated” (136). Professor Machan mentions topics in metaphysics and in epistemology and beyond those topics, these: free will, the choice to think, the nature of human evil, intrinsic value, egoism and benevolence toward others, compatibility of evolutionary biology and free will and morality, beauty, obligation to respect rights, problem of induction, philosophy of law, relationship of Rand’s philosophical ideas to those of others in the history of philosophy, and interpretation of the history of philosophy.

Machan mentions that “any serious student of Rand needs to take a look at the wide array of topics with which the authors of Objectivity grapple” (26). Good idea.

Many years ago, while I was in grad school in physics at Chicago, I attended a series of lectures being given by Michael Atiyah. One day he in came into the lecture hall and said: “Well, I’ve heard who are the winners of the Nobel in physics this year. . . . They haven’t been officially announced yet, but word travels fast at the University of Chicago. The bad news is that none of you got the prize. The good news is that there are plenty of good problems yet to be solved. So let’s get to work.”

Edited by Stephen Boydstun
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Stephen,

Thank you for the elegant summary of Chris Sciabarra, Doug Rasmussen, and Tibor Machan's recommendations.

At Free Minds 09, Doug Rasmussen repeated about half the items on the list from his 1996 interview.

Robert Campbell

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SUBJECT: Response to the points of Boydstun / Rasmussen / Machan that there are "gaping holes" in Objectivism. My responses are indicated by an arrow ==> after those individuals' points.

<> 1. "any gaping philosophical holes in Rand’s system? Rasmussen: Well, don’t you think speaking of Rand’s “system” is a bit much? Aristotle, Aquinas, Spinoza, and Hegel had a “system” or at least a body of detailed work that tried to put everything together. Rand did not come close to that."

==> A system means a well- organized, hierarchical and interconnected set of ideas. In this regard, Objectivism is far more precise and clear and non-vague, non-floating, hierarchical, easier to follow than the 'systems' of most philosophers. It may be but doesn't -necessarily- have to be (i) in one book, (ii) thousands of pages in length if it is in fact possible to define in a shorter compass. You can't automatically say that she only wrote essays and explained it to her students and left it to others to put it in book form -therefore- prima facie it's not a "system".

<>2. [Rasmussen] [she] was incomplete regarding many things. Here is a list of some:

•"The role of phronesis in ethics"

==> Both my Latin and my Greek dictionaries are in the shop for a lube job. So you [Mr. Boydstun] or Mr. Rasmussen will have to clearly define the term and its use in this context and how it is required for a full code of ethics.

•Establishing the exact character of rights

==> What a bizarre and foolish criticism!! That's -exactly- what one of her main contributions is. A clear definition. Better than many previous thinkers. An explanation of how rights arrive. A defense of rights as inalienable. A listing of what rights there are. A rebuttal of 'rights inflation'. A discussion of how they are applied and should exist in today's world. A connection between ethics and politics.

•A discussion of teleology

==> Vague. What exactly are you looking for? She discusses purpose in terms of human virtues and human psychology.

•A discussion of C.S. Peirce’s fallibilism and its relation to her axioms

==> Again, vague. Don't try to impress us with your reading or your vocabulary. Explain what Pierce's fallibilism is. Why it is crucial. And what it has to do with the axiomatic concepts of existence, identity and consciousness.

•An examination of Kant, Hume, Hegel, Spinoza, and many others that was aimed at understanding their problematic

==> Sentence fragment.

•A discussion of the scholarly virtues. For example, after pointing out what is wrong with some philosopher’s position, asking the following question: “What is useful in this person’s thought to our attempts to get at the truth? Can it be integrated into what we already know?”

==> Unclear. If by this you mean that one can learn from previous philosopher's mistakes, Rand frequently discusses philosopher's mistakes and what we can learn from them. Most importantly, how one can learn what errors -not- to make: intrinsicism, subjectivism, rationalism, etc.

•A serious attempt to note her intellectual and philosophic sources

==> She and other Objectivists refer back to the -major- systems - Plato, Aristotle, Kant, skepticism in its various forms. They occasionally discuss other philosophies, such as pragmatism, existentialism, logical positivism in order to indicate where they go astray. It's not clear that Rand feels she learned from these people and from other philosophers besides Aristotle (also, John Locke). If you have a -specific- debt to a thinker she did not acknowledge, that would be worth pointing out. Again, you have to be SPECIFIC not vague and floating.

•A serious discussion of Aquinas’ esse/essence distinction [cf. sixth paragraph] ==> Yet again, if you are going to post things like this, you have to fully explain them.

Assuming you understan them thoroughly. Else leave them out and don't try to "snow" or impress your audience.

•A careful discussion of Wittgenstein’s views regarding essence ==> Same point.

•A discussion of the nature of mind; intentionality; and human freedom—especially in their relation to teleology. ==> Vague. Floating. Connect those four abstractions and say specifically what you mean.

<> 3.Tibor Machan writes that Rand “left many philosophical topics...undeveloped, even untreated” (136). Professor Machan mentions topics in metaphysics and in epistemology and beyond those topics, these: free will, the choice to think, the nature of human evil, intrinsic value, egoism and benevolence toward others, compatibility of evolutionary biology and free will and morality, beauty, obligation to respect rights, problem of induction, philosophy of law, relationship of Rand’s philosophical ideas to those of others in the history of philosophy, and interpretation of the history of philosophy.

==> You [boydstun and/or Machan] are doing it again!!

You are making vague, sweeping, unconcretized lists which are also too long and too unconcretized to be integrated. To say Rand never treated or didn't develop "epistemology" or "free will" (along with other issues in your list) is absurd.

To say that she didn't solve the problem of induction is or propound a philosophy of law is valid. But neither did many or most other philosophers.

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