The Peikovian Doctrine of the Arbitrary Assertion

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On the same thread where Mr. Cathcart cited his unabridged dictionary, I'm surprised and pleased to see John Donohue sticking up for my 2006 article on altruism over at SOLOP.

I guess we know who Lindsay Perigo will ban next :(

Robert Campbell

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I'm going to cross-post this here; it first appeared last night on the Ayn Rand and the World She Made thread.-RC


I gotta say, they're outdoing themselves at SOLOP.

All of a sudden, Chris Cathcart has reappeared.

Mr. Cathcart used to be a competent writer on Objectivist philosophy. He published a decent piece in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

Then he joined SOLOP, took up Perigonian bully-blather, and pretty quickly was going off the deep end.

Now after a lengthy absence (left in 2006, made a few fitful appearances in 2008), he's popped in to deliver stuff like this:

Mr. Cathcart has decided in advance that my article on the doctrine of the arbitrary assertion can't be any good.

Catheter writes,

"Using "Peikovian" in a journal article title signals flakiness."

That should read, "Using 'Peikovian' in a journal article title signals that one is writing about flakiness."


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I really don't know what to make of Cathcart. When he does intellectual stuff, I find his writing long and boring and not very centered.

(He should at least learn that:

1. A computer monitor is not like a piece of paper,

2. The physical wear and tear on the eyes is much greater on a monitor, and

3. The huge variety of information instantly available online results in readers skiming as a habit before deciding whether to actually read a passage or not.

So long paragraphs don't work very well online qua communication. Most people simply don't read them.)

When he gets vulgar and personal, I find him petty and flat-out wrong.

I know you must feel awful seeing someone you intellectually fostered with all the goodness in your heart turn into that. It's similar to what happened with Hsieh.

The positive part is that he needs to attack you without provocation. You never mention him otherwise.

At least you are under his skin.


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I did give Chris Cathcart some encouragement a few years ago, but I didn't know him personally. Chris Sciabarra did a lot more to encourage him.

When Mr. Cathcart joined the chorus over at SOLOP, it was puzzling and exasperating, but it wasn't like Diana Hsieh's conversion to ARIanism. I didn't take it personally.

And I don't see Mr. Cathcart as a schemer, posturing and manipulating his way into a high institutional position as Diana Hsieh has been trying to do. He has no discernible skill in the scheming department, and alongside his professions of fealty to Leonard Peikoff and ARI, he retains attachments the ARIans would frown upon; e.g., to Rob Bass, an academic philosopher who really dislikes Rand, and whose critique of her views on ethics I've found to be of fair-to-middlin' quality.

I told him off at SOLOP back in 2006, but when he reappeared in 2008 for a little while, writing about music, I was tempted to chime in in his defense but refrained. He ended up leaving again, after Lindsay Perigo predictably pooped on most of the Sibelius compositions that Mr. Cathcart had been writing about.

However he got it, he obviously has some kind of major resentment against me. I've said nothing about him anywhere, except when he's let rip with another fusillade. Did he just happen to wander into SOLOP after Jim Valliant resurfaced and Lindsay Perigo purged all of Valliant's remaining critics? Or did Mr. Perigo invite him back?

Who knows?

I wonder whether he will end up like Joe Maurone, muttering to himself while wandering through the interior hallways of Rand-land.

Robert Campbell

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Bill P,

To my knowledge, Leonard Peikoff has zero academic publications.

By contrast, Harry Binswanger has a couple.

But I wasn't asking Phil for a reference to an academic publication on philosophy of science.

I want to know whether Leonard Peikoff has ever put out a bunch of grubby old ditto-machine pages held together with a rusty staple—as long as those pages are about the philosophy of science :)

Robert C

Robert, Peikoff has exactly two journal publications (excluding explicitly Objectivist journals, of course). They were both in the mid-1980s:

Author: Leonard Peikoff

Title: 'Platonism's Inference from Logic to God'

Journal: 'International Studies in Philosophy', Vol. 16, p. 25-34, 1984.

Author: Leonard Peikoff

Title: 'Aristotle's Intuitive Induction'

Journal: 'The New Scholasticism', Vol. 59, p. 30-53, 1985.

So, he has not contrast with, but parity to, Harry Binswanger, who has published the following:

Author: Harry Binswanger

Title: Volition as Cognitive Self-Regulation

Journal: Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes

1991, 50, 154-178

Author: Harry Binswanger

Title: Life-based Teleology and the Foundations of Ethics

Journal: *The Monist*, Jan 1992, v75, n1, p84.

If anyone knows of any additional journal publications by either of these fellows, please post it here!


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In today's podcast Peikoff credits AR with the doctrine of the arbitrary assertion. It's just a throw away line in the middle of a somewhat self-aggrandizing bit about what AR learned from LP. It's not broken out separately like most of the questions are nowadays, so you'll have to go to the complete podcast, where it's the last question, starting at 11:50.

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Thanks for the pointer.

Peikoff is being self-aggrandizing. But it's in his usual peculiar way of insisting he never made one positive contribution of his own.

In this case, though, he doesn't say, as he has so many times, that Rand spoke, while he listened and tried to remember.

Instead, he says that, in bringing up conventional or widely accepted philosophical positions, he helped Ayn Rand to realize how much she knew. He claims that he helped her to see that what she considered common sense was uncommon, indeed uniquely insightful. (Apparently no one else ever did this for Rand, on any philosophical subject. That implication is extremely self-aggrandizing.)

The two specific insights that he attributes to Rand are epistemological: (1) what become known, in his writings and David Kelley's, as the Objectivist theory of perception; and (2) the claim that what is arbitrarily asserted is neither true nor false.

Conveniently, Rand never expressed either of these views in print during her lifetime. Nor she did expound them in any public speech, interview, or Q&A during her lifetime. Even during the answers she contributed after Peikoff's 1976 lectures, she gave all of one quick response about "the arbitrary"—and it had to do with how a rational person should respond to an arbitrary assertion, not with its supposed lack of truth value.

All we have is Peikoff's word for it.

That just isn't good enough.

Robert Campbell

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Maybe at that time Rand was merely tolerating him. After she kicked him out she would have had no one else left to kick out and she wasn't happy at the prospect so she refrained. That's my speculative idea. Regardless, "the arbitrary assertion" doesn't strike me as arbitrary so much as trite--that is, it's a sub argumentum ad hominem--a way of attacking someone, not so much his position. It's not your position that's arbitrary, we aren't really talking about that, it's you. It's right there on the face of it for all to see. If someone doesn't assert it it can't be an arbitrary assertion for it can't exist as such. So, the position isn't answered, it's ignored.


I can't be the first on OL to note this one way or another

I know, I know, a little too much to drink!

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Re: 32, 33, 34

Rand acknowledges the view of some of the logical positivists that the meaningless is neither true nor false in the following, but she calls it the arbitrary. Rand, Peikoff, and Branden, who discussed positivist ideas with each other and in lectures, would have known that Rand was not the first to reach the base idea.

. . .

Rand was also aware of the controversy among contemporary philosophers concerning the soundness of the modern division of propositions into analytic or synthetic (a, b, c).This controversy had been prominent in academic print* and in semi-popular works such as A. J. Ayers’ Language, Truth, and Logic (1952; quoted in Peikoff 1967, 94) and the writings on philosophy of science by Hans Reichenbach and Philipp Frank (who was quoted in Basic Principles of Objectivism lectures in the nineteen-sixties; Branden 2009, 22–23) in the four decades before Rand’s ITOE. Immediately after completing the ITOE-series in The Objectivist, she issued therein Leonard Peikoff’s “The Synthetic-Analytic Dichotomy,” which came down on the side of those who had argued variously against the distinction. In ITOE Rand rejected the distinction in the course of laying out her theory of right definition (cf. White 1952, 318–30; Peikoff 1967, 94–97, 100–106, 115; Browne 2007, starting here). “The nominalists of modern philosophy, particularly the logical positivists and linguistic analysts, claim that the alternative of true or false is not applicable to definitions, only to ‘factual’ propositions. Since words, they claim, represent arbitrary human (social) conventions, and concepts have no objective referents in reality, a definition can be neither true nor false” (ITOE 47–48).

Rand’s theory of concepts is not nominalist, but objectivist (and mensural). Proper concepts are aimed to reflect realities and those realities’ places in and relationships to wider realities. Proper definition of a concept enables us to keep concepts straight in mind and ever-tuned to reality in our ever-growing grasp of it.

. . .

Proper concepts and their definitions have objective bases in the world and in the nature of consciousness, including the nature of thought. The concepts triangle, seven, hand, and justice are not arbitrary, purely conventional constructs. They have meaning, truth, and utility, whatever the natural language in which they are expressed. Objective meaning is structured after properly integrated truth. Objective meaning, like an objective concept and its definition, has validity by reality as it stands in the fullest present human knowledge of reality. Meaning in the system that is knowledge is not an arbitrary free invention. For meaning, I say, as Rand says for definition, “objective validity is determined by reference to the facts of reality” (ITOE 46).

Rand reserves the term arbitrary for cases of the arbitrary entailing dissonance with reality rationally differentiated and integrated. In the negative sense of the subjective, as spoiling objectivity, we can say more briefly that Rand reserves the term arbitrary for cases of subjective arbitrariness (e.g. ITOE 42–43). Such is Rand’s use when she writes against arbitrariness in modern empiricism, rationalism, and philosophy of science: “Its exponents dismissed philosophical problems by declaring that fundamental concepts—such as existence, entity, identity, reality—are meaningless; they declared that concepts are arbitrary social conventions . . .” (Rand 1970, 83). Notice Rand concurs that if concepts were arbitrary conventions they would be meaningless.

Where we might say something was arbitrary in a sense not subversive of objectivity, Rand uses the term optional. “After the first stage of learning certain fundamentals, there is no particular order in which a child learns new concepts; there is for a while, a broad area of the optional, where he may learn simple, primary concepts and complex, derivative ones almost concurrently, depending on . . .” (ITOE 20, also 70, 72, and Appendix, 180). Where we might say, to indicate universality, “consider an arbitrary scalene triangle” or “consider an arbitrary body having angular velocity omega,” we mean nothing more than any when we say arbitrary, and Rand has no complaint about the arbitrary in that sense. Further, she should have no issue with objectivity-comporting arbitrariness in choices of coordinate system, number base, or natural language. But when she uses arbitrary, she means the subjectively arbitrary, the one necessarily objectively meaningless.

We saw earlier Rand’s awareness of logical positivism with its attachments to nominalism and to sharp division of propositions into either synthetic or analytic. Logical positivism is also known as logical empiricism.* Rudolf Carnap was a principal in that philosophical movement. He held that metaphysical statements such as Heidegger’s “the Nothing nothings” are meaningless (Carnap 1959, 69–73). Carnap defended a divide between synthetic and analytic statements. Furthermore, statements that are neither one of those are meaningless. We have seen above the different reason that Rand too would regard the famous statement of Heidegger as objectively meaningless.

. . .


David Kelley acknowledges his debt to Rand for her ideas about perception, in particular the idea of perceptual form, in The Evidence of the Senses. Rand was not the first to reach this idea (nor the idea of the dual aspect of perception, content and action), though she may have reached it on her own or forgotten she had ever read it or heard it from someone else.



Strictly speaking, not every arbitrary assertion is neither true nor false. If one asserts a bald-faced contradiction, it is surely an arbitrary (non-objective) assertion, and contradictions are false. My own view is that while not every objectively meaningless assertion is false (or true!), every one is rooted in the false.



It is a short skip and a hop from verificationist theory of meaning to validationist theory of meaning and from the meaningless to the arbitrary (in the counter-objective sense of arbitrary). In The Rise of Scientific Philosophy (1951), Reichenbach writes:

The verifiability theory of meaning is the logical tool by means of which empiricism overcomes the dichotomy into a world of things of appearance and things-in-themselves. It eliminates the things-in-themselves because it makes it meaningless to speak about things which are unknowable in principle. Instead of unknowable things, the empiricist speaks of unobservable things; but such things are accessible to knowledge and can be talked about in a meaningful way. Statements about unobservable things have meaning inasmuch as they are derived from observations; they acquire meaning by transfer, that is, by their relation to observable things. (259)

In My Years with Ayn Rand, Branden writes of an exchange with Rand during his first year at UCLA:

One of our most memorable visits during this period was an evening when Barbara brought along The Rise of Scientific Philosophy, a textbook from one of the classes we were taking together. The course was taught by the author, Hans Reichenbach, a famous exponent of logical positivism. This philosophy held that the laws of logic are ultimately arbitrary, . . . that any statement made about the nature of reality is meaningless. (49)

The partial coincidence of Rand’s and Reichenbach’s view of knowledge is obvious from the above quote from his book. Branden’s representation of Reichenbach certainly appears dubious, but notice Branden's collusion of arbitrary and meaningless.



. . .

It always seemed likely to me that Ayn Rand developed some lines of her philosophy, beyond Atlas, through discussions with Branden, Peikoff, and Gotthelf. With Branden I figured it was mostly psychology, which she found smoothly joined to her philosophy and her own psychological views. When I read the epistemology seminar transcript added to ITOE in1990, it was clear that two characters were “on the dais” with Rand: Professors B and E. They would help her to understand what others were asking. They would refer to previous discussions they had with Rand. They would elaborate on a point extensively, ask Rand if she concurred, and most always she did, perhaps with further clarification. I figured those two were Peikoff and Gotthelf, and when Allan told me he was B, I inferred Peikoff was E. This was later confirmed by another participant in the seminar, as you know.

It has always seemed natural to me to suppose that Rand learned things from these principals and vice versa. I have not studied Peikoff’s ideas on the arbitrary thoroughly, seen if they are irremediably contradictory or can be pieced together charitably into a consistent whole or are just fine when some error is removed. . . .

It would not surprise me if Rand to the end of her life had incomplete and inconsistent views on this issue(s) or on others. Likewise with Peikoff to this day. I’m pretty sure I will be in the same boat on some issue or other at the end of my life. . . .

. . .

It is a matter of logic and what is essential to the philosophy formulated by Rand. If Rand had something self-contradictory in her philosophy, then resolving it does not always change the philosophy so far as to no longer be that philosophy. Likewise for correcting an untruth in the philosophy.

An addition to the philosophy that is genuinely a logical implication of the philosophy is part of the philosophy. Pasch's theorem was an implication of Euclidean geometry for over two millenia (in fact it makes a good axiom for that geometry) without anyone, including Euclid, knowing about it. A new application of the philosophy may or may not be part of the philosophy depending on whether the fit is uniquely right and whether the application is philosophy.

If Rand or anyone else thought that nothing in her philosophy could be changed or added to, then she or they were simply wrong about that. I've seen a statement from Einstein along such lines of "entirely immutable, else collapse" trotted out in criticisms of his relativity theories as well. In his case as well as in Rand's, that key to toppling the system is no true key at all.

. . .

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I agree with you about "validationism" being a genuine tendency in Objectivist epistemology. And about its affinities with verificationism. (Not that Leonard Peikoff would appreciate the comparison.)

But as I've noted in my JARS article, Rand refers to "the arbitrary" in ITOE on the level of concepts, or as a generalized indictment of subjectivity. There is no statement of the doctrine of the arbitrary assertion, nor any allusion to it. (By 1966, the earlier version of the doctrine had already been expounded by Nathaniel Branden, in Basic Principles of Objectivism and in an article in The Objectivist Newsletter.)

As I've also noted in my JARS piece, Branden's presentations do not include the claim that propositions arbitrarily asserted lack any truth value.

The date of origin for this claim is still unclear—Peikoff may have already been making it before the Rand/Branden split, but I haven't been able to verify that. What we do know is that it was made by Peikoff, it was never made by Branden, and it was never stated by Rand in anything she wrote for publication. (Which is kinda odd, if it was her idea all along.)

The relationship with Logical Positivist claims about meaninglessness is also unclear, though I go into that issue a little bit in my article. Both Branden and Peikoff were familiar with the verifiability theory of meaning, Peikoff presumably in greater depth than Branden (and Peikoff surely took more interest in it over the years).

The disappearance from circulation (and likely deliberate destruction) of NBI-period lecture recordings has seriously obscured the development of Peikoff's thought in particular, and of Objectivist epistemology in general. (I expect that Peikoff doesn't at all mind this outcome.)

It is clear from post-1968 Peikoff lectures that he once made a distinction, subsequently abandoned, between "metaphysical meaninglessness" and "epistemological meaninglessness." This appeared in his lectures on logic (1973?), when he put forward a counteranalysis to Bertie Russell's theory of definite descriptions. There is no trace of it in his 1976 lectures on Objectivism, or any of his subsequent work with which I am familiar.

The perceptual form thing is even more complicated, because there are fewer available clues to its history than for the doctrine that arbitrary assertions have no truth value. Rand apparently "corrected" Peikoff, as his 1976 series was ongoing, on one issue regarding perception. The questions to direct to David Kelley would be precisely what he heard from Rand about perception, and when he heard it. There is no way, as I've already noted, to get reliable statements out of Leonard Peikoff.

Also worth noting: In at least one place in his 1970s lectures, Peikoff employed the analogy to two cars crashing to support his notion that perception involves an interaction between mind and external world. Is the crash in Car A? Is it in Car B? It's in neither... So perception isn't all In-Here and it isn't all Out-There. According to Doug Rasmussen, this is a direct, uncredited lift from John Cook Wilson's Statement and inference, where the same analogy was employed.

Lots still to be sorted out here. Just don't take any wooden nickels from Leonard Peikoff. His pretensions to authority depend on myths of origin.

Robert Campbell

PS. You should reread what Peikoff says about "the arbitrary" in OPAR, and take note of how often he contradicts himself, or resorts to frank arguments from intimidation on the subject.

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I see this morning that Objectivist views on the arbitrary and the meaningless and their truth values, together with validation (and verification), justification and evidence, and contextually absolute cognition have been critiqued in a pleasantly informed (though incompletely informed) way by John Scott Ryan in Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality (2003) on pages 144–55.*


In his contribution* to Metaethics, Egoism, and Virtue (2011), Irfan Khawaja takes issue (p.64) with Peikoff’s bold assertion that objectivity as epistemic justification is sufficient for truth. Irfan gives a quick insightful objection, which I think is incorrect. I notice, as a secondary matter, that he errs also in supposing this view in Peikoff’s OPAR is only an interpretation of Rand’s view because it does not appear in those exact terms in Rand’s ITOE. That is not enough; everything in Peikoff’s 1976 lectures, from which his OPAR was developed is a view shared by Rand, and she expressly said so. Errors, if any, in Peikoff’s statement next are errors in Rand’s philosophy, whatever might be the ramifications of their correction. “Logical processing of an idea within a specific context of knowledge is necessary and sufficient to establish the idea’s truth” (OPAR, 171).

Peikoff continues: Unless his proposition is true, the fact that we don’t know everything can be turned into the skeptical result that we don’t know anything. If we have no means of possessing any limited knowledge not susceptible to being shown false in the future, no means of knowledge sufficient for truth, then the skeptic can say “for all we know, all of our limited knowledge is false.”

“Logical processing” in Rand’s philosophy, as is well known, includes a lot and is essential to truth and objectivity. I notice a good addition to Peikoff’s bold statement in a Q&A from his ’83 lecture series conveyed in Understanding Objectivism (2012, 303–4; cf. a, b).



I attended Lecture 6 in this 1992 series. Peikoff remarked there, allowing for inaccuracy in my notes, that he does not see the preface “in the present context of knowledge” as sensible for:

  1. Perceptions or memory,
  2. Automated conceptual identifications (table in contrast with hostility or pneumonia),
  3. Axioms (philosophical [very delimited; widest framework] and mathematical [very delimited subjects]).

Saying “in the present context” in the cases where it is sensible is not proof against error. / One can have been fully rational to have held views based on errors one later sees. / Error is not inevitable for the methodologically conscious adult.


In my own view, as one’s knowledge grows, one learns ever more about what was erroneous in one’s earlier views, but one also learns ever more about what the truth in one’s previous knowledge amounted to as well as more about what was one’s previous context of knowledge. An example would be the ways in which we have elaborated and refined, since 1905, the SR postulate that nothing can travel faster than the vacuum speed of light.*

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...everything in Peikoff’s 1976 lectures, from which his OPAR was developed is a view shared by Rand, and she expressly said so. Errors, if any, in Peikoff’s statement next are errors in Rand’s philosophy, whatever might be the ramifications of their correction. “Logical processing of an idea within a specific context of knowledge is necessary and sufficient to establish the idea’s truth” (OPAR, 171).

Stephen B,

Yes, Rand endorsed everything that Peikoff said in his 1976 lectures. (I notice that on this occasion you haven't also claimed that Peikoff got everything in those lectures from Rand.)

Unless you are sure that Peikoff added nothing to them and changed nothing from them in the course of writing OPAR, this an excellent reason to quote the lectures directly.

I don't think it's warranted or appropriate to hang the entire sparking, clanking apparatus of Peikovian proof around Rand's neck. Yet Peikovian proof is what "logical processing" means—to Leonard Peikoff.

Robert C

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...everything in Peikoff’s 1976 lectures, from which his OPAR was developed is a view shared by Rand, and she expressly said so. Errors, if any, in Peikoff’s statement next are errors in Rand’s philosophy, whatever might be the ramifications of their correction. “Logical processing of an idea within a specific context of knowledge is necessary and sufficient to establish the idea’s truth” (OPAR, 171).

That contradicts what Peikoff used to teach about a statement being true even if made by a parrot or blown by the wind on the sand -- and what Rand says on page 302 of the Expanded ITOE ixnaying Prof M's question about "contextually absolute." It's the change on which Peikoff bases grounding of induction on supposed "contextually absolute" universals which aren't universals -- see the First Chapter.

I have doubts that the quote you give from OPAR is what was presented and approved by Rand in 1976. (Unfortunately, I was only able to attend parts of the course due to work commitments and I missed the discussion of certainty.)

The CD of the 1976 course -- link -- has been out of stock for about 7 months. I entertain the suspicion that Peikoff doesn't want comparisons made between the content of that course and material in The Logical Leap. Altering the Expanded ITOE wouldn't fly; too many people have the original.


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My notes to Lecture 6 by Peikoff in post #37 were from his 1992 lectures, the summer after OPAR was published, which I attended personally. Here is a stretch from my notes to Lecture 6 by Peikoff from his 1976 lectures, which I heard by recording in '77.

An idea is contextually valid if it integrates all known facts and contradicts none. Of a scientific law, for example, one says “In the context of available evidence, the law . . . is valid,” and then one must specify the context. Later, more advanced conclusions do not contradict earlier ones. LP gives his blood-type example.

Certainty is contextual, an assessment of evidence for a conclusion. In the possible [merely possible], there is some, though not much evidence for it and nothing known contradicts it. An hypothesis is not justified if not known to be possible. The ad ignorantiam as fallacy is right.

In the probable, . . . In the certain, no alternative qualifies as possible in the context; all evidence is for it, and none is for an alternative.

The absolute is an idea or truth that is unchangingly valid. Contextualism does not mean relativism; if an idea is validated contextually, it is unchanging. Absolute does not mean revelation, unrelated to everything else; context makes absolutism possible.

There is no epistemological right to believe or disbelieve arbitrarily. An arbitrary idea is one devoid of any basis in reality; it has no evidence. Knowledge is knowledge of reality, so one must point to facts that suggest knowledge. An arbitrary claim has no cognitive status; it is not true nor false. [Those are my written words; clearly LP would have actually said “neither true nor false.” Same meaning. Robert, I seem to recall you were wondering about the history of this point with Rand and Peikoff; here I find it in black and white in my notes from thirty-five years ago; the two were in step on this at that stage.] An arbitrary claim is to be dismissed as if it had not come up.

Truth refers to a relationship. Truth is an idea’s correspondence to reality; truth is recognition of reality. Recognition requires a mind which recognizes; a parrot doesn’t utter truth.

Truth and falsehood designate relationships to reality. The arbitrary has no relationship to reality; it is outside the reach of cognition. [There is something unclear in my notes at this point about the same words expressing arbitrary claim in one context and a cognitive claim in another context.]

The onus of proof is on him who asserts the positive. One cannot prove non-existence if no evidence is offered for existence. “I don’t know” applies where some evidence exists. You do know that there are no green gremlins.

I’ll stop there. A bit of late-night, rather trivial history. The ideas themselves are important and address classic issues in philosophy. Philosophical substance—ideas and arguments, their assessment and correction—returns at this house a little before sunrise. Lights out.


PS – Well after sunrise*

Ellen, I do not find Peikoff’s statement “Logical processing of an idea within a specific context of knowledge is necessary and sufficient to establish the idea’s truth” in my notes on the ’76 lecture series. The proposition is not only consistent with, but is implied by the above extract from my notes. Given Rand’s view of truth, logic and objectivity (in Faith and Force), concepts, definitions, and the relation she takes to hold between the latter two, Peikoff’s statement is implied in Rand’s express philosophy (in parts she chose to publish). It is part of Rand’s philosophy in the way that Pasche’s theorem is part of Euclid’s geometry (I mean no pretension of comparability in importance by this analogy). Mr. Ryan concluded likewise, if I recall correctly. I’m going to order his book. He is not a professional philosopher—he became an attorney—but his book is very refreshing, as it is not just a nick-nick here and nick-nick there against Objectivism; notwithstanding the flashy title of the book, his is a comprehensive and explicit viewpoint in the tradition of metaphysical idealism (Spinoza to Hegel to the Americans), which is highly pertinent to Objectivist theoretical philosophy.

The big question for me, as you would expect, is whether Peikoff’s statement I quoted is true and whether it answers correctly and uniquely correctly the skeptical argument (which I stated in #37) Peikoff thinks it answers. By my own view expressed at the bottom of #37, you can see how I would take issue with Rand’s philosophy on the issue neatly captured in Peikoff’s statement. The “an idea” and the “the idea” will usually have evolved in the way I described with the advance of knowledge. That all animals are mortal was a truth with the Greeks as with us, but what we mean by animal and mortal have been considerably revised and improved over what it meant to them. I noticed that Peikoff’s idea (a very popular idea and always attributed to him, not Rand) of the spiral hierarchy of knowledge—each time we revisit a subject with intervening advance of our individual knowledge, we see the subject in new ways—was in his ’76 lectures. It did not make it into OPAR. The view I expressed at the bottom of #37 fits well with the spiral-hierarchy view of knowledge.

I’ve read only the first thirty or so pages of Logical Leap; only put toe in pool here and there in the remainder. I definitely plan to return to it and hope to write a comprehensive review of it. That could be a few years away. Ten years passed between George Walsh’s paper on Kant and Rand and my treatment of his topic.* Meanwhile, I’ve collected my scattered bits on Logical Leap here.

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Thanks much for posting the section from your lecture notes to the 1976 Peikoff course.

Since I trust your notes as accurate, reading them is a sad occasion for me. It disconfirms my belief, based on earlier things she'd said, that Rand would have known better than to sanction the direction in which Peikoff has gone on issues of knowledge, truth, and certainty. (I'd call the direction a derailment into authoritarian subjectivism.)

I hope to get back to the issues fairly extensively. There's some additional background reading I want to finish first.

Thanks again for the notes -- and for the "Well after sunrise" PS.


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Robert, I seem to recall you were wondering about the history of this point with Rand and Peikoff; here I find it in black and white in my notes from thirty-five years ago; the two were in step on this at that stage.

Stephen B,

I took the same 1976 course (on tape). I now also have the whole thing on CD. Will post some quotes from it later (including the stretch, left unclear in your notes, about arbitrariness depending on the speaker and the context).

I haven't been questioning whether Leonard Peikoff said, in 1976, that "the arbitrary" is neither true nor false. Nor whether Ayn Rand gave her blessing to this series of lectures.

What I have been questioning was whether this particular doctrine originated with Ayn Rand, and, if it did, why she never referred to it in anything she wrote for publication.

You know, all of this history—and a good deal more—is covered in my JARS article.

I'm getting the impression that you consider my article to be an unreliable source.

Robert C

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No, Robert, it was just very late in the day for me, and I did not take the trouble to dig into your article again. I did not from the one read earlier leave with the impression that your article was an unreliable source of information, though it left the impression (first-read impression, mind you) of being stingy in effort to reconcile the various philosophical views expressed by Rand and Peikoff. But then I’m affectionate towards Leibniz and his approach to other philosophers and their efforts at truth.*


My reference in #40 to the essay “Faith and Force” was in error. The reference should be to “Who Is the Final Authority in Ethics?” (1965). The pertinent idea there was that epistemologically, objectivity “is the recognition of the fact that a perceiver’s (man’s) consciousness must acquire knowledge of reality by certain means (reason) in accordance with certain rules (logic).”

In Atlas Rand wrote: “All thinking is a process of identification and integration. . . . All through this process, the work of his mind consists of answers to a single question : What is it? His means to establish the truth of his answers is logic . . . . Logic is the art of non-contradictory identification. . . . No concept man forms is valid unless he integrates it without contradiction into the total sum of his knowledge” (1016).

Suppose one’s knowledge were based on perceptual observation and correct reasoning upon them, including correct use of mathematics in application to them. Then it would seem fair to say, based on Rand’s passage in Atlas, that “Logical processing of an idea within a specific context of knowledge is necessary and sufficient to establish the idea’s truth” (OPAR 171). Perfect conceptual identifications, even though not all the identity of their referents are known, if perfect in all presently known connections with observations and with all other perfect conceptual identifications, are sufficient to establish the conceptual identification’s truth. With that I can agree, Ellen. (A good study might be to contrast and compare the Objectivist view with the very local sufficiency condition of Descartes: When we have clearly and distinctly understood a proposition, we can infallibly assign a truth value to it.)

Leaving aside the three categories of knowledge set aside in #37, I would say there is in addition much in our knowledge that is virtually perfect knowledge, because it has been so thoroughly tested for contradiction in its many connections, and because these durable propositions have been given ever more exact delimitation with the advance of science. “All animals are mortal” or “I must breathe to live” are examples.

Even for a given context of knowledge, our integration and checking for contradictions is an incomplete work in progress. Meanwhile, we are adding new information, more context for knowledge, and beginning its integration and checking for contradiction. For all conceptual identifications in a condition of significantly incomplete integration and checking, correct logical processing (so far with go-ahead) is insufficient to establish truth. At first blush, this is no problem for the Rand-Peikoff view, for that just means that the knowledge is not to be rightly taken as certain knowledge.

It has seemed to me for some decades, however, that the history of science as we come to Galileo and Descartes showed that sometimes one’s experience leads one to an extremely well justified proposition in which it would have been very hard to realize that one was overstepping the evidence and that the proposition should not have been taken as certain knowledge, only as likely knowledge. Such would be the old, mistaken propositions that every moving body requires a mover and that heavier bodies fall faster. This is a danger zone (this-worldly and rational) for the precept “Logical processing of an idea within a specific context of knowledge is necessary and sufficient to establish the idea’s truth.”

In the contexts of ancient or medieval knowledge, one could have checked the idea that heavier bodies fall faster than lighter ones by doing Galileo’s thought experiment. Their integrations and checking for contradictions of the idea was not complete, not perfect, even within their own contexts of knowledge. Granted these cases are unusual, nevertheless, this danger zone is there. The earlier men could have made the reasoning check made by Galileo: In imagination drop two identical bricks, of identical weight, from the same height. You know they must reach the ground at the same time. Now consider the two bricks joined, making a combined brick weighing twice as much as the two individuals. Drop that joined brick from the same height as before. The time of fall cannot be different than when the halves were individuals falling side by side. Therefore, bodies of different weights fall at the same rate. (And observations in contradiction with that result must have specific causes of their nonconformity, which need to be found.) The earlier men’s checking was incomplete without this creative check, and one would have had no inkling of that until the wise guy came along.



In #40 I included the Objectivist view of possibility, which entails:

“‘I don’t know’ applies where some evidence exists. You do know that there are no green gremlins.”

I have a real-life application. A couple of years ago, I had a fine long discussion with a pastoral student at Liberty University (Baptist). He had never heard of Rand or Objectivism, but that was no barrier for us, as I was just giving him my own comprehensive views of human existence naturally along our way, which at our level of conversation coincided with the views of Rand. This young man’s continual purpose is to save souls, and I am very at home with that purpose and not belligerent towards the Christian evangelist. One of his recurring entreaties in that dimension of our conversation was that I allow the possibility that when I die it will not be the end of me. No. There is no such possibility. There is a human aspiration for that possibility, nothing more.

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Stephen B,

Here's the whole schmeer.

Two questions:

(1) Is this is a sound epistemological doctrine, as put forward by Peikoff in 1976 and endorsed by Rand in 1976?

(2) Does the treatment of "the arbitrary" in OPAR merely restate the 1976 view, or make significant additions and changes to it?

Robert C

The Philosophy of Objectivism, 1976

Lecture 6, Rationality

Section on “the arbitrary”

Transcribed by Roger Bissell; revised and corrected by Robert L. Campbell

[CD 1, track 3, 0:00]

A man has no epistemological right to believe arbitrarily, and by the same token, he has no right to disbelieve arbitrarily. That’s the Objectivist view.

Which brings us to the next issue for this evening, closely related—in fact, partially covered already—but there are further points I want to make, and this one you can call “rationality vs. the arbitrary.”

Now, first, let’s remind ourselves what is meant by “arbitrary,” and what’s wrong with asserting the arbitrary. By “arbitrary,” we mean an idea devoid of any basis in reality—in other words, an idea put forth in the absence of evidence of any sort: neither perceptual nor conceptual evidence; neither direct observation nor any kind of theoretical argument; a sheer assertion, with no attempt at validating it or connecting it to fact. For instance, “There’s a convention of gremlins studying Hegel on Venus.” You say, “Why do you say it?” and, I don’t know, I say, “I say so, period.” Now that is a blind cognitive whim, if you will, out of the blue, adhering to no logical method, no rules, no epistemological standard.

What’s wrong with asserting an idea arbitrarily? Well, the answer goes back to why the whole field of epistemology is necessary in the first place, why man needs to validate his ideas by a specific method, by a process of observation and of reason. And, of course, the reason is: because knowledge means knowledge of reality, and A is A, reality is what it is independent of consciousness. Any idea we claim about reality, therefore, must be based on something out there that we have discovered. We must be able to point to what facts in reality suggested it. If a man asserts an idea without such a base, whether he does so by error or ignorance or deliberate lying, his idea is epistemologically invalidated out of hand. It has no relation to reality or, therefore, to human cognition.

Remember that man’s consciousness is not automatic and not automatically correct. So, if man is to be able to claim any proposition as true, or even as possible, he must follow definite epistemological rules, rules designed to guide his mental processes and keep his conclusions in the proper relation to reality. In sum: if man is to achieve knowledge, he must rigorously adhere to objective validating methods; in other words, he must shun the arbitrary.

What, then, is the rational response on your part, if someone makes an arbitrary claim, as I’ve just defined it, to you? The answer is: you have to dismiss it, refuse to consider or pay any attention to it. Since an arbitrary idea has no connection to human cognition or to man’s means of knowledge or to his grasp of reality, cognitively speaking such a statement must be treated as though nothing had been said.

Now I want to stress and elaborate this point. An arbitrary claim has no cognitive status whatever. According to Objectivism, such a claim is not to be regarded as true or as false. It is arbitrary. It is entitled to no epistemological assessment at all. It’s simply to be dismissed as though it hadn’t come up.

Now to understand this point fully, you have to grasp the meaning of the concepts “true” and “false.” What do we mean by “true”? “Truth” names a certain type of relationship between an idea and the facts of reality. What type of relationship? When the idea corresponds to the facts, when it identifies the facts as they are, when it constitutes a recognition of reality, then it is true. Truth, says Galt, is the recognition of reality.

Now, in essence, this is the traditional Aristotelian view of truth, and it’s commonly called the “correspondence theory”—truth as an idea’s correspondence to reality. And the essence of this view is: There’s a reality that exists independent of us; there are ideas, conceptual products formulated by a consciousness; and when the product corresponds to reality, it’s true. On the other hand, when the product does not correspond to reality, when an idea is not a recognition of, but a departure from reality, when it’s in contradiction to the facts, then it’s false.

Now notice that the definition “recognition of reality” must be taken literally, and there can be no recognition without the mind that recognizes. For instance, if a wind blows the sand on the beach into shapes spelling out “A is A,” the wind is not a superior metaphysician, and it did not produce any truth. All there are are shapes on the beach. Or, if a parrot is trained to squawk, “2 plus 2 equals 4,” the parrot is not a math, mathematician, and he did not utter any truth, only noises. The parrot does not recognize reality in this case. To him, the noises don’t represent a conceptual grasp of anything. They’re just noises.

Now if you understand what we mean by the concepts of “truth” and “falsehood,” you’ll see why the arbitrary is outside of either concept. Observe the differences. “True” and “false” are assessments within the field of human cognition, and they designate a relationship—positive or negative, correspondence or contradiction—a relationship between an idea and reality. The arbitrary, by contrast, is devoid of any relationship to reality at all. It is the wanton, the causeless, the baseless; and as such it cannot be judged as true or false. It’s devoid of any epistemological status. It is outside the realm of cognitive endeavor altogether.

The true is established by reference to a body of evidence and facts and is integrated into a total context of knowledge. The false is established as false by reference to a body of evidence and within a context and is pronounced false because it contradicts the evidence. The arbitrary, however, has no relation to evidence or facts or context at all. It is the human equivalent of the parrot or the wind example—sounds or shapes without any tie to reality, without content or significance.

In a sense, therefore, you can say that the arbitrary is even worse than the false. The false at least has a relation, even if a negative one, but it has a relation to reality. It has reached the field of human cognition, but it represents an error. But in that sense, it’s closer to reality than the outright, brazenly arbitrary.

Now for clarity I want to note here, parenthetically, that the words expressing an arbitrary claim, in some other cognitive context—in other words, if and when no longer put forth as arbitrary—may be judged as true or false. But this is irrelevant to the present issue, because it completely changes the epistemological situation.

For instance, if a savage utters, “2 plus 2 equals 4,” as a memorized lesson which he doesn’t understand or see any reasons for, then, in that context, it’s arbitrary, and the savage did not utter truth. It’s just like the parrot example. In this sort of context, it’s only sounds which don’t represent any grasp of reality. Obviously, however, the same sounds in a radically different context, when the speaker does see the meaning and the reasons, can be used to utter a true proposition.

Now it is inexact to describe this by saying, “Well, then, the same idea is arbitrary in one case and true in another.” Don’t say that. The exact description here would be: in the one case, it is not an idea, merely noise unconnected to reality. To the rational man, it is an idea, conceptual symbols denoting facts. You see, you’re not talking about the same kind of phenomenon in the two cases. All that is similar is the accident of the same sounds. And similar remarks, of course, apply to the arbitrary in relation to the false: sounds which are disconnected from reality may, in a different cognitive context, signify an idea which is false.

Now I think you can understand easily enough why it is not your responsibility to refute someone’s arbitrary assertion—in other words, to try to find or imagine arguments which will show that the assertion is false. It is a fundamental error on your part, if you even try to do this. The rational procedure in regard to an arbitrary assertion is to dismiss it out of hand, merely identifying it as arbitrary and as such inadmissible and undiscussable.

In this respect, Objectivism agrees emphatically with a venerable principle of logic, a principle that is very widely ignored or violated by people today, and that is the principle that you must not attempt to prove a negative—in other words, to prove the nonexistence of something for which no evidence has been offered. The onus of proof is on him who asserts the positive.

If a person asserts a positive, that such and such exists, he is required to adduce evidence supporting his claim. If he does, you must either accept his conclusion or refute his evidence. But if he offers no evidence for X’s existence, you dismiss his claim without argumentation, simply on the grounds that it’s arbitrary. The fact is, it’s impossible to prove a negative, in the sense of “prove that something does not exist,” when no evidence has been offered for its existence. The basic reason for this is metaphysical. It’s the fact that Existence exists, and only Existence exists; there is no nothing.

A thing which exists is something, it is, it’s out there in the world; and as such, it has effects, consequences, results, by which, in principle, it’s possible for one to grasp and prove it, either directly by perceptual means, or indirectly by its consequences (as the method we discovered atoms). But a non-existent is nothing. It is not a type of existent. It is not a special constituent of reality which gives off special effects that you could hope to detect.

Take green gremlins, for instance, as the classic case. Now they don’t exist; they’re nothing—and as such, there are no special effects, manifestations, or signs of these non-gremlins, by which, even in principle, they could be detected. Imagine how fantastic it would be to say, “Point out to me the facts of reality which follow from the non-existence of gremlins.” Yet, that’s what it would mean, if someone asked you to prove the non-gremlins.

All argument, discussion, proof, thought, refutation must begin with, must take off from, what exists—the positive. You can’t start from or do anything with a zero. If someone gives you evidence for a positive claim, then you can (assuming he’s mistaken) refute his claim. In other words, you can show him his evidence has been misinterpreted, and it doesn’t lead to the conclusion that he believes. But you can’t prove the negative directly, when the positive is asserted out of the blue, with no evidential base. In such a case, the proper procedure is simply to declare about the claim, “Arbitrary—out!”

[CD 1, track 3, 15:06]

[CD 1, track 4, 0:00]

Now while we’re on this issue, please understand that to dismiss a claim as arbitrary is not the same as saying about some issue “I don’t know,” or “I haven’t made up my mind” or “I have no opinion.” To say “I don’t know” about an issue implies that the issue has some relation to human cognition and to reality—in other words, that there’s some kind of evidence on the question one way or the other and, therefore, that it’s a valid subject to consider; but you don’t have enough to go on to enable you to decide, so you say “I don’t know.”

For instance, perhaps you personally haven’t the time or interest to study the evidence on a certain question, even if it’s clear and abundant, as in regard to scientific specialties like medicine and physics, etc. Or perhaps the evidence on a certain issue is so evenly balanced, or so confused or fragmentary, that you simply cannot decide what the right conclusion is. Then to say “I don’t know” is perfectly appropriate.

But if someone asks you about the green gremlins, it is irrational and improper to respond, “I don’t know,” because the question is: What don’t you know? What evidence haven’t you studied? What evidence have you been unable to clarify? What is the basis to believe there is anything to know on this issue, anything to consider? Obviously, there is no such evidence or basis at all.

In other words, “I don’t know” properly applies only where some kind of evidence exists, where the issue is validly subject to consideration—the question is legitimate, but you’re not in a position to judge—and then the proper response can be, “I have no opinion; I am ignorant,” etc. In regard to the arbitrary, however, the proper response is, “I do know, and what I know is that this claim is to be thrown out as arbitrary, period.”

Now, why do I make a big issue out of this point? Because of a widespread and very irrational phenomenon today, which Objectivism repudiates altogether; and that, of course, is agnosticism.

Now I mean this term in a sense which applies to the question of God, but much, much wider, to many other issues, such as extra-sensory perception, or the claim that the stars influence man’s destiny, or the Duke University professors who claim to remember their previous life as the devil and go to Hollywood to get exorcised, etc. Now in regard to all of these and to countless equivalents, the agnostic is the type who says, “I can’t prove these claims are true, but you can’t claim, prove they are false; so the only proper conclusion is: I don’t know, no one knows, no one can know one way or the other.”

Now if you’ve been following, see how many errors and fallacies you can spot in this viewpoint, which, the agnostic viewpoint, which poses as “fair, impartial, and balanced.” Here are a few obvious points, just off the top of your head:

  • First, the agnostic allows the arbitrary into the realm of human cognition. He treats arbitrary claims as issues proper to consider, discuss, evaluate, and then he regretfully says, “I don’t know,” instead of dismissing the arbitrary out of hand.
  • Second, the onus of proof issue: the agnostic demands proof of a negative, in a context where no evidence for the positive exists or is offered. “It’s up to you,” he says, “to prove that the fourth moon of Jupiter did not cause your sex life, and that it was not a result of your previous incarnation as the pharaoh of Egypt,” and etc., etc.
  • Third, the agnostic says, “Maybe these things will one day be proved.” In other words, he asserts possibilities and hypotheses arbitrarily, with no jot of evidence or basis.
  • And finally—at least, finally for all I’ll say this evening—the agnostic miscalculates. He thinks that he is avoiding any position that will antagonize anybody. In fact, he is taking a position more hostile to reason than a man who takes a definite but mistaken stand on a given issue, because the agnostic treats crudely arbitrary claims as meriting cognitive consideration and epistemological respect. He treats the arbitrary as on a par with, as equal to, the rational and evidentially supported; so he is the ultimate epistemological egalitarian, equating the arbitrary and the proved. And as such he is an epistemological destroyer, incomparably more virulent than a man who takes a specific stand on the basis of definite arguments, however badly mistaken. The agnostic—now, this is true both in regard to God or any such issue—the agnostic thinks that he is not taking any stand at all and, therefore, that he is safe, secure, and invulnerable to attack. The fact is, his view is of one of the falsest, the most irrational, and the most cowardly stands that there can be.

So, my conclusion on this point is: don’t be agnostics. If you consider any question, study the evidence available, weigh the possibilities, and then, within the evidence and the laws of logic, make up your minds and take a position. Of course, if there is no evidence, you can’t and shouldn’t consider the question. Just throw it out as arbitrary.

All right, let’s go on. I’ve been stressing, in various forms, the inadmissibility of the arbitrary. Not all arbitrary claims, however, are explicitly identified as such by their authors. Some statements are seemingly fortified by an array of complex arguments. And yet the arguments themselves are of a peculiar kind: they are based on nothing. They are detached from reality—and as such worthless as cognition or as evidence. And that brings us to the next issue this evening: “rationality vs. rationalism.”

[CD 1, track 4, 7:35]

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An "arbitrary assertion"--the label--has nothing to do with any fallacy for no one is making an argument except the "arbitrary assertion" asserter. It's actually an implicit, moralistic argumentum ad hominem and an extremely vicious one at that. A fact is a fact. If something is not true it isn't a fact. That is yet to be determined, if anyone is interested. Peikoff is not actually asking for arguments or evidence. He is saying that whoever makes what he calls an "arbitrary assertion" really doesn't exist. In Stalin's time they airbrushed people out of existence. Peikoff uses "arbitrary assertion" as his airbrush. This also buffs up his authority as the Pope of Objectivism--the great excommunicator.

All this lecture does is replace the fact that facts and arguments are supported by evidence and reasoning or they cannot be considered to be true unless I myself already know the evidence and reasoning. But he doesn't care if he already knows. He just wants someone to shut up.


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Stephen B,

In light of what Leonard Peikoff says in his 1976 lectures (without worrying, for a moment, about any post-1982 modifications to the doctrine), would you consider anything that he says about Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem to be an arbitrary assertion?

Evidently, Peikoff neither understands the theorem, nor has gone to any trouble to learn about it. So, is he like the "savage" repeating that two plus two equals four?

Robert C

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It's actually an implicit, moralistic argumentum ad hominem and an extremely vicious one at that.


I didn't use to, but I now think that this was already the doctrine's main function, back in 1976.

The manner in which Schwartz used it in 1986, and the manner in which Peikoff presented it in OPAR, remove all doubt.

Peikoff wants his audience to believe that putting forward an arbitrary assertion makes you wronger than wrong and worse than bad.

Robert Campbell

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Stephen B,

In light of what Leonard Peikoff says in his 1976 lectures (without worrying, for a moment, about any post-1982 modifications to the doctrine), would you consider anything that he says about Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem to be an arbitrary assertion?

Evidently, Peikoff neither understands the theorem, nor has gone to any trouble to learn about it. So, is he like the "savage" repeating that two plus two equals four?

Robert C

Professor Campbell:

That is a circumstantial ad hominem against Peikoff's position and a shoe-wiping attitude towards me. You are not the District Attorney nor my superior. If you have any need to address me henceforth, please address me as Mr. Boydstun.

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Mr. Boydstun,

Your continued apologetics for Leonard Peikoff are puzzling, to say the least.

Particularly because you keep exerting them on behalf of a doctrine with as many obvious deficiencies as the 1976 (and later) conceptions of arbitrariness.

It is hardly an ad hominem argument against Leonard Peikoff's position to note that, by his own stated criteria, anything that he has said in lecture or in print about Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem is an arbitrary assertion.

Peikoff neither understands the theorem, nor does he appear to have made any effort to understand it. So by his own standards, he may rightly be judged as having failed to make an effort at cognition in this particular case.

And, for Peikoff, arbitrariness is a function of the person making the assertion, not just of what is being asserted.

Hence, by his own lights, it follows that whatever he has said about Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem is proof of the worst irrationality, wronger than wrong, worse than bad, and an indication that, whenever he made these assertions without cognitive content, he has, at least temporarily, been dumber than a parrot.

Robert Campbell

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Stephen Boydstun's recent behavior continues to baffle me.

I'm not expecting any clarification out of Mr. Boydstun.

After his recent hot blast, up-thread, I set him on Ignore. I will most likely be keeping him on that setting.

In the past, Mr. Boydstun has generally comported himself like a genuine philosopher. But a genuine philosopher would, as a rule, not come on a thread that begins with a link to an article that I published in 2009, and linked in the very first post—then refuse to engage anything I said in the article. A genuine philosopher would, as a rule, read the other posts on the thread, before deciding to jump in.

Mr. Boydstun has failed to realize, not merely that I have taken several of Leonard Peikoff's courses in the past—including the 1976 series on Objectivism—but that I have also kept all of my notes.

It apparently escaped his notice that I had the entire 1976 series on CDs (how did he imagine that I revised Roger Bissell's transcripts of Ayn Rand's questions and answers from this series, if I had no access to recordings?)

None of the historical research that I performed, some previously discussed here at ObjectivistLiving and all of it detailed in my article in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, has seemed to register upon him at all.

Mr. Boydstun never so much as acknowledged that the doctrine of the arbitrary assertion was different in Basic Principles of Objectivism from what it became in Leonard Peikoff's 1976 series.

Instead, Mr. Boydstun saw fit to remind me of the main points of Leonard Peikoff's 1976 treatment of "the arbitrary," as though I did not already know what they were, and had not explicated them in my article.

He further saw fit to remind me that Ayn Rand endorsed Leonard Peikoff's 1976 lectures on Objectivism, which I also already knew—which was never in dispute here—and which was acknowledged in my article.

It was as though no one could know what Peikoff had said in 1976, unless schooled on the matter by Stephen Boydstun.

When I posted the entire corrected text of Peikoff's remarks from 1976, Mr. Boydstun wouldn't even acknowledge that I had done this. Instead, he acted insulted.

If Mr. Boydstun wants to take issue with my interpretation of the doctrine of the arbitrary assertion, my sketch of its history, or my evaluation of its epistemological significance, great. Let him have at it. For he has devoted a good deal of thought to related questions, and ought to have plenty to bring to the discussion.

But he has done no such thing. I very much doubt that he has actually read my article. I suspect that he considers it unworthy of his time or attention. He might even consider it contaminating.

For Mr. Boydstun is so upset with any objections to Leonard Peikoff's epistemological claims, and with any questions about the shape and timing of Peikoff's contributions to Objectivist epistemology as it has come down to us, that he appears unable to see past the bad attitude that he is sure I must be displaying.

Neither Mr. Boydstun's cavalier disregard for the arguments that I actually made, nor his unquestioning deference to Peikoff as an authority on Ayn Rand's thinking, are worthy of a genuine philosopher.

Because some parts of Objectivist epistemology had not been developed when Nathaniel Branden was exiled from the fold, because those who came to Ayn Rand's philosophy after 1968 were in any event strongly discouraged from paying attention to his formulations, and because Ayn Rand never got her thoughts into sufficient order to produce her treatise on Objectivism, latter-day Objectivism is largely Peikovianism.

Hence the unfortunate and unwarranted deference shown to Leonard Peikoff, even by those who are not aligned with the Ayn Rand Institute and have not taken his side in the various schisms and squabbles.

Yet as presented by Leonard Peikoff, the doctrine of the arbitrary assertion is a philosophical shambles. Or at least I have gone into considerable detail, in my article, about the confusions, the bad arguments, and the outright obfuscation on display in Peikoff's various presentations.

If Mr. Boydstun thinks I have gotten the tiniest particle of this wrong, he is welcome to show how.

He is not welcome to reduce a long, closely reasoned article to a single alleged ad hominem against Dr. Peikoff, as he did in his recent hot blast. (He either doesn't understand, or has pretended not to understand, why I made that jibe about Peikoff's assertions regarding Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem—the whole thing is in the article!)

I am inclined to agree with Brant Gaede, and with Ms. Stuttle, that the latter-day doctrine of the arbitrary assertion was a crude intrusion of epistemological authoritarianism into Objectivism. Whoever came up with it, her decision to endorse it does not speak well of Ayn Rand in her last years.

Any claim that a class of assertions is without truth value and is to be dismissed, unaccompanied by any clear criteria by which we might recognize their lack of truth value and their dismissibility, lends itself to mystification and to the improper assumption of authority. If you and I can't tell what's arbitrary, but arbitrariness is wronger than wrong, worse than bad, and will make us dumber than parrots, then what are we to do, but rely on the superior insight of Leonard Peikoff?

Any claim that lack of truth value and dismissibility are as much a function of the speaker as of what is being said is tailor-made for the likes of Peter Schwartz and James Valliant. For what are we then to do, but to reject anything Barbara Branden says about Ayn Rand as arbitrary, while accepting as true many of the exact same statements when they are made by Leonard Peikoff, or by someone on whom he has conferred his blessing?


Robert Campbell

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