Robert Campbell

The Peikovian Doctrine of the Arbitrary Assertion

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Stephen likes to see ideas through the grand sweep of time. From that perspective personal conflicts are ignored, smoothed over and not really relevant. This is why his corner on OL is quite different than Robert's. Two different ways of looking at Objectivism. It will take decades, looking decades backwards, for them to mesh. In that context, is Stephen getting ahead of himself? I don't know. Is Robert too much in the front lines? I don't know. The practical problem is when each visits or would visit each other's corner. Here comes water. Here comes oil. Hard to mix.

--Brant

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After his recent hot blast, up-thread, I set him on Ignore.

Then you may have missed his continuation on another thread. There’s a few links there and I haven’t taken the time yet to read the material. A forthright battle out in the open ought to be worth following.

I only resurrected this thread to let RC know about the Peikoff podcast, so he could add it to his list of references on the topic.

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ND and Brant,

I'm aware that Mr. Boydstun, though maybe not inclined to the view sub specie aeternitatis, does definitely prefer the long Braudelian sweep.

That doesn't entitle him to ignore what Leonard Peikoff actually said on the topic at hand.

Nor does it entitle him to dismiss a critique of one of Peikoff's doctrines without engaging a single argument that was presented therein.

Robert Campbell

PS. I made one comment on the other thread that ND referred to. That'll be the extent of my contributions over there.

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though maybe not inclined to the the view sub specie aeternitatis, does definitely prefer the long Braudelian sweep.

OMG now I’m having a seymourblogger flashback…

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ND and Brant,

I'm aware that Mr. Boydstun, though maybe not inclined to the the view sub specie aeternitatis, does definitely prefer the long Braudelian sweep.

That doesn't entitle him to ignore what Leonard Peikoff actually said on the topic at hand.

Nor does it entitle him to dismiss a critique of one of Peikoff's doctrines without engaging a single argument that was presented therein.

Robert Campbell

PS. I made one comment on the other thread that ND referred to. That'll be the extent of my contributions over there.

Robert, did you actually study Latin (and Greek) or did you just pick up these juicy phrases as you went along?

--Brant

the world wants to know

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I made one comment on the other thread that ND referred to. That'll be the extent of my contributions over there.

Stephen has replied to your post there.

--Brant

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Brant,

Five years of junior high and high school Latin.

No Greek.

Sub specie aeternitatis (usually translated, "under an aspect of eternity") is in important idea in Baruch Spinoza's moral philosophy. Peikoff referred to it in his History of Philosophy lectures (Thales to Hume).

Fernand Braudel was a French historian who focused on entire civilizations and long-term trends in human history, not on series of particular events.

Robert Campbell

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I will respond to one thing Mr. Boydstun said on that other thread:

But less than three hours later, Campbell had issued his #46. That was his craft of the circumstantial ad hominemI was plainly referring to in #48 (I quoted #46 and only #46 in my #48). It would not have occurred to me or anyone else who has followed Chris’ journal that such an argument had also been made in Campbell’s paper in JARS. Moreover, as one who had once read Campbell's paper,* I’d have noticed such a vulgarity; there was no such thing there, and I never said, implied, nor insinuated that there was.

Here is what I said on pp. 112-113 of my article in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies:

Note particularly the paragraph that I've put in bold print.

From what Peikoff has said so far, the reader must be pardoned

for thinking that whatever qualifies as arbitrary will never escape that

status. If it has no relationship whatsoever with reality, how can it

acquire one? Unless Peikoff has quietly adopted a Buddhist conception

of hell, how can anyone or anything ever leave the lowest rung?

Nor is “inner chaos” a whole lot more reversible: Peikoff assures us

that indulging in the arbitrary will entrench it for life. Most remarkably,

then, it turns out that not all arbitrary claims must remain so. Some can

be redeemed.22

Here is the redemption policy:

Now let us note that some arbitrary claims (but by no means

all) can be transferred to a cognitive context and converted thereby

into true or false statements, which demonstrably correspond

to or contradict established fact. It is not mere words that

establish epistemological status, but their relation to evidence.

A savage’s memorized recital of an arithmetic sum, for

example, would be like the parrot’s, but the same utterance by

a man who understands the reasons behind it would constitute

a truth. (166)

Peikoff has reverted to equating arbitrary assertions with empty

symbols. So it becomes imperative to ask how many of the assertions

that Peikoff deems arbitrary are in fact put forward by people who

genuinely fail to understand any of the concepts in them, or any

possible rationale for them?

In this connection, Peikoff’s invocation of the “savage” brings

little assurance. Mainly, it serves to remind the reader how little he

knows of the human past. As recently as the 1940s, the Oksapmin of

the New Guinea highlands were preliterate. Their traditional counting

system, which worked by pointing in sequence to various parts of the

upper body, stopped at 29. While the old Oksapmin counting system

evidently failed to support the multiplication of seven-digit numbers,

it still provided adequate grounds for asserting “Two plus two make

four,” in full understanding of its truth (Saxe 1982).

Let us rather suppose, for the sake of argument, that Peikoff does

not fully understand Kurt Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. Does it

follow that if Peikoff were to repeat an accurate one or two paragraph

summary of the theorem after reading it in a reference book, he would

be asserting this description arbitrarily? How much would Peikoff

need to know of the reasons for the theorem, before his assertions

concerning it were cleansed of the taint of arbitrariness? Would he

have to be able to reproduce Gödel’s actual proof, with appropriate

commentary, or come up with a sound derivation of his own, before

we could conclude that he had provided enough evidence to liberate

his assertion from the realm of the arbitrary? What would it take

before any of his statements made in criticism of the theorem could be

deemed worthy of consideration as true or false?23

And here's footnote 23, as it appears on p. 162. Bolding again added:

23. Peikoff has repeatedly denounced Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. In his

most recent lecture series, on the DIM Hypothesis, he pronounces the theorem an

instance of D2 (or hopeless cognitive disintegration). In his book The Ominous Parallels,

he declared: “Even the professional mathematicians, the onetime guardians of the

citadel of certainty and of logical consistency, caught the hang of the modern spirit.

In 1931, they were apprised of the latest Viennese development in the field, Kurt

Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, according to which logical consistency (and

therefore certainty) is precisely the attribute that no systems of mathematics can ever

claim to possess” (1982, 215). In fact, Gödel concluded that a system of formal logic

with enough power to include elementary arithmetic, using finite methods of proof,

must either be incomplete (i.e., unable to prove at least one mathematical truth that

lies within its scope) or inconsistent (Nagel and Newman 1958). Since Peikoff has

rendered Gödel’s conclusion with such sheer inaccuracy, are we entitled to infer that

whenever he refers to the incompleteness theorem he is doing so without understanding,

hence his assertions about it are arbitrary?

Leonard Peikoff has grossly misrendered Gödel's Theorem for more than 25 years running (and check out the citation that he provided in 1982!). So how is he different, according to his own doctrine, from the "savage" who says "2 plus 2 equals 4"?

As I noted elsewhere in my article, Peikoff presumes that the production of arbitrary assertions is a deliberate act of irrationality, and appears to require no special evidence about the mentality of the person making the assertion before concluding that it was arbitrary.

Now Peikoff's also been unfair to savages. He's even been unfair to parrots... But that's off our topic here.

'Cause it looks to me like the whole damn "vulgarity" was right there in the pages of JARS.

And with Mr. Boydstun's extraordinary sensitivity to such vulgarities, surely he'd have denounced me a couple of years ago, not saved his denunciation up till May 2012.

If he'd read the article...

Robert Campbell

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No further word from Mr. Boydstun, I see.

He has quit digging.

I no longer have him set on Ignore.

Robert Campbell

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#43

. . .

. . . I thought, yes those are two good questions, and I thought I would be delighted to dig into them in his paper, in Objectivist publications, and in the logical positivist forerunner debates. That could work out pretty neatly for my schedule in about three months, I thought, as after completing the Leibniz parts on leaves not being all red and green at the same time (in the Attribute section of “Randian Axioms and Postulates in Metaphysics”), I’ll be jumping directly to what Wittgenstein thought on the issue, then the positivists and analysts who tackled it, right up to the eve of Atlas. With those fellows fresh in mind, I might well be able to return to Campbell’s two questions in an efficient and effective way. . . .

I may write a commentary on your 2008 paper, in a separate thread, in about three months.

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

Brant,

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

I think it grew out of the inertia of the Break of 1968 and the need of Peikoff to get everybody he could to back Rand on faith back then. It was such an irrational salad you couldn't accept it save by rationalizing it into--not Objectivism--the Objectivist movement with arguments from Rand's supposed moral authority. And look at the big shots who signed off on it in the May-published-in-October 1968 Objectivist. But the Objectivist movement channeled through NBI was always implicitly authoritarian and cultist and anti-intellectual conflicting with its intellectual self.

--Brant

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Brant, your line; the great excommunicator -- your invention? If so, kudos.

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Brant, your line; the great excommunicator -- your invention? If so, kudos.

Oh, I made it up. I may have heard it long ago, in a galaxy far, far away. It's stylistically derived from the speech of the Grand Inquisitor in the Bros. K.

--Brant

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Brant, your line; the great excommunicator -- your invention? If so, kudos.

Oh, I made it up. I may have heard it long ago, in a galaxy far, far away. It's stylistically derived from the speech of the Grand Inquisitor in the Bros. K.

--Brant

Patent it now, it is brilliant.

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Brant, your line; the great excommunicator -- your invention? If so, kudos.

Oh, I made it up. I may have heard it long ago, in a galaxy far, far away. It's stylistically derived from the speech of the Grand Inquisitor in the Bros. K.

--Brant

Patent it now, it is brilliant.

Copyright* dear...patent's are for inventions, etc.

*Copyright is a legal concept, enacted by most governments, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it, usually for a limited time. Generally, it is "the right to copy", but also gives the copyright holder the right to be credited for the work, to determine who may adapt the work to other forms, who may perform the work, who may financially benefit from it, and other related rights. It is an intellectual property form (like the patent, the trademark, and the trade secret) applicable to any expressible form of an idea or information that is substantive and discrete.

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Brant, your line; the great excommunicator -- your invention? If so, kudos.

Oh, I made it up. I may have heard it long ago, in a galaxy far, far away. It's stylistically derived from the speech of the Grand Inquisitor in the Bros. K.

--Brant

Sounds like a variation on "the Great Communicator", which was applied to Reagan back when he was President.

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Brant, your line; the great excommunicator -- your invention? If so, kudos.

Oh, I made it up. I may have heard it long ago, in a galaxy far, far away. It's stylistically derived from the speech of the Grand Inquisitor in the Bros. K.

--Brant

Sounds like a variation on "the Great Communicator", which was applied to Reagan back when he was President.

Could be, but not my influence.

--Brant

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Imagine that you have been admitted to the hospital with chest pain and initially diagnosed with heart attack. However further tests didn’t confirm this diagnosis and eventually you’ve been told that all you have is just a muscle spasm. However you asked for the second opinion from sangoma (African witch doctor) and he established that you in fact suffer from the torture of your ancestral spirits. Robert L. Campbell published 83 pages monograph in order to prove that doctor’s mistake and diagnosis of sangoma have equal epistemological value.

He writes: “ Does an epistemology that respects the facts of human mental functioning requires a notion of the arbitrary? No…There is no need for a generalized injunction to shun “ the arbitrary”…Indeed, because the same proposition can be arbitrary when put forth by one person and true or false when put forth by another, judgment of arbitrariness will require elaborate assessment of the knowledge available to the person making the assertion” ( JARS Vol 10 No 1 pg 156)

And this is a major flow in whole Campbell theory. In spite his abundant quotes from Peikoff and Rand, he failed to understand the Objectivist approach to the arbitrary. He asks :

Granted that arbitrary does not qualify as knowledge, might bit nevertheless still be true?

( IBID pg 87). He also objects to the Objectivist notion that “an arbitrary claim is automatically invalidated”, that it has no relation to man’s means of knowledge…no process of logic can assess” and it is “ detached from any rational method or content of human consciousness” ( OPAR 164, quoted from Campbell pg 87). The central Campbell’s argument against Peikoff is summarized in the question:

How could one rationally judge an assertion to be arbitrary iexpect by engaging in correct cognition in relation to reality?” In other words how one recognizes the arbitrariness without thoroughful rational examination of such an assertion?"

The answer is in OPAR and in the Objectivist literature elsewhere. Any arbitrary assertion is an assault on axioms, that is-denial of existence, identity and causality. Such a denial is immediately self-evident and doesn’t requires any further rational investigations. Indeed, rational investigation of irrational assertion would be a contradiction in terms. For example an assertion that soul can survive without body would mean that existence could be transcendent. The same applies to all other assertions in regards to God, goblins, specters, ghosts etc…The assertion that position of planets and stars could influence man’s life is an assault on the Law of causality . Assertion that water could be converted to wine just by wish is an assault on the axiom of primacy of existence. And this is a main difference between wrong and arbitrary-wrong assertions pertain to the realm of objective reality, don't violate axioms and could be rationally evaluated and disproved. Arbitrary assertions deny the very foundations of human cognition and cannot be treated by such means.

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I just saw this post by Leonid today. (I didn't even realize he was under restriction--and I just now removed it.)

Sorry for the delay.

Michael

EDIT: btw - I disagree with his assessment of Robert's understanding, but I don't have time right now to go into it.

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The answer is in OPAR and in the Objectivist literature elsewhere. Any arbitrary assertion is an assault on axioms, that is-denial of existence, identity and causality. Such a denial is immediately self-evident and doesn’t requires any further rational investigations. Indeed, rational investigation of irrational assertion would be a contradiction in terms.

Leonid,

My article goes through the entire discussion of the arbitrary in OPAR—and does it in great detail. It covers every other bit of Objectivist literature that I could find on the subject.

So the answers to my objections, if they are to be had, are in the very passages that I discuss in the article.

What's more, no one in the Objectivist literature, including Leonard Peikoff, has ever claimed that arbitrary assertions are self-referentially inconsistent.

And if the arbitrariness of arbitrary assertions (including those that are speaker-dependent...) is self-evident (Peikoff doesn't make that particular claim, but his notion that they produce Peikovian paralysis comes pretty close) then why is it, in fact, rather difficult to establish whether a proposition is being asserted arbitrarily or not?

Get caught up on your Objectivist epistemology. Then you will be in a position to judge whether all the extant parts of it are in working order.

Robert Campbell

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"What's more, no one in the Objectivist literature, including Leonard Peikoff, has ever claimed that arbitrary assertions are self-referentially inconsistent.What's more, no one in the Objectivist literature, including Leonard Peikoff, has ever claimed that arbitrary assertions are self-referentially inconsistent."

This is not accurate. Leonard Peikoff in fact claims just that.

"“Arbitrary” means a claim put forth in the absence of evidence of any sort, perceptual or conceptual; its basis is neither direct observation nor any kind of theoretical argument. [An arbitrary idea is] a sheer assertion with no attempt to validate it or connect it to reality...Since an arbitrary statement has no connection to man’s means of knowledge or his grasp of reality, cognitively speaking such a statement must be treated as though nothing had been said." ( Lecture 6).

Since arbitrary assertions have no connection to the means of knowledge they forfeit these means, cannot be investigated by them and in fact are self-referentially inconsistent. . If somebody tells you that there is an elephant in your living room, but it is invisible and completely undetectable by any means, there is no point to ask him " And how do you know that?" By making such an assertion he already denied the primary tool of rational knowledge-perception. Arbitrary assertion is also an evasion of existed well established body of knowledge. If one says that king of Texas drives Cadillac or a flock of flying Rabbis sing hallelujah in the Mormon Temple , such an assertion would deny everything we know about Rabbis and American politics. There is no point to investigate such assertions. As Peikoff suggested we should simply ignore them. One cannot use epistemic tools to investigate assertions which in principle deny them. In summary, metaphysically arbitrary assertions deny axioms, epistemologically they deny means of knowledge and represent an evasion of well established, proved body of knowledge.

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"What's more, no one in the Objectivist literature, including Leonard Peikoff, has ever claimed that arbitrary assertions are self-referentially inconsistent.What's more, no one in the Objectivist literature, including Leonard Peikoff, has ever claimed that arbitrary assertions are self-referentially inconsistent."

This is not accurate. Leonard Peikoff in fact claims just that.

"Arbitrary means a claim put forth in the absence of evidence of any sort, perceptual or conceptual; its basis is neither direct observation nor any kind of theoretical argument. [An arbitrary idea is] a sheer assertion with no attempt to validate it or connect it to reality...Since an arbitrary statement has no connection to mans means of knowledge or his grasp of reality, cognitively speaking such a statement must be treated as though nothing had been said." ( Lecture 6).

Since arbitrary assertions have no connection to the means of knowledge they forfeit these means, cannot be investigated by them and in fact are self-referentially inconsistent. . If somebody tells you that there is an elephant in your living room, but it is invisible and completely undetectable by any means, there is no point to ask him " And how do you know that?" By making such an assertion he already denied the primary tool of rational knowledge-perception. Arbitrary assertion is also an evasion of existed well established body of knowledge. If one says that king of Texas drives Cadillac or a flock of flying Rabbis sing hallelujah in the Mormon Temple , such an assertion would deny everything we know about Rabbis and American politics. There is no point to investigate such assertions. As Peikoff suggested we should simply ignore them. One cannot use epistemic tools to investigate assertions which in principle deny them. In summary, metaphysically arbitrary assertions deny axioms, epistemologically they deny means of knowledge and represent an evasion of well established, proved body of knowledge.

How is "The king of Texas drives a Cadillac" arbitrary, when "Texas is ruled by a king" is clearly ~not~ arbitrary? Or "The green cheese on the moon has poisoned many astronauts" vs. "The moon is made of green cheese"? In each case, the second statements are composed of concepts that have real referents, but they just do not form a unity in the real world--so those statements are false, not arbitrary. Yet, Peikoff would say because we have no evidence that Texas has a king or the moon is made of cheese, that saying they do is "arbitrary."

So, which is it? Personally, I think that Peikoff has over-extended the concept of the "arbitrary," if he means it to be distinct from "meaningful and false" or even "meaningful but undetermined in truth status."

If I say: "You murdered your wife," either it's true or it's false. It's certainly a baseless claim, so arbitrary in that sense. But even though baseless as a claim, it's also true or false ~in fact~. Either there is factual evidence to support it, or there is not.

As for the Cadillac example, isn't it clear that the statement, in full translation, is: "The king of Texas is a real person who drives a Cadillac"? The referent of "the king of Texas" is a mental construct, conglomerating the concept of "king" and the concept of "Texas," with no basis in fact -- while the referent of "a real person who drives a Cadillac" is just what it says it is. So, we compare referents and see that they are not identical, and the proposition is thus false. So, the person who uttered it using an arbitrary construct for the subject term was making a statement that was not only arbitrary, but also false. ("The king of Texas is not a real person who drives a Cadillac" would be arbitrary and true.)

The same applies to: "An invisible elephant is in your living room." ("An invisible elephant is a real creature that is in your living room." Arbitrary subject term, arbitrarily attributed predicate, right? Yet also false, right?)

Again, I think that Peikoff has confused the epistemic status of the subject and/or predicate of the proposition with the truth status of the proposition itself.

REB

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"Texas is ruled by a king..The green cheese on the moon has poisoned many astronauts".the moon is made of green cheese" are arbitrary statements because they evade the well established body of knowledge. We already know that Texas is not ruled by king and moon is not made of green cheese. In spite that Texas, kings, green cheese and moon exist, these statements don't pertain to reality as we know it and therefore arbitrary. An evasion is also denial of context of knowledge. The whole point is not that we don't have an evidence that the moon is made of cheese, but that we do have well established evidence it isn't. This makes such a statement arbitrary. If you claim that I killed my wife while you know too well that I'm a bachelor, you make an arbitrary statement which doesn't pertain to reality and to your context of knowledge.

" "An invisible elephant is in your living room." ("An invisible elephant is a real creature that is in your living room." Arbitrary subject term, arbitrarily attributed predicate, right? Yet also false, right?)

If one claims an existence of the entity which in principle cannot be detected by any rational means, he claims a supernatural, mystic knowledge. Such a knowledge, which cannot be proved or disproved cannot be false or true. One cannot bring up any evidence pro or contra . It is an arbitrary statement.

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