Ayn Rand Answers


Kat

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I know nothing about that movie ["Elvira Madigan"] or the music in it. But let me guess: is it the Concerto in A maj. KV 488 with its incredibly beautiful slow movement?

That's one of those little shocks about differences in backgrounds, things one assumes "everyone" knows, forgetting that "everyone" takes in a lot of people. The "Elvira Madigan theme" has been played so often on radio in the US, the concerto has come to be called "the Elvira Madigan concerto." I'm not certain off-hand which KV number it is, but you probably have the right one in mind.

Speaking of little shocks over assumptions about what other people would be familiar with, this last Christmas Larry and I received such a shock on learning that neither one of the couple at whose home we spend Christmas day -- both of whom love classical music and have heard a lot of it -- had ever heard, or even heard of that they could recall, Rimsky Korsakov's "Scheherazaade."

Another such shock, though this pertains to physics knowledge, occurred upon Larry's mentioning Heisenberg's uncertainty principle during the conversation when he and I were having dinner with a friend who's a lutier -- an educated, intellectually curious person. What is that?, the friend asked. Later, when Larry and I were in private, we commented about how we would have assumed everyone's heard of the uncertainty principle. Wrong.

Ellen

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Dragonfly and Ellen -- the "Elvira Madigan" theme was from Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467.

I don't know that I've heard the one in A Major that Dragonfly refers to, so I guess I'd better check it out. Anything beautiful by Mozart must be REALLY beautiful, because he nailed whatever he attempted.

REB

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I know, I'm getting way far afield from the supposed topic of this forum -- I have a habit of doing that, mea culpa; but one thought leads to another...

David McK's talking about Rachmaninoff's surrounding himself, "in order to get himself composing again here in the United States," with things Russian led to thoughts of Rachmaninoff and his morose temperament -- why Rand would style Beethoven as "malevolent" and Rachmaninoff as "benevolent"...?? oh, well.

Anway, this is something Karl Haas several times recounted on his "Adventures in Listening" radio program. He swore it was a true story. Rachmaninoff was noted for not often displaying humor, and for tending to be deadpan and wry when he did say anything intended as funny. Story goes that Rachmaninoff and Fritz Kreisler (sp) were giving a recital in Carnegie Hall. At a certain point, Kreisler's mind wandered, and he lost track of where they were in the composition. "Where are we?" he muttered sotto voce to Rachmaninoff. "In Carnegie Hall," Rachmaninoff replied.

Ellen

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When I was in college and proclaimed to a small group that I had "discovered" the answer to all the ill in the world, Ayn Rand, and witnessed an amazing barrage of catcalls, the criticism of one of the guys always stuck with me.

He said, "Rand wrote Russian novels." When I asked what he meant, he said to read some Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and I would understand.

If I stand back from the philosophical level, I do find similarities in length, cast, types of situations and so forth.

Michael

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Mike, Contininuing with this kind of roaming thread (which I like), Chris Sciabarra made much the same point; isn`t it interesting that Tolstoy started a new religion? I have a passion for Dostoyevsky, but I have mucho problemo getting into Tolstoy, maybe someone can persuade me that Anna Kareninina is worth the time and effort?

David

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Ellen wrote:

David McK's talking about Rachmaninoff's surrounding himself, "in order to get himself composing again here in the United States," with things Russian led to thoughts of Rachmaninoff and his morose temperament -- why Rand would style Beethoven as "malevolent" and Rachmaninoff as "benevolent"...?? oh, well.

It's very simple: like Ludwig von Mises, whom Rand liked, Rachmaninoff had correct "implicit premises," despite his explicit errors -- and like Rothbard, whom Rand disliked, Beethoven had incorrect "implicit premises." (This is the best argument I've heard given as to why von Mises gets a pass for his religion, while libertarians do not get a pass despite having political views very similar to Rand's. If she and her followers could think this way about politics, they could probably make the same goofy arguments about two great composers who were also capable of great moroseness and great joy in their works.)

Anyway, this is something Karl Haas several times recounted on his "Adventures in Listening" radio program. He swore it was a true story. Rachmaninoff was noted for not often displaying humor, and for tending to be deadpan and wry when he did say anything intended as funny. Story goes that Rachmaninoff and Fritz Kreisler (sp) were giving a recital in Carnegie Hall. At a certain point, Kreisler's mind wandered, and he lost track of where they were in the composition. "Where are we?" he muttered sotto voce to Rachmaninoff. "In Carnegie Hall," Rachmaninoff replied.

I have it on good authority that when Rachmaninoff and Kreisler were on their way to the recital, they asked a musician on a street corner, "how do you get to Carnegie Hall?" and the musician replied, "Practice, man, practice!" :-)

REB

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Speaking of little shocks over assumptions about what other people would be familiar with, this last Christmas Larry and I received such a shock on learning that neither one of the couple at whose home we spend Christmas day -- both of whom love classical music and have heard a lot of it -- had ever heard, or even heard of that they could recall, Rimsky Korsakov's "Scheherazaade."

Another such shock, though this pertains to physics knowledge, occurred upon Larry's mentioning Heisenberg's uncertainty principle during the conversation when he and I were having dinner with a friend who's a lutier -- an educated, intellectually curious person.  What is that?, the friend asked.  Later, when Larry and I were in private, we commented about how we would have assumed everyone's heard of the uncertainty principle.  Wrong.

Ellen

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Even though it is commonplace to say that most educated people do not know that there is such a field as mathematics even though they've taken courses in high school and college called mathematics this and mathematics that, etc., some manifestations of that phenomenon still come as a shock to me. Just recently someone not only expressed surprise at hearing a theorem in mathematics called "elegant" (is that not so commonplace as to qualify as virtually a cliche?), but acted as if his ignorance of that usage was a substantial objection to it, and as if someone's using that word for such a thing implied there was something wrong with them. -- Mike

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I have a passion for Dostoyevsky, but I have mucho problemo getting into Tolstoy, maybe someone can persuade me that Anna Kareninina is worth the time and effort?

Depends on what sort of things you read for. It's been years since I read Anna Karenina (and I still haven't ever read War and Peace, though I gnash my teeth over not having done so), but I liked Anna Karenina a lot for the characterization and the fascination of Anna (I think Tolstoy was in love with her). I don't agree -- surprise, surprise -- with Rand's calling the story evil because of Anna's ending up destroyed. I think that Tolstoy was on Anna's side, not against her, and was showing what would happen to such as her in such a society. (And, compare: What happens to Kira at the end of We the Living?)

Ellen

PS to Mike Hardy: And the rest is trivial. ;-)

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Folks, I have to sign off from listlife till the end of next week: several important meetings in a row coming up for which I must make preparations. As usual, I'm behind where I'd hoped to be with list affairs. Have fun till we meet again in this place of relative calm amidst "the hurly-burly and the strife."

Ellen

PS to David McK: I'm a wretched speller, in English. When I started my publishing stint as a copyeditor, I spent most of my time looking up spellings. Besides, even if Mike Hardy might disagree, I ain't no "grammar Nazi." Mike Hardy, however....

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  • 4 weeks later...
Erich Veyhl was a Ph. D. student in Applied Math at Harvard and, for a time, the editor of Ergo, which is how I knew him. He usually seemed to have the Objectivist siege mentality that I so often recall from those days. I think he's been hunkered down somewhere in rural Maine for a couple of decades.
I corresponded with him a while back, to obtain some information for use in an essay I am planning about the epistemology of math. He did strike me as a bit overly defensive about Rand's views, or about his own interpretation of them.
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  • 2 years later...
  • 12 years later...

It’s a slow day on the OL boardwalk so I found this interesting letter to share. Odd. I thought I pasted it into OL but I don’t see it, so here I go again. Peter closed up for brevity.

From: Sam Lord To: objectivism Subject: OWL: Two Camps Date: Mon, 10 Nov 2003 18:56:47 -0800 (PST). Hi all- I've divided this post into three sections: I. Foutainheadists vs. Atlas Shruggers. II. Are they human or not? (Response to Matt) III. Response to Paul

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I. Foutainheadists vs. Atlas Shruggers I'm sure we've all recognized the two divisions of objectivist thought on the internet (ARI vs. TOC), but I've identified another fundamental split while discussing things like rights with other objectivists. I'll call the two camps the "Fountainheadists" and the "Atlas Shruggers" after the novels that best characterize the respective views.

I categorize myself as a Fountainheadists, because I tend to focus on the spirit of the individual; theAtlas Shruggers, on the other hand, focus primarily on political and economic interpretations of Rand's works. [Alternatively, the two groups could be identified by the piece of Rand's nonfiction that best characterizes them: I would belong to the camp that depends on "Objectivist Ethics," while the other group associates more with "Man's Rights."]

As applied to rights, the Fountainheadists hold that rights are guides to maintain one's autonomy (i.e. to avoid living as a parasite off another's conscious effort). Conversely, the Atlas Shruggers define rights for their trade or reciprocal value, or view rights simply as a way to maintain a productive and hospitable society (and thus focus on the political-economic aspect of rights).

Of course, there is no strict division, simply a general trend I've noticed. Also, I did not intend my characterization (or name) or each group to be judging, simply descriptive. I don't have a solution to bridge the gap between these two groups, but recognizing a difference might be a good start.

That said, I have some responses to Matt Chamberlain (11/9) and Paul Antonik Wakfer (11/10).

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II. Are they human or not? The first part of Matt's post is along the same lines as Paul's, so I will address that later. My biggest concern with Matt's post is his discussion of the "boarderline cases." In order to justify granting rights to non-rational humans, Matt claims that "'Rights' are a kind of principle that belong to a broad class of entities--humans." Later, Matt defines human: "[R]eason is characteristic of human beings."

Finally, Matt writes that "a specific human that lacks [a rational] faculty still belongs to the genus 'human.'"

Let's break down the arguments: (Defn 1) Humans have a rational faculty. (Conclusion 1) *All* humans have a rational faculty. [Follows from D1] (Premise 1) All rational beings have rights. (Conclusion 2) Thus, all humans have rights.

This seems logically valid to me. The following is not, however: (Premise 2) Some people do not have a rational faculty. (Premise 3) Non-rational people are humans. (Premise 4) Some humans do not have a rational faculty. [Follows from P2 and P3] (Conclusion 3) Non-rational people have rights. [Follows from C2 and P3]

Have I made an error here? (C1) and (P4) obviously contradict. So, either Matt's definition of human is too restrictive, or some people aren't humans and thus don't have rights. We must remember that every individual of a genus *must* meet the definition of that genus.

Furthermore, Matt's comparison of a non-rational person to a "slanted table" is incorrect. While "rational" and "non-rational" are mutually exclusive, "flat vs. slanted" is a false dichotomy: flat refers to the surface curvature while slanted refers to the orientation. A flat surface can be slanted (or horizontal or vertical). Thus, if a table is defined by flatness, a slanted table is a table (because it is still flat); however, a *spherical* table cannot exist by definition, because a sphere is not flat. To say that some spherical tables are still tables is logically absurd. To claim that some rational beings are not rational is equally illogical.

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III. Response to Paul

Now to respond to Paul's post. (Again, I hope this will address many of Matt's points, too.) Paul wrote: "But by what logical reasoning can you maintain that, as they are stated, these are directly unselfish and irrational acts? For example, *why* is it irrational and unselfish to act as a parasite on other humans?" Paul concludes that the only logical answer is reciprocalism. He does a terrific job representing the Atlas Shruggers; I hope to represent my side well, too.

To do so, I'll refer to another part of Paul's post: "[T]he rational purpose of any human is not autonomy (which again is secondary, not primary) but instead the purpose of maximum integrated lifetime happiness, which as far as is known is only consciously conceivable by human life-forms. Having autonomy is just one aspect of happiness and of the environmental requirements necessary to allow one to effectively pursue that purpose."

Now come on. We're not hedonist, here. Paul is correct that happiness is the purpose of ethics, but *life* is the standard of value (and thus the standard of happiness). Because autonomy is required for human survival, autonomy must also be required for human happiness. If one's own life is his or her highest value, than he or she must value the means to that life. One's ability to produce one's own means of survival is essential to life, and one's autonomy is essential to production; therefore, autonomy is essential for life and is thus one of the highest values to the rationally self-interested.

[Note: Of course, I do not mean that I should produce everything I use. On the contrary, living in a society allows me to offer to trade **the products of my labor** for the product of another's efforts; nevertheless, my means of survival remains my own production. When I live as a brute or a parasite, I chose not to produce, but instead to *take*.]

In a private correspondence, Paul suggested that I opt for a word other than "right" to describe the moral guide I speak of (because the word has too many connotations with traditional--and Atlas Shruggist--conceptions of rights). I have considered this. Maybe I should refer to them as "oughts" instead of rights? "I have an ought to live as a human, not as a brute." What do you think?

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Sorry for the long email, but OWL guidelines don't let me split this post up and post them the same day. Maybe that is to encourage me to write less. 😉 I'll be interested to hear comments. -Sam

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