Saturday, 6 August 2016

Book Review: Objective Communication by Leonard Peikoff

Objective Communication: Writing, Speaking And Arguing
Created from a course by Dr. Leonard Peikoff 
Edited by Barry Wood 


Why is Objectivism called Objectivism?

According to Leonard Peikoff, “The reason Objectivism is called “Objectivism” is that that concept—objectivity—is central to every branch of philosophy.”

He says this in his commentary to a mock debate which is included in the chapter, “Analysis of Student Arguments,” in Objective Communication. He further explains:
In metaphysics, it [objectivity] stands for the idea that here is a reality that exists independent of us. In epistemology, it stands for the fact that we can acquire knowledge of things as they are, not influenced by our arbitrary feelings. And in ethics, it stands for the idea that objective value judgments are possible. Since the concept has roots in all these areas of philosophy, as soon as you defend the objectivity of knowledge, you open up everything—the means of knowledge (which are the senses, and logic, and reason, and concepts), the object of knowledge (which is reality), and the various applications of knowledge (including value judgments and political and even gastronomic examples).” 
The topic of the mock debate is: “Is objective knowledge possible or not?” It has Peikoff taking the position of the Devil’s Advocate, arguing against the objectivity of knowledge. An unnamed volunteer takes the pro-objectivity side.

The arguments from Peikoff’s side, in this debate, are the key arguments that you can expect from those who like to deny objectivity. The volunteer who argues in favor of objectivity of knowledge does a fine job of defending her position in the beginning, but thereafter she is unable to control the course of the debate and it is Peikoff who drives the discussion forward.

In the commentary that follows, Peikoff provides his views on the line of argumentation that he and the volunteer have taken. He points out that for defending such a thing like objectivity of knowledge one must be able to cover the essentials of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. He explains:
God is much easier to argue, because that is one specific thing; even capitalism is much easier. But here you are in a highly proliferating question that pervades everything. You therefore have to be up on everything, because the subject will change at any moment—and they are essentials; they are not just arbitrary.” 
In another mock debate, Harry Binswanger and Peikoff argue on the subject of free will and determinism. Binswanger plays the Devil’s Advocate, arguing in favor of determinism, while Peikoff argues for free will.

The twelve chapters in Objective Communication provide lots of ideas for presenting arguments. It covers topics such as, the philosophic bases of communication; keeping the audience motivated; organizing the presentation logically; dealing with rationalist arguments; the principles of speaking; the principles of arguing; and much else.

The material in the book comes from the series of lectures on “Objective Communication” that Leonard Peikoff gave during the early 1980. The audio version of the lectures are available on the Ayn Rand Campus website.

In the Chapter, “About This Course,” Barry Wood, the book's editor, points out that the title of the course is Objective—not Objectivist—Communication. He explains:
“Philosophy is the base of art and science, but there is no Objectivist or Platonist physics, only physics, and the same is true of any art or science. Where then does Objectivism come in? All science and all art, including the art of communication, rests on a philosophic base. And the base of this course—not the content per se, but the base—is Objectivism.
In the chapter, “Rationalism,” Peikoff talks about the eloquent example of rationalists that Ayn Rand had invented:
Ayn Rand once invented this eloquent example: A rationalist would come out with some argument such as, “Man has only two eyes; therefore, he should be able to see only two things, one with each eye.” The rationalist does not ask why; it sounds neat and symmetrical—two things, two eyes, it all fits. At this point, two schools of philosophy would arise. One would say, “We have to accept the conclusion. Men do see only two things; everything else, they do not actually see—it is all an illusion.” To that, the opposing school would reply, “Men do see countless things, not just two, but that is because of all the hidden eyes that they have.” If you then say to such a rationalist, “Look, it is not true; if you look at reality, you see that men do, in fact, have only two eyes, and they do see many things,” he will find that irrelevant. Reality does not have any status in his thinking. He has decided that his conclusions about eyes is good, and his idea supersedes all facts.
Peikoff is at his best, when he is explaining the principles of communication that Ayn Rand has used in her talks. The analysis of Rand’s speech for undergraduates at West Point, “Philosophy: Who Needs It,” is of great interest because it serves as a clear example of how one should structure and deliver a philosophical talk to an audience that is not expected to be inclined towards philosophy. Peikoff explains every aspect of the speech, from the title to the structure and the arguments. Here’s an excerpt:
Notice, too, that Rand uses “you” throughout this piece. That is by no means mandatory. But in a speech of this kind, where her particular stress is, “This applies to you,” it is more effective and more motivating to say “It applies to you” than “It applies to man” or “It applies to all rational beings,” because in such cases the audience would have to go one step further—“I am a rational being, and therefore it applies to me.” Rand wants to hammer home the idea, “Philosophy—who needs it? You do.” Therefore, she uses the second person very frequently. This also is a motivating element.” 
Objective Communication is profoundly important for understanding how to communicate philosophical arguments in an objective, logical and convincing manner. 

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