Tuesday, 31 January 2017

The Dialectical Way To Total Freedom

Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism
University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000
Chris Matthew Sciabarra

In Total Freedom, Chris Matthew Sciabarra is on a mission to rescue “dialectics” from the Marxists and bring it to libertarianism. He sees libertarianism as a movement for individual freedom that includes the myriad schools of classical liberalism, including Ayn Rand’s Objectivist system.

The idea of being bracketed inside the umbrella of libertarianism will not be music to the ears of Objectivists because Ayn Rand’s philosophy has several fundamental differences with the libertarian movement. Rand criticizes the libertarians for their lack of consistent philosophical fundamentals and their faith in anarchism—she describes them as the “hippies of the right.”

Total Freedom is divided into two parts. The Part One is “Dialectics: History and Meaning,” and the Part Two is “Libertarian Crossroads: The Case of Murray Rothbard.”

Part One, as the title suggests, is a treatment of Sciabarra’s project for dialectics—it is as he asserts in his Introduction, an attempt to wrestle “dialectics from its exclusive contemporary association with the left.” In today’s intellectual environment, the term “dialectical” is suggestive of leftist philosophical ideas and movements. To speak of something like “dialectical libertarianism” is a heresy not only for the classical liberals but also for the Marxists.

Part Two is about the concrete implementation of dialectics in the libertarian movement. But as the focus in this section is on Murray Rothbard, the central philosopher of anarcho-capitalism, our first impression is that Sciabarra is endorsing Rothbard’s anarchist ideas. But as you read-on you find that Sciabarra is, in fact, offering a robust criticism of Rothbard. He makes the case that the anarcho-capitalists are guilty of misusing dialectics in the same way as the Marxists.

The book has an extensive discussion of Ayn Rand’s ideas, and Sciabarra’s project of “dialectical libertarianism” often seems like an exegesis of “dialectical Objectivism.” Sciabarra says that the term “dialectical libertarianism” is important because “in this integration, dialectics is rescued from those who view it as a totalitarian tool, just as libertarianism is rescued from those who view it as an extension of their fragmented, atomized view of reality.” Also, in this integration we have dialectics getting inextricably connected to the notion of freedom, and libertarianism being connected to the notion of totality.

The credit for bringing dialectics to leftist politics goes to Marx who used the concept of “dialectical materialism” as a tool for analysis of society. In Part One, Sciabarra begins by proposing that Marx has made an illegitimate use of dialectics and that the Marxist concept of “dialectical materialism” is nondialectical. He holds that when libertarian thinkers rejected “dialectics” along with “dialectical materialism,” they made the proverbial mistake of throwing out the baby along with the bathwater. But he points out that Ayn Rand has never repudiated the dialectical methodology, even though she did not describe her philosophical method as being dialectical.

In his earlier book Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, Sciabarra has identified Rand as the key theorist in the evolution of the “dialectical libertarian” political project. He identifies the Aristotelian background of dialectics while trying to project Rand as an Aristotelian and radical thinker. The first chapter of Total Freedom, “Aristotle: The Fountainhead,” has the title of Rand’s famous novel alongside Aristotle. And Sciabarra reflects on the irony of it that it was Hegel who has described Aristotle as “the fountainhead” of dialectical inquiry.

Sciabarra begins his exegesis by tracing the roots of the concept of dialectics to ancient Greek philosophers predating Plato. He points out that while Plato is often regarded as the founder of dialectics, it is Aristotle who cleared the web of Platonic illusions and created a complete picture of what it means to be dialectical. Aristotle’s Topics, and its companion, Sophistical Refutations, are the definitive ancient texts on dialectics.

The next philosopher to do major work in dialectics is Hegel. Sciabarra sheds light on the interesting facets of Hegel’s dialectical thinking, including the dialectical syllogism which is Hegel’s means for delving into “the assumptions, premises, and inner complexities of thought, and by extension, of existence.” These syllogisms are the myriad relations between Universals (U), Particulars (P), and Individuals (I)—and Hegel proposes three basic forms: I-P-U, P-I-U, and I-U-P.

While looking at the dialectical thinking of Marx, Menger, Hayek, Ayn Rand, and a few others, Sciabarra posits that Rand stands out as the most profoundly dialectical in the Aristotelian tradition. He writes, “Educated under the Soviets, Rand was an exemplary dialectician.” (He has explored the impact that education in the Soviet Union had on Rand in much more detail in his book Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical.)

Sciabarra offers his final analysis of the concept “dialectics” in the fourth chapter, “Defining Dialectics.”  This is how he defines dialectics: “Dialectics is an orientation toward contextual analysis of the systemic dynamic relations of components within a totality.” He also points out that “a totality is not simply an undifferentiated or all-encompassing whole. It is a specific whole as understood from—and structured by—shifting perspectives.”

To explain the connection between dialectics and atomism, organicism, dualism and monism, he presents this chart:

Sciabarra argues that dialectics can be seen as a “golden mean” in the continuum in which strict atomism and strict organicism are the two extreme poles and dualism and monism are their derivatives. He writes: “Like atomism, dialectics recognizes the priority of particulars; but like organicism, it views these particulars in their integrated unity. Like dualism, dialectics recognizes differentiation among opposing forces; but like monism, it is willing to grant that some forces predominate over others.”

As I have said earlier in the article, Part Two is focused on Murray Rothbard, but there is also reflection on the ideas of other libertarian thinkers, including Robert Nozick, Douglas Den Uyl, Douglas Rasmussen, Charles Murray, and Tibor Machan.

According to Sciabarra, the problems that plague Rothbard’s system “are rooted in the very foundations of his social ontology.” Even though Rothbard has posited a nonatomistic view of human nature, “he forges a dualistic separation between personal morality and political ethics, cultural specificity and libertarian ethos, abstract normative political principles and historical context, voluntarism and coercion, and finally, market and state.” Sciabarra’s commentary leads you to draw the inference that Rothbard embraced paleo-conservatism in the later part of his life because of his dualistic view of the central aspects of human life and society.

Rothbard sees the state as an inherently parasitic institution which, by its every nature, must always be at odds with the individual. He viewed history as a contest between the voluntarist principles of the market and the hegemonic principles of the state.

There is a commonality between his views and that of the Marxists in the sense that both regard the state as being disruptive and regressive, but the political implication of their ideas is vastly different. Because Rothbard integrates the tools of Austrian economics with anarchist class categories, he reaches a view of political society whose leitmotif is absolute freedom for the citizens. Rothbard picks up the Marxist idea of “anarchy of production” and universalizes the concept to develop his ideas of full-fledged anarchism.

Rothbard rejects Nozick’s idea of a minimal state on the ground that a minimal state, with monopoly on the coercive use of force, will not stay limited. Sciabarra arrives at the conclusion that because of his lack of attention to the vast context within which all principles of social organization must exist, evolve, and thrive, “Rothbard stands on the precipice of utopia.” Nevertheless Sciabarra does note those parts of Rothbard’s work that exhibit dialectical elements, and finds these to be among the effective, and radical, aspects of Rothbard’s worldview.

In chapter nine, “The Dialectical Libertarian Turn,” there is a discussion of Ayn Rand’s radicalism, a theme that Sciabarra has referred to in his earlier book Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. He constructs her framework as a tri-level model through which it is possible “to understand—and transcend—the relations of power within contemporary statism.” Here’s Sciabarra’s diagram of the tri-level model:

In his analysis of the implications of the tri-level model, Sciabarra points out that Ayn Rand has subjected almost every social problem to the same multidimensional analysis—she has rejected all one-sided resolutions as partial and incomplete. As an ultimate argument for his point, he presents this quote from Rand: “Intellectual freedom cannot exist without political freedom; political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom; a free mind and a free market are corollaries.”

In the post-Aristotelian period dialectics has served as the plaything for the philosophers of irrational and collectivist ideas. Total Freedom is an attempt to change the perception of dialectics. Overall, the book has several interesting ideas to show that dialectics has the potential to enrich our understanding of facts and principles.

Monday, 30 January 2017

A New Approach to Objectivist Epistemology

Concepts And Their Role In Knowledge
Edited by Allan Gotthelf and James G. Lennox

With fourteen chapters contributed by ten authors, Concepts And Their Role In Knowledge is a creative anthology of essays on Objectivist epistemology.

I received the book yesterday and I went through the Preface and a few pages of the first essay “Ayn Rand’s Theory of Concepts,” which is by Allan Gotthelf. In this chapter Gotthelf has given a good explanation of Rand’s theory of how concepts are abstracted through the process of measurement omission.

In the Preface, the editors point out that “Rand thought of metaphysics and epistemology as the two fundamental areas of philosophy, and she grounded rest of her philosophic system, Objectivism—including her ethics and politics—in her views on the nature of reality and of knowledge.” The aim of this volume is to explain Rand’s novel approach to epistemology.

The ten contributors to the volume are: Allan Gotthelf, James G. Lennox, Gregory Salmieri, Onkar Ghate, Paul E. Griffiths, Jim Bogen, Richard M. Burian, Pierre Le Morvan, Bill Brewer, and Benjamin Bayer.

I will have more to say about the insights on Objectivist epistemology that I find in Concepts And Their Role In Knowledge once I finish reading the book.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

The Word “Serendipity” was Invented Today

Horace Walpole
The popular word “Serendipity” was coined by Horace Walpole on 28 January 1754 in a letter to another Horace, namely Horace Mann.

Here’s an excerpt from Walpole’s letter to Mann:
This  discovery I made by a talisman, which Mr. Chute calls the sortes Walolianae, by which I find everything I want, a pointe nomm ́ee [at the very moment], wherever I dip for it. This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word, which, as I have nothing better to tell you, I shall endeavour to explain to you: you will understand it better by the derivation than by the definition. I once read a silly fairy tale, called the  three Princes of  Serendip: as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things  which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye  had travelled the same road lately, because the  grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right now do you understand Serendipity? One of the most remarkable instances of this accidental sagacity (for you must observe that no discovery of a thing you are looking for  comes  under  this  description) was of my Lord Shaftsbury, who happening to dine at Lord Chancellor Clarendon’s, found out the marriage of the Duke of York and Mrs. Hyde, by the respect with which her mother treated her at table.
“Serendipity” means the making of happy and unexpected discoveries by accident.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

The Process of Creative Destruction

Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy
Joseph A Shumpeter

In Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Joseph A Shumpeter uses the term “Creative Destruction” to refer to the endless cycle of product and process innovation through which new production units replace the outdated ones.

According to Shumpeter, the entrepreneurs have a disruptive effect on the economy—when they establish new production units they take the marketshare away from the businesses with outdated production units. A vibrant capitalist economy is characterized by new systems being created and the obsolete production arrangements being destroyed.

I think that Shumpeter selected a bad name for his concept. The oxymoron “Creative Destruction” creates a negative impression, even though it refers to a critical virtue of the free market system. The closure of obsolete businesses and the coming into existence of businesses with innovative systems is not destruction; it is rejuvenation—such creative destruction leads to economic growth and prosperity in the capitalist countries.

Perhaps Shumpeter could have used the term “Creative Rejuvenation.”

In Part I of Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Shumpeter explains in some detail how he originated the concept of Creative Destruction from his reading of Karl Marx. He was inspired by Karl Marx, even though he was inclined towards free market ideas. Shumpeter asserts that in dealing with capitalism we are dealing with an evolutionary market process which Karl Marx has dealt with in detail in his works.

Here's an excerpt from Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy in which Shumpeter explains the process of Creative Destruction (Chapter: "The Process of Creative Destruction”):
Capitalism, then, is by nature a form or method of economic change and not only never is but never can be stationary. And this evolutionary character of the capitalist process is not merely due to the fact that economic life goes on in a social and natural environment which changes and by its change alters the data of economic action; this fact is important and these changes (wars, revolutions and so on) often condition industrial change, but they are not its prime movers. Nor is this evolutionary character due to a quasi-automatic increase in population and capital or to the vagaries of monetary systems of which exactly the same thing holds true. The fundamental impulse that sets and keeps the capitalist engine in motion comes from the new consumers’ goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organization that capitalist enterprise creates.  
As we have seen in the preceding chapter, the contents of the laborer’s budget, say from 1760 to 1940, did not simply grow on unchanging lines but they underwent a process of qualitative change. Similarly, the history of the productive apparatus of a typical farm, from the beginnings of the rationalization of crop rotation, plowing and fattening to the mechanized thing of today—linking up with elevators and railroads—is a history of revolutions. So is the history of the productive apparatus of the iron and steel industry from the charcoal furnace to our own type of furnace, or the history of the apparatus of power production from the overshot water wheel to the modern power plant, or the history of transportation from the mailcoach to the airplane. The opening up of new markets, foreign or domestic, and the organizational development from the craft shop and factory to such concerns as U.S. Steel illustrate the same process of industrial mutation—if I may use that biological term—that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

On Writing Correct and Clear English

The Sense of Style 
Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker is indulgent when it comes to grammar and usage. In the book’s final chapter, “Telling Right from Wrong,” he goes after the language purists.

He is not concerned with the “Twittering teenagers or Facebooking freshmen”—the purists he is after are the “sticklers, pedants, peevers, snobs, snoots, nit-pickers, traditionalists, language police, usage nannies, grammar Nazis and the Gotcha! Gang,” who, in their zeal to purify usage and safeguard language, make it difficult to think clearly.

“When it comes to correct English, there’s no one in charge; the lunatics are running the asylum,” writes Pinker. He asserts that popular usage determines what is right or wrong in English.

He gives several examples of prominent writers neglecting the rules of usage. I learned from the book about Jane Austen’s habit of using the non-gender plural pronoun after a singular subject.

However, Pinker accepts that there will be verbal chaos if the fundamental rules of grammar and usage are not followed and the words cease to have a specific definition and function. He gives several examples to show how a misplaced comma can lead to a major ambiguity.

He advocates a middle path between the rigid prescriptivists (the sticklers for every rule of grammar and usage) and the easygoing descriptivists (who believe that the rules of grammar are inspired by the way people speak).

A prescriptivist rule must be obeyed if there are reasons to obey it. A rule can be dumped only if it is based on a crackpot theory or is originated by a self-anointed maven or has been flouted by eminent past writers or is based on a misdiagnosis of a problem and is known to create greater ambiguity in a sentence.

In his prologue, Pinker contests the view that “the rise of the Internet, with its texting and tweeting, its email and chatrooms” is in someway a threat to the English language.

The view that the quality of language is in a terminal decline is as old as language itself—while making this point Pinker shows a cartoon of “ancient grammar police.” He quotes William Caxton, the man who set up England’s first printing press in 1478. Caxton wrote: “And certaynly our langage now vsed veryeth ferre from what whiche was vsed and spoken when I was borne.”

In the chapter, “The Curse of Knowledge,” Pinker points out that many technical writers don't realize that they know much more about their subject than the people they are writing for. He says that one should avoid jargon, keep sentences short, and discard, as far as possible, the complicated and superfluous words.

In the chapter, “The Web, the Tree, and the String,” he suggests that many good writers get by purely on intuition. “Just below the surface of these inchoate intuitions, I believe, is a tacit awareness that the writer’s goal is to encode a web of ideas into a string of words using a tree of phrases. Aspiring wordsmiths would do well to cultivate this awareness.”

He suggests that one should read the prose out loud to oneself in order to detect any awkwardnesses that may not have been obvious while reading silently.

On the whole, The Sense of Style is an eloquently written and informative book.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Write More Gibberish

Writing advice for the modern Immanuel Kant:

Exodus by Leon Uris

Leon Uris

Exodus, in my view, is one of the most entertaining novels ever written—this book is comparable to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind or Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

Many years ago when I read Exodus, I was mesmerized by Leon Uris’s account of the founding of modern Israel. The novel's characters are unforgettable. The broad historical sweep of its story is exceptional. A reader can’t do without identifying with the Jews, many of whom have escaped Hitler narrowly, and are now struggling against tremendous odds to establish a homeland.

The novel is set in the late 1940s, but Uris takes readers through extended flashbacks which shed light on the important episodes in the history of Zionism—the settling of the land of Israel, the Jewish ‘Pale’ in Russia, the travails of the diaspora, and the story of the Maccabees, the Palmach, the Haganah and the Irgun. There are the flashbacks that take you to the Warsaw Ghetto and the Nazi extermination camps.
Israel, in the 1940s, was not the land of milk and honey; it was a barren desert. Uris chronicles the exploits of men like Ari Ben Canaan, the novel’s protagonist, who fight to subdue the political opposition, tame the barren desert, and create a civilized country.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Ayn Rand’s Letters to John Hospers

Ayn Rand’s thoughtful and detailed letters to John Hospers, published in Letters of Ayn Rand, are a source of information on her views on a wide range of philosophical issues.

Only the letters written by Rand are included in the book. From Hospers there is a half-page comment in which he indicates his displeasure at his side of the correspondence not being included. He says: “The reader who read what Ayn wrote to me, and not what I wrote to her, would gather that I was a bloody fool.” Perhaps he is right because Rand’s letters often create the impression that she is finding it too difficult to explain her ideas to him.

In her April 17, 1960, letter to Hospers, she gives a point-by-point answer to the philosophical issues that he had raised in his letter. Here are a few lines from different paragraphs of her four-page letter that highlight not only her ideas but also her disagreements with Hospers:

“I am puzzled by your comments.” “I hold that philosophy should be more precise than the strictest legal document, because much more is at stake—and I am in favor of the most technical language, to achieve such precision.” “You object to my classification of logical positivists as “witch doctors”— and, instead of arguments, you resort to the method of calling me an “outsider”  and implying my total philosophical ignorance.” “I do not believe that philosophy can be discussed without reaching an understanding on Kant. Modern philosophy may and does depart from him on many issues, but it is his epistemological premises that have been accepted without challenge or proof.” “If capitalists are as evil as you say they are, what magic faculty endows a politician with virtue?”

In the letter on August 29, 1960, Rand is trying to convince Hospers that he should not compromise on the content of his new book on ethics. Apparently the publisher wanted the book to have some pro-religious content. Rand tells Hospers that “any compromise between truth and falsehood can only be falsehood.” Further in the letter, she says: “I am opposed to martyrdom as well as to compromise: neither is ever necessary. Integrity does not require martyrdom; but it does forbid compromise.”

The letter on November 27, 1960, has her blasting Hospers for his tendency to see some positive things in Freud. In the letter on January 3, 1961, she disagrees with Hospers on many issues, including Plato, linguistic analysis and Freud. She makes an angry comment: “John, isn't it time to drop this sort of remark, if you do not intend to be offensive? I do not wish to have to remind you of it in every letter. Please stop asserting our ignorance of any subject on which you happen to disagree with us. I do not care to argue in such terms nor by such means nor on such level.”

In the letter on March 5, 1961, she says: “It is, therefore, obvious that an enormous epistemological difference exists between us and that our lines of communication do not work at all. If so, I cannot solve the problem alone: you will have to help me.” Later in the letter, she says: “Please bear in mind the total context of the issues discussed in your note—then accuse me of context-dropping, if you find that you can. Do you remember the slogan: ‘When you say that, smile’? Well, my slogan is: ‘When you accuse me, prove it.’”

In the April 29, 1961, letter she tells Hospers why she was opposed to social workers. She says: “The basic principle involved (which applies to all similar cases and problems) is as follows: it is morally evil to choose as one’s full-time profession, any activity which is not supported by trading, but consists of almsgiving.” She goes on to explain her position on altruist morality, sacrifice, generosity, self-interest, Objectivist ethics, and much else.

The letters that Rand has written to John Hospers are the most interesting part of Letters of Ayn Rand. She wrote these letters in 1961, the year when her first work of non-fiction, For The New Intellectuals, was published. In these letters we have an insight into the way her views were developing on the key aspects of what would later become the philosophical system of Objectivism. 

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Rudyard Kipling (30 December 1865 – 18 January 1936)

Rudyard Kipling died on January 18, 1936, at the age of seventy-one.

His poem “If—" was Ayn Rand's favorite. She had said that she wanted no eulogies at her funeral, only Kipling's "If—" should be read.

Here's Rudyard Kipling's famous poem "If—":

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Monday, 16 January 2017

Comments on the Political Philosophy of John Locke

Second Treatise on Civil Government
John Locke

In the Chapter One, Locke describes the role of the civil government in these words:

“Political Power, then, I take to be a RIGHT of making laws with penalties of death, and consequently all less penalties, for the regulating and preserving of property, and of employing the force of the community, in the execution of such laws and in defence of the common-wealth from foreign injury, and all this only for the public good.”

Locke reasons that a good way of learning about the legitimate role of a civil government is to imagine men in a hypothetical state of nature, a state where there is no government. He points out the threats that men face when they exist in a state of nature and he goes on to deduce the kind of government that is needed to protect man’s rights and private property.

His conception of self-ownership, or the property in one’s person is of great interest. In Chapter Five, he writes:

“Though the earth, and all inferior creatures be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person. This no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature placed it, it hath by his labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men. For this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good left in common for others.”

Locke defends man’s right to life by proposing that man is God’s property and it is wrong to violate man’s rights because one should not harm God’s property. In essence, he is of the view that men have rights because God gives value to their lives.

He writes in Chapter Two: “for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business; they are his property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another's pleasure…”

The God on whom Locke bases his thesis of man’s rights is not like the God of most theists. Locke’s God is a reasonable, tender father who wants his children to be industrious, rational and happy.

Locke asserts that people are by nature free. His political philosophy is founded on the principle that the moral purpose of the government is to promote public good and protect the life, liberty, and property of the people. He says that if the government indulges in abuse of power, the people can overthrow it and form a new government.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Who is Nathaniel Branden?

Who is Ayn Rand? 
Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden

Who is Ayn Rand? should count among the influential books on Ayn Rand’s life and her philosophy of Objectivism.

First published in 1962, the book is almost a contemporary of For The New Intellectual, Rand’s first work of non-fiction. It’s written in a style that is evocative of Rand’s books—its arguments are clearly stated and forceful, and almost every page is enriched with apt quotations.

In his Preface, Nathaniel Branden says that the purpose of the book is to provide information on Ayn Rand's philosophy. He writes: "Like the hero of  her novel Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand has become a legend in her own lifetime."

Who is Ayn Rand? is divided into two parts: the part one titled “An Analysis of the Novels of Ayn Rand,” has three chapters in which Nathaniel Branden conducts an exegesis of Rand’s literature and philosophy. The part two titled “A biographical Essay,” has a single chapter, the title essay, “Who is Ayn Rand?”, which is Barbara Branden's biographical study of Ayn Rand’s intellectual and artistic development.

Certainly, Nathaniel Branden is a controversial figure. He is accused of moral, intellectual and financial improprieties—he was expelled by Rand from her inner sanctum in 1968.

But Who is Ayn Rand? is such a good book that it forces you to have a relook at Nathaniel. It bides you to ask yourself: Who is Nathaniel Branden? Is he supposedly the arrogant young man who is accused of betraying Rand? Or is he an original philosopher—is he one of the initial promoters of Objectivism? I don’t have a clear picture of what transpired between Branden and Rand and so I can’t pass a judgement on this issue.

In the book’s first chapter, “The Moral Revolution in Atlas Shrugged,” Nathaniel describes the philosophical and historical importance of the ethical system that Rand has presented in Atlas Shrugged. He says that “the actual hero of Atlas Shrugged is: man’s mind. The novel dramatizes what reason is, how it functions and what happens to the world when the men of the mind—the men who create motors, railroads, metals, philosophies and symphonies—refuse to be martyred by the rule of irrationalism. It is in defense of such men—the men of ability and of “unrequited rectitude”—that Atlas Shrugged is written.”

Nathaniel takes a look at the major implications that Objectivism has for the science of psychology in the second chapter, “Objectivism and Psychology.” In the third chapter, “The Literary Method of Ayn Rand,” he analyzes the aesthetic principles that Rand uses in her novels. Here’s an excerpt:

“Ayn Rand has written four novels—We the Living, Anthem, The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged—and each of them has a major philosophical theme. Yet they are not “propaganda novels.” The primary purpose for which these books were written was not the philosophical conversion of their readers. The primary purpose was to project and make real the characters who are the books’ heroes. This is the motive that unites the artist and the moralist. The desire to project the ideal man, led to the writing of novels. The necessity of defining the premises that make an ideal man possible, led to the formulating of the philosophical content of these novels.”

The book’s eponymous fourth chapter, Barbara Braden's biography of Ayn Rand, begins with a quote from Atlas Shrugged: “To hold an unchanging youth is to reach, at the end, the vision with which one started.” The essence of Barbara Braden's essay is that despite having come out of the brutal Soviet Union, Rand managed to reach the vision with which she had started—she established herself as a writer and a philosopher. This biography which by the way is fully endorsed by Ayn Rand is, I think, written in a very reverential tone.

On the whole, Who is Ayn Rand? is a good primer on Rand’s life and ideas—it provides the sharp arguments that are necessary to slash through the weed of collectivism and mysticism that are strangulating our politics, art and culture. Everyone who calls himself an Objectivist—even those who follow any other school of classical liberalism—must digest this book immediately.

PS: (Ayn Rand endorsed the contents of the book even after her break with the Brandens'.)

Thursday, 12 January 2017

An Introduction to Logic by H.W.B. Joseph

An Introduction to Logic
H.W.B. Joseph

H.W.B. Joseph’s An Introduction to Logic was first published in 1906. The book has a detailed treatment of Aristotelian logical theory.

In his Preface, Joseph indicates his devotion to Aristotelian logic in these lines: "In the course of centuries, the tradition [of logic] has become divergent, and often corrupt. In this difficulty, I have ventured, like one or two other modern writers to go back largely to its source in Aristotle."

In the first chapter, “Of the General Character of the Enquiry,” Joseph gives a detailed description of what the concept of logic means. Here’s an excerpt from his discussion of the subject: “Logic, then, is the science which studies the general principles in accordance with which we think about things, whatever things they may be; and so it presupposes that we have thought about things.”

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

On Thomas Paine's Common Sense

Thomas Paine published his famous pamphlet Common Sense on January 9, 1776.

In context of the 18th century, Common Sense was the superb articulation of liberty oriented ideas of the Age of Enlightenment. In just 48-pages, Paine made a “commonsensical” political argument for liberty; he proposed that people have the right to choose their own government, and to revolt against it.

The pamphlet was widely read and galvanized support for armed rebellion against the monarchy. Here’s a quote from the pamphlet:

O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her.—Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Immanuel Kant’s Aesthetic and Analytic

Kant’s Analytic
Jonathan Bennett
Cambridge Philosophy Classics
(Reprint Edition, 2016)

In Kant’s Dialectic Prof. Jonathan Bennett offers a good explanation of the analytic and aesthetic ideas that are there in the first half of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (The Transcendental Doctrine of Elements).

Bennett is critical of Kant’s aesthetic, and somewhat tolerant of his analytic—that is probably the reason why he uses only the word “Analytic” in the book’s title.

In the preface, Bennet says that the Critique has much to teach us, even though it is wrong on nearly every page. He writes: “I have no feelings about the man Immanuel Kant; and in my exploration of his work I have no room for notions like those of charity, sympathy, deference, or hostility.” But in the chapters that follow Bennett shows sympathy and deference to Kantian ideas, even when he is rejecting them.

The book is divided into three parts: Aesthetic, Analytic of concepts, and Analytic of principles. The preliminary chapter, “Analytical table of contents,” is detailed and it contains a synopsis of the line of argumentation that Bennett is taking in all the chapters that follow.

In the first section “Aesthetic,” Bennet is critical of Kant’s use of the terms ‘analytic’ and ‘synthetic.’ Bennet is of the view that Kant has overlooked the possibility that whether a sentence is taken as analytic or as synthetic may depend on “which of the two equally standard meanings is attached to one of its terms.”

According to Kant, a judgement is analytic if and only if it is true solely by virtue of the concepts it involves. But in this Bennett sees a snag: He says that if we take Kant literally then the sentence “All squares are circular” will fall in the synthetic category because it contains a predicate that is not a true definition of the subject.

Bennett says this may be the result of an oversight, “for Kant certainly intends analytic judgements to comprise only those which are true solely because of the concepts they involve, and synthetic judgements to comprise only those which cannot be determined by the purely conceptual considerations either as true or false.”

Bennett rejects Kant’s idea of synthetic a priori judgements. While discussing the outer-sense theory, Bennett asks if Kant would have identified the outer sense with the sense-organs or nerves? He is of the view that “Kant would certainly have replied that since empirical things are given to us only through outer sense it would be absurd to identify any of them with outer sense.”

Further, Bennett asks: “What does Kant think the logical and epistemological status of his theory to be?” and he goes on to deduce three possible answers: 1) The theory is synthetic and a posteriori. 2) The theory is a priori because it is analytic. 3) The theory is both synthetic and a priori.

In the book’s second section, “Analytic,” Bennett asks the readers to imagine “a possible empiricist philosopher,” a successor to Hume, who concludes that “the world might at any moment become such that the objects in it cease to obey causal laws, or even such that it will cease to contain durable objects at all.” Bennett sees Transcendental Deduction as Kant’s program in the Critique to show that skeptical hypothesis is impossible. He points out that Kant dissents from “the conclusion that the objectivity and causal  order of the world are in constant jeopardy.”

The third section “Analytic of principles” Bennett says that Kant’s terminology is preposterous. He says that Kant has used daunting labels that are “best regarded as arbitrary, undescriptive, proper names.” Overall this book offers a good instruction on the first half of Kant's Critique

Saturday, 7 January 2017

McDonald's Versus Marxism

Crowd outside Moscow McDonald's on Jan 30, 1990
The Soviet Union’s first McDonald’s restaurant opened in Moscow’s Pushkin Square on January 30, 1990. More than 30,000 customers were served at the restaurant on the first day.

The Pushkin Square McDonald’s served an average of 20,000 customers daily for several days after the opening day. The wait time for the customers was many hours.

I think the average Russian customer made a political statement by flocking to McDonald’s, the notorious symbol of capitalism. They sent a clear message that they were fed-up of Marxism and economic deprivation, and that they didn't believe the anti-capitalism propaganda of the Soviet regime.

In less than two years the Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev resigned, and the Soviet Union was dissolved on December 26, 1991. 

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Ayn Rand and Contemporary Business Ethics

Ayn Rand and Contemporary Business Ethics
Stephen Hicks

This interesting essay by Stephen Hicks is aimed at recasting the current business ethics which holds that business is, in principle, amoral or immoral, and defending the idea that business depends on egoism and is moral.

The fundamental elements of business are production and trade. Production is the consequence of people taking responsibility for their own lives and making rational decisions to achieve their goals. Trade is the consequence of people voluntarily cooperating and entering into transactions.

Hicks points out that “these principles—responsibility, rationality, cooperation—are core principles in any healthy moral system, and form the core principles of the business world.”

Many intellectuals oppose business because they accept the anti-self interest ethic. They hold that the moral considerations are unrelated to the considerations that drive business—for them the separation between ethics and self-interest is axiomatic. A businessman is regarded as amoral or immoral because he is motivated by self-interest and profits.

In the context of history of ethics it is not surprising that the intellectuals are biased against business. Plato had a low opinion of business, and so did the relatively recent philosophers like Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill. The religions and communism preach that morality is impossible when people are motivated by self-interest. When such ethical theories are dominant, a negative view of business among the intellectuals is inevitable.

To make the case that business is moral, Hicks turns to Ayn Rand, the champion of self-interest.

“[Ayn Rand] rejects the belief that ethics starts by taking conflicts of interest as fundamental. She rejects the view that ethics starts by reacting to scarce resources; she rejects the view that ethics starts by reacting to the nasty things some people want to do to each other; and she rejects the view that ethics starts by asking what to do about the poor and unable.”

Hicks summarizes Ayn Rand’s ethics in four points:

1. Life depends on values.
2. Values depend on production.
3. Production depends on knowledge.
4. Knowledge depends on thinking.

Rand held that reason plays a fundamental role in human life. Reflecting on Rand’s ideas, Hicks says: “Reason makes possible science and production, long-term planning, and living by principle. It is these that make individuals flourish, and it is these that eliminate the idea that there are fundamental conflicts of interests among individuals.”

The 40-page essay by Hicks makes good use of Ayn Rand ethical theory to show that business is moral. He ends the thesis by pointing out that “only a moral defense of self-interest, combined with an understanding of free market economics and classical liberal politics, will advance the free society and business, its economic engine.” 

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

On The Translation of Aristotelian Eudaimonia

The many think it is something palpable and obvious, for example pleasure or wealth or honor. Some think it’s one thing and others think its another – and often the same person thinks it’s different things. When he is sick he thinks eudaimonia is health, but when he is poor he thinks it is wealth.” ~ (Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics)

What does Aristotle mean by Eudaimonia?

In The Perfectionist Turn (Chapter: “Individualistic Perfectionism”), Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen have proposed “human flourishing” as the translation of eudaimonia.  They write that eudaimonia is the “ultimate good or telos (end) for human beings; and living in a particularly wise and virtuous manner is the primary obligation dictated by that end.”

They point out that "we are tempted to confuse eudaimonia and fulfilment with contentment, but they are not the same." Flourishing is perhaps a better translation because the term subsumes the idea of activity. “The achievement of our telos is a form of activity, not a state of being content, feeling fulfilled, or reflecting on a litany of accomplishments or an achievement.”

The Aristotelian account of human flourishing, or eudaimonia, is characterized by six interrelated and interpenetrating features: (1) objectivity; (2) inclusivity; (3) individuality; (4) agent-relativity; (5) self-directedness; (6) sociality. Den Uyl and Rasmussen have conducted an interesting analysis of each of these six features. What they are offering is a neo-Aristotelian account, but they are not trying to do a textual exegesis of Aristotle.

In A Companion to Aristotle (Edited by Georgios Anagnostopoulos), Gabriel Richardson Lear develops a different position on eudaimonia in the chapter, “Happiness and The Structure of Ends.”

She says that the word “flourishing” is being preferred because “the most common meaning of “happiness” is a certain feeling of either contentment or euphoria. Eudaimonia does not mean that.”  She says that eudaimonia cannot be regarded as pleasure.

“A hedonist would make this very claim and Aristotle himself argues that one particular pleasant activity – excellent rational action – is the best. Rather, the point is that this is a claim for which one must argue. Just on its own, eudaimonia does not refer to a feeling.” This is the reason, she explains, why people sometimes prefer to translate eudaimonia as flourishing.

She regards “flourishing” as too organic or biological a notion to be a good translation. The act of flourishing is not confined only to human beings; the trees and the animals also flourish, and this flies in face of Aristotle’s view that eudaimonia is possible only to Gods and human beings.

Lear says that “In Aristotle’s view, human beings are distinguished from the rest of the natural world by the fact that their flourishing is a matter of being eudaimôn.” She reflects that if "success" can be regarded as an intuitive translation of eudaimonia. After all, the eudaimôn person is like an Olympic victor; his life is successful and well worth living.

But even “success” is not the right translation for eudaimonia. Lear points out that people can achieve success in certain areas of life and they may fail in other areas, and if we have to think of eudaimonia as success, then we must be clear that it is success that applies to life as a whole. Also, what we regard as success should be an objective matter; it should not depend on what society regards as success.

Finally Lear reaches the conclusion that we should stick with the traditional translation of eudaimonia, “happiness.”

The position on Aristotelian eudaimonia that Den Uyl and Rasmussen have taken in The Perfectionist Turn is a shade different from the position that Gabriel Richardson Lear has taken in his chapter in A Companion to Aristotle.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

The Letters of Ayn Rand

Letters of Ayn Rand
Edited by Michael S. Berliner

Letters of Ayn Rand is like an intellectual biography of Ayn Rand. The 681-page book contains hundreds of letters that Rand wrote from 1926 to two months before her death in 1982. Ayn Rand was a patient letter writer—in her letters she explains in detail her views on important political, cultural and philosophical issues. Her letters give you an understanding of her thoughts at different periods of her life.

In his Preface, Michael S. Berliner, the editor of Letters of Ayn Rand, says: “Readers of this book will quickly realize that Ayn Rand’s letters seem more like polished documents than casual conservations. This is no accident. For one thing, she took letter writing very seriously, once commenting at the top of page five of a letter to Isabel Paterson that she had already been writing it for four hours. Ayn Rand was uninterested in “small talk,” either in person or on paper.”

Rand’s letters to famous contemporaries like Cecil B. DeMille, H. L. Mencken, Frank Lloyd Wright, Isabel Paterson, John Hospers, Alexander Kerensky, Barry Goldwater, John T. Flynn, and Mickey Spillane are of great interest.

The lengthy letter that Rand wrote to Senator Barry Goldwater in May 1960 shows how profoundly disturbed she was by the incorrect view of capitalism that Goldwater had presented in his book The Conscience of a Conservative. Here’s an excerpt from her letter to Goldwater:

“The major contradiction in your book is between Chapter 1 and the rest of the book’s content. More specifically, it is between the fight for capitalism and the issue of religion. There can be no more disastrous error—morally, philosophically and politically—than to assert that the ultimate justification of Capitalism rests on faith. To assert this is to announce that there is no rational justification for Capitalism, no rational arguments to support the principles which created this country—and that reason is on the side of the enemy.”

The organization of the letters in The Letters of Ayn Rand is largely chronological, but specific sections are dedicated to Rand’s correspondence with Frank Lloyd Wright, Isabel Paterson, and John Hospers.

I think that the letters that Rand has written to John Hospers are of great philosophical importance. She wrote these letters in 1961, the year when her first work of non-fiction, For The New Intellectual, was published.

In her April 17, 1960, letter to Hospers, she gives a point-by-point answer to the philosophical issues that he had raised in his letter. Here are a few lines from different paragraphs of her four-page letter that highlight not only her ideas but also her disagreements with Hospers:

“I am puzzled by your comments.” “I hold that philosophy should be more precise than the strictest legal document, because much more is at stake—and I am in favor of the most technical language, to achieve such precision.” “You object to my classification of logical positivists as “witch doctors”— and, instead of arguments, you resort to the method of calling me an “outsider” and implying my total philosophical ignorance.” “I do not believe that philosophy can be discussed without reaching an understanding on Kant. Modern philosophy may and does depart from him on many issues, but it is his epistemological premises that have been accepted without challenge or proof.” “If capitalists are as evil as you say they are, what magic faculty endows a politician with virtue?”

In the letter on March 5, 1961, she says: “It is, therefore, obvious that an enormous epistemological difference exists between us and that our lines of communication do not work at all. If so, I cannot solve the problem alone: you will have to help me.” Later in the letter, she says: “Please bear in mind the total context of the issues discussed in your note—then accuse me of context-dropping, if you find that you can. Do you remember the slogan: ‘When you say that, smile’? Well, my slogan is: ‘When you accuse me, prove it.’”

In the April 29, 1961, letter she tells Hospers why she was opposed to social workers. She says: “The basic principle involved (which applies to all similar cases and problems) is as follows: it is morally evil to choose as one’s full-time profession, any activity which is not supported by trading, but consists of almsgiving.” She goes on to explain her position on altruist morality, sacrifice, generosity, self-interest, Objectivist ethics, and much else.

Ayn Rand’s letters are full of quotes that you would like to carry with you at all times. Here are the excerpts from two more letters:

“If a man is compelled to work against his will for one minute or one second, for any cause, reason or purpose whatsoever—that is involuntary servitude. The purpose for which he is compelled to serve is totally irrelevant. The concept of slavery does not say that it is slavery only when practiced for a bad purpose, but freedom when practiced for the sake of starving babies. Slavery is slavery, and its purpose does not change its nature.” ~ (Letter to DeWitt Emery, April 30, 1949)

“There is no hope for the world unless and until we formulate, accept and state publicly a true moral code of individualism, based on man’s inalienable right to live for himself. Neither to hurt nor to serve his brothers but to be independent of them in his function and in his motive. Neither to sacrifice them for himself nor to sacrifice himself for them in selfless service—but to deal with them in free exchange among equals, each with a legitimate right to his own benefit, and not in the spirit of any kind of altruistic service of anyone by anyone…. But I realize that the cowardly hypocrites among our so-called conservatives would be scared to death by such a doctrine.” ~ (Letter to Tom Girdler, July 12, 1943)