Wednesday, 29 March 2017

God And Philosophy

God and Philosophy
Antony Flew

The British philosopher Professor Antony Flew, who was an exponent of atheism for six-decades, created a controversy in 2004 by declaring that he has discovered God. The subtitle of his 2007 book, “There is God,” in which he presents the reasons for changing his views on God, claims that he is the “world’s most notorious atheist.”

The atheistic ideas in Flew’s God and Philosophy, which was published in the 1961 when he was a vocal champion of atheism, is not of the “notorious” variety. He displays love-hate relationship with the theists. He rejects the religious doctrines, but he can’t keep away from the Christian religion. He is of the view that the Christian God merits a rigorous philosophical analysis.

Prof. Douglas B. Rasmussen says, "Flew's achievement in God and Philosophy must be appreciated. He carefully dismantles the arguments for the existence of God, and in many cases he does so not from a Humean perspective, which is skeptical about causality, but from an Aristotelian one that endorses causality.  His argumentative strategy at the start is not to prove that God does not exist, but to show that since all the arguments for God's existence fail, one ought not believe that God exists. The claim that one does not believe that God exists does not require proof, but only the realization that the evidence adduced for affirming that God exists is inadequate.  After doing that, then one can go on to consider whether one can show that "God does not exist" is true.  You do this by showing, for instance, that the divine attributes of all goodness and all power are contradictory.  Or you show that the notion of a divine Mind is senseless, etc."

The strategy that Flew adopts in God and Philosophy consists of ruling out natural theology by establishing that the religious doctrines are a philosophy. Then he proves that the philosophical system of the religions is not based on reality but on revelation. After establishing that revelation is the only possible foundation of a religious system, he refutes that foundation.

Through a series of systematic arguments he shows that the design, cosmological, and moral arguments for God’s existence are invalid. But he insists that the concept of God must be properly defined before the existence of God can be analyzed. He begins the second chapter, “Beginning From The Beginning,” with these lines:

“The problem therefore arises: ‘What is this God?’ It is as important as it is unusual that this should be put, as here, from right outside the system. Unless it is put in this external way some fundamental questions will go unasked, and some of the logical consequences derived from utterances about God are likely to be entirely misconstrued.”

In the Chapter 6, “The Credential of Revelations,” he proposes that revelation is the only possible source of knowledge of God. But revelation is an experience, which he says, contains a crucial ambiguity. “This ambiguity, which the generic term experience shares with many of its species labels, is that between, first, the sense in which it refers only to what the subject is undergoing and, second, a sense in which it implies that there must be an actual object as well.”

He deduces that to make the existence of God dependent upon human beliefs is to turn him into a sort of Tinker-bell—someone entirely a function of these beliefs. It is facts we require, he says, not beliefs. He asks: “How and when would we be justified in making inferences from the facts of the occurrence of religious experience, considered as a purely psychological phenomenon, to conclusions about the supposed objective religious truths?”

The problem, he points out, is logical. A belief in something does not necessarily mean that that thing actually exists or is true. A subjective experience may or may not correspond to an objective fact. Therefore a revelation, being a subjective experience, cannot be relied upon.

Flew argues against the key tenets of traditional religious beliefs. On the idea of eternal damnation, he says that the punishment is disproportional because no human crime can ever legitimize an everlasting punishment. He also points out that if the God gets pleasure from the pain and despair of the sinners then he is not benevolent, and that the concept of Hell cannot be reconciled with the concept of a loving divinity.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

David Kelley On The Tribal Element in Objectivism

Ayn Rand is regarded as the philosopher of reason and individualism but her Objectivist followers display a tribalistic behavior. In his book The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand, David Kelley talks about the tribal element within the Objectivist community. Here's an excerpt:
Within the Objectivist movement, a tribal element has long been at war with a rational one. The rational element is a real and important side of the movement. Objectivism has been a positive and liberating influence for many people. It has set them free to develop their talents, realize their dreams, achieve their happiness. But I think it’s clear to any objective observer that there is a tribal element as well.  
Objectivism is a philosophy of benevolence. It sees the world as an open sunlit field, where success is the norm, where we can approach others with the expectation that they will be rational. And many Objectivists have this attitude. But there’s also a darker streak in the movement. Many Objectivists seem shut off from the world, profoundly alienated, seeking friends only among other Objectivists, regarding outsiders with suspicion. They speak freely of the enemies of Objectivism, often with a paranoid sense that the world is scheming to destroy us. They suspect that anyone who succeeds outside the movement must have sold his soul, as in Peikoff’s dark allusion to those who “have one foot . . . in the Objectivist world and the rest of themselves planted firmly in the conventional world.” Objectivist publications have been largely negative in content, filled with horror-file items rather than positive contributions to knowledge. Objectivists sometimes seem to take perverse pleasure in contemplating the awfulness of their enemies. And some have acquired a zest for moral condemnation, an act that benevolent people experience as the occasion for sadness and disappointment.  
Again, Objectivism is a philosophy of independence, but within the movement there has always been a certain pressure for conformity in thought and action. When people join an ideological group out of an antecedent and independent belief in its ideas, one expects to find agreement in basic outlook. One does not expect the degree of uniformity—down to matters of personal dress and style, aesthetic preferences, beliefs about political strategy or sexual psychology—that characterized the Objectivist movement, especially in its earlier days. Such conformity was produced in part by a fear of moral condemnation for deviant attitudes or values, a fear that was not without foundation. And in part it was produced by a willingness to substitute authority for independent judgment. In my experience it was not uncommon, especially during the various purges and schisms, to hear explicit appeals to authority: “If Ayn Rand says that so-and-so is a rotter, then he must be; could the author of Atlas Shrugged be wrong about it?”

Friday, 24 March 2017

My Farewell To Organized Objectivism

I have decided to excommunicate myself from the Objectivist movement for the following reasons:

Open System—Closed System
Leonard Peikoff is of the view that Objectivism is a Closed System. I disagree. I strongly believe that Objectivism is an Open System.

Authority Figures
In the Objectivist circles Peikoff and a few intellectuals endorsed by him are regarded as authority figures. But if Objectivism is a philosophy of “realty and reason” as Ayn Rand has said then why does it need authority figures?

The Demonization of the Brandens
I do not agree with the official Objectivist propaganda against Nathaniel and Barbara Branden. There are a few faults in Nathaniel Branden and Branden but they have also contributed a lot to Objectivism and their contributions should be acknowledged.

Problems in Peikoff’s book on Objectivism
I have misgivings about certain ideas in Peikoff’s book—Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. For instance, his doctrine of arbitrary assertion and his theory of volition (free will) are completely unbelievable.

I think with these four points, I have explained the key reasons for which I am bailing out of the Objectivist movement. Hasta la vista, dear Objectivists.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

For Brutus is an honourable man ~ William Shakespeare



Here's the speech by Marc Antony in Shakespeare's play, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest–
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men–
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Friedrich Nietzsche’s Typewriter

In 1881, Friedrich Nietzsche’s eyesight started failing, so he decided to buy a typewriter (then it was called a “writing ball”) to enable him to continue his writing.

Remington typewriters were available but Nietzsche wanted a simple to use and portable typewriter which would allow him to travel, when necessary, to more salubrious climates. The Malling-Hansen Writing Ball seemed to fit the bill.

In 1882, Nietzsche received his Malling-Hansen Writing Ball directly from the inventor. Unfortunately he was not satisfied with his purchase because he could not master the use of the instrument.

A number of theories have been proposed to explain why Nietzsche was unable to take advantage of his Malling-Hansen Writing Ball. According to some accounts, the instrument was damaged during a trip to Genoa. The inept mechanic who tried to repair it may have inflicted further damage.

Nietzsche immortalized his struggle with the writing ball with this verse:

“The writing ball is a thing like me: 
Made of iron yet easily twisted on journeys. 
Patience and tact are required in abundance 
As well as fine fingers to use us.”

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The Graduate Student Who Inspired Ayn Rand To Publish A Book

Ayn Rand begins the Foreword to The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution with a letter form a reader. Here’s an excerpt from the letter:
Dear Miss Rand: 
I am a graduate student in sociology in Northern Illinois University and a student of Objectivism… 
Actually, what I want to discuss with you is your writings on the New Left. I have read them all and, in my opinion, they offer the best critical analysis that has ever been written on this movement. Your recent articles: “The Left: Old and New”; “Apollo and Dionysus”; and your recent article in The New York Times Sunday Magazine, “The New Left Represents an Intellectual Vacuum,” were superb. I recently reread your article, “The Cashing-In: The Student ‘Rebellion,’” published in 1965, and I was struck by how accurate ad prophetic your analysis was at that time. 
After reading these articles it occurred to me that, if they were all collected together and published (i.e., mass-distributed in paperback by Signet), they could have a tremendous impact on the culture and especially on the college campuses…
The letter is signed by just an initial: G. M. B.

Mr. G. M. B. did manage to convince Rand. A bit later on she says in the Foreword: “As a rule, I do not like practical suggestions from readers. But this was such a good idea so convincingly presented that I showed the letter to my publishers, who agreed with its writer wholeheartedly. Such was the origin of this book—with my thanks to Mr. G. M. B.”

When I read the book, I think 13 or 14 years ago, I remember wondering who this G. M. B. was. Well, then I had no way of finding out, but in the social media, you sometimes find people who can answer such questions. Mr. G. M. B. has been in my Facebook friend-list and I didn't know that he was the writer of this letter until he revealed it to me by himself a few days ago while we were discussing something else.

The initials stand for Gerald M. Biggers. On the social media he is Mr. Jerry Biggers. He says, “Of course, I am astounded that Miss Rand had followed-up on my suggestion for a book of her articles on the New Left, and was immensely grateful and honored that my letter was included.”

In 1999, The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution was reissued under a new title: Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution. Along with the complete original text, the new edition contains two additional essays by Ayn Rand, "Racism" and "Global Balkanization," and three essays by the editor, Peter Schwartz.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Case Against The Brandens

The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics
James S. Valliant

James S. Valliant has done a service to the followers of Ayn Rand by writing The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics (PARC). His leitmotif is to show that Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden are such thankless people that even though they benefited extensively from their association with Rand, they caused her personal pain and tarnished her reputation. But the PARC goes much beyond its “expose and diminish the Brandens” agenda, and it conjures a deeper and more rounded image of Ayn Rand as a woman.

Rand used to freely and spontaneously confide her thoughts to her private journals. The appeal of the PARC lies in the fact that it includes several of Rand’s notes on the Brandens.  These notes dispel the myth of Rand as a strident and dry philosopher and writer. Here she is showing the emotional side of her personality. She is trying to psychoanalyze Nathaniel in an attempt to find out if he loves her or not. At times, she seems unsure of what is going on—at times, she resorts to rationalization, as she tries to cope with the feelings of hurt, humiliation, and torture.

The “About the Author” note at the end of Atlas Shrugged has this line: "My personal life," says Ayn Rand, "is a postscript to my novels; it consists of the sentence: 'And I mean it!’" But a life that is a postscript to her novels can only be led in the company of someone who is like John Galt. Therefore it was her personal need that led her to rationalize that Nathaniel was a Galt-like man.

Valliant pays considerable attention to refuting the claims about Rand that Nathaniel has made in My Years with Ayn Rand, and Barbara has made in The Passion of Ayn Rand. In the book’s second chapter, Valliant points out that Nathaniel claims in his book that “Rand once described him as John Galt, the hero of Atlas Shrugged, ‘except for a few blemishes.’” Nathaniel blames the unrealistic view that Rand had of him for the erratic behavior that he exhibited with her during this period. For once, Valliant is in agreement with Nathaniel—he accepts that Rand was in error when she proclaimed that Nathaniel was close to being a John Galt.

But he blames Nathaniel for not doing enough to make Rand aware that she was misjudging him and that he was not who she thought he was. Valiant writes: “It was his responsibility to correct Rand in this matter rather than to continue what he knew to be a fraud for several more years, as he did, and then, after her death, to characterize her unconsciousness of certain personal facts as ‘appalling.’” But I must point out that in his book, Nathaniel claims that on several occasions he told Rand that he was not a John Galt. By the time the realization dawned on her that he wasn't what she expected him to be, it was too late and they could not avoid a messy breakup.

PARC is divided into two parts. In Part I, which is titled “Biography and Myth,” Vaillant’s approach is like an American soldier going into battle—he takes an all-guns-blazing approach. In the 6-chapters of the Part I, he deploys every bit of firepower in his arsenal to demolish the critique of Rand by the Brandens. He offers novel arguments, evidence from diverse resources; he rationalizes, he analyzes, and he relentlessly strives to prove that much of what the Brandens’ have said about Rand is a lie.

Valliant is not subtle about what he aims to achieve in the book—he declares it upfront that his intention is to go after the Brandens. In the final paragraph of the first chapter, “Less Than Zero,” he writes: “As we proceed, Mr. Branden will be seen to invent implausible, improbable, and impossible quotations for Rand—again and again. Ms. Branden will be seen to make bold assertions even in the face of conclusive evidence to the contrary—again and again. The Brandens’ books are themselves replete with evidence that this kind of dishonesty pervades all aspects of their ‘biographical’ efforts.”

In the second chapter, “Rand and Non-Rand, at the Same Time and in the Same Respect,” he gives a brief survey of historian Paul Johnson’s book Intellectuals. “In Intellectuals, Paul Johnson’s biographical survey of many of the most influential thinkers of the past couple of centuries, a fascinating series of case studies offer a dramatic comparison.”

Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals reveals that Bertrand Russell was himself a womanizer, but he complained bitterly when his wife Dora had an affair—Ernest Hemingway was an alcoholic who would often beat his wives and anyone else—Karl Marx rarely bathed. Valliant’s point is that even if  Rand had a few bad qualities she was still a much better person than other intellectuals. But by contrasting Rand with other intellectuals, Valliant seems to suggest that we can judge a person through a process of comparison with other people.

Would such a method of judging a person be acceptable to Rand? I think she would have insisted that a person be judged only on the basis of his own qualities. But for Valliant the intellectuals in Paul Johnson’s book are an argument by themselves—he uses their shortcomings to prove that Rand is better than them. “From the ferocity of the Brandens’ attack, one would assume that Rand was far worse than any of these celebrated figures. And, yet, an objective comparison—using the Brandens’ own works—suggests a contrast to these “giants” of another kind.”

It is clear that Valliant has gone through the books by Barbara and Nathaniel with a fine-tooth comb, because he presents his perspective on almost every adverse remark that they have made about Rand. For instance, Barbara has asserted that Rand was being dishonest when she claimed that the “only thinker in history from whom she had anything to learn” was Aristotle. She is of the view that Rand ought to have been challenged for making such a statement—she takes Rand to task for dismissing the entire history of philosophy with the sole exception of Aristotle and Aquinas.

Valliant counters Barbara by pointing out that it is true that “Rand was influenced by very few thinkers when it came to philosophical fundamentals.” He also points out that Rand has explicitly acknowledged that she was influenced by certain ideas of Nietzsche.

In the chapter, “The Exploiters and the Exploited,” Valliant takes the Brandens’ to task for their sexual misdemeanors: “in contrast to Ms. Branden’s portrait of her own personal victimization, Branden reveals the multiple, undisclosed affairs Ms. Branden had during the early years of their relationship. He also reveals himself to have been the aggressor in his sexual relationship with Rand.” In the pages of Valliant’s book, there is certainly a whole lot of dirty laundry being washed in full public view. But that is the nature of his project.

Now coming to the Part II of PARC which has only one chapter of close to 200 pages—the first thing that strikes you is the title, “Documenting the Rape of Innocence.” On which personality is Valliant attributing the quality of “innocence”? On March 2, 1950, when Nathaniel had his first meeting with Rand, he was a 19-years-old college student. Then Rand was a 45-year-old cultural icon. She was experienced in the ways of the world—she had escaped the Soviet Union and arrived in USA, and after years of struggle she had established herself as a writer of bestselling books and a philosopher.

But the word “innocence” conjures the picture of a helpless gullible person who has an immature view of the world. It does not seem logical to attribute the quality of “innocence” to Ayn Rand. She was anything but innocent. What about Nathaniel Branden? Can he be the “innocent” one? Consider these lines that he has written in My Years With Ayn Rand:

“In 1948, at the age of eighteen, I knew The Fountainhead so thoroughly that if someone read me any sentence in the book, I could recite the gist of the sentence immediately preceding and following. This had one practical consequence, which would assume so much importance later; I had become intimately familiar with the workings of Ayn Rand’s consciousness. It was as if there were a direct line from her psyche to mine. I was only two years away from our first meeting.”

This is the level of knowledge that he had at the age of 18. The point is that neither Ayn Rand and nor Nathaniel Branden were of the “innocent” kind. Both were fully mature and they entered into a relationship because they chose to do so. The use of the word “rape” in the title is quite disconcerting. It is a harsh word and it certainly seems out of context when we are talking about how the relationship between Rand and Branden developed and deteriorated.

In the final pages of the chapter, Valliant explains his choice of the title. He says that in “his sexual behavior toward Rand, Branden, by his own admission, was motivated not by lust, but by power and position.” He also reveals that in his view “Branden’s psychology shows a striking similarity to the psychology of a rapist.”

And a bit later on:

“Branden was not only able to exploit Rand—intellectually, psychologically, emotionally, professionally and financially—he could do so with an erection. While his behavior was not, technically, rape, Branden’s was nothing less than the soul of a rapist.”

Well, in my view Valliant’s verdict on Branden does not add any value to Rand’s reputation. If she allowed a man who is just out of college to exploit her—intellectually, psychologically, emotionally, professionally and financially—for more than two decades then what does that say about the strength of her mind? I don’t think that she had an abusive relationship with Branden. She would not have tolerated Branden for a day if the relationship had not been pleasurable and profitable for her. The quality of their relationship saw a deterioration only in the final years of their association.

While I disagree with the title of the only chapter in Part II, I like its content. The excerpts from Rand’s personal journals that I have mentioned in the beginning of the article are published in this chapter. These excerpts are a treasure trove of information on Rand’s views on mortality and psychology. Here’s an excerpt from her note on July 8, 1968:

“For instance, [Nathaniel] had thought that an ideal form of love was a single, monogamous marriage—therefore, he resisted the realization that his marriage had failed, because he regarded this as his failure to lead a “stylized” life. I asked him whether he regarded Rearden’s life as “unstylized” because of the failure of his marriage. He agreed emphatically that he had always regarded it that way. He compared Rearden’s situation—the discovery that he had chosen the wrong woman—to the position of a writer who discovers that his past work is bad or wrong, and who is ashamed of it; he said that such a writer’s position was a horror. I told him that this amounted to a “Kantian stylized universe”: a series of intrinsic moral absolutes to which men had to conform, regardless of context, personal choice or circumstances. ”

Rand’s private notes that are included in the Part II of PARC were written by her in 1968 when she was on the verge splitting from Branden. The notes show that her mind is full of questions like: Is he hiding something? Does he really love me? Why is he behaving like this? Is there another woman in his life? To find the answers to all the questions that were in her mind, she tries to psychoanalyze Branden and reaches categories such as “Kantian stylized universe.”

In her lengthy note on July 8, 1968, Rand writes that she had now realized that instead of being like John Galt, Nathaniel was like Philip, the weak, vacillating, and often irrational protagonist in Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage.

In his Introduction to the book, Valliant writes: “In May of 2003, the Estate of Ayn Rand granted me unprecedented access to these same unpublished journals. At that time, only a small handful of people, and certainly not the Brandens, had even seen many of these journal entries, and their contents were the subject of considerable speculation.” However, Valliant does not explain why he was granted the “unprecedented” access to these notes, which are a treasure trove of information on Rand and the Brandens.

The private notes included in PARC are often fragmented but one can draw the inference that these are a small part of what Rand may have written in her journals in 1968. I find myself wondering what is there in her journals that are yet to be published? What else did she write in 1968? What did she write in 1967 and in years before that? What did she write in 1969 and the years after that?

Overall, Valliant has written a long, informative and satisfying account of a controversial epoch in Rand’s life. The best thing about the book is that he has allowed Rand to speak for herself (through her private notes) on the most compelling issues. I will end this article with a personal plea to the Ayn Rand Estate to publish all the notes from Rand’s personal journals.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Immanuel Kant On The Historians of Philosophy

In the second paragraph of Introduction to his Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, Immanuel Kant says that scholars should not confuse philosophy with the history of philosophy. 

Here’s the excerpt: 

“There are scholarly men, to whom the history of philosophy (both ancient and modern) is philosophy itself; for these the present Prolegomena are not written. They must wait till those who endeavor to draw from the fountain of reason itself have completed their work; it will then be the historian's turn to inform the world of what has been done. Unfortunately, nothing can be said, which in their opinion has not been said before, and truly the same prophecy applies to all future time; for since the human reason has for many centuries speculated upon innumerable objects in various ways, it is hardly to be expected that we should not be able to discover analogies for every new idea among the old sayings of past ages.” 

Monday, 13 March 2017

The Classical Mind

A History of Western Philosophy: The Classical Mind (Second Edition)
W. T. Jones
Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1969


I became acquainted with A History of Western Philosophy by W. T. Jones while listening to Leonard Peikoff’s History of Philosophy lecture. Peikoff has good things to say about W. T. Jones’s survey of the life and works of the major Western philosophers from antiquity to modern times.

A History of Western Philosophy is a four-volume work: Volume I—The Classical Mind; Volume II—The Medieval Mind; Volume III—Hobbes to Hume; Volume IV—Kant to Wittgenstein and Sartre. I plan to read all the four books, and now I have finished the Volume I—The Classical Mind, which I find very informative and pleasant. Here’s my article on the book:

In The Classical Mind, W. T. Jones describes the evolution of philosophy in ancient Greece and the early period of the Roman Empire. The focus is on the key philosophers and major philosophical trends. In the Preface, W. T. Jones explains the method that he employs in the book:

“An historian of philosophy can either say something, however brief, about everyone who philosophized, or he can limit himself to giving a reasonably consecutive account of a number of representative thinkers, omitting discussion of many second- and third-flight philosophers. I have chosen the latter approach…”

The verdict of more than two millennia makes it clear that Plato and Aristotle were the masters of their period and therefore The Classical Mind has considerable emphasis on their life and works. The discussion on the two philosophers is spread across four lengthy sections—section 4 and 5 for Plato, and section 6 and 7 for Aristotle.

But W. T. Jones does not neglect the non-Platonic and non-Aristotelian aspects of Ancient Greek philosophy. He creates a composite picture of the intellectual, cultural and political forces that were operating in the pre-Socratic Greece, and shows how these forces led to the creation of an environment in which the rise of Plato and Aristotle became possible.

There are chapters on how God and nature were viewed in the time of Homer and Hesiod—the teachings of thinkers like Thales, Anaximander, Heraclitus, Xenophanes, Parmenides, Pythagoras and Socrates—the movement of the Pythagoreans, sophists and atomists—the plays of Euripides and Aristophanes—the impact of the Peloponnesian War on the intellectual culture of Athens.

But what enabled the ancient Greeks to make such rapid strides in philosophy? In his Introduction, W. T. Jones writes: “Greek philosophy was born out of the struggle to understand nature, for understanding nature proved to be less simple and straightforward than the earliest Greek scientist had confidently assumed. Scientific inquiry becomes philosophical when men discovered that it was necessary to ask questions about this inquiry itself and about its method.”

In the chapter, “Evaluation of Aristotle’s Philosophy,” Jones draws an interesting comparison between Aristotle and Plato:

“Where Plato is whimsical and ironic, and proceeds by suggestion and indirection, Aristotle is matter-of-fact, almost pedestrian. Where Plato’s writing is filled with his sense of better and more beautiful world behind, above, beyond the world of ordinary experience, illuminating that experience but transcending it, Aristotle keeps his feet firm on the ground of ordinary experience. This is his reality, and the business of philosophy in his view is to make sense of the here and now.”

The final chapter, “The Late Classical Period,” is on the rise of Rome. Greek philosophy has now gone into a decline. The Roman Empire has emerged as a major political power in Europe and it also become the center for philosophical and scientific inquiry. 

Sunday, 12 March 2017

On Aristotle

“Where Plato is whimsical and ironic, and proceeds by suggestion and indirection, Aristotle is matter-of-fact, almost pedestrian. Where Plato’s writing is filled with his sense of better and more beautiful world behind, above, beyond the world of ordinary experience, illuminating that experience but transcending it, Aristotle keeps his feet firm on the ground of ordinary experience. This is Aristotle's reality, and the business of philosophy in his view is to make sense of the here and now.”

~ W. T. Jones in A History of Western Philosophy (Volume I — The Classical Mind)

Thursday, 9 March 2017

On The Objectivist Lectures Of The 1960s

The Vision of Ayn Rand: The Basic Principles of Objectivism 
Nathaniel Branden

Of late I have been inquisitive about the lectures on Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy that Nathaniel Branden delivered under the auspices of the Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI). I have read a few accounts which claim that these lectures were very well conceived.

NBI was founded in 1958 by Nathaniel with the blessings of Ayn Rand. But the  organization was shut-down in 1968 after Rand evicted him from her circle.

Last week, I listened to two lectures by Nathaniel. Yesterday I purchased the book called The Vision of Ayn Rand which has the transcription of the major lectures that he delivered in the 1960s. Till now I have read the book’s “Introduction” which is by Barbara Branden.

Here’s an excerpt from the “Introduction” in which Barbara seems to suggest that Nathaniel played a critical role in the development of Rand’s philosophical system:
It is unlikely that Rand would have done the work undertaken by Nathaniel—that is, presented her ideas not merely as separate concepts spread over separate novels in separate speeches by her characters, but as a total system that could be studied by those interested and that ultimately would be recognized as a new philosophical system. At the time, she had no interest in writing nonfiction. She sometimes said that she would not write a comprehensive statement of her philosophy until she was 80. And when she did turn to non-fiction writing, she focused primarily on presenting various important aspects, applications, and extensions (such as her work on epistemology) of her ideas rather than on structuring and completing the system as a whole. 
It is possible that Barbara is overhyping Nathaniel’s role. But I will have more to say on the value of the lectures on Objectivism that Nathaniel delivered during the 1960s after I finish reading The Vision of Ayn Rand.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Lawgivers of Ancient Greece

Early Greek Lawgivers
John David Lewis
Bloomsbury, 2007 

What is the contribution of the lawgivers in Ancient Greece to the idea that all men are equal under the law, and that the king must rule according to a written constitution? John David Lewis’s Early Greek Lawgivers has the answer to such questions.

A book of just 100-pages, Early Greek Lawgivers is divided into seven chapters—the first three chapters have a short description of the history of early Greek law. The next four chapters focus on the lawgivers like Minos and Rhadamanthus of Crete, Lycurgus of Sparta, Solon of Athens, and a few lesser known lawgivers.

The era in which these lawgivers lived was the era of the polis—the Greek city-state. Hundreds of city-states had appeared across the Mediterranean and each one of them was legally independent and self-governing, as there was no overarching Greek empire to impose a common constitution.

The Greek system of justice was an attribute of individual city-states. “When we speak of ‘Greek law’ or a “Greek lawgiver’, we must ask which set of laws or which lawgiver we are considering for which particular polis, for there were no universal Greek institutions to enact and enforce Greek laws across a singular Greek world.”

The special status of the lawgivers within the polis enabled them to resolve disputes without violence, and preach ideas for moral behavior. In the chapter, “Early Greek Order, Justice and Law,” Lewis says that “a ‘just’ decision was one that both sides can agree on, and that forestalls a violent clash.”

And a bit later on: “It is important to note that the ‘City of Peace’ is not a town in which no disputes occur; it is the way that disputes are handled that distinguishes it from the City of War.” Therefore the inference can be drawn that the critical task before any lawgiver in a Greek polis was to maintain peace by resolving disputes.

Lewis acknowledges that it is difficult to conduct an objective study of the ancient Greek lawgivers because their life is shrouded in mythology. He writes: “Many lawgivers were real historical persons—and they did bring laws and constitutions to their cities—but they have also become figures shaped by centuries of legends.”


Homer’s verses have lavished praise on the ancient Cretan King Minos's system of justice. Homer “connected Minos to the earliest Greek gods and heroes,”  and asserted that Minos consulted his father Zeus for the laws and brought them to the Cretans. Another lawgiver to use unwritten laws is Lycurgus who is credited with establishing the Spartan state.

The first Athenian figure to whom specific laws have been attributed is Draco (who lived around 621 BC). “In writing the laws Draco brought some stability to judgements, by limiting the discretion available to officials, and by placating those who wanted strong customary laws enforced.”

In the history of Greek lawgivers Solon of Athens (640-560 BC) is the most revered figure. Lewis points out that Aristotle has said in Politics that Solon, with his written laws, brought ‘politeia’ to Athens. Some scholars have translated ‘politeia’ as constitution, but Lewis says that if we translate this as ‘constitution’ then “we run the risk of conflating Aristotle’s sense of politeia (the organization of the polis, including its distribution of offices) into a modern ‘constitution’.”

“Solon did bring reforms to Athens, and what resulted was a polis with a certain organization, but Solon never called a constitutional convention to establish new institutions, nor did he consider the various forms of polis analytically (as did Aristotle). He rather used poetry to inculcate certain habits of mind, connected to social ritual as well as to reforms of offices, by which he could bring his sense of justice to Athens.”

In the final chapter, “Lesser Known Lawgivers,” Lewis talks about the particular issues in Greek law that certain lesser known lawgivers tried to address. For instance, Philolaus attempted to tackle family law; Phaleas addressed the issue of communism of property; and Hippodamus presented ideas on civic planning.

Early Greek Lawgivers will not give you a complete exegesis of the work of the ancient Greek lawgivers—but with its brief accounts of the major lawgivers, the book facilitates an understanding of the social background in which they worked, and the terminology and concepts in law that they developed. Also, Lewis’s analysis of Aristotle’s comments on Greek lawgivers in works like Politics and Constitution of the Athenians is quite interesting.

Overall, Early Greek Lawgivers is an ideal primer on the development of the concept of rule of law in ancient Greek city-states.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Galt’s Gulch Is Not An Endorsement of Anarchism

The "free-market anarchists” or ”anarcho-capitalists” claim that the lack of government in Galt’s Gulch can be seen as Ayn Rand's endorsement of a no-government society.

So how did Rand herself view the political structure of Galt’s Gulch?

In Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q&A, she is asked: “Why is the lack of government in Galt’s Gulch (in Atlas Shrugged) any different from anarchy, which you object to?” In her response, Rand repudiates the anarchist position.

Let me quote her:
Galt’s Gulch is not a society; it’s a private estate. It’s owned by one man who carefully selected the people admitted. Even then, they had a judge as an arbitrator, if anything came up; only nothing came up among them, because they shared the same philosophy. But if you had a society in which all shared in one philosophy, but without a government, that would be dreadful. Galt’s Gulch probably consisted of about, optimistically, a thousand people who represented the top geniuses of the world. They agreed on fundamentals, but they would never be in total agreement. They didn't need a government because if they had disagreements, they could resolve them rationally.  
But project a society of millions, in which there is every kind of viewpoint, every kind of brain, every kind of morality—and no government. That’s the Middle Ages, your no-government society. Man was left at the mercy of bandits, because without government, every criminally inclined individual resorts to force, and every morally inclined individual is helpless. Government is an absolute necessity if individual rights are to be protected, because you don’t leave force at the arbitrary whim of other individuals. Libertarian anarchism is pure whim worship, because what they refuse to recognize is the need of objectivity among men—particularly men of different views. And it’s good that people within a nation should have different views, provided we respect each others rights.  
No one can guard rights, except a government under objective laws. What if McGovern had his gang of policemen, and Nixon had his, and instead of campaigning they fought in the streets? This has happened throughout history. Rational men are not afraid of government. In a proper society, a rational man doesn't have to know the government exists, because the laws are clear and he never breaks them. 
It is noteworthy that Rand says that libertarian anarchism is “pure whim worship.” If you said that of any anarchist, you will be accused of making an ad hominem argument. But the truth is that they are using Rand’s concepts to make the case for a no-government political position which she has emphatically rejected. 

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Crisis of Liberalism and The Metanormative Solution

Norms of Liberty
Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas J. Den Uyl
Penn State Press, 2005

The leitmotif in Norms of Liberty is to defend liberalism—the book investigates the problem that liberalism faces and it offers a metanormative solution. The authors conduct an analytic analysis of both ethical theory and political theory, and they answer the objections of different groups of critics which include intellectuals such as Alasdair MacIntrye, John Rawls, John Gray, Michael Sandel, Robert George and John Finnis.

In their analysis of liberalism, the authors point out that there is a "crisis of liberalism" and there is "liberalism's problem" or task. The former has to do with whether liberalism can be defined and defended or whether it will be supplanted by alternative political theories, e.g., conservatism, communitarianism, forms of "progressivism," etc. Can liberalism defend the claim that liberty is the paramount value for the political/legal order?

Liberalism faces a crisis because it has failed to realize that it is not an ethical theory, but a political theory that requires a deeper foundation and that it has as its task the solution to liberalism's problem. This problem arises from the nature of human flourishing, and it is concerned with finding a way to achieve a political/legal order that is compatible with the individualized, self-directed, and profoundly social character of human flourishing.

The authors argue that liberalism’s problem can be solved by protecting the possibility of self-direction, because “self-direction is the common critical element in all the concrete forms of human flourishing.” This principle of self-direction is used by the authors to make the case that “the basic, negative, natural right to liberty is, together with its corollary rights of life and property, a metanormative principle, because it protects the possibility of self-direction in a social context.”

The authors further argue that “such concepts as “social justice” and “the common good of the political community” are, as normally understood, not metanormative principles and that no ethical principles associated with these concepts, nor any other ethical principles, for that matter, can claim priority over the basic right to liberty as a metanormative principle.”

The normative principles are the norms that directly regulate moral conduct of individuals, while the  term “metanormative” covers the ethical principles which regulate “the conditions under which such conduct could take place.”

The metanormative solution entails that a good society, one in which self-direction is possible, can only be created when the legal codes are based on the ethical code of a human being. Every individual in society may want to flourish in his own way, but the flourishing of human beings requires social cooperation and it is the task of ethics to determine the rules under which cooperation among human beings can take place. In the chapter, “Individualistic Perfectionism” there is an interesting discussion of Aristotelian ethical code.

The focus of the authors is on defending what they call “liberalism’s basic tenet,” which is the idea that the paramount aim of a political and legal order is to protect liberty as it is understood in terms of basic negative rights. The liberalism that the authors have in mind is “classical liberalism” or “libertarianism.” They consider the modern form of liberalism in USA as a “perversion of liberalism proper,” but they believe that it still holds many of liberalism’s central tenets.

In the first chapter, “Liberalism in Crisis,” the central tenets of liberalism are defined as “that political power is not something due anyone by natural right, that progress is possible, that the individual is the basic social unit, that people should have the freedom to pursue their own conceptions of the good life, and that the political/legal order should be limited to protecting individuals in the pursuit of their own conceptions of the good life.”

Liberalism’s problems are an outcome of the fracture between ethical and political principles. Liberalism’s politics is supposed to enable everyone in society to have an equally good life, but such an aim cannot be achieved without infringing upon the rights of the individuals. The metanormative solution to this problem is that liberalism’s politics should not be based on the idea of providing good life to all citizens, rather it should seek to protect their rights.

When the political system is protecting rights, every individual is free to flourish in his own way. The authors emphasize that the protection of rights will not guarantee success of every individual but it will create the social conditions in which people have the liberty to self-direct their own lives and achieve a better quality of life.

Also, the ways of flourishing are not the same for everyone. For instance, financial success or fame are not the necessary conditions for flourishing. A poor man can flourish in his own way. The authors point out that “throughout the world, we find extremely poor people choosing and engaging in various forms of conduct, trying as best as they can to better their situations. The exercise of self-direction is a common and near-universal phenomenon.”

If the political system is directing the lives of the people, then the individuals are not free to achieve their own vision of flourishing—when they are barred from flourishing in their own way their productivity goes down. By protecting man’s rights, the metanormative solution generates an environment in which self-direction is possible and the use of coercion is barred. This is the only way of creating a society in which individuals have the possibility to flourish in their own way.

In the "Epilogue," the authors say that since existence exists, and knowledge is possible to human beings, it is also possible to have a political society in which individuals live well. Here’s an excerpt from the "Epilogue":

"Indeed, there is a basis for metaphysical optimism. Ontologically, we do not live in a “vale of tears” because reality allows, for the most part, ample opportunity for most people to find fulfilment, at least to some extent, if they will but exercise the effort to use their minds and develop the appropriate virtues, and if there are political/legal orders whose structural conditions protect liberty. Protecting the possibility of self-direction is vital; for that is necessary for economic and moral entrepreneurship required for material prosperity, human flourishing, and civil society.”

Saturday, 4 March 2017

What makes a hero?



What trials unite Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins and many of literature’s most interesting heroes — and you? Matthew Winkler takes you through the crucial events that make or break a hero as based on the works of Joseph Campbell’s A Hero With a Thousand Faces.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

The Marginalia of Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand's Marginalia: Her Critical Comments on the Writings of over 20 Authors
Edited by Robert Mayhew

Ayn Rand’s Marginalia has a collection of the comments that Ayn Rand made on the margins of several books and articles. These comments are a treasure trove of information on her method of judging the texts that she read.

Majority of Rand’s comments are negative but she has left a few positive comments also—for instance, in case of Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative, she writes terms like “good,” and “these are good statements.” But in reference to another text in the book she writes on the margin: “Total nonsense!”

In his Introduction, Robert Mayhew says: “Ayn Rand wrote these comments for her own eyes only, and never imagined that they would be published. They should be read accordingly—i.e., the marginalia are in no way to be taken as her final, considered viewpoint. Nevertheless, they provide fascinating and important insights into Ayn Rand.”

Her comments include colourful gems like: “Danger”; “Total Disaster”; “Good God”; “Double-danger”; “The God-damn fools”’ “God no”; “Cheap BS”; Boy, oh boy, oh boy”; “Are we ghosts”; “Really, dear pragmatist”; “Hello neo-mystic”; “Green-gremlin premise”; Sloppy thinking”. But in most cases, she has left comments comprising of one or more sentences.

Rand had the capacity to quickly identify the fundamental premises of the author, but many of her comments are sharply critical. It seems that she has left these words on the margins to trigger her thoughts. But we can't have a picture of the entirety of her thoughts from these short comments. I think if she had done a critical review of these texts, she may have given an entirely different perspective in many of the cases.

She has too many disagreements with Human Action by Ludwig von Mises. Here’s one comment: “What has he explained? Only that a lot of socialists and fools are attacking his pet science, economics, which he treats as a primary in a vacuum. Does this constitute an objective explanation for the establishment of any new system of categories for science?”

Here’s her response to the text on parexology in Human Action: “What becomes of ‘praxeology’ if he makes a perfect case for it, except that philosophers prove to him that there is no knowledge and no realty and no causality, and therefore, everything is a “subjective” delusion, including his ‘praxeology’?”

This is an interesting book for having a glimpse into Rand’s thoughts on important intellectual literature. But as Mayhew has pointed out in the Introduction, Rand never imagined that her comments on the margin of the texts will be published. Therefore these comments must not be taken as her final, considered viewpoint.