Saturday, 29 April 2017

On Objectivism

Question: Is Objectivism a system of philosophy or a sense of life movement?

Answer: While Ayn Rand conceived Objectivism as a philosophy, it is now a sense of life movement. I say this because most contemporary Objectivist scholars tend to avoid intricate philosophical theory—they do not aim to influence other professional philosophers and they never answer any objections to their ideas; their focus is only on preaching a rational sense of life to an audience which has a very limited experience of philosophy. Preaching sense of life is a good thing, but it isn't philosophy.

(Here's the link the Facebook discussion on my timeline.)

Friday, 28 April 2017

Ayn Rand on Endorsing Anyone’s Future Work

“Since men do not think or write automatically, since nothing gives them an automatic guarantee of reaching the right conclusions, it is impossible to endorse anyone’s future work, particularly in the field of ideas.” ~ Ayn Rand in “To The Reader” (The Objectivist Forum, Feb 1980)

(When I read such lines in Ayn Rand’s articles I get the feeling that she was against the idea of having an “authority figure” in Objectivism. When she finds it impossible to endorse anyone’s future work in the field of ideas then how can we expect her to anoint anyone as an “authority figure”!)

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The March of Philosophy from Hobbes to Hume

Today I start reading the Volume III of A History of Western Philosophy by W. T. Jones, titled Hobbes to Hume. Volume I and Volume II were a great read and I anticipate a similar experience from Volume III.

This book has chapters on Hobbes, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley and Hume. But the analysis of the life and works of these philosophers starts from the chapter 4, which is on Hobbes.

The first three chapters are devoted to describing the intellectual and political background in these philosophers proposed their ideas. The first chapter is “Renaissance,” the second chapter is “Reformation,” and the third chapter is “Science and Scientific Method.”

Here’s an excerpt from the book’s Introduction:
Just as Greek philosophy, with its emphasis on independence, autonomy, and self-realization, seemed irrelevant to the survivors of the collapse of classical culture and the wreck of the Roman Empire, so medieval philosophy, with its emphasis on an infinitely good God and its assumption of man’s finitude and sin, could not satisfy the Renaissance man who emerged in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Shaped by capitalism and new money power, by the idea of sovereignty and ideals of Humanism, by the discovery of America and the Protestant reformation, this new man was an individualist increasingly concerned with this world and its values.  
Perhaps the most momentous element in the great change from medieval to modern times was the development of the scientific method. Indeed, if it can be said that classical philosophy was overthrown by the Christians’ discovery of God, then it can be said that the medieval philosophy was overthrown by the scientists’ discovery of nature. This discovery was not a merely revival of classical naturalism and secularism; it was the discovery of a world of facts that seemed indifferent to man and his affairs.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Review of The DIM Hypothesis

In his Preface to The DIM Hypothesis: Why the Lights of the West Are Going Out, Leonard Peikoff guesses that there is an 80 to 85 percent chance that Ayn Rand "would agree with the book, extol its virtues, and regard it as of historic importance.”

However, after reading Roger Bissell’s broad review of The DIM Hypothesis ("Beneath The DIM Hypothesis: The Logical Structure of Leonard Peikoff’s Analysis of Cultural Evolution"; The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, Vol. 13, No. 2, 2013), I am constrained to say that there is negligible chance of Rand agreeing with the book—she would not find much virtue in it and it is certain that she would not regard it as of historic importance.

Peikoff posits in The DIM Hypothesis that the three great philosophers, Plato, Aristotle, and Kant, offer the three “pure” (primary or fundamental) modes of integration. In addition to these three primary modes of integration, there are, he says, two “mixed” modes which are formed by joining the elements of the pure modes.

Thus, according to Peikoff, there are only five modes of integration: three “pure” and two “mixed.” But Bissell shows that there are problems in Peikoff’s DIM mixtures. Whereas Peikoff has asserted that there can be only two “mixed” modes, Bissell says that there can be six “mixed” modes in addition to the three “pure” modes.

Here’s the list of six “mixed” modes, according to Bissell:

1. Plato primary + Aristotle, Peikoff’s M1 

2. Kant primary + Aristotle, Peikoff’s D1 

3. Aristotle primary + Plato, rejected by Peikoff 

4. Aristotle primary + Kant, rejected by Peikoff 

5. Plato primary + Kant, not mentioned by Peikoff 

6. Kant primary + Plato, not mentioned by Peikoff 

Peikoff claims that Thomas Aquinas’s  thinking does not qualify as a DIM mixture for two reasons: firstly, Aquinas does not present an integrated view of fundamentals; secondly, he rejects Aristotle and Christianity as the basis or ground for the other.

But Bissell disagrees with Peikoff's view on Aquinas. Bissell says that “while it is true, as Peikoff says, that Aquinas “denies that the fundamentals of Christianity rest on the Aristotelian philosophy,” it is not true that “he denies the reverse.”” He also shows that Peikoff has misinterpreted the significance of the philosophy of Hegel and Spinoza.

According to Peikoff, Bentham and Mill are inspired by Kant. Here’s the relevant excerpt from The DIM Hypothesis: “In ethics, the most influential expressions of Knowing Skepticism are Comte's Religion of Humanity and the Utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill.... Being Kant-inspired, both regard elements within consciousness as the only basis for a distinction between good and evil.” But where is the evidence that Bentham and Mill were inspired by Kant? Bissell points out that the positions of Bentham and Mill are not Kantian—they are essentially Humean.

Bissell goes on to propose that rather than Immanuel Kant, David Hume “should be tagged as the arch-villain of modern philosophy, the paladin of the D2 Disintegrative position.” He devotes close to 50 percent of his review to exposing the weaknesses in the Objectivist position on Kant. “Hume seems much more Anti-Integration and nihilistic than Kant. At the very least, Kant seems more Pro-Integration and non-nihilistic than Rand, Peikoff, et al. give him credit for.”

Peikoff, it seems, has misinterpreted many of the statements that Kant makes in his works. For instance, from the famous Kantian statement—“I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith”—Peikoff deduces that in ethics, Kant denied happiness, in order to make room for duty. He cites this as an instance of Kant’s attack on reason, this world, and man’s happiness.

But Bissell is of the view that Kant was not interested in attacking happiness or knowledge. He says that Kant’s “thrust in epistemology was to limit knowledge to a basis in experience, and to insist that theoretical reason could not produce either a proof or a disproof of free will, the existence of God, and so on, which are not found in our experience. These latter things can only be believed in, not known. In other words, Kant was denying that knowledge could be had of trans-experiential things, in order to make it clear that they had to be taken on faith (or not)—and that theoretical reason and knowledge had nothing to do with them.”

Finally, Bissell says that “the decades-long Objectivist condemnation of Kant, the branding of him by the philosophy’s founder as “the most evil man in mankind’s history,” and Peikoff’s equating of Kant with the Anti-Integration/Nihilist pole and his indictment of Kant’s philosophy as a “systematic negation of philosophy” are overripe for a careful examination and discussion.”

Bissell’s review of The DIM Hypothesis is profoundly important because it identifies significant problems not only with the logical framework of Leonard Peikoff’s hypothesis but also with the Objectivist theory of history.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Immanuel Kant and The League of Nations

John David Lewis in Nothing Less Than Victory says that the ideas that Immanuel Kant has developed in his essay "Perpetual Peace" (1795) served the purpose of creating an intellectual climate to support the creation of the League of Nations in 1920.

Woodrow Wilson, the US President at that time, was a former president of Princeton University with a Ph.D in political science. When Wilson stressed that the creation of the League of Nations would facilitate the development of a relationship between equals within an international whole, he was articulating ideas that he had received from intellectual predecessors like Kant.

In "Perpetual Peace", Kant says that the sovereign republics exist in a lawless state of nature. This state of nature is a “state of war,” because there are no standards of justice and institutions to resolve the disputes between nations. When there is no single international authority, each nation is unrestrained and can prey upon other nations.

According to Kant, international peace can be achieved only when the nations subordinate their foreign policy to an international authority, which he calls “league of peace” (foedus pacific). Here’s an excerpt from "Perpetual Peace":

“For states in relation to each other, there cannot be any reasonable way out of the lawless condition which entails only war except that they, like individual men, should give up their lawless (savage) freedom, adjust themselves to the constraints of public law, and thus establish a continuously growing state consisting of various nations [civitas gentium], which will ultimately include all the nations of the world.”

In Nothing Less Than Victory, John David Lewis writes:

“The League of Nations put the Kantian ideal into practice, in a new world order that eschewed the competitive nationalism of the previous century. Wilson’s ideals—equality, national self-determinism, and collective security—were the League’s foundation, were derivable from Kant’s ideas, and were highly influential. These ideals promised an effect alternative to the unpredictable actions of unrestrained sovereign nations. They became the moral compass that shaped the decisions of British leaders.” 

Friday, 14 April 2017

Plato and Aristotle: Augustine and Aquinas

Painting of Thomas Aquinas
by Carlo Crivelli (1476)
Augustine and Thomas Aquinas are separated by almost eight centuries but both are Christian thinkers. Is it possible that there is a continuity of thought and feeling between the two? Historian W. T. Jones has explored this question in The Medieval Mind.

Here’s an excerpt:

"Plato and Aristotle, the two dominant philosophers of the classical period, were teacher and pupil. They lived in essentially the same world, understood its problems in much the same way, and sought a common solution for them. Between Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, the correspondingly dominant figures of the medieval period, there was a similar continuity of thought and feeling, for they were both Christian thinkers and thus had a common core of doctrine and faith. Yet these two figures were separated by no less than eight centuries. This is a long time by almost any standard—longer than the whole of the classical period. And though the rate of cultural change was much slower in the Middle Ages than it is today, a great many new values and attitudes developed, new institutions were fashioned, and new values were experienced during the long period between Augustine’s death and Thomas’ birth. All these changes were naturally reflected in the Thomistic synthesis of the thirteenth century. Thus, though Thomism shared many of the basic insights of Augustinianism, it faced new problems and dealt with old ones in new ways."

(Source: The Medieval Mind (A History of Western Philosophy, Volume II) by W. T. Jones; Chapter: “The Medieval Interval”) 

A Philosophical Zombie

But if a being without consciousness is a "philosophical zombie", what is a consciousness without being?

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

From The Fountainhead To The Future

From The Fountainhead To The Future and Other Essays on Art and Excellence
Alexandra York

Alexandra York’s essays in From The Fountainhead To The Future thoroughly explore the idea that good art can inspire better society.

She analyzes the repercussions of the artistic trends in different epochs of history—ancient Greece, the Roman Empire and the Renaissance—and develops a convincing view on what the postmodernist art of today portends for the future of the Western civilization.

In her Preface, York says: “The Time is ripe for philosophically inspired art to emerge from our midst like “homing” search lights beamed onto viable paths that might lead us out of our present morass into the natural sunlight of a tomorrow where people will have learned again to cherish beauty and rational values.”

In the chapter, “The State of Culture,” York says: “Art is a shortcut to philosophy. This is why the art that predominates in any given culture can be read as a barometer of that culture’s basic philosophical content. All artists are not always conscious of the values they express in their work but conscious or not, we can be very sure that their deepest, most personally held values are revealed in their art, for good or ill.”

York posits that when the present nihilism of postmodern art fades away, Western civilization will see a new renaissance of much greater philosophical and political significance than the Italian Renaissance.

In the chapter, “Romantic Realism: Visions of Values,” she points out that a “renaissance” must not be regarded as a mere “revival,” because the word means a “rebirth.” “We cannot and should not seek to repeat the past. No matter how ground-breaking was ancient Greece or how brilliant the Italian Renaissance or how progressive the Enlightenment, we must begin here and now.”

She warns that “If we fail to generate a Renaissance of the twenty-first century, then surely we shall suffer a Dark Age.”

The idea of a Twenty-first century Renaissance is further explained in the chapter, “The Legacy Lives: Embracing The Year Three thousand in Philosophy and Art.” York says that the “art produced during any epoch—from Paleolithic cave drawings to the Parthenon—is always an accurate philosophical and spiritual testament to the degree of progress or primitivism of its own time and the ideas that informed it.”

Taking this idea in mind she draws her inference about our artistic testament today and in the future. She accepts that nihilism is the dominant trend in modern art, but she feels that this artistic nihilism can pave way for a better tomorrow. “But strange as it may seem, this chaos can actually serve us, because it leaves the way out of the ruins open and obstacle-free of ossified preconceptions that might otherwise hinder our judgement.”

The analysis of Michelangelo’s David, Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker and EvAngelos Frudakis’s The Signer in the chapter, “Art As Interactive Experience,” is very interesting. York’s analysis of these timeless masterpieces reminds us of the vital role that art plays in inspiring us to develop ideas for improving the world that we inhabit.

The book ends with the chapter, “Sharing The Miracle” in which York points out that art is the most beautiful, noble and life-enriching of all human creations.

The eleven essays in York’s book are compatible with Ayn Rand's theory of romantic art, and although the use of The Fountainhead signifies the base from which her study of art on the world flows as the fountainhead of Western civilization--Ancient Greece—many readers may connect with Rand’s novel of the same name.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

My One-Line Commentary On The Sancho Panza Mindset in Objectivism

Don Quixote Charging the Windmill
Like Sancho Panza they blindly follow the arrogant knight errant Don Quixote who wages philosophical battles against the windmills.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

The Academics And The Peripatetics

After the demise of Plato and Aristotle what methods did their followers in Ancient Greece use to safeguard the integrity of the philosophical systems developed by the two philosophers? In The Classical Mind, W. T. Jones offers a few insights into the damage that was caused by the doctrinal orthodoxy of the followers of Plato and Aristotle.

Here’s an excerpt from the chapter, “The Late Classical Period”:

“The Academics were centered in the Academy that Plato had founded. For years after the founder’s death—such was the impress of his personality—his views were handed down dogmatically by a succession of hero worshipers. Like the Academics, the Peripatetics (as the members of Aristotle’s rival Lyceum came to be known, because of their master’s practice of walking about while lecturing) showed little originality. For the most part they were content to expound the encyclopaedic learning of Aristotle.”

W. T. Jones suggests that the growth of both Platonism and Aristotelianism was strangulated as the dogmatic followers of Plato and Aristotle focused solely on preserving the purity of the texts that the two philosophers had left behind. A few years after Plato and Aristotle there was sharp decline in the popularity of their ideas as people in Ancient Greece started looking at other schools of thought for solution to their social problems.

When the Greek civilization faded, there was rise of the Roman Empire where certain aspects of Platonism and Aristotelianism appeared in the form of Epicureanism, Stoicism and Scepticism.

In the final chapter, “The Late Classical Period,” W. T. Jones points out that the popularity of Epicureanism, Stoicism and Scepticism in the Roman Empire indicated that “this was a tired and discouraged society in which peace of mind, relief from the struggle, had replaced such positive goods as social progress and self-improvement. Now, peace of mind can conceivably be won by the natural means—by science or, alternatively, by suspension of judgment. But this natural peace could not hope to compete with the appeal of that deeper peace—the peace that passeth understanding—that was assured by a transcendent and otherworldly religion.”

The Classical Mind has an interesting description of how the ideas of Plato and Aristotle were used by philosophers like Epicurus and Lucretius in Epicureanism; by Cicero, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius in Stoicism; and by Sextus Empiricus and others in Scepticism. The book makes the case that the popularity of Epicureanism, Stoicism and Scepticism contributed to the moral and political decline of the Roman Empire and made it possible for the Dark Ages to takeover Europe.

The point is that the doctrinaire orthodoxy of the followers of Plato and Aristotle could not safeguard the integrity of the ideas of the two philosophers. The efforts of the orthodox followers resulted in the dissociation of Platonism and Aristotelianism from mainstream culture and this paved way for the rise of irrational philosophical systems like Epicureanism, Stoicism and Scepticism

Thursday, 6 April 2017

The Platonic State and George Orwell’s 1984

The Classical Mind 
W. T. Jones
Harcourt, Brace & Word, Inc.

In The Classical Mind, W. T. Jones analyzes the implications of Platonic political theory and reaches the conclusion that while Plato was himself not a totalitarian, a state founded on Platonic principles will be close to the totalitarian state that George Orwell describes in 1984.

Here’s the excerpt from the chapter, “Plato: The Special Sciences”:
"Plato was not a totalitarian in intent, even if, as we may suspect, this is where a state founded on Platonic principles would end in fact. It is true that in its externals the Platonic state is close to that of George Orwell’s 1984. There is a Ministry of Propaganda, indoctrinating the public with useful fictions; a Ministry of Censorship, rigidly suppressing dangerous thoughts; the same military flavor; the same powerful police, the same discipline, the same denial of a domain of private rights; the same omnipresent state; the same ruling and self-perpetuating clique. The only difference—but a basic one—is in the character of the ruling elite. The rulers of Plato’s state know the truth and act in accordance with it for the good of all. The rulers of Orwell’s state are Thrasymacheans*, not Platonists; they have taken over Thrasymachus’ nihilism, cynicism and egoism and applied modern techniques of advertising and political control to accomplish results that Thrasymacus did not dream of, but that he certainly would have applauded. In Plato’s state, the rulers lie to the people for the good of the people; in the Orwellian state, the rulers lie to the people for the good of the rulers. In Plato’s state there is a tension of opposing economic, social, and political forces in the producing class, but this is held in check and in balance by the rulers, whose passionless knowledge has put them outside the struggle for power; in the Orwellian state the struggle for power infects the whole state and becomes more bitter, cruel, and savage in the more intelligent classes, for reason is not regarded as an instrument of self-discipline but as a tool for satisfying the passions. It is true that we have grounds for fearing that even Plato’s rulers might be corrupted by power, but it would be unfair to assume, because of this doubt, that Plato was advocating a totalitarian state. At a theoretical level, at the level of what has been called intent, Plato was poles apart from the totalitarians."
* Thrasymachus is a character in Plato's Republic.