"Miss Bingley," said [Mr. Darcy], "has given me credit for more than can be. The wisest and the best of men, nay, the wisest and best of their actions, may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke."So now we have Plato, Elizabeth Bennett, and Ayn Rand all in agreement! As the awful Miss Bingley says in that very scene "Oh! shocking!"
"Certainly," replied Elizabeth -- "there are such people, but I hope I am not one of them. I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can. -- But these, I suppose, are precisely what you are without."
The case before the Supreme Court this term which I’m most interested in is Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. The case is superficially about a parental notification requirement for minors seeking an abortion. More fundamentally, however, the case has the potential to allow states to erode the right to abortion in a frightening way.
SCOTUSblog has a good (albeit technical) post up on the case. Here’s the relevant excerpt:
Perhaps more importantly, the case also raises the question of what hurdle opponents of abortion statutes must clear before making facial constitutional challenges to those statutes. Respondents argue that they should only have to show that the law might endanger the lives or health of some hypothetical women in some hypothetical circumstances; petitioner claims facial challenges should only be allowed if the challenger can show that the law would endanger the lives or health of every pregnant woman, and thus be unconstitutional in every circumstance. Challengers who can only show that a law is dangerous to some women in some circumstances must wait until those circumstances actually arise, and then only have the law declared unconstitutional as applied to them.
I also recently saw an interview with law professor Jack Balkin, who captured this issue eloquently in a less “legally jargonistic” way:
The other issue in Ayotte is highly technical, but it turns out it’s crucial. It’s far more important than the health issue. Here’s the idea: Let’s suppose you have a state like Missouri or Pennsylvania, which are famous for being opposed to abortion and have passed considerable regulations of abortion over the years. They pass a new statute. The statue contains a whole bunch of different restrictions on abortion.
Now, the way it usually works until now is, a plaintiff goes to court and says, “This restriction here will impose an undue burden on a lot of women.” And if they convince the court that’s so, then the court issues an injunction, and the statutes cannot be applied by anyone. The statute is gone and leaves the playing field where it was before the statute was passed.
But in this case, the Supreme Court is going to consider a different rule, and here’s how this rule would work: You go to court, and you say, “This law causes an undue burden on a significant number of women.” The court says instead: “Well, as long as there’s some women for whom it’s constitutional, as long as there are some women for whom the law doesn’t violate their rights, the law stays in place. And we will only say that it doesn’t apply to you.”
That’s called an applied challenge. It means the law stays on the books. And it also means that over time, you have to bring a whole series of different plaintiffs in, each of which goes before the court and says, “This law is unconstitutional as to me.”
So it greatly increases the costs of bringing abortion litigation, and it greatly impedes the ability of getting rid of unconstitutional statutes. The practical effect is to allow states to pass much more restrictive laws affecting abortion than they ever could before, and it’s all through a technical deviceÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
That interview is from the Frontline documentary The Last Abortion Clinic, which I highly recommend. It highlights the insidious regulations that anti-abortionists have been passing in some states. You can watch in online here (Windows Media Player or Realplayer required).
'If you talk to God," the psychiatrist Thomas Szasz observed, "that's called 'prayer.' If God talks to you, that's called 'schizophrenia.' " Szasz was making an ironic observation about how the definitions of concepts like "reason" and "madness" are controversial and politicized.Even if Campos had discarded Harris's gratuitous Buddhism and focused his attack on "materialism", he would have had an easy go at smearing secularism. One of the most common misconceptions about a non-mystical view of the universe is, after all, that it necessarily entails the sort of deterministic, "billiard-ball" notion of causality we see in the next paragraph. This is patently absurd when one considers the idea that free will is a different type of causation. Free will manifestly exists. The fact that we cannot explain it yet does not invalidate reason as a means to knowledge, nor does it mean we can just make up whatever else we like while we're ignorant about the point.
In his much-discussed book The End of Faith, Sam Harris says something that sounds similar, but lacks Szasz's ironical nuance: "Jesus Christ - who, as it turns out, was born of a virgin, cheated death and rose bodily into the heavens - can now be eaten in the form of a cracker. A few Latin words spoken over your favorite Burgundy, and you can drink his blood as well. Is there any doubt that a lone subscriber to these beliefs would be considered mad?"
What irony can be found in Harris' polemic, which is dedicated to proving that religious belief consists of irrational superstitions which are increasingly dangerous in this technologically advanced age, is almost exclusively of the unintentional kind.
Harris wants us to reject "faith" and embrace "reason," by which he pretty much means the philosophical view known as materialism, with a dab of vaguely Buddhist mysticism thrown into the metaphysical mix.
Materialism is the view that at bottom reality consists of nothing but particles in fields of force, and that all events are caused solely by the operation of mindless physical laws. Several things should be noted about this belief. First, believing in materialism is an act of faith like any other. The ultimate nature of reality isn't a scientific question, and anyone who expects science to provide answers regarding such matters doesn't understand either science or religion.Campos is correct when he says that "The ultimate nature of reality isn't a scientific question...." This is something I, a secularist and a scientist, have pointed out myself. But in doing so, I have pointed out that many sloppily substitute terms like "science" or "materialism" -- or both, in the case of really sloppy writers like Campos -- for "reason". Indeed, it is the faculty of reason that allows man to grasp the nature of reality through the appropriate discipline, the discipline of philosophy, of which religion is at best a primitive first stab. Later on, I will deal with Campos's assertion that rejecting faith as a means of knowledge (or, as he phrases it, "believing in materialism") is, in and of itself, an "act of faith".
Second, the debate about whether the world is ultimately a meaningless flux or something more has been going on for thousands of years. The belief that materialism is a product of post-Enlightenment thought in general and modern science in particular is itself a product of historical ignorance.Harris's comments on the strangeness of various religious doctrines are mostly on the money and come from the implicitly rational first parts of his book. In the later, new-agey sections, Harris makes all kinds of hokey statements, like when he smuggles in altruism while attempting to discuss a "rational" foundation for morality, and ends up spouting off the following nonsense:
Third, while Harris is quite right that many religious doctrines sound outrageous to nonbelievers (they often sound outrageous to believers as well), those who worship in the temple of materialism fail to consider how outrageous their beliefs can sound to the uninitiated.
Consider three statements: 1. Torturing a child for one's own sexual gratification is evil. 2. Shakespeare is a better writer than George Lucas. 3. Human beings have free will. An intellectually honest materialist must reject all these claims. At most, he can recharacterize them in much weaker forms. So, for example, he can observe that in our society sadistic pedophilia is considered evil, and that it's this social judgment that determines the content of morality.
[W]e can see that one could desire to become more loving and compassionate for purely selfish reasons. This is a paradox, of sorts, because these attitudes undermine selfishness, by definition. (!) (191-192)Things like this makes him, as a "defender" of secularism, easy prey for someone like Campos, who wants to use problems caused by Harris's fundamental irrationality to attack his rational facade.
But this recharacterization fails utterly to capture what most people mean when they say sadistic pedophilia is evil. What they mean, although they might not articulate it in these terms, is that torturing a child for sexual pleasure is an outrage to the moral order of the universe. It is not evil because a particular society considers it evil: it is simply evil.How would Campos know this? And how does he know that everyone else (or anyone else) knows this? And, except for the deterrent of capture (which even the stupidest criminals seem to grasp), what does any such moral injunction have about it to motivate compliance? Suppose some perv finds a "consenting" child and a way not to get caught? He has no clue about what a proper life is all about and is thus less likely to consider psychotherapy or even such measures as chemical castration to prevent himself from performing this monstrous act. Why? Because he won't understand why this is a monstrous act. He'll just have a list of do's and don't's, and maybe a fairy tale about eternal hellfire he may credit.
Materialism, as a philososphical doctrine, has the great advantage that it reduces the catalog of things that actually exist to those which can be investigated by science. It has the great disadvantage that it requires treating as illusions morality, art, free will, and much else that most people call "reality." That, of course, does not make it false. It does, however, make it literally incredible to anyone who hasn't made the leap of faith materialism requires. [bold added]Don Watkins correctly identified the essence of such arguments when he said:
On the Kantian premise, it doesn't matter why men disagree. Since truth is determined by man's consciousness, the very fact that men disagree means there is no truth. So long as some men deny the Holocaust, whether or not it happened "cannot be considered settled." So long as some men believe that cannibalism is moral, the question "cannot be considered settled." And what about the belief that nothing can be considered settled unless all men agree? Well, hell, that's just self-evident.Actually, Campos sounds like Lee Harris, but with a twist. Whereas Lee Harris argues that there is not truth, Campos simply holds that reason cannot grasp truth. There is no need for debate, in Campos's mind, because everything is a matter of faith. While Campos pays lip service to the notion of reality, his "faith-based world" is for all practical purposes no different than Lee Harris's socially-constructed world: Either way, you just go with whatever's on your mind regardless of facts and logic. (And this shakes out in morality: "Do your own thing." vs. an arbitrary moral code whose lack of justification can't answer the obvious question, "Why not do your own thing?")
Indeed, I consider holding beliefs such as that sadistic pedophilia is evil because it violates the basic moral order of the universe to be part of a fairly minimal definition of sanity. But then I lack the materialist's faith.Translation: "My faith is better than your faith. Neener neener neener!" How profound. And how relevant.
[O]ne of my greatest concerns about the book is that it would "champion some new version of revealed truth as a means of knowledge. [The book] would then end up aiding religion while appearing to champion reason."I would say that that fear has been realized in the sense that Sam Harris seems to be doing a great job of discrediting reason through the straw man of the scientism-cum-Buddhism he pretends is reason.
A CNN switchboard operator was fired over the holiday -- after the operator claimed the 'X' placed over Vice President's Dick Cheney's face was "free speech!"Um. Yes. I haven't been paying much attention to this story. The last I heard, the X was quite possibly a computer glitch. Whatever.
"We did it just to make a point. Tell them to stop lying, Bush and Cheney," the CNN operator said to a caller. "Bring our soldiers home."
The caller initially phoned the network to complain about the all-news channel flashing an "X' over Cheney as he gave an address live from Washington.
"Was it not freedom of speech? Yes or No?" the CNN operator explained [sic].
"If you don't like it, don't watch."
Laurie Goldberg, Senior Vice President for Public Relations with CNN, said in a release:
"A Turner switchboard operator was fired today after we were alerted to a conversation the operator had with a caller in which the operator lost his temper and expressed his personal views -- behavior that was totally inappropriate. His comments did not reflect the views of CNN. We are reaching out to the caller and expressing our deep regret to her and apologizing that she did not get the courtesy entitled to her. "
Due to success of the SmashMyiPod.com site we decided to take the whole smashing thing a little further, and destroy things right when they come out, in front of 100s of fanboys who would be quite upset to see their beloved game console smashed.
The rest of his post is a typical subjectivist analysis of value, which I don't have the time or inclination (or stomach, for that matter) to analyze. Rather, I'd like to identify what is really going on here, which appears to have escaped Kip.
He characterizes this hooliganism as "an interest in harmless destruction", but notes, "the initial response that many would have to such a project would be something akin to either befuddlement (i.e., 'Why?') or indignation (i.e., 'How wasteful!')." My own reaction was much more caustic - "how corrupt and contemptible!" Even if these neanderthals were simply smashing an expensive object in mindless glee, I would still feel contempt.
But these cretins are much worse than cave men. As the excerpt I included above clearly shows, their glee is not a product of the physical destruction as such (which is bad enough), but instead the effect this destruction would have upon the other people in line who value the XBox 360 and are eager to get theirs. This is not harmless fun, it is pure poison. Their enjoyment comes not from the achievement of values, but from the destruction of the values of others. Their response to the phenomenon of a happy man, is to take his happiness and mangle it. This is what Ayn Rand so eloquently identified as, "hatred of the good for being good":
Consider the full meaning of this attitude. Values are that which one acts to gain and/or keep. Values are a necessity of man's survival, and wider: of any living organism's survival. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action, and the successful pursuit of values is a precondition of remaining alive. Since nature does not provide man with an automatic knowledge of the code of values he requires, there are differences in the codes which men accept and the goals they pursue. But consider the abstraction "value", apart from the particular content of any given code, and ask yourself: What is the nature of a creature in which the sight of a value arouses hatred and the desire to destroy? In the most profound sense of the term, such a creature is a killer, not a physical, but a metaphysical one - it is not the enemy of your values, but of all values, it is an enemy of anything that enables men to survive, it is an enemy of life as such and of everything living.
- Ayn Rand, "The Age of Envy"
Banning torture categorically by federal legislation takes on a new dimension in an era of international terrorist networks that may, within the lifetime of this generation, have nuclear weapons.
If a captured terrorist knows where a nuclear bomb has been planted in some American city, and when it is timed to go off, are millions of Americans to be allowed to be incinerated because we have become too squeamish to get that information out of him by whatever means are necessary?
What a price to pay for moral exhibitionism or political grandstanding!
Even in less extreme circumstances, and even if we don't intend to torture the captured terrorist, does that mean that we need to reduce our leverage by informing all terrorists around the world in advance that they can stonewall indefinitely when captured, without fear of that fate?
This is not only an era of international terrorist networks but also an era of runaway litigation and runaway judges. Do we really want a federal law that will enable captured terrorists to be able to take their cases to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals?
Regardless of what the free-wheeling judges in that unpredictable body may end up deciding, they are not likely to decide it soon. Anybody can call anything "torture" at virtually no cost to themselves but at huge costs in money and delay to the efforts to protect Americans from terrorism.
There is no penalty for false claims but potentially deadly consequences for letting international terrorists tie up our legal system by exercising rights granted to American citizens and now thoughtlessly extended to people who are not American citizens and who are bent on killing American citizens and destroying American society.*
Rights are inalienable. This means that they may not be alienated from the person who possesses them, i.e., they may not be given or taken away, i.e., they may not be morally infringed upon. For example, a man may violate your right to your property by taking it away from you, but your right to that property has not been alienated, i.e., you are in the right and the robber is in the wrong. Properly, governments do not grant rights, but protect them. For a fuller discussion see the Capitalism Visual Tour.
Even Americans have dealt brutally with Islamic terror, and to good effect. In 1911 in the Philippines, our Gen. John J. Pershing arrested several of the most brutal Islamic terrorists of the day. They were found guilty of capital crimes and shot, but not before the bullets used by the firing squad were dipped in pig fat, thus denying them according to the rule of Islam a soft landing in Heaven. Pershing, however, did allow one of the terrorists to escape so that he might report his chums' fate to their superiors. Islamic terrorism ended.
Last week, one day apart, two governors took dramatic steps that could crystallize a healthcare debate developing in the states -- even as Washington mostly averts its eyes from the problems of declining access and rising costs.Before we get too excited about the program in South Carolina being a "step in the right direction" (which might be arguable), note that it is not a repeal of its state insurance program, but an attempt to reform it. The basic premise of socialism remains unchallenged. In the meantime, our republic marches towards socialism piecemeal.
On Tuesday, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed legislation making Illinois the first state to guarantee all children access to health insurance.
The next day, Republican Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina asked the federal government for permission to shift [link added] responsibility for providing health coverage for the state's poorest citizens primarily to private insurance companies.
These divergent initiatives signal an escalating competition to develop models for coping with the slow-motion crisis in healthcare.
Several Democratic-leaning states are rallying around plans to ensure universal coverage for children as a first step toward expanding access for adults.
In The Fountainhead, we learn a lot about the main character Howard Roark through his interactions with other people. Ayn Rand is an evokative writer of great power. So much so that the wildest of positions can be conjured with the help of taking her writing out of context. I've come to realize this more so in rereading FH. Here are two pertinent examples:
1. Howard Roark's first commission as an independent architect is a house for a man named Austin Heller. From FH:
Within a week [of first meeting Roark], Heller knew that he had found the best friend he would ever have; and he knew that the friendship came from Roark's fundamental indifference. In the deeper reality of Roark's existence there was no consciousness of Heller, no need for Heller, no appeal, no demand. Heller felt a line drawn, which for Heller, no appeal, no demand. Heller felt a line drawn, which he could not touch; beyond that line, Roark asked nothing of him and granted him nothing.
Taken literally, this could be interepreted as an advocacy of indifference, of a "go it alone I don't need anyone" type of existence. What would be the consequences of such a view, morally? Well, for one, it would be wrong to be lonely. It would be a sign of "second-handedness." This, of course, is insane.
Let me add one contextual detail that will make it evident that this is a false interpretation. Earlier in the book, Roark interacts with Peter Keating, a fellow he lived with and went to school with. Additionally, Roark also interacts with a construction worker, Mike, who admirers Roark for his exceptional skill at working at job sites (he comments something to the extent that most architects are desk jokeys).
At different points in the story, both Keating and Mike end up inviting Roark to a drink--they extend him an invitation to friendship. Roark turns down Keating but drinks with Mike. While having the drink, they learn that they both admire the work of an old architect, whom Roark had worked for. This connection, Ayn Rand says, "sealed the friendship."
So what difference does this make? Obviously this "line" Rand speaks of with regard to Roark doesn't encompass 99% of him, or 80%--it doesn't seal off Roark to the point that his indifference is complete. It is a fundamental indifference, one that can best be described as the absence of some need to replace one's own self-esteem with that of others. Roark's indifference is a consequence of his honesty, a consequence of his natural method of trading: value for value. He doesn't deal in favors or need or pity.
How one interprets this passage, through reading the book, can be indicative of their own approach to friendship. That is, if this passage doesn't resonate with one, if this passage strikes one as cruel or harsh or antisocial, then perhaps one doesn't possess this fundamental indifference. Either way, my point here is that Roark's fundamental indifference, as mentioned in this passage alone, can be twisted to mean that desiring friendship is wrong. This would be done with the premise that all friendships are a form of dependence, that there is no such thing as honest friendship.
2. In the same exchange between Roark and Heller as in 1 above, Roark's philosophy of architectural design becomes apparent. Here Heller is discussing the design of his house with Roark. From FH:
[Heller says:] "And, incidentally, thank you for all the thought you seem to have taken about my comfort. There are so many things I notice that had never occurred to me before, but you've planned them as if you knew all my needs. For instance, my study is the room I'll need most and you've given it the dominant spot--and, incidentally, I see where you've made it the dominant mass from the outside, too. And then the way it connects with the library, and the living room well out of my way, and the guest rooms where I won't hear too much of them--and all that. You were very considerate of me."
"You know," said Roark. "I haven't thought of you at all. I thought of the house." He added: "Perhaps that's why I knew how to be considerate of you."
Taken out of context, this could mean that Roark, in designing his structures, gives no consideration to what his customers whish the building to do for them. That is, Roark builds whatever he wants, without any input from his customers. What would this lead to in morality? Well, this would make it "wrong" to design a pickup truck with suicide doors, so that the owner can have better access to his extended cab section (as I do in my truck). This would make all sorts of things wrong. But was this really what Ayn Rand was advocating?
Earlier in this exchange, Roark explicitly describes his design philosophy:
"A house can have integrity, just like a person," said Roark, "and just as seldom."
"In what way?"
"Well, look at it. Every piece of it is there because the house needs it--and for not other reason. You see it from here as it is inside. The rooms in which you'll live made the shape. The relation of masses was determined by the distribution of space within. The ornament was determined by the method of construction, an emphasis of the principle that makes it stand. You can see each stress, each support that meets it. Your own eyes go through a structural process when you look at the house, you can follow each step, you see it rise, you know what made it and why it stands. But you've seen buildings with columns that support nothing, with purposeless cornices, with pilasters, moldings, false arches, false windows. You've seen buildings that look as if they contained a single large hall, they have solid columns and single, solid windows six floors high. But you enter and find six stories inside. Or buildings that contain a single hall, but with a facade cut up into floor lines, band courses, tiers of windows. Do you understand the difference? Your house is made by its own needs. Those others are made by the need to impress. The determining motive of your house is in the house. The determining motive of the others is in the audience."
So clearly there is input from a customer, but it's not "I want columns or this or this," it's "I want a house that serves this and that purpose." That is, Roark only takes in the basic, fundamental purpose for the building from the customer, the rest is determined by the things he spoke of above guided by the principle "form follows function."
Interesting how context is so important.
By David Holcberg
The Kansas Board of Education has redefined science to make room for
the supernatural. But changing definitions will not alter the fact
that science and religion are incompatible.
Science seeks natural explanations for natural phenomena. It does so
by logical inferences from observable facts and experimentation.
Science relies on reason and evidence.
Religion, in contrast, relies on supernatural "explanations" for
natural phenomena. It demands belief unsupported by evidence and/or
contrary to facts. Religion relies on faith.
Just as evolution and creationism are mutually exclusive and naturally
pitted against each other, so are science and religion. Changing
definitions will not change reality.
Yet another demonstration of the mulitude of applications for GoogleMaps: Map Sex Offenders. Sex offenders are properly regarded as one of the most detestable forms of life on the planet. In a free, moral society such predators would be ostracized into oblivion.
On that note, however, it is worth noting that the category of "sex offender" is often stretched to include individuals who clearly don’t belong to it. This letter (via Crime and Federalism) details the injustice that can befall an innocent mistake.
In a rather vaguely written article, the BBC takes an underhanded swipe at America, and whitewashes Iran.
Apparently some twenty Americans are playing basketball in Iran. Most black, I presume. The writer notes that these American stars are cheered regardless of their ties to The Great Satan. From the pictures in the article, I presume most Iranian basketball fans are young men. Not mentioned in the article is what the West has known for a long time: Iranian youths are pro-West and actually quite antagonistic toward their theocratic government. Mentioning this, however, would undercut the main point of the article, which is: Iran ain't so bad after all, "[it] has always said it has a problem with the American government, not with its people, and this is an example of that."
But can one have a problem with the government of a free nation and not with the people of that nation? Furthermore, can one have a problem with a totalitarian government and not with the people ruled by it? The answer to each of these questions is obviously different, but the BBC article equivocates, reporting in a way that makes Iran and America two morally equal players on the global stage. The scare quotes around the phrase "axis of evil" in the title of the article says it all.
Recently in Austria, a British historian was arrested for "denying the Holocaust." Hm, I wonder if I'd be arrested for denying slavery here in America (not that I would want to)?
In Hungaria, a senior member of the country's Communist Workers' Party received a one-year suspended sentence for wearing a red star, the communist symbol. Hm, do those good ol' boys down in our Dirty South get arrested for proudly flaunting Confederate flags in the backs of their trucks?
We can keep riding the aftershocks of this countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s founding for only so much longerÃ¢â‚¬â€at some point this savage ignorance of moral principles will hit us as bad as it's hitting Europe.
And here, ladies and gentlemen, is the second of today's Featured Articles by H. Acstonus. This brilliant article discusses Objectivity in today's world:
Objectivity has been under attack for generations. Today, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s under a particularly destructive assault. Postmodernists reject the very notion of objective truth, and many hold that there are separate realities-as well as truths-for separate groups based of such things a economic status, gender, race, and culture. This approach is self-contradictory, and if taken literally would amount to the complete destruction of all knowledge. It has come to the forefront because of epistemological confusion: the concept of objectivity has not been properly understood, and is consequently in danger of being abandoned. This confusion is the fault of the philosophers.
Rather than showing the other disciplines proper methods needed to acquire knowledge, philosophers for the last two hundred years have been proclaiming that knowledge is impossible. Kant, one of the most influential philosophers in history, proclaimed: Ã¢â‚¬Å“All attempts which have hitherto been made to answer natural questions Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ have always met with unavoidable contradictions, we cannot rest satisfied with Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ the pure faculty of reason itself.Ã¢â‚¬Â Once the possibility of real knowledge is rejected, only subjective or social Ã¢â‚¬Å“realityÃ¢â‚¬Â is left standing. The world becomes an arbitrary social construct. Truth becomes mere fiction.
Most of humankindÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s past has been spent mired in supernaturalism, faith, and tradition. For brief periods, like sparks in a sea of darkness, limited progress in epistemological methodology was made. But the Enlightenment changed everything-for the first time since Ancient Greece a rational outlook on the world became widespread. Rather than being a brief spark, the Enlightenment set the world afire. It seemed that humankind would finally be free from the constraints of superstition. But the scientific outlook on the world was incomplete, and it was not long before the Enlightenment came under attacks which its advocates could not defend against. Reason as a method of achieving knowledge was not fully understood, and could not be properly defended against critical scrutiny.
As soon as it seemed the debate over science vs. faith had been won by the advocates of the Enlightenment, several thinkers dealt a series of crippling blows to the very notion of rational enquiry. Philosophical objections were leveled against science and reason by thinkers such as Hume and Kant, and these objections have yet to be answered by any prominent modern thinker. Consequently, an intellectual revolt against reason occurred during the nineteenth century, and by the twentieth century most intellectuals had abandoned the Enlightenment. One could even say that an Anti-Enlightenment Project has been under way-an intellectual assault on reason and science. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the assault continues.
Because thinkers throughout history have overwhelmingly spent their efforts on the negation of knowledge rather than the search for it, little is known about how to attain it. Millennia dominated by supernatural views of existence, with comparatively little effort spent on developing a philosophy of reason, have left our civilization with an impoverished understanding of rational inquiry.
What would a defense of objectivity, and of reason and science, consist of? Such a defense would have to do several things: it would have to answer the attacks on the validity of sense experience, ground the basic principles of logic in irrefutable first principles, formulate a proper understanding of causality, and show how abstract conceptual knowledge can correspond to an external reality. Twenty-four centuries ago the foundations for such a defense were already laid by the philosopher Aristotle, and it is from an essentially Aristotelian base that a modern attempt to refute the attacks against reason and science must be made.
Aristotle is considered, along with Plato and Kant, to be one of the three most influential thinkers in the history of western civilization. But AristotleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s thought has never dominated western civilization in the way PlatoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s used to and KantÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s does now. Lost for hundreds of years, his work was not even seriously studied by westerners until one and a half thousand years after his death, in the thirteenth century. After the re-discovery of AristotleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s major works, Catholic theologians such as Thomas Aquinas began to incorporate certain aspects of his system into their religious views. A kind of Aristotle-by-proxy was consequently advocated by medieval scholastics.
By the renaissance, philosophers and scientists were already beginning to reject Aristotle as part of their revolt against the dogmatism of the Catholic Church. But they threw the baby out with the bathwater. What they were rejecting was not really AristotleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s system at all, but the rationalistic fantasy of medieval scholasticism. Whereas medieval monks would argue about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, the real Aristotle collected biological specimens. Aristotle the earthly, ancient Greek thinker was never fully understood or discovered in the twenty-four centuries after his death.
Aristotle was very much a this-worldly thinker. Between Plato, Kant and Aristotle, only Aristotle concentrated on the natural world of experience. Plato was a metaphysical dualist, dividing reality into an imperfect material realm and a supposed Ã¢â‚¬Å“higherÃ¢â‚¬Â world of forms. Kant also divided reality in two. In his system there is a noumenal world of Ã¢â‚¬Å“things-in-themselvesÃ¢â‚¬Â and a phenomenal world of mere Ã¢â‚¬Å“appearance.Ã¢â‚¬Â A proper defense of reason and science would require a complete rejection of dualism in any form-an Aristotelian approach. It would require the discovery of principles applicable to everything which is.
Aristotle grounded his first principles in what he called Ã¢â‚¬Å“being qua beingÃ¢â‚¬Â-the very nature of reality itself. AristotleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s world was not split in two, but a single whole. His first principles applied to all of existence. In his work Metaphysics, Aristotle says the job of the philosopher is to discover the most basic principles which are the foundation of all knowledge: Ã¢â‚¬Å“The discussion of these truths will belong to him whose inquiry is universal Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ he whose subject is existing things qua existing must be able to state the most certain principles of all things ... this is the philosopher.Ã¢â‚¬Â
To exist, according to Aristotle, is to be something in particular, as opposed to the nothing of a contradiction: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Evidently then there is a principle which is most certain of all; which principle this is, let us proceed to say. It is, that the same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject and in the same respect.Ã¢â‚¬Â This formulation is known as the principle of non-contradiction. Everything which exists is what it is, and cannot be what it is not. Modern philosophy would decry this as a tautology, but Aristotle did not lock himself inside of language-he looked outward at the world. The modern objection to tautologies is a function of KantÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s noumenal-phenomenal dichotomy, and would be dismissed out of hand by Aristotle.
According to Aristotle, the contents of a human mind are not circular linguistic constructs, but abstract formulations derived from a straight-line relationship between the subject and external reality. Thus the principle of non-contradiction is not an arbitrary linguistic convention, but the understanding of a universal attribute of existing things qua existing. Aristotle derived the method of logic from the principle of non-contradiction. Logic is the non-contradictory integration of oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s knowledge, and is therefore crucial to the foundation of a proper epistemology. In any analysis of oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s thinking logic calls a halt when a contradiction is discovered. Thus logic is a check on oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s understanding and a means of rooting out error. What is commonly called Ã¢â‚¬Å“common senseÃ¢â‚¬Â is merely an implicit understanding of logic.
Importantly for Aristotle, logic was a practical tool meant to be applied to the real world. The method of non-contradictory integration is to be applied to knowledge derived from sense experience. Aristotle identifies sense experience as simply a component of certain living organisms, a means by which they process information about the external world. All attacks on the validity of the senses have stemmed from the notion that because sense experience is a process, it distorts. But for Aristotle, the fact that the sensory apparatus apprehends the world via a certain process is not a disqualification, but a confirmation that the senses are valid. The sensory apparatus interacts in a necessarily predictable manner with the external world because that apparatus and the world are causally linked to each other. Thus, in whatever sensory form a particular organism is aware, that organism is aware of the external world, and its senses are valid.
Causality, at least since Hume, has been conceived of as a chain of events, each antecedent event causing the other. This conception has led to confusion. While it is true that antecedent factors play a role, a proper conception of causality would have to incorporate a wider context. In AristotleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s view, cause and effect is rooted in the identity of acting things. What a thing is, says Aristotle, will determine what it does. An acorn can become an oak tree, and not a catfish, because that is its nature. The actions an entity can take are determined by what that entity is. On this view, when one billiard ball strikes another it sends it rolling because of the nature of the balls and their surroundings, not just antecedent events.
The incompleteness of modern science lies in the fact that it rests on a purely mechanistic, non-Aristotelian view of causation. Consequently it cannot be defended against critics such as Hume. AristotleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s view provides a basis for a better understanding of cause and effect, and has the potential to ground science and induction in first principles. Aristotle has the potential to provide for modern science the philosophic foundations it never had.
Aristotle also has a unique understanding of abstract knowledge. For him, knowledge does not exist in a vacuum, but is built on previous knowledge and must be related to the whole of oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s understanding. Discovery is not a passive process of diaphanously absorbing truth, but an active process of identification and integration. This is why we need logic-because we need a self-correcting method of inquiry. Applied to sense data, logic becomes a powerful tool with which we can constantly check, double check, and adjust our abstract understanding accordingly. If a contradiction is discovered in oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s understanding, AristotleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s approach calls a halt. If oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s understanding contradicts the data of sense experience, AristotleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s approach calls a halt. One must always check oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s premises, making adjustments when new evidence contradicts them. This is the proper foundation for science, and the basis for the scientific method.
The scientific method has been criticized because, it is claimed, it can never arrive at certainty. But this objection is based on an incoherent formulation of the concept Ã¢â‚¬Å“certainty.Ã¢â‚¬Â The human mind is not omniscient; indeed the very notion is impossible. At any stage, the amount of knowledge a mind has available to it will be limited. This is not just an attribute of human consciousness, but of any consciousness. On the Aristotelian view a conscious organism, like any other entity, has identity. Because existing things qua existing must have a specific, delimited nature, any form of awareness must also have a specific, delimited nature. Thus any conception of certainty which demands omniscience is based on an impossible standard and should be rejected as nonsense.
The fact that science does not lead to epistemic certainty-to infallibility-is not a valid objection to its validity. Rather than being a liability, it is the very self-correcting nature of the scientific method which gives it its tremendous power. It is precisely because of the fallibility of human understanding that we need a proper epistemological methodology. And only by using a proper methodology can we discover facts.
Reality is not merely a Ã¢â‚¬Å“construct.Ã¢â‚¬Â What actually exists actually exists. But as long as the notion of objectivity continues to be attacked, our confidence in our ability to discover truth will be shaken. To be defended, objectivity must be properly defined and validated. What is objectivity? Metaphysically, it is the notion that facts exist independently of our understanding of them. Epistemologically, it is the notion that we can discover those facts.
Postmodernism is the result of two centuries of post-Kantian philosophy. To refute it would require a counterattack against Kant and other philosophers such as Hume. Indeed the entire modern philosophic tradition which has been derived from such thinkers must be challenged. Of the great thinkers of the past, only Aristotle provides an adequate base for such a challenge. Any modern attempt to vindicate reason, science, and objectivity must therefore start with a re-discovery of Aristotle.
Barnes, Jonathan. Aristotle. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Cahn, Steven M. Exploring Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005
Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. (Translated by F. Max Muller). New York: Doubleday, 1966.
McKeon, Richard. The Basic Works of Aristotle. New York: Modern Library, 2001.
---H. Acstonus (Crossposted to the Egosphere)
When faced with destruction and disaster, most fear finds consolation in strength and stability. The desire, it seems, is to sacrifice almost anything in order to return to "the good old days". While in some cases this may be the proper course of action, in cases involving the loss of liberty this course is dangerously fatal; indeed suicidal. It is this suicidal course that the Russian People are taking now; some conscientiously, others blindly. Yet both parties are trading their new and holy liberty for a "momentary stability" in Putin that can lead only to another Authoritarian, repressive regime. Around 480 bce, the city of Athens received an offer from Persia. After enduring terrible losses from the Persians, the Athenians were offered peace, stability, and strength. Athens response to Persia is an invaluable lesson; one that the Russian people should take to heart.
After subduing Ionia, Xerxes continued his conquest into Greece itself. He reached as far as Thermopylae before encountering any Greek resistance. Facing over 200,000 Persian forces, the 10,000 strong Greek contingent inflicted immense casualties upon the Persians before finally being betrayed and defeated. It was a major wound that the Greeks inflicted upon Persia's armies (and one of the most heroic battles of all time). Soon after the battle, the Persians continued on towards Athens. After inflicting immense damage to the Greek towns and countrysides, they reached Athens. Because the Athenians had fled to their ships, the Persians met little resistance. They destroyed the town and burned the crops around Athens.
Soon, another major battle was fought at Salamis. This naval battle witnessed the victory of the Greeks over the Persians and the crippling of the Persian navy. Afraid of what an uncontrollable Greek navy could do, Xerxes "gracefully" departed from Greece with a large part of his army, leaving his general, Mardonius, and a force of 300,00 Persians behind to finish the conquest of Greece. This retreat allowed the Athenians to return to their city and begin the process of "rebuilding".
Greece was not yet safe from Persia. After wintering in Northern Greece, Mardonius prepared to conquer the remaining Greek States. Before doing so, he sent a diplomat to war-torn Athens and, in exchange for submitting to Persia, offered Athenian land restored, the ability of the Athenians to take whatever land in Greece they wanted, the 'ability to be self-governed', and the rebuilding of all Athenian temples at Persian expense. This offer would have given the Athenians peace and stability. The Athenians, however, valued liberty above all else. Their brilliant response was:
"We know...as well as you do that the Persian strength is many times greater than our own: that, at least, is a fact which you need not rub in. Nevertheless, such is our love of freedom, that we will defend ourselves in whatever way we can. As for making terms with Persia, it is useless to try to persuade us; for we shall never consent. And now tell Mardonius, that so long as the sun keeps his present course in the sky, we Athenians will never make peace with Xerxes. On the contrary, we shall oppose him unremittingly, putting our trust in the help of the gods and heroes whom he despised, whose temples and statues he destroyed with fire. Never come to us again with a proposal like this, and never think you are doing us good service when you urge us to a course which is outrageous...there is not so much gold in the world nor land so fair that we should take it for pay to join the common enemy and bring Greece into subjection...we would have you know, therefore...that so long as a single Athenian remains alive we will make no peace with Xerxes." (Herodotus, 8.143)
So strong was their desire for liberty that the very idea of giving in to the stability that Persia offered was "outrageous"! Their eloquent response is a testament to the greatness of liberty, no matter the cost. Eventually, the Greeks defeated the Persians at the battle of Plataea, and soon the Persian wars were over. Greece had won her freedom, and had saved Western Civilization.
The year 1991 witnessed the fall of the Soviet Union. Russia endured many trials in order to become a free state. However, in 2000, Russia elected Vladimir Putin as their leader. It is Putin that has, through many means, sought to destroy Russian Liberty. According to Ariel Cohen, "...the Russian oil and gas sectorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s new paradigm can be summarized in two words: 'state domination'". He goes on to explain how Putin's government has begun to centralize the Russian energy sector by finding obscure faults with the companies and then nationalizing them. Putin's efforts in nationalization are backed by funds from the Chinese government! Ariel Cohen also mentions how the Russian government has been, "...buying up strategic infrastructure companies, such as pipelines, refineries and electric grids, as well as ports in Georgia, Hungary and Ukraine...". These transgressions of individual liberty in favor of state ownership are not the only examples of Putin's move to Authoritarianism.
According to the Washington Post, Putin has also, "...limited the power of regional governors, who often defied PutinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. In 2000, Putin removed the governors from the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Parliament. He then undercut their power by creating seven presidential envoys to supervise them." The article continues with:
"Putin announced a new plan that would appoint regional governors with the approval of regional legislatures, thereby ending the popular election of regional governors and independent legislators. In addition, PutinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s plan would abolish elections of legislators in individual constituencies to the lower Russian legislative house, the Duma, and instead elect all members of the Duma on party lists, by proportional representation. As of now, half of the deputies are elected in constituencies and half by party lists."
This is a disturbing trend away from direct election via the people, and towards appointment via the President. In effect, Putin is taking away the power from the Russian People and handing it to himself. What is more disturbing, however, is that the Russian people reelected Putin by a landslide in 2004! Clearly working against liberty, the Russian people (like the Germans of Hitler's time) are voting into power their own destruction.
In the last decade, Russia has been beset with difficulties. Extreme poverty, rebellion (Chechnya), terrorism, hunger, and many other transitional difficulties have plunged the Russian people into despair. Similar to Athens, the Russian People are faced with the horrible prospect of "rebuilding through the rubble". And just like Persia, Putin has offered them strength and stability in exchange for ceding over their liberties. What the Russian People don't realize, however, is that they are being herded into a trap; a trap that will ultimately take away the very freedom that they so recently won, and in exchange give them a "leader" with the power to send them back to Siberia.
It is time for the Russian people to remember the words of the Athenians when faced with such a prospect. They should realize just how precious a thing their freedom is; how wonderful it is to be a human as opposed to an animal. They should remember what life was like in the Soviet Union, an authoritarian regime that killed over 30,000,000 of its people. They should remember what it was like to be denied freedom of speech, or freedom of religion; to have to wait in line for hours to receive bread; to wear faded clothes and drive broken cars. They should remember that they won their freedom in 1991, and they should stand boldly and proclaim that Putin's actions are not only immoral, but an outrage! It is time for the Russian people to say that, "...there is not so much gold in the world nor land so fair that we should take it for pay to join the common enemy and bring [Russia] into subjection...we would have you know, therefore...that so long as a single [Russian] remains alive we will make no peace with Putin." It is time for Putin to go, and may the next election halt the wave of authoritarianism in Russia; may the next elections be a victory for liberty.
-Jason Roberts (Crossposted to the Egosphere)
When reading about Ayn Rand's fictional heroes and villains, one learns that the heroes base their actions on a process of reason, while the villains base their actions on a process of non-reason--one learns that at the root of every action taken by these characters is the completion of a mental process that is either reason-based or not. One vicious form of a non-reason-based thought process is emotionalism, or, the practice of using emotions alone as a basis for action. Engaging in emotionalism is quintessential James Taggart.
Clearly, however, that emotionalism is wrong doesn't mean that emotionality as such is wrong. Why would a characteristic of man be wrong? That's like saying "having ten fingers is wrong." Yet I've encountered a few who seem to think that being rational implies not being emotional. Perhaps it is simply a conceptual misunderstanding. Whatever the reason, holding such a view is psychologically dangerous -- I'm certain it creates such a strong state of inner conflict that the entire canvas of a person's daily life would be colored by it.
I say let yourself feel the full force of the entire spectrum of emotions available to you. I say let hate, love, and everything in between fill your mind. Why suppress a critical health mechanism? Being rational does require thinking before acting, but it does not require living life without emotion.
It was supposed to be a light column about this and that, with a brief update on a movie adaptation of my favorite novel, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, which Miss Rand began writing here in the San Fernando Valley in 1946. It is the story of man's mind on strike. Whether one agrees with Miss Rand's radical philosophy, Objectivism, laid bare in the book, it is an unforgettable masterpiece with grand cinematic potential, a fact recognized by the producer of last year's Oscar-winning Ray, Howard Baldwin, who tells me that he is closer to bringing Ayn Rand's epic to the screen. (BoxOfficeMojo.com, 09/02/05.)