Saturday, December 15, 2012

QuickPoint 2: Altruism Supports Coercion

...or "A Problem With Libertarianism"

Under altruism, (the morality of self-sacrifice,) an act of self-sacrifice can be good, even if the person sacrificing doesn't choose to do it.

If someone's interests are sacrificed by government force, the person committing an unwilling sacrifice doesn't get moral credit for the act, because it was unchosen. But the act itself can still be considered "good", apart from the choices of the "self" being sacrificed. A sacrifice is a sacrifice, regardless of whether it was freely chosen or imposed by a legal authority. Thus, under altruism, any sacrifice can be good, so long as it "benefits those in need."

In practice, the forced imposition of sacrifice is justified on dual grounds: it will benefit those in need, while simultaneously punishing those who violate morality by being selfish. Since everyone, according to the altruist morality, really should be self-sacrificial anyway, who can object to the overall project of forced charity? We can quibble about the practical details, say the altruists, but if we want a moral society, how can we leave the needy at the mercy of other individuals' choices?

Under the morality of altruism, the advocates of government coercion are right: A moral society requires forced charity, because without it, those who don't sacrifice for the welfare of others will be rewarded and encouraged, and those "noble altruists" who are in need will be "left at the mercy of the selfish."

The only way to fight this thinking is to fight for the morality of rational egoism, as established and advocated by Ayn Rand. For rational egoism, an act can only be good if it is freely chosen by the acting individual.

I highly recommend this book on how to fight for a free market: Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand's Ideas Can End Big Government.


Related Posts:

Atlas Shrugged, Altruism and Egoism

 The Morality of Rational Egoism: Short Notes

Link Highlight: Introduction to Objectivism Playlist

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Refutation of the Argument From Design

The following is my short refutation of the Argument for God, from Design:

The Argument from Design purports to show that God exists by showing that only he could have designed the universe (or some part of the universe.) So, what does "design" mean? The relevant definition here would be: "conceived in a mind [God's mind] and intentionally implemented in reality." So the concept of "design" requires the existence of a mind (conceptual faculty) to conceive the idea for the object(s). Further, in order to do anything, the mind must have an intention or purpose. A "purpose" is a goal of a conceptual consciousness; the value for which it acts. Take careful note of the meanings of these concepts in reality and their relationships to each other; it is these concepts on which the Argument from Design rests.

The refutation of the Argument from Design is to observe what is actually required to infer design in an object and to show that this cannot be done with "God." To infer design from an object: a) You must already know of some type of purposeful entity (based on other evidence) whose goals could potentially be served by the object. b1) Further, you must be able to observe some sort of purposeful function for the object as a whole (the object is a means to a goal beyond itself, whether practical or artistic.) OR: b2) You must be able to find evidence of a method of purposeful manufacture that is already known as such by other evidence. c) In order to observe that (b1) or (b2) is true, you must be able to contrast the purposeful nature of the construction of the object in question with something else that was not manufactured and has not been altered for a purpose.

The argument from design is capable of producing evidence of human-like aliens from observations of human-like alien artifacts, since human goals could potentially be fulfilled by such artifacts. But because of (a), the argument from design can't apply to an immortal and radically different creature, whose alleged goals we cannot fathom. We have no basis for thinking that living beings have any purpose beyond themselves. They grow, metabolize, reproduce, and die in an endless cycle. The forms evolve over time, but to no clear goal beyond their own continuance and survival. Of what possible value could a succession of mortal humans be to an ultra-powerful, immortal, unchanging being? There's no basis even for speculation, because there's no basis even to consider it possible for an immortal, unchanging being to have values. (This supposition is arbitrary.)

The only known reference we have for purposes, and the relationship of designer to designed object, is humans and their creations. Indeed, the very concepts of "purpose", "goal" and "value" only have meaning in reference to temporal, living entities that face an alternative between life and death. Goals and values are what living entities pursue in order to keep themselves alive, growing, flourishing, as opposed to deteriorating, suffering, dying. The concept of "purpose" is the same as "goal," except that "purpose" involves the conceptual consciousness of a living being that is intent on the goal.

Thus, to say that an immortal and unchanging being has a "purpose" is literally meaningless; it defies the actual basis of the concept. Therefore a "design" by such an entity is meaningless and impossible to hypothesize.

In other words, whenever anyone talks about "God's design" or "God's purposes," they are literally not making sense. The only way such phrases can be made comprehensible at all is by anthropomorphizing this alleged God into a mortal, very powerful human. (For more on the nature of concepts and values, I refer the reader to Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Exp. 2nd Ed. and The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand, and to Viable Values: A Study of Life as the Root and Reward of Morality by Tara Smith)


Related Posts:

Link Highlight: Introduction to Objectivism Playlist

The Morality of Rational Egoism: Short Notes

Atlas Shrugged, Altruism and Egoism

The Quran Promotes Violence Against Non-Muslims

The Axioms of Objectivism

Proceeding from Axioms in Objectivism -- YouTube Edition

Monday, November 19, 2012

Fossil Fuels and Environment: McKibben vs. Epstein, Full Debate

On November 5th at Duke university, renowned environmentalist and AGW proponent, Bill McKibben debated Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress, on the effect that fossil fuels have on the human environment. Bill McKibben took the position that fossil fuels were harmful and an immediate threat to the human environment, while Alex Epstein took the position that fossil fuels continue to improve the environment we live in.

 Here is the YouTube video of the full debate:

 Here is a debate highlight from the question period: What does Bill McKibben really advocate?

Another highlight: Are affordable fossil fuels a "market failure"? 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Bernie Madoff: Not Rationally Selfish, But Self-Destructive

Bernie Madoff is sometimes held up by critics of Ayn Rand's ethics as a poster boy for the evil of self-interest. But far from being an example of Ayn Rand's ethics, Madoff is a type of person that Ayn Rand explicitly condemned, because he undertook an irrational--and therefore self-destructive--scheme.

Self-interest, for Ayn Rand, does not equate to simple monetary gain, or the pleasures of any given moment. Self-interest is defined by achievement of a deeply happy life over as many years as possible. Ayn Rand recognized that it is impossible to build long-term happiness by theft or fraud. One's long-term happiness can only be based on the production of life-sustaining/enhancing values, along with honest dealings with oneself and others.

Do you think Bernie Madoff is happy now, in prison? What about while he was running his scheme? This interview should give you a sense of how much he enjoyed himself while defrauding other people:

Does this sound like a man determined to pursue his own happiness and live his life to the fullest? What must it mean for Madoff to be happier in prison, when he has no freedom and no control over his own life, than during his con? His primary emotion while in the middle of the con scheme was fear, which indicates that he sensed his life was out of control. His lies were constantly threatening to catch up with him, and it was just a matter of time before something slipped and he was caught.

Even under the best case scenario he could have hoped for, where he had escaped to a foreign country that would not extradite him, he still would not have been happy. Everyone would find out about his fraud, and he would never be able to come back to the US. He would be despised by good, honest people everywhere, so if he wanted to have relationships with such people, he would have to manufacture more lies to keep his identity secret. No one could be allowed to know who he was; no one could be allowed to get to know him intimately. If people didn't find out who he was, he would be isolated and lonely, living a lie. If they did find out, he would be isolated from honest people by their contempt for him and fear of his dishonest schemes. Either way, he would end up lonely, or surrounded by scum.

Under this scenario, he would still live with the fear of being identified, or, if he lived openly, with the fear that the country in which he lived would change its extradition policy or make an exception in his case.

A country that would not extradite a fraudster to the US is not friendly to the US, and so is probably not going to be a very free or prosperous country. Also, no honest employer would want to hire him, and the whole alleged point of his scheme was to be able to live without honest work. He wouldn't be able to travel freely and enjoy seeing the world, since every time he traveled, he would have a very well-founded fear of being caught by agents of the US or its allies. So, under this scenario, Madoff would likely be trapped in a poor, statist, corrupt country--far from an ideal place to live--with no ambition, no freedom of travel, no intimate friends, no challenging, satisfying, productive job, and a constant, nagging fear. He would end up a lonely, drunken wastrel, escaping his pain and fear by spending the ill-gotten money on booze. Any sex would be meaningless sex with sluts/prostitutes, or fraudulent sex with some woman he duped (for a while).

Again, I stress: This was the (allegedly) best scenario he could have hoped for; i.e. the scenario where he "got away with it" and wasn't caught.

As Ayn Rand recognized, any man who wages war with reality will lose. Attempting to live without a productive pursuit and without respect for the truth is irrational, and will result in long-term pain, fear and despair, because such an attempt contradicts facts about fundamental human nature. By attempting to perpetrate fraud, someone like Madoff puts himself in conflict with his own basic nature and needs as a human being, and with the rational self-interest of every human being on the planet who comes into contact with him. 

To quote Ayn Rand, "There is a fundamental moral difference between a man who sees his self-interest in production and a man who sees it in robbery [or fraud]. The evil of a robber does not lie in the fact that he pursues his own interests, but in what he regards as to his own interest; not in the fact that he pursues his values, but in what he chose to value; not in the fact that he wants to live, but in the fact that he wants to live on a subhuman level."

To live long, fulfilled, happy lives, human beings need to live by their minds, pursuing rational values by means of the virtues of independence, honesty, productiveness, integrity, justice and pride. They also need to respect the individual rights of other people. Without adherence to these principles, any "self-interested" action is a blind, futile flailing in the dark that will lead to self-destructive consequences of one sort or another.

This is why the heroes of Ayn Rand's novels are ruthlessly honest, relentlessly productive, and concerned with earning their own way through life. Unlike Bernie Madoff, they know what is really in their long-term self-interest.

Here is a link to "selfishness" in the Ayn Rand Lexicon: "Selfishness."

For those who don't have backgrounds in philosophy, but want to learn more about Ayn Rand's moral code, I recommend reading The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand and Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It by Craig Biddle. For those who are more philosophically oriented, I also recommend Viable Values and Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist by Dr. Tara Smith.


 Related Posts:

 The Morality of Rational Egoism: Short Notes Atlas Shrugged, Altruism and Egoism

 What Caused the Financial Crisis: It Wasn't Capitalism or Deregulation

 Related Links:

 "The Unselfish Bernie Madoff" (Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Obama "Read Ayn Rand" and Gets Her Views Wrong

In a Rolling Stone interview published today, Barack Obama distorted and misrepresented Ayn Rand's views. Ari Armstrong of The Objective Standard responded to the president's statements here:

 Obama, Unsurprisingly, Gets Ayn Rand Wrong

The Ayn Rand Center's blog also responded with analysis of Ayn Rand's actual views and context that should help people understand those views:

 Obama on Ayn Rand: The Annotated Version

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Debate on Fossil Fuels and Environment: McKibben vs. Epstein

On November 5th at Duke university, renowned environmentalist and AGW proponent, Bill McKibben will debate Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress, on the effect that fossil fuels have on the human environment.

Here is a YouTube video on the debate:

As governments enact restrictions on fossil fuel use, power plant construction, CO2 emissions, etc. it's important to be clear on exactly what the effect of fossil fuel use is on the human environment and human life. Do they harm the planet, or do they improve it?

This debate urgently needs funds for livestreaming, recording, distribution and publicity, though. If anyone would like to donate any amount to help with this, they can go here: McKibben vs. Epstein Donations
(McKibben's website shows he will be there:

Here is a video of Power Hour by Alex Epstein on the indispensable role of coal in improving the standard of living of millions of people:

Here's the link if you can't see the last video:

Sunday, October 7, 2012

QuickPoint 1: Thinking is Individual

There are some people who say that ideas are products of a culture as a whole--that no one stands apart from the collective.

But where do ideas come from originally? Before an idea could be in many minds, it had to be in one mind. Thus, ideas come from individual thought. People can and do learn a great deal from others through their experience, but the process of thinking is a fundamentally, inescapably individual process. Learning from others does not mean parroting word sounds, but thinking about the material you are given. Before an idea can be taught, it must be thought of by an individual. Innovative individuals are those who use their own minds to think of new ideas, and thus move the "knowledge of the culture" (i.e. the sum of the knowledge of the network of communicating individuals) forward.

When people work to solve problems as a team, any individual who isn't thinking on his own, with his physically separate brain, will not contribute to the discussion and will not make any breakthroughs.


Note: At some point, I will likely write a longer article on this issue.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Proof of Free Will (Libertarian Volition)

By the nature of the following refutation of determinism, it can also be considered a proof (1) of (libertarian-type) volition. It is a refutation of any theory that would deny the existence of non-necessitated events--in the form of fundamental, agent-controlled choices--located in a conceptual consciousness, including incompatibilist determinism and compatibilism.

Here is a short video (by someone else) explaining the general outlines of the argument:

Here is a link to the paper by Harry Binswanger:

A Refutation of Determinism


(1) The argument shows that volition is a prerequisite of all knowledge and that the denial of volitional choice implies self-contradiction, thus establishing volitional choice as an axiom of epistemology. Strictly speaking, I think, by Leonard Peikoff's definitions, this is not a proof, but an axiomatic validation. It establishes the axiom as absolutely and unquestionably true, but does not involve the specific process of logical proof of the positive proposition.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Free Market Revolution by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins

Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand's Ideas Can End Big Government is now available at Amazon.

From the description:
A look at how our current crises are caused by too much government, and how Ayn Rand's bold defense of free markets can help us change course. 
The rise of the Tea Party and the 2010 election results revealed that tens of millions of Americans are alarmed by Big Government, but skeptical that anything can or will be done to stop the growth of the state. In Free Market Revolution, the keepers of Ayn Rand's legacy argue that the answer lies in her pioneering philosophy of capitalism and self-interest -a philosophy that more and more people are turning to for answers. In the past few years, Rand's works have surged to new peaks of popularity, as politicians like Paul Ryan, media figures like John Stossel, and businessmen like John Mackey routinely name her as one of their chief influences. Here, Brook and Watkins explain how her ideas can solve a host of political and economic ills, including the debt crisis, inflation, overregulation, and the swelling welfare state. And most important, they show how Rand's philosophy can enable defenders of the free market to seize the moral high ground in the fight to limit government. This is a fresh and urgent look at the ideas of one of the most controversial figures in modern history - ideas that may prove the only hope for the future.
To anyone who is relatively unfamiliar with Ayn Rand's ideas, but interested in solving our current economic and cultural problems, I encourage you to read this book. I encourage anyone who is very familiar with Rand's ideas to tell friends about this book, loan your copy to them, or give it to them as a gift.

To purchase, click here:
Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand's Ideas Can End Big Government

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Qur'an Promotes Violence Against Non-Muslims

In light of the events in Libya and the recent anniversary of 9-11, today's post is off the topic of Objectivism, so that I can alert people about the real nature of Islam, (anyone who is still in the dark, anyway.)

To be quite frank, those Muslims who believe in Western freedom and who accept other religions/philosophies as political equals, are actually the ones who compromise and don't take the Qur'an seriously. It is the violent totalitarian Islamists who are really living by the teachings of the Qur'an, as advocated in that book. The following video discusses the violent passages in the Qur'an, and the common "context defense" employed by Western Islamic advocates. It is very logical, clear and well presented.

This is another excellent video discussing the stages of jihad:

It should be noted that I do not necessarily endorse anything else the makers of the above videos advocate. I regard all religion as false or arbitrary, and fundamentally as a force for human suffering. (The reason for this is a subject for another post.)

Here is another video that corroborates some of what was said in the first two videos.

NOTE: I request that anyone commenting to criticize, or offer another interpretation, do so only after having seen at least the entirety of the first video.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

How to Show That Taxation is Robbery

The following article is not a general proof of the Objectivist principle that the initiation of physical force is destructive to human life; but it will show that taxation is equivalent to robbery and, when carried out for wealth redistribution, is actually more harmful to more people than the robberies committed by criminals in First-World countries. (A general proof of the destructiveness of initiated force does exist, and I may go through it at some point in the future.)

The Hypothetical Showing the Connection

If I have earned, say, $1,000 this week through my own labor, and another man comes up to me, points a gun at me, and tells me to give him the money, so he can pay his rent, is this robbery? Is it legal for him to do it? What if he tells me it's for his friend's rent? Is that robbery/legal? What if he gets 9 of his friends and they all tell me I need to give him my money? Is that robbery/legal? What if the 10 men write up a document that says I have to give him my money, and they include me in a vote to affirm or reject the "law" that says I should give him my money? They all vote “yes” on the “law” and I vote ”no.” “Now,” they tell me, “we as a society of 11 have drafted a law that says that you have an obligation to give us the money. We have taken a vote and you have been outvoted. As a part of our society, you now owe us this money. If you don’t give it to us, we will imprison you at gunpoint. If you don’t like what we are doing, you can leave our territory.” Is THIS robbery? Yes, the same forcible imposition of the wills of others upon me has been made. Is it legal? Yes, actually; it is now "legal," because a law has been voted on and passed. It is legal robbery. So, the question is: How many people does it take before this practice ceases to be robbery? A hundred? A thousand? Ten million?

Let's change the hypothetical a little. Let's say that I have grown up on my parents' farm. I take over the farm and carry on with my life. Let's say that, this time, the ten men come to me and tell me "We're going to take a vote on whether to build a bridge across that river a mile behind your property." I say,  "But I don't need or want a bridge there. I never cross that river. I do all my business on this side of it."

"Well," they say, "we are all going to collectively decide whether to build that bridge." They all vote to build the bridge, and I vote not to. "It's settled," they say, "we'll build the bridge. We'll all be free to use it, and all eleven of us will share the cost."

"But I have no business over there; I won't use it and I don't want to pay for it." I say. "If I wanted a bridge there, I would either build it myself, or pay someone else to build it, and I would own it. If I eventually decide to use your bridge, I'll pay you for access at that time."

"You're going to pay your share," they say, "or we're going to imprison you at gunpoint. By living among us, you have implicitly signed a Social Contract that says that you will help pay for anything we decide to do. You have been outvoted, so we, collectively, have decided to build the bridge. If you don't like this arrangement, you can move far away."

"But all I have been doing is living here. I didn't ask to be a part of your collective 'we' and I signed no 'Social Contract.' My mere existence is not 'consent' to anything. Why should I have to move out of my home if I don't want to have money extorted from me to pay for things I don't want you to do?"

"Well if you don't like it, that's too bad," they say, "the ten of us have more guns than you do. So you're going to do what we say and pay us, or we're going to put our guns to use."

The Analysis

Hopefully, this section should be stating what is obvious by now. That you don't have a gun being waved in your face on tax day does not make paying taxes voluntary; the guns will appear eventually if you fail to pay. The number of people who helped to point the gun at someone is not a part of the definition of robbery. The number of people having the gun pointed at them is not part of the definition of robbery. Any number of people can be robbed by any number of people. Thus, there is no numerical basis for saying the above scenarios are robbery, while taxation imposed by majority vote/representatives in a country is not. Nor is there any relevance if the taxes are imposed on everyone, including the voting majority; robbers can use their own money for a cause, yet still be guilty of robbing others to pay for that cause. Nor is the amount of money the victim(s) or perpetrator(s) have part of the definition of robbery. The robbery of a wealthy victim is still robbery. Nor does it matter that, in modern societies, those who carry out the robbery are part of an organization with the function of protecting the citizenry from other force initiators (robbers, murderers, foreign invaders, etc.) It does not follow that, because the government protects us, it has the right to rob us, any more than it follows that, because it protects us, it has the right to carry out contract killings for the mob.

Someone might object that dictionaries typically define "robbery" as "taking something from someone by unlawful force or threat of violence," while taxes are "lawful." But, as I hope the reader saw in the hypothetical, to say that something is lawful simply means that some individuals, who take themselves to be a governmental body (i.e. empowered to use force beyond immediate self-defense), have written down a directive on a piece of paper and intend to enforce it. That something is "lawful" says nothing about the moral propriety of it. (Would anyone today say that, because anti-Jewish laws were passed by a duly elected Adolf Hitler, they were thereby morally justified?) Therefore, "unlawful" should be stricken from the definition of "robbery" as a nonessential. (1)

But robbery must still be distinguished from recompense and fines imposed as retaliation for coercion initiated by individuals/groups, (i.e. the punishment of those who have already robbed or otherwise victimized others by coercion.) Hence, the proper definition of robbery is: "taking something from someone by initiatory force or threat of violence."

Taxation does fall under this proper definition of robbery.

Redistributive Taxation vs. Fines for Wrongdoing

Some people will try to justify redistributive taxation of the wealthy by invoking the idea that the wealthy got that way by graft, fraud, government favors, or otherwise doing things that violate the rights of others. In some cases, especially in today's mixed economy, this may be true. However, the mere fact that someone is wealthy does not show that this is how he became wealthy. The government should not be in the business of granting special favors to anyone, and fines, recompense and/or jail time imposed by the courts are the appropriate means of dealing with extortion or fraud, when it can be proven in a specific case.

Taxation, on the other hand, is the forcible taking of money that was, by the government's own determination, obtained by legal means. No force or fraud has been shown to be involved; no one's rights have been shown to have been violated. So, in taking redistributive taxes, the government is stealing money from those who earned it and giving it to those who did not.

A Few Fallacious Arguments for Government Robbery (Taxation) Refuted

Argument: "But isn't government taxation for its basic, legitimate functions (police, military, courts) just the government collecting what citizens owe it for protecting them? How is this any different from the government enforcing private contracts?" Refutation: In living under a government, I am delegating my personal right to retaliation and recompense against those who injure or rob me. This delegation is necessary in order to ensure objectivity in the implementation of such retaliation and recompense. But I have not been given any choice but to submit to this delegation. Since I have not voluntarily entered this arrangement, I cannot properly owe anyone (by force of law) for any element of it that I have not voluntarily chosen to take part in. I cannot legally owe anyone for what they have done without my consent, whether implicit or explicit. (Though, if I have violated someone else's rights, then I have implicitly chosen to be subject to their retaliation, through government.) This is unlike private contracts, in which both parties voluntarily agree beforehand to be bound by them.

Argument: "All known governments rob citizens for funding. Therefore robbery is necessary for the existence of government." Refutation: This is a form of argumentum ad populum. That the vast majority (or all) of the people one knows of have chosen to do something, does not make it necessary, or good, or optimally practical. That none of the governments in the world prior to 1776 had been constitutional democratic republics did not warrant a pronouncement that such government is impossible or impractical. (See the last section of this essay for more on the practicality of a tax-free society.)

Argument: "Without coercive redistribution from the rich to the poor, the poor would riot and/or commit more crime and make life worse for the rich. Therefore it is in the self-interest of the rich to let the government rob them for this purpose." Refutation: This argument takes egalitarian opinions of the poor as an unchallengeable, metaphysically given absolute. It is a confusion between the metaphysical and the man-made. Human philosophical beliefs are open to evaluation and change. That any number of those who are poor believe in coercive redistribution does not make them justified in that belief. It doesn't make them any more justified than a single robber who believes he should be able to bash your head in if you don't give him your money. The laws of the society should be set up and enforced against those who would threaten violence, absent government redistribution. Any egalitarians--poor, middle class, or rich--should be convinced that redistribution is wrong, and that societal justice means getting what we have earned in a free market. This is the path to the most productive and peaceful society. (Should abolitionists in the US have said "Abolishing slavery will cause problems. It's in the interests of a peaceful society to maintain the status quo, so let's not fight for abolition"?)

Argument: "Without government robbery to build roads and infrastructure, there would be no roads and infrastructure, or at least, very poor infrastructure and roads without rules." Refutation: Infrastructure (utilities, roads, etc.) can be built and operated through private/nongovernmental means. Private contracts can govern the operation of such services. The rules of private roads would be contractually enforced as conditions of their use by customers, because no responsible person wants to drive on unsafe roads. No one wants to put himself at the mercy of the whims of a private company for access to the road in front of his house, thus long-term contracts would likely be standard at move-in to specify conditions of access to, and pricing of, the road.

The Destructive Consequences of Government Robbery, Briefly

Most people can easily identify the destructive consequences of robbery by individuals or by gangs. They see the harm it does to the victims, physically and psychologically. They see that if such robbery became pervasive in their society, it would create a fearful climate, antithetical to enjoyable living. They can see that it would paralyze people with uncertainty and sap their ability (and motivation) to plan, to save, to become wealthy and successful by honest means. (What use is it to invest in a factory if it can easily be raided at any moment by a gang of thugs.)

What most people seem unable to identify are the destructive consequences of government robbing the successful and productive to give to the unsuccessful or unproductive. People either don't identify these as destructive consequences, because they are considered "normal," and "an inevitable part of life in society" today, or they file them under "caused by unfettered capitalism." Most people unthinkingly accept that government robbery is necessary--that our society would be worse off if the government didn't rob people on behalf of the poor, the elderly, the sick, scientific researchers, schools, infrastructure construction, etc.

But the destructive consequences of government robbery are all around us; they are not inevitable, and they are not the result of unfettered capitalism. Government bailouts of businesses maintain inefficient business practices, and incentivize risky, irresponsible and corrupt behavior by corporate officers.  In the same way, government welfare incentivizes wasteful and irresponsible behavior by the poor at the expense of taxpayers. The virtual government monopoly on roads has created a stagnant and chronically underfunded system. Long commutes through roads and freeways clogged with traffic have become accepted as an inevitable part of life by tens of millions of people in the US alone. Almost no one today sees the efficiency, dynamism and radical improvement possible to a system of private roads, highways and mass transportation. (2)

How Would Government Be Financed Without Taxes?

In order to be funded without taxation, the state and federal governments of the US would have to be substantially smaller in size and lower in budget. Such a government would be restricted to its proper functions: police, military and courts.

Ways to fund a proper government without taxation could include fees for government enforcement of contracts, voluntary donations, fines for lawbreakers, small fees for "losers" in civil trials, and lotteries. (I recommend this article for more on this issue: How Would Government be Funded in a Free Society? along with Ayn Rand's discussion of voluntary government funding in The Virtue of Selfishness.)


(1) Dictionaries reflect common usage that may be confused and/or improper. Thus, they should not be taken uncritically as authoritative, especially in regard to philosophically relevant concepts. For more on the issues of essentials, objective concepts and definitions, see Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 2nd Ed. by Ayn Rand.

(2) I make a certain distinction between the level of harm caused by compulsory taxation for government in its proper functions and compulsory taxation for improper government programs, such as welfare/bailout functions. The former is still wrong, but is destructive in a minor way. The latter is far and away more destructive to the well-being of people in the society that practices it.

Recommended books: Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand Capitalist Solutions: A Philosophy of American Moral Dilemmas by Andrew Bernstein

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The DIM Hypothesis by Dr. Leonard Peikoff

Dr. Peikoff's last work of philosophy/historical analysis,The DIM Hypothesis was released today. From the Amazon description:
With his groundbreaking and controversial DIM hypothesis, Dr. Leonard Peikoff casts a penetrating new light on the process of human thought, and thereby on Western culture and history. 
In this far-reaching study, Peikoff identifies the three methods people use to integrate concrete data into a whole, as when connecting diverse experiments by a scientific theory, or separate laws into a Constitution, or single events into a story. The first method, in which data is integrated through rational means, he calls Integration. The second, which employs non-rational means, he calls Misintegration. The third is Disintegration—which is nihilism, the desire to tear things apart. 
In The DIM Hypothesis Peikoff demonstrates the power of these three methods in shaping the West, by using the categories to examine the culturally representative fields of literature, physics, education, and politics. His analysis illustrates how the historical trends in each field have been dominated by one of these three categories, not only today but during the whole progression of Western culture from its beginning in Ancient Greece. 
Extrapolating from the historical pattern he identifies, Peikoff concludes by explaining why the lights of the West are going out—and predicts the most likely future for the United States.
Available now from Amazon:

The DIM Hypothesis: Why the Lights of the West Are Going Out

Monday, September 3, 2012

Atlas Shrugged, Altruism and Egoism

After a brief introduction to Atlas Shrugged, this essay provides a very good overview of the alternative between altruism and egoism. While not a work of technical philosophy, it is substantial: it quotes philosophers and textbooks that explain the meaning of altruism and clearly differentiates what rational egoism means for one's life, versus what altruism means. It also generally outlines Ayn Rand's argument for life as the standard of value and for rational egoism.

Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand's Morality of Egoism by Craig Biddle

 The book-length version can be found here: Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It by Craig Biddle

Recommended technical works are here: Viable Values: A Study of Life as the Root and Reward of Morality and Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist by Tara Smith

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Proceeding from Axioms in Objectivism - YouTube Edition

Well, it's finally happened: The impoverished reasoning methods employed by academic philosophy have infected YouTube comments....Shocking, I know....

But, all kidding aside, when most academic philosophers (who aren't deeply acquainted with Objectivist literature and lecture courses) read about Ayn Rand's axioms, they tend to deride them as tautologies. They can't possibly imagine how you could deduce a whole philosophical system from such tautologies. Well, they have something in common with my interlocutor (mirabileamavi) in the comments of a YouTube video. Hopefully, my concise answers to him (her?) should be clarifying:
Interlocutor: ...How do you derive causation from tautologies? 
Me: The "tautologies" you speak of are axioms. If something is truly an axiom, it is too fundamental to be conceptually analyzed, but is perceptually self-evident. You need only observe reality to see that it is true. 
An entity is itself, therefore it acts as itself. This mode of action consistent with its nature is causality. See:­ms-of-objectivism.html 
Int: i still dont understand how you can derive causation from tautologies. 
'john', from that i can infer 'john' is 'john' but i can't infer that 'john is a fireman' can i? the predicate 'is a fireman' is not contained in 'john'. while 'john' is 'john' is necessarily true and tautological, 'john is a fireman' certainly is not. from a=a we cannot infer that a=b. heres an example: 'frank ramsey', who is his father, what is his occupation? obvious all you can infer is that F.R. is F.R., nothing else. 
Me: At the level of bare axioms, all we can say is that, because John is John, John must act as John. That's it: causality is a corollary of identity. But to identify John as a fireman, we cannot simply deduce from the axiom. We must specifically observe firemen in order to form the concept "fireman." We must then observe John and see that he fits the concept. (Intro. to Objectivist Epistemology) Once we have observed he is a fireman, causality tells us he can't swim and lay eggs as a female squid. 
Int: 'is' is not equivalent to 'act'. 
okie, look at this from another angle. since identity is universally necessary, 2 is 2 is also an identity statement. but what does it mean to say that 2 act as 2? or for that matter, john act as john? if not just 'john is john' 
from john is john nothing else follows. not causality, not anything. let me ask you again, what casual anything can you deduce from 'frank ramsey'. thats right, nothing. 
Me: An entity's identity includes its qualities and capacities for action/reaction. We can isolate and focus on them in our thinking, by abstraction, but they cannot be separated in concrete reality. Causality is a corollary of identity, not a separately deduced fact. As a corollary, it is simply another way of looking at the same fundamental fact: an entity is itself. It's self-evident: look at reality. 
2 is a quantitative abstraction. Whatever 2 entities you are focusing on will act as themselves. 
Int: take our friend 'fr' as an example, obviously we can infer 'fr' is 'fr' via any standard of formal logic. but we can't infer 'fr' is also p. why? because additional information is needed to establish the new inference. 
to say something is corollary is to say that something follows from another. but how do you infer from 'fr' without the additional info. that 'fr' is also p? can i seriously validly infer that A, therefore B, C, D, X...? 
i.e. how am i justified in seeing arsenic for the first time to infer that it can or cannot kill? surely none of its properties follows from my visual perception of it or the mere knowing of its name. yes we can know its effects/properties through observation, but thats an additional step, not something that merely follows from our acquaintance with it. 
Me: For the last time, Objectivism doesn't say you can infer any specific properties/actions of entities from "A=A." To see that arsenic is deadly, you make specific observations of its effects. Once you have induced that arsenic is deadly, you know that once you have identified a specific sample as arsenic, it will be deadly when taken. Without causality, arsenic wouldn't have to behave as arsenic, and there's no way to know what will happen if you ingest it; it could make you live 1000 years.
So the basic point here is that, in Objectivism, proceeding from the axioms does not mean deduction, but induction. The truth of the axioms (including the validity of the senses) makes induction from observation (generalization) possible (including concept formation as a certain type of induction.)

The major model of system building in modern Western philosophy has been that of the rationalists, who deduce consequences from "a priori postulates," "intuitive" starting points, or mathematical axioms. Thus, when confronted with a philosophic system like Objectivism that claims axioms, most contemporary philosophers simply assume that the axioms are intended as a deductive starting point. They then rightly observe that nothing can be deduced from the axioms alone, and claim that Objectivism is a failure, or is not "serious" philosophy.

This is what I was referring to by "the impoverished reasoning methods employed by academic philosophy": Real induction, which is a method of generating principles, has been largely supplanted by probabilistic reasoning, which most contemporary philosophers call "induction."

The details of how induction works in various fields of knowledge is an active area of research among Objectivist philosophers. But we have cases of induction and general guidelines for how to form valid inductions left by Ayn Rand, and explicated by Leonard Peikoff. I recommend Understanding Objectivism: A Guide to Learning Ayn Rand's Philosophy by Leonard Peikoff.

The video below is not directly relevant to the above, but is an excerpt from one of Rand's essays that makes general points about philosophy, reason and emotions.

[Edited: 9-1-12]


Related Articles:
 The Structure of Objectivism
 The Axioms of Objectivism

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Rachel Maddow Fails "Ayn Rand 101"

At the link below, Don Watkins of the blog, Laissez-Faire, describes Rachel Maddow's misrepresentation of Ayn Rand's philosophy. Anyone who actually reads Atlas Shrugged should be able to tell that Maddow's statement is a misrepresentation. Yet this seems to be a rather common falsehood passed around by Rand's detractors.

 Rachel Maddow Fails "Ayn Rand 101"

 Here is a YouTube video of her misrepresentation: Maddow Misrepresents Rand @ 8:30

Saturday, August 18, 2012

What Caused the Financial Crisis: It Wasn't Capitalism or Deregulation

Below are links to Yaron Brook's explanation of how the US housing bubble and financial crisis happened. Yaron Brook has an MBA, a Ph.D. in Finance, and was a professor of finance at a university.

Here is a short video on what caused the crisis: Did Capitalism Cause the Financial Crisis?

Here is a course that goes through the details of what happened and why. The video is in the center column of the page, at the top of the "Video & Audio" section: The Financial Crisis: What Happened and Why

Ayn Rand's essay: What is Capitalism? (YouTube audio)

Capitalism at The Ayn Rand Lexicon.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Nature of the Morality of Rational Egoism: Short Notes

Some short points about the Objectivist ethics of rational egoism (1):
  1. If human beings wish to live, they need morality because only certain types of actions will lead to successful life as a human being, while others will necessarily lead to suffering and toward death; yet human beings do not automatically choose life-promoting actions, and they do not automatically know what is life-promoting for them, especially in the long term.
  2. A certain fundamental happiness is the marker of a flourishing life, and the fullest, long-term happiness is an individual's proper purpose in adhering to moral principles. What serves this long-term happiness is what defines an individual's self-interest, (i.e. his proper values.) Interactions with others are part of morality, but are not the central concern; the central concern is the reality of the individual's condition with respect to the attainment of life-sustaining/enriching values.
  3. Rationality is the fundamental virtue that subsumes all other virtues. Its being the fundamental virtue means that reason is the means by which an individual discovers what is in his self-interest, and that action based on reason is the only means by which he can achieve his proper values, (thus building happiness.)
  4. The six subsidiary virtues that Ayn Rand identified are aspects of rationality. They are: honesty, independence, productiveness, integrity, justice, and pride. Pride is not boastfulness or foolhardiness, but a dedication to excellence and moral self-improvement.
  5. Attempting to sacrifice the rational interests of others as a means to one's own happiness, whether done through force or deception, is doomed to fail. One's own happiness cannot be built on the robbery or enslavement of others, because human life depends on the production of values that sustain it. Those on whom the parasite feeds are worn down or destroyed, and find it in their rational interest to sabotage and get rid of the parasite. By using force or deception, the parasite is working to sabotage the victims' motivation and rational judgment, and it is their motivation and rational judgment in the production of values on which he is depending for his livelihood.
  6. The rational interests of individuals in everyday life in society do not conflict, because life-sustaining values are not a static quantity to be fought over, but are created by effort based on reasoning, and are thus variable and potentially unlimited.
  7. Human beings are a combination of the physical and mental, and an individual's self-interest includes psychological values. Self-interest is not to be reduced to only the physical, such as money. Other people can be of tremendous psychological value (i.e. friends, lovers, children.) That an individual's ultimate standard of value is his own flourishing life does not mean that he disregards others, or that he simply uses them for material gain. He can gain major psychological benefits from contact with other people of good character who reflect his values.
  8. Objectivist moral principles allow for a vast range of optional values within their practice. They allow for different career choices, (including full-time parenthood,) different tastes in art (literature, movies, music) and different amounts and types of social contact. One's own emotions about different options are typically among the relevant factors to consider in deciding which optional values to pursue.
  9. A basic (non-self-sacrificial) benevolence toward others is in one's own interest in an essentially free society. This typically includes being courteous and respectful to strangers, and considerate to friends. This is due to the fact that others are potential values to oneself, whether as trading partners, friends, lovers, or simply as general innovators whose ideas can improve one's own life. In a free, rights-respecting society, strangers are much more likely to be allies than enemies, in fundamental terms, and it's not in one's interest to push such people away without good reason. (Business competitors are not enemies; see Atlas Shrugged.)
  10. Just like principles of physics and free-market economics, principles of morality are contextual absolutes. This means that they are not like Biblical commandments that are supposed to always apply, no matter the situation. Proper moral principles apply only within certain circumstances, but when they do apply, they are absolute, and cannot be violated with impunity. For example, the principle that "the initiation of physical force is immoral/evil (destructive to human life)" does not apply in the face of an immediate physical threat to someone's life. Initiating force to push one's unsuspecting friend out of the path of a bullet is a good act. In ordinary circumstances, when human life depends on the free exercise of each individual's mind, the initiation of force is evil because it destroys and/or paralyzes the minds of victims and subverts the mental functioning of the perpetrator, to the extent it is initiated.
For those who don't have backgrounds in philosophy, but want to learn more about this moral code, I recommend reading The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand and Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It by Craig Biddle. For those who are more philosophically oriented, I also recommend Viable Values and Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist by Dr. Tara Smith.


(1) Dictionary definition of: egoism - 1. the habit of valuing everything only in reference to one's personal interest; selfishness (opposed to altruism). ... 3. Ethics. the view that each person should regard his own welfare as the supreme end of his actions [Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, 1973]

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

On Fairness and Justice: Their Meanings, Scopes, and How They Are Not the Same

Note: To the best of my knowledge, the following analysis of the concept of "fairness" is original; neither Ayn Rand, nor anyone else has analyzed it this way. My analysis of fairness was performed in light of the Objectivist theories of concepts and values. As should become clear to readers familiar with John Rawls and his work, this essay also stands as my refutation of John Rawls in A Theory of Justice.


How many times have you heard people say “Life isn’t fair,” with a resigned shrug, as though this “obvious fact” means there is something inherently wrong ("imperfect") in the nature of things?

Well, they are right that life, in general, isn’t fair. But this does not mean that “something is inherently wrong,” because life is not unfair, either. Life, in general, is neither fair, nor unfair, because the concept does not apply to life in general.

The concept of fairness comes up in a specific context. The context in which the concept of fairness applies, is that of a zero-sum game designed to test a certain attribute or set of attributes. Saying the game is “zero-sum” means that one person’s win ensures another’s loss; not everyone can win. Such games may be designed to test strength, agility, mental acuity, knowledge, etc.

The rules or circumstances of such a game are said to be “fair” if they are designed in such a way that the game accurately measures the attribute(s) or skill(s) being tested. Those with the greatest measure of the attribute(s) in question are very likely to win. The rules or circumstances of the game are said to be “unfair” if they don’t accurately measure the attribute(s) in question. For example, a race in which one runner starts before the others is unfair, because the others may be faster than that runner, yet not win the race, (which is a zero-sum contest to determine who is fastest.)

But life in general is not a zero-sum game. Because the values that sustain and enrich each person’s life must be produced, rather than taken from others, one person’s gain does not imply another’s loss. Life, in general, is not about winning or losing, it is about production of life-enhancing values. (For further explanation and clarification of this, I refer you to Ayn Rand’s explanation of human nature and morality in The Virtue of Selfishness, the explanation of free markets in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, the novel Atlas Shrugged, and to Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.)

The concept of fairness can be expanded slightly to include such things as trials, in which the defendant “winning” means acquittal, and his “losing” means conviction. The rules in a trial are designed to test the state of genuine evidence against the accused.

But, once again, life as a whole is neither fair, nor unfair, because the concept does not apply. (In this sense, calling life “unfair” is similar to calling a rock “evil.” The rock doesn’t have the attributes necessary for “evil” to apply.) (1)

Often, people will talk about “fairness,” while actually meaning “justice.” But these concepts are not equivalent. Justice is a broader concept than fairness. It is a moral concept that applies to all freely chosen human actions in dealing with others. (2) Justice applies in two related senses: as a personal virtue, and as a societal condition. As a personal virtue, justice means rewarding virtuous behavior, and punishing vicious behavior. In other words, rewarding the good, and punishing the evil, to the extent of that goodness or evil. In the Objectivist ethics, good behavior is constructive to the lives (rational values) of those close to it, whereas evil behavior is destructive to the lives (rational values) of those associated with it. Thus, the rewarding of those who are good and the punishment and shunning of those who are immoral or evil is a personal virtue, serving to promote and protect one’s own life.

As a societal condition, justice rests on the fact that, in the large majority of cases, good behavior is rewarded and evil is punished, within the society. The extent to which the results of choices (gain/loss of values) match the moral status of those choices, (good/evil) is the extent to which the society is just.

The most important, all-encompassing condition of societal justice is the protection of individual rights to life, liberty, and property. This is essentially equivalent to freedom; that is, freedom from the initiation of physical force or fraud by others. By far, the most pervasive way that people can be punished for doing good things is by force. Stealing (private or governmental) punishes wealth creation and rewards those who haven’t worked to produce wealth, (i.e. things of value.) Extortion punishes wealth production and integrity, (acting according to one’s own judgment) since if one doesn’t act against his own judgment and give in to the extortionist, he is punished. Rape punishes a person just for having a body and being a sexual being. Initiated physical violence or unprovoked imprisonment punishes a person for existing.

Freedom from these punishments is the most basic thing that allows people to be rewarded for good (human life-promoting) behaviors, such as thinking independently, producing wealth, being honest, judging justly, etc. Since human life (the good) is sustained and enriched by the independent thought of each individual, each individual should be rewarded in proportion to his mental effort/virtuous actions, as he would be, were he alone on a large island. (Whether the productive activities in a society are solitary or cooperative, it is still the case that each individual must bear the responsibility for his own mental effort/virtuous actions, or lack thereof. No one can think for him, and even if he learns from others, it is he who must think in order to learn.) Thus, the freedom from coercion (robbery, enslavement, etc.) by others that each individual would have on a deserted island is the essential requirement of a just society. (3)

Now, let’s take two cases and see if and how the concepts of “fairness” and “justice” apply to them.

Case 1: One child is born with sight, while another is born blind. Is this fair or unfair? It is neither. The one child was not given his sight at the expense of the other, and life is not a win-lose contest of who can perform more capably in jobs that require sight. The state of blindness is objectively inferior to having sight, and it is desirable that the blindness be cured, but there is no basis for the term, “unfair.” No one set up a win-lose competition between the two children.

Is this situation just or unjust? Once again, it is neither. Justice, as a moral concept, is applicable only to those facts that are chosen by human beings. Being born blind is generally not the result of anyone’s choices. The birth was the result of human choice, but the blindness was not. The situation is, in Ayn Rand’s terminology, a “metaphysically given” condition--as opposed to a “manmade” condition. Manmade conditions are chosen, and thus subject to moral evaluations, but metaphysically given ones are not; they just are the way they are, and that’s it.

Case 2: One child is born into a wealthy family, while another is born into a poor family. The child of the wealthy family gets all the benefits of a good school, good parenting, good dental care, etc. The child of the poor family drops out of school to work, has somewhat neglectful parents, doesn’t have access to the same level of health care, etc. Is this situation fair or unfair? Again, it is neither. The child of the wealthy family does not have the benefits of wealth at the expense of the child of the poor family. Life is not a race for pleasures, education, jobs, or opportunities. Wealth is desirable. It is nice to be born into a wealthy family. But wealth, when earned, is created, and one family’s wealth does not cause another’s poverty (so long as it isn’t stolen.)

Is this situation just or unjust? As far as the child is concerned, the simple fact of being born—of being brought into existence—can never be either just or unjust to him. Being brought into existence is neither reward, nor punishment; there was no living entity there to be rewarded or punished. In principle, one can morally judge the decision of the parent(s) to have the child on the basis of the effect on the parents’ lives. Once the child is born, it is possible for the parents to be just or unjust to the child. But the mere fact of the level of the family’s wealth can be considered neither a punishment nor a reward for the child.

The justice of the above situation, with regard to wealth, applies to the parents. It is whether or not the wealth of the parents was freely earned, (i.e. earned by mutual, voluntary consent) and whether or not wealth was stolen from the parents. If all wealth was freely earned, and none was stolen, then the situation is fully just. The benefits that the child of the wealthy family gets are the result of the parents using their justly earned wealth (reward) to promote their own values—specifically, their child’s wellbeing.

But the child’s actual, long-term happiness has relatively little to do with the wealth of his parents. It has much more to do with the child’s own choices, so long as he lives in a largely free society.

The world is rife with thoughtless, (self-) spoiled, lazy, wasteful, deeply unhappy heirs and heiresses. No amount of unearned money will buy the clarity, serenity, purposefulness and achievement-oriented lifestyle necessary for the deep enjoyment of wealth. No amount of brainless partying will fill the hole in one’s self-esteem left by one’s own lack of thought and purposeful achievement.

The world also contains those who started out in poor families, had to work themselves through school, had to contend with neglectful alcoholics in their families and other problems, yet they rose above that and made successful, happy lives for themselves, essentially through their own choices. The poverty of their childhood did not cripple their happiness for life.

What makes this latter case possible is freedom in society; that is, freedom from coercion by others, including the government. This is freedom from censorship by the government, freedom from being coerced into trade guilds that keep an individual in a certain class, freedom from onerous tax burdens and tax incentives that drain wealth, foreclose opportunities and distort people’s economic judgment, freedom from coercion into or out of certain contractual relationships, (e.g. antitrust statutes and minimum wage laws) freedom from government-mandated business/professional/product licensing and the corrupt politicians and businesses that conspire to forcibly keep competition out of their field, etc. The extent to which force rules in a society—whether it is initiated by the government or by gangs—is the extent to which the society does not allow economic rewards to be based on the free choice to produce wealth (things of value that sustain and enrich human life), and thus, is the extent to which the society is unjust. This is the extent to which cases of the “self-made man,” who became wealthy and successful essentially through reliance on his own thought and judgment, become rare; and this is also the extent to which cases of the idle/unproductive rich become commonplace. (4)(3)

In summary, "fairness" is only for games and trials; "justice," as a general societal condition, applies to manmade institutions and requires laissez-faire capitalism, as it was described by Ayn Rand.


(1) There is another sense in which people speak of “being fair” in conversations and friendships. This is a minor, derivative meaning that is distinct from the major meaning, and not relevant to my current point. It means to adhere to certain rules that promote productive dialogue and mutually satisfying friendships.

(2) Except in emergencies, in which an immediate physical threat makes one’s own short-term survival incompatible with the otherwise proper evaluation of others.

(3) Again, I recommend Ayn Rand’s works, such as The Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal for further explanation and clarification.

(4) What I mean, more precisely, is that government-granted subsidies, protections or monopolies are what allow people to be idle/unproductive and still become wealthier and stay wealthy, themselves. They are what allow long dynasties of unproductive rich to flourish, thus hindering economic justice.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Taking Philosophy Seriously...

...Means Not Committing The Fallacy of Self-Exclusion.

If philosophy is to be more than a useless mental exercise, or a "bauble of the intellect" as Leonard Peikoff puts it in OPAR, (1) any statement claimed as knowledge must be consistent with the very fact that the philosopher is claiming the truth of the proposition. If the truth of the proposition would invalidate the statement being made by its application to the speaker, then this is an example of the Fallacy of Self-Exclusion. The speaker must arbitrarily exclude himself from the statement in order to "validly" make it.

The most obvious example is the claim that knowledge is impossible to human beings. This statement is itself a claim to knowledge by a human being; so in stating it, the speaker is contradicting himself. (2)

But this fallacy occurs in many more subtle forms:

"There are no absolutes." That is an absolute statement asserting a negative.

"We can never be 100% certain. All we can know are probabilities." Well what's the probability that that statement is true? It should have been put in the form of "There is X% probability that all we can know are probabilities." Then, what is the value of X based on? More probabilistic premises? How does one avoid an infinite regress and establish a basis for the numbers if nothing is absolutely certain? You will have to come up with a theory that allows for certainty somewhere.

"Human beings are irrational creatures driven by their emotional impulses." So you got into philosophy on a whim, and that statement is an expression of your emotional impulses? How could any of the irrational, emotionalist creatures around you possibly consider your personal emotional expression as some kind of "universal truth" about human nature?

So, the take-home point here is: whenever considering a proposition or theory in philosophy, especially something regarding epistemology or human nature, apply it to yourself first, to see if the statement is self-refuting. If it is, then the view is untenable as it stands. (3)

The following is an abridgment of a real conversation that I had in a public, online forum. It shows a real case of the Fallacy of Self-Exclusion in action:

Him: [...M]any people seem to embrace science and the natural world when they've left god and church. I seem to be going a step farther: I am coming to the conclusion that all our perceived realities are man-made - not just the religious and the spiritual, but our science as well. Nothing appears to be absolute. I have not settled on this view at all but I am seriously considering it.
All facts are contained within a reference frame or point of view in our heads, that we can't escape from. We cannot even talk about a fact, an object, an event - out there external to us - w/o injecting our perspective.

It was Immanual Kant that said that when we look at what we consider the real world, we are still looking at it through our internal lens. There is no way to get outside ourselves to look at it objectively. This seems to be true b/c look at all the various opinions on any topic from religion, to spirituality, to economics, to politics, to morality, and even to science. We humans cannot appear to agree on anything.

We coalesse [sic] into groups that have similar perspectives and perceived realities to us individually. Others outside the group have a multitude of different realities when it comes to the topic being discussed. And there is no objective standards that can be used as an arbiter to decide between the differing views.

So this is postmodernism looking glass I guess: relative, subjective, individual, and socially developed.

I am reading a lot about it for and against, so the jury is still out for me.

Me: [...] It does not follow that just because you are aware by means of your senses, that your awareness is distorted or subjective. Nor does it follow that just because you think by a means (namely, concepts) that your thinking is biased. Consider an analogy for Kant's position: A friend calls at noon, and asks you to meet him at a restaurant at 6:30. You agree, and starting at 6:00, you drive there and meet him at 6:30. When you meet him, he says, "Wait, you drove here?"
You say, "Yes."
"But you can't really be here."
"Excuse me?"
"You drove here."
"Yes, I'm here, am I not?"
"No, it's not the same. You drove here, and that means you're not really here. To really be here, you had to just appear."
"You mean, teleport?"
"Yes. If you had just teleported, you would really be here. But since you drove, you're not really here."

Your friend's name happens to be Immanuel Kant, and you go on to discuss his theory about how the senses are invalid as a means of objective awareness of the "thing-in-itself", just as driving is an invalid means of "objective travel to the destination-in-itself."

The fact that you are aware by some means, does not indicate that you are not really aware.
In order to make a claim of knowledge about anything, including the knowledge of the "invalidity" of the senses, you must assume that your senses give you a basis for actual knowledge. So a claim that the senses are invalid is self-contradicting.

It is true that, ultimately, you can only ever see through your own eyes, and hear through your own ears, but this is still seeing and hearing.

Him: [...] I am not making a claim about the invalidity of the senses. I am suggesting that the sensory stimulus is not interpreted the same for everyone but is interpreted based on their prior experience and cultural upbringing.

Something that is interesting - people that have experienced severe epileptic seizures and have had the hemispheres of their brains separated to reduce them, where each hemisphere can’t communicate with the other, suggests our brains make things up. In one case, a researcher used an optical device to flash visual messages to a patient who had had this procedure, in such a way that the message reaches only one hemisphere of the brain. So keep in mind that the right hemisphere is not verbally dominant but it can receive and act on a verbal message. So he flashes a command to the patient that says, “smile.” The patient smiles. He flashes “tap,” and the patient taps. The left brain doesn’t know what is going on at this point b/c it never received that message. Even when given those commands the patient says he didn’t see anything. Now the researcher flashes a command to the right hemisphere, “walk.” The patient gets up and starts to walk. When the researcher asks why he is doing this – a verbal inquiry handled by the left hemisphere and the one that didn’t get the command – the patient answers, “I’m going to the fridge to get a Coke.” The left hemisphere made up a perfectly good reason, and also probably based on past experience, but unrelated to what prompted the action. What are we to make of such things?

Me: I think it would be helpful here to define what I mean when I say "reality." I think that your use of the term "reality" agrees with many modern philosophers, but that this use is improper because it confuses an important distinction. We should be careful to distinguish the difference between reality and beliefs. That is, (roughly speaking) between the physical world as it exists, "out there" and the content of one's consciousness that is supposed to refer to that world. I like [moderator]'s definition in his signature: "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."

If we take a simple example: You are standing at the side of a busy street. You see a car coming at 40 mph, but you decide that that car is "not a part of your reality," you close your eyes, believe with all your will that that car is unreal, and you step out in front of it. Does that car disappear and allow you to cross safely? No, because that car is real. It's reality will still confront you, even if you manage to convince yourself that it is just an appearance in your head.

Or another example: You convince yourself that you don't need food to live, but only prayer. You fast continuously, but pray a lot. Will this stop you from getting hungry, losing weight, and eventually dying? Try it. Will this work for someone else who is a true believer? Ask them to try it, and see what they say 5 weeks later.

Your belief in something does not make it "true for you." There is not "my reality" and "your reality," but only reality, which is the world that each of us perceives, and my belief and your belief. If my belief corresponds to this one reality, I am right; if it does not, I am wrong. If I have a belief that a car speeding at me won't hurt me, and I step in front of it based on that belief, I won't get the result that I expect, because I am wrong.
It is the conceptual interpretation of what your senses give you that is subject to past experiences and cultural ideas. You and a Hindu will both see an object shaped like a book on a table. It is real to both of you. But conceptually, he may recognize it as the Sama Veda, whereas you might not, for any number of reasons (too far away, can't read the language on the cover, etc.) But you both see the same object, and that object is real.

In the case of the epileptic surgery patient, I see someone who has a specific disability in dealing with reality due to the physical manipulation of his brain. Brain injuries and schizophrenia can also cause problems in perceiving reality and reasoning about it. What does this prove? That reality is subjective? It only proves that some people can be incapable of dealing with reality in various ways. If the researcher had done that experiment with your average man on the street, who had not had his brain operated on, would he have gotten the same result? Almost certainly not.

But do you see the irony of what you're asking here? You are basically saying, "Look, here is a real, objective fact you should take into consideration. Doesn't this objective fact show that reality is subjective, and that a fact for one person is not a fact for another?" How can it? How can any fact show that there really are no facts? If reality is subjective, then it is not real in any way that matters, or that distinguishes it from fantasy. If this is the case, I could just as easily concoct my own fantasy and use it to "prove" anything. I could just flatly contradict your example, and say, "No, in my reality, he was able to tell the researcher that he walked because he was told to," and I would be just as "right" as you are.

At root, you either have to accept the axiom that "existence exists," (i.e. reality is real) or you have no basis for any conclusion whatsoever. This is why it's an axiom. Without it, you can't think any thought or make any statement without falling into self-contradiction.


(1) Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand

(2) This is a self-contradiction so long as the proposition, "I am a human being," is held to be true. Thus, the only way out of self-contradiction is to assert the absurd position, "I am not a human being." Regardless, if one states, "Knowledge is impossible to [me, or a class to which I belong,]" then it is a self-contradiction.

(3) Instances of the Fallacy of Self-Exclusion generally employ "stolen concepts." See Ayn Rand Lexicon:,_fallacy_of.html