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]