Posts tagged Philosophy

Re: *Boinks Ayn Rand*

Derek Wittorff via Alex Strekal

April 10 at 3:32pm

Boinks Ayn Rand

Charles W. Johnson

There are many different ways to respond to Ayn Rand and her legacy. I’m not sure necrophilia is the best.

April 10 at 3:32pm

Nick Ford

“I’m not sure necrophilia is the best.”


April 10 at 3:33pm

Derek Wittorff


April 10 at 3:33pm

Charles W. Johnson

“Boinks” is sometimes used as if it means the same thing as “Bonks.”

It doesn’t.

April 10 at 3:33pm

Daniel Patrick Ⓐ

April 10 at 3:34pm

Nick Ford

Oh yeah, right I knew that but I’ve used it in the Strekelian sense so long I’d forgot about the other connotations.

April 10 at 3:35pm

Derek Wittorff

Its a great analysis.

April 10 at 3:41pm

Charles W. Johnson

I can’t say I agree. Most of the things that Alex finds troubling or flat wrong in Rand are also things that I find deeply troubling or flat wrong, but as far as the article goes, there’s not at lot of analysis there; mostly polemic. Some mention of conclusion, none of arguments, not even any quotes. If anything, what it reads most like is one of Rand’s own sweeping rhetorical assaults on, say, Kant or Plato. Those may or may not be correct on any given point, but they are certainly not the place to go to learn very much what Kant or Plato is about.

April 10 at 3:53pm

Daniel Patrick Ⓐ

It’s true. I have trouble being open to Kant due to exposure to Rand’s ideas at an impressionable age.

April 10 at 3:56pm

Charles W. Johnson

Utah had a story about alternative health in northern California around Nevada City: “You gotta be open to these things. If you don’t they’ll pry ya open.” Which is about how I felt about Kant after the second half of my 18th Century Philosophy course.

April 10 at 4:01pm

Derek Wittorff

‎”I can’t say I agree. Most of the things that Alex finds troubling or flat wrong in Rand are also things that I find deeply troubling or flat wrong, but as far as the article goes, there’s not at lot of analysis there; mostly polemic. Some mention of conclusion, none of arguments, not even any quotes. If anything, what it reads most like is one of Rand’s own sweeping rhetorical assaults on, say, Kant or Plato. Those may or may not be correct on any given point, but they are certainly not the place to go to learn very much what Kant or Plato is about.”

I can agree there, but it is a paper about Rand, not Kant or Plato.

April 10 at 4:09pm

Derek Wittorff

A little explanation could help, but it’s more than easy to get off track when you’re engaging in philosophical discourse.

April 10 at 4:12pm

Charles W. Johnson

This is an example of what I would take to count as an analysis of Rand and her philosophy (sometimes a good analysis, sometimes not as good, but always an analysis): The article here is not an analysis or a philosophical discourse; it’s a denunciation. Which may very well be merited, but which is something different.

Why I’m not an objectivist

‎(2) One should always follow reason and never think or act contrary to reason. (I take this to be the meaning of “Reason is absolute.”)

April 10 at 4:12pm

Charles W. Johnson

‎Derek Wittorff: “it is a paper about Rand, not Kant or Plato.”

O.K., I’m not sure what you mean here. Is this a joke about slipping antecedents? Or do you mean to suggest there’s something about Rand that makes this kind of treatment of her more useful or less of an injustice than a similar treatment of Kant or Plato (e.g. that the latter are better or more sophisticated philosophers or something like that)? Or something else?

April 10 at 4:16pm

Derek Wittorff

I see, you think the analysis part is lacking, not the paper itself. I wouldn’t know where to start if I was gonna critique her whole philosophy.

April 10 at 4:27pm

Charles W. Johnson

I’m not sure I’m being clear. My view is that setting out to critique her whole philosophy is almost certainly the wrong goal. I think that if Rand is worth an analysis at all (and I happily leave that as an open question), then everyone involved would benefit more from a focused discussion of a single argument, from premises to conclusion, than from some kind of broadside against the totality of her thought.

April 10 at 4:34pm

Charles W. Johnson

The reason I linked the Huemer piece is because that’s a thing that he does — although he’s actually covering a fairly broad stretch of territory, at each stop he sets out specific arguments in detail and then tries to see, first, how they work on their own, and then, second, whether there’s something wrong with them and if so what a better alternative would be. That’s what I feel like I can recommend as “analysis” of a philosophical position. It is for good or for ill a different thing from assembling a hodgepodge of summaries of her conclusions, wrapping it up in a package, and denouncing that as destructive or poisonous. I mentioned the bit about Plato and Kant because Rand herself is constantly approaching other thinkers this way, and Objectivists tend to eat this stuff up, but whatever value that kind of thing may have, it’s not as analysis, because there isn’t any serious analysis of the philosopher’s arguments, only a denunciation of the perceived downstream consequences of those arguments. But to the extent that there isn’t any analysis of the philosopher’s arguments, there isn’t any analysis of the philosopher, either. Of course whether analysis is really what’s wanted in the first place, or whether something else is (denunciation, disavowal, parody, scurrilous satirical poetry, a sharp whack upside the head, whatever) is a separate question.

April 10 at 4:46pm

Re: Why We Need the Nonaggression Axiom

@Alex Peak: “The problem with the whole it’s-okay-to-initiate-force-against-nonviolent-assholes idea is problematic because of the slippery slope.”

I suppose that there is a slope, and maybe the slope is slippery, but is that really what you see as the problem with the judgment that “it’s Ok to use violence against people who are being major assholes”? I mean, when I read something like that, my main problem with it is that it’s a despicable sentiment, which praises thuggishness and the use of violence with the explicit purpose of domination and control. It may also have downstream consequences on other people’s behaviors in different situations which also suck, but even if it does not have those downstream consequences, it’s still a pretty sucky attempt when it comes to being a human being.

@Alex Peak: “None of this ought to be taken as a rejection of what Charles Johnson calls thick libertarianism. My understanding of (certain approaches to) thick libertarianism is that it is the view that liberty would be most easily achieved or maintained if society also adopted certain norms—e.g., rejecting racism, sexism, and homophobia—but that an embrace of these norms needs not, and ought not, be coupled with a rejection of the nonaggression axiom.”

Thanks for the nod; you’re certainly right that the thick conceptions of libertarianism that I would defend are not conceptions where the idea is to provide loopholes for justified aggressive force or fraud, or where the “thickness” erases the content of the “libertarianism” in select cases. The idea is that there are forms of oppression, abuse, social evils, etc. which are acted out by means other than physical force or fraud, and it’s important to recognize these where they exist. Not so that you can respond to them with aggression, but rather so that non-aggressive forms of oppression or abuse can be met with serious, confrontational, nonviolent resistance.

@Alex Peak: “And libertarianism, very simply, is the belief that people should be free from aggression”

@Alex Gleason: “Apparently you have cast Egoists out of the libertarian movement, Mr. Peak.”

I’m not sure how. There is nothing in most versions of philosophical egoism which require the egoist to be in favor of aggression (as Alex defines it). Indeed, egoists have generally been against that, and thought that people should be free from it; although they suggest that it’s instrumentally or strategically valuable, rather than being valuable for its own sake. That’s rather the point of Stirner’s Union of Egoists — the claim that there are egoistic reasons for free selves to abandon aggression in favor of mutual alliance.

@Jacob Vardy: “are you familiar with the Spanish term ‘acracia?'”

There is a cognate term in English-language philosophical writing, usually spelled “akrasia.” Unfortunately it already has another, mostly unrelated meaning It got picked up because the Greek moral philosophers wrote about the problem of ἀκρασία, which used to be translated “incontinence” but now is more commonly just transliterated to “akrasia.” The Greeks (and hence now English-speaking philosophers commenting on the problem) used it to refer to the predicament of people who believed in a moral principle but didn’t live up to it — who acted contrary to it. Thus Socrates seems to have argued that akrasia was impossible (if you acted contrary to the principle, he held that you must not really have believed in it in the end); Aristotle thought that it was possible but had something nuanced to say about the best way to describe the predicament; etc. Anyway, that usage also came about because of the literal meaning of “without command”; but the English-language use is meant torefer to a lack of control over yourself (the Greeks’ idea being that akratics were enslaved by their own passions or appetites), rather than a lack of control over others.

@Drew: “How about this – the state is antithetical …to individual liberty”

Isn’t that what a libertarian (at least, the kind of libertarian who would refer to the State as a criminal gang) usually means by the statement that the State is criminal?

@Anok Kropotkin: “Oh, and ‘crime’ is a general term used to define what governing bodies consider undesirable behavior.”

I don’t think that’s the only meaning of the word “crime.”

Certainly, sometimes people use “crime” just to mean “whatever the government has forbidden.” But when someone describes, say, Donald Rumsfeld as a “war criminal,” or when someone describes the Holocaust or other examples of state mass-murder as “crimes against humanity,” that they mean to claim that Pinochet or the Nazis or whoever were somehow doing something illegal. What they did was perfectly legal, according to government law, and authorized by the governing bodies (since these criminals were in charge of the governing bodies). So to describe it as “criminal” must mean something other than simply disapproval from governing bodies.

Re: Mariana Evica by Roderick Tracy Long: “Two things conservatives like to say…”

By “this guy” do you mean Roderick Long, the author of the article? If so, then I don’t think you’ve correctly understood the “view of Christianity” he espouses. As a matter of fact, Long’s post is not about promoting any view of Christianity at all. If you’ll look more carefully at the post, you’ll see that it’s about promoting a particular view of conservatism.

Raphael,… See More

Roderick explains what he means by “Austro-Athenian” in the tagline of the blog: ‘”Austro” as in Rothbard and Wittgenstein, “Athenian” as in Aristotle and smashing-the-plutocracy.’ It has to do with Roderick’s interests in the joint and several insights of Viennese philosophy, the Austrian school of economics, classical philosophy, and Athenian democratic theory.


Man, I already read Ayn Rand’s review of J.H. Randall’s /Aristotle/ a long time ago [*], and it didn’t taste any better coming back up than it did going down.

Rand was many things, but a careful scholar of antiquity she was not, and especially not when she lapsed into this kind of world-historical theorizing. Her view of Plato, and of Aristotle’s relationship to him, is so wide of the mark as to be laughable. (For starters, if you think that Plato’s point is to doubt “the cognitive efficacy of man’s [sic] mind,” or to “deny and surrender … [the human person’s] particular mode of consciousness” then I can only say that your reading of Plato is a curious one. And would perhaps benefit from actually doing some, well, reading, of what Plato has to say about reason, consciousness and cognition.)

[*] Originally appeared in the Objectivist Newsletter May 1963; reprinted in The Voice of Reason, pp. 6-12; also excerpted in the Ayn Rand Lexicon under “Aristotle,” if I’m not mistaken.

Re: The Great Ideas Are Simple

Kevin Carson:

Similarly, the labor theory of value is based, not on an inductive generalization from the observed movement of prices, but on an a priori assumption about why price approximates cost, except to the extent to which some natural or artificial scarcity causes deviations from this relationship. (Kevin Carson, Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, pp. 70-73)

J. Neil:

Translation: Kevin Carson has some blue-sky theory out of his ass — without looking at what happens in the real world

Now we have J. Neil Schulman, who claims to be an admirer of Ludwig von Mises, objecting to the use of aprioristic economic theory as “blue sky-theory out of his ass without looking at what happens in the real world.” Awesome.

Ludwig von Mises:

Consequently, a proposition of an aprioristic theory can never be refuted by experience. Human action always confronts experience as a complex phenomenon that first must be analyzed and interpreted by a theory before it can even be set in the context of an hypothesis that could be proved or disproved; hence the vexatious impasse created when supporters of conflicting doctrines point to the same historical data as evidence of their correctness. … Disagreements concerning the probative power of concrete historical experience can be resolved only by reverting to the doctrines of the universally valid theory, which are independent of all experience. Every theoretical argument that is supposedly drawn from history necessarily becomes a logical argument about pure theory apart from all history.

(Ludwig von Mises, “Epistemologial Problems of Economics”, Ch. 1, s. II.2)

J. Neil:

If Kevin’s theory could accurately describe price fluctuations in a free market, Kevin wouldn’t be making his living emptying bedpans for a living. He’d be a filthy rich Wall-Street broker.

  1. Again. We don’t live in a free market.

  2. And, now we have J. Neil Schulman, who claims to be an admirer of Ludwig von Mises, apparently objecting not only to the use of aprioristic theory in economics, but also believing that an accurate economic theory ought to produce quantitative predictions. Really, dude?

Do you know anything in particular about Ludwig von Mises’s economics? You just angrily dismissed to two of the three central ideas that von Mises is known for. (At least you didn’t bring up Kevin’s work on calculation problems in big corporations, which would have given you an opportunity to angrily dismiss the third.) All of which indicates to me that you are either ranting in utter ignorance, or else you just don’t give much of a damn about what’s true and what’s false, as long as you get to slam Kevin Carson in the process.

In either case, you ought to be embarrassed.

Re: Why We Fight (the Power)


The “strategic-thickness,” “consequence-thickness,” “application-thickness,” and “grounds-thickness” arguments strike me as pretty insubstantial, to the extent I understand them. The grounds-thickness argument, for example — “Sure, private hierarchy is logically consistent with libertarianism, but it’s weird!” — seems like an assertion, not an argument.

Peter, are you referring here to the paragraph on authoritarianism in Libertarianism Through Thick and Thin, under the heading of “Thickness from grounds”, which begins “Consider the conceptual reasons that libertarians have to oppose authoritarianism, not only as enforced by governments but also as expressed in culture, business, the family, and civil society. …”?

If so, I’m not surprising you find the argument unsatisfying, because that’s an extremely elliptical capsule version of the argument. It’s intended to illustrate the kind of argument that you would make for a commitment from grounds, not to give a full-on account of the argument for libertarian concern with non-coercive authoritarianism. A fuller version, with the details tricked out, would require a lot more space than I had available in that part of that particular article (which was written for print in The Freeman, and hence subject to constraints of length, and which was primarily about the varieties of thickness, not primarily about making the case for all the details of my own particular thick conception of libertarianism).

There’s a bit longer discussion of the same topic in my “Liberty, Equality, Solidarity” essay in the Long/Machan Anarchism/Minarchism anthology (particularly if you include, as background, the section on equality), which you may or may not find more satisfying.

Whether or not you find it more satisfying, though, what I’m more interested in is whether or not you accept the form of argument discussed. Specifically, an argument in which the arguer demonstrates 1. that the best reason to be a libertarian is some foundational principle X (Aristotelian natural law, rational egoism, Jeffersonian political equality, whatever your view may be); 2. that principle X implies not only that libertarianism is true, but also some other consequent, Y; and, therefore, 3. a libertarian, qua libertarian, has reason to believe in Y as well as libertarianism, even though denying Y is not inconsistent with libertarianism per se, because denying Y would be inconsistent with the reasons that justify libertarianism. (Hence, as I say, libertarians can reject Y without being inconsistent but they can’t reject it without being unreasonable.)

So, do you accept that form of argument as a legitimate one? If so, then great; that was the main purpose of the discussion, and presumably also the main purpose of Roderick’s link to my essay. If not, then what’s the problem with it?

Re: Censorship Express


Would you do me the courtesy of pointing out to me just what I have written that you interpret as being (1) “[my] argument against a property right in improved land” and (2) an “appeal to a supposed lack of any possibility of objective criteria for rights”? A URL or a citation by page number to some printed work will do.

I find your characterizations of my philosophical positions puzzling.

Re: Thickness unto death


So one can nonthickly argue that it’s not that case that we must be thicklib. But one can’t non-thickly argue that it is the case that we shouldn’t be thicklib.

Well, thick libertarianism is the claim that libertarianism as such provides good reasons for libertarians to care about other commitments besides a rigorous commitment to non-aggression. So it’s true that if, for example, a would-be thin libertarian is arguing that we should abandon a particular nonviolently held philosophical view about libertarianism (viz. the thick conception of it) for, e.g., reasons of libertarian strategy, then she is really advancing a form of thick, not thin, libertarianism.

But couldn’t a woud-be thin libertarian instead argue that we ought to abandon a particular nonviolently held philosophical view about libertarianism (viz. the thick conception of it) for other reasons distinct from and alongside our libertarian commitments? For example, that it should be abandoned for reasons of intellectual clarity, considered as desirable in itself rather than as a means to libertarian triumph or whatever else?

If so, then, while I would certainly disagree with the argument for abandoning a thick conception of libertarianism, I wouldn’t think that the argument is internally contradictory. The appeal only becomes an appeal to thickness if the reasons being given are reasons that the libertarian is supposed to have qua libertarian, rather than (for example) qua philosopher or qua clear thinker.

Re: Plus or Minus


We may not be able to directly speak of “all that really matters,” but we can get closer and closer by refusing to hold to our existing macroscopic abstractions.

Are you claiming that something like, say, the loaf of cornbread that I stuffed into my mouth earlier today is a “macroscopic abstraction,” whereas stuff like, say, up and down quarks are not abstractions, but rather concretes?


Re: A Spontaneous Order: Women and the Invisible Fist

  • Jerry: “If she is wrong and mischaracterizes the causes, what does that say about her conclusions regarding the effects?”

Nothing at all. If Brownmiller advances a false theory of the form “X causes R” (N.B.: I’m not conceding that her theory about the causes of rape IS false; nor am I insisting that it’s true; my position is that it’s not salient to this discussion whether it’s false or true), and then advances another theory of the form “R causes P,” based on an independent argument that doesn’t refer back to the first theory, the falsity of the first theory tells you nothing at all about whether the second theory is true or false, and nothing at all about whether the theory well-grounded or ill-grounded. What will tell you something about the merits of the second theory is a consideration of the independent arguments that are given for it.

  • “F => F is True. F => T is True.”

If you mean the arrow here to express a material implication, that’s an accurate description of the truth-values of material implications with false antecedents. But what has any of this got to do with the comments you’re trying to respond to?

There is no argument that I made, or which Susan Brownmiller made, in which her theory about the causes of rape is the antecedent in a conditional of which her theory about the effects of rape is a consequent. The theory in which rape is the explanans is not part of the evidence given for the theory in which rape is the explanandum, so disputing the first doesn’t undermine any of the reasons given for believing the second.

Again, speaking generally, you seem to be awfully muddled about causal claims, implication, and the proper places in which to attack an argument. This discussion is about causal claims, and causal claims are not claims about material implication. (A causal claim of the form “P’s being true causes Q to be true” is not truth-functional at all, because causal claims, among other things, have to support counterfactuals.) Maybe you are running into problems here because you believe that if someone advances a theory of the form “X causes R,” and another theory of the form “R causes P,” the direction of causation and the common middle term somehow suggests that the first theory is somehow logically prior to, a premise for, the second theory, and so that the evidential basis for the second theory somehow must depend on the evidential basis for the first theory. If you do believe that, I don’t know what to say except that it’s a hopeless muddle of really distinct causal, logical, and epistemological relationships, and you need to try to more carefully distinguish claims about complex causal chains between events from claims about complex logical and evidentiary relationships between statements asserting the existence of simple causal chains between events.

If that’s not what you’re confused about, then you’ll have to state more clearly why exactly you think a discussion of Brownmiller’s theory about the causes of rape has any evidential bearing on her theory about the effects of rape, and also just what precisely the antecedent is supposed to be and what the consequent is supposed to be in the material conditionals you keep trying to use.

  • Jerry: “your post contains quotes from women that basically blame men for most violence in the world (MacKinnon’s quote especially)”

MacKinnon’s quote does not say anything at all about either what absolute quantity or what proportion of the violence in the world is committed by men rather than women. What she actually says is that men commit some violence against other men (she doesn’t say how much), and men commit some violence against women (she doesn’t say how much), and then she contrasts the different ways in which the one kind of violence and the other are committed. I’m sure she has views on that, and so do I, but those views aren’t expressed in the quote and they aren’t material to this discussion. Any claim about how far men are to blame for how much violence is a claim that you have projected into the quote, not something that was there to be found.

  • Jerry: “Your claim that you are not saying men are bad and that it is just the science that makes them that way . . .

I literally have no idea what this means. I have not advanced any theory at all about what either the causes of rape are, or what the moral status of men, either individually or collectively, may be. I also have no idea what you mean by “the science [making] them that way.” What science? What claim are you even referring to?

  • Jerry: “You and Brownmiller have done none of that accounting.”

I already told you that I’m not attempting to provide a comprehensive defense of Brownmiller’s claims against all possible objections; if you want that, you should read Brownmiller’s book. My aims for a mid-length blog post are quite different. As for Brownmiller, unless you have read her book (I mean the whole thing, not just the handful of quotations that I or somebody else has pulled for brief consideration), then you have literally no idea at all what she does or does not account for.

  • Jerry: “Ad hominem covers the kind of insult you used, which dismisses the argument by demeaning the target of the insult as someone that unfairly shouts and worse, shouts irrelevancies.

Jerry, characterizing your argument as irrelevant is, I repeat, not an argumentum ad hominem. It is not an argumentum of any kind, because it has no internal inferential structure. It’s an assertion about your argument, which happens to be the conclusion of an argument drawn from a distinct set of premises. You might find the characterization, or the wording in which it is expressed, insulting. But “statements which you find insulting” and “examples of argumentum ad hominem” are two distinct classes, and their members have different logical properties.

As for that argument from distinct premises, I provided several reasons in my comments for saying that your reply was largely irrelevant to the point you were supposedly replying to. Those reasons may be good reasons, and they may be bad reasons, but they are reasons which had specifically to do with the structure and direction of the argument itself, not with any of your personal characteristics or circumstances as the person advancing the argument. You cannot simply point at the conclusion of an argument, declare “I find that conclusion insulting!” and then write off the entire argument as an exercise in argumentum ad hominem. (Or rather, you can’t do that without proving that you don’t understand what the term “ad hominem” means.) Argumentum ad hominem hasn’t anything to do with your reaction to the conclusion; it has to do with the kind of premises that the argument appeals to.

  • Jerry: “‘Since kharris disagrees with you, and DRR tells you to stop, I must consider I have won the argument!!! ZOMG!'”

I didn’t say that I won an argument. I said that you were devoting a lot of energy to topics that weren’t on-topic for the discussion, weren’t responsive to the specific claims advanced in my post, and which a number of people have repeatedly said they’re not much interested in discussing at length with you.

  • Jerry: “Here is a transcript of a speech from Wendy McElroy. . . .

I’m not interested in your views on male victims of domestic violence, or the ERA, or on the debate between liberal and radical feminists, or your beef with contemporary feminism broadly. These issues have nothing to do with the proper interpretation of Susan Brownmiller’s theory about the systemic effects of stranger-rape.

Whose conventions?

Matt Simpson:

I’m a conventionalist when it comes to property.* A cursory glance at the current convention in the geographic region we call Israel shows that the Israeli government does, in fact, have the right to be there.

Whose conventions show that?

Last I checked, a lot of Palestinians, for example, do not accept the property conventions in question (e.g. they reject the colonialist conventions behind the Mandate and Balfour, accept property conventions that would allow for a right of return after forcible exile from traditionally-held lands, etc.). So what then gives the Israeli government the right to force Palestinians to act according to the boundaries set by its own property conventions, as opposed to the property conventions that they themselves accept?

(Note that you can’t answer by appealing either to conventions that allow for that kind of imposition, or to the alleged legitimate authority of the Israeli state to fix property conventions, without crassly begging the question.)