I read the book Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature (ARCHN) by Greg Nyquist (GN). ARCHN is also a blog.
Previously I commented on the book's introduction. You can read that here.
Overall, it is a bad book. Some parts are mixed. Some are even pretty decent. But the book has to be evaluated negatively. It has too much hostility, too many insults. It doesn't just have innocent errors. It has errors due to malice and evasion. It is not objective.
GN and his ARCHN blog friends pretend to be fairly objective, and interested in discussion. They claim they respect Rand and consider her worth studying and criticizing. They say they criticize because she's good enough to pay attention to.
They are lying. They attack Rand because they find her ideas offensive. They don't like her or Objectivism.
Let me relate briefly my experience talking with them on their blog. They say they are interested in discussing with Objectivists. But when you advocate an Objectivist position they act surprised, confused and offended. They start saying that "of course" Objectivism is false, and you can't actually or reasonably believe what you're saying. What they want is to talk to non-Objectivists pretending to be Objectivists (like Kelleyites). Those false friends of Objectivism would agree with them that Objectivism is wrong and validate them.
Rather than being interested in learning what Objectivist positions actually are (e.g. that David Kelley is not an Objectivist), their interest is in denying that the real Objectivism exists at all.
I am making strong claims. I know it. I'm serious; I mean it. Details follow.
ARCHN's reasoning for its non-insult criticisms of Objectivism is repetitive. There are several repeated approaches:
- Objectivism contradicts ARCHN's premises
- "Evidence" or "facts" contradict Objectivism
- Specious scientific authority contradicts Objectivism on non-scientific issues (scientism)
- Objectivism fails to provide "evidence" or "facts" for its positions (often historical evidence)
- ARCHN quotes a supposed authority who contradicts Objectivism (this is usually ARCHN's idea of providing evidence for its side)
- ARCHN asserts that only Objectivists are dumb enough to think something, no one else
- ARCHN asserts that an Objectivist position is obviously false
- GN does not understand some Objectivist position and treats the gap in his knowledge as a flaw in Objectivism
- ARCHN is opposed to philosophy itself, which causes frequent disagreements
ARCHN rarely even attempts to point out internal contradictions within Objectivism or make any arguments that would persuade any Objectivist. Rather, ARCHN starts with premises that Objectivism has refuted and then uses them to reach the conclusion that Objectivism is mistaken.
ARCHN makes a big deal out of "evidence" which usually really means "authority". ARCHN is better at appealing to authority than providing arguments. Sometimes it does try to make arguments, but not often enough. Instead it's always demanding "evidence" rather than thinking through arguments. GN seems unaware of the Popperian (and Objectivist too) point that all evidence has to be interpreted by thought and our philosophy matters to how we do that (there's no escaping philosophy and ideas and thinking).
One thing ARCHN doesn't do is improve on any Objectivist idea. It doesn't even try to. An honest critic would sometimes find what he regarded as a small problem and try to fix it. Sometimes he would come up with some solution he considered successful. Then he could explain the issue and how he thinks it can be resolved without any harm to Objectivism. But GN never does that.
Why doesn't ARCHN do better? Maybe because it's dishonest and hostile. We'll take a look at that first and then return to some of the other issues.
ARCHN has way too much hostility and insults. The only positive thing I can say about it is that at least GN doesn't try too hard to hide that he's a rotten bastard. Here is the last paragraph of the book, condensed:
... I would give Objectivism very low marks ... based on years of hard work and study. Those who believe I am being unfair to Rand can go out and do the hard work for themselves. Let them read the philosophers Rand so cavalierly denounces ... familiarize themselves with the best that has been said and thought in the disciplines of political science, sociology, and psychology. If they are intelligent enough to profit from their labors, they will see that, whatever errors I might have committed in regards to this detail or that, in the main, I am justified in my low assessment of Rand’s philosophical achievement. No one who is well educated in these matters and is endowed with the ability to think critically can ever regard Objectivism as anything other than a mistake.
This is closed minded and infallibilist. It's an appeal to authority, the authority of being educated. No one who is educated could disagree with GN or like Objectivism.
[Atlas Shrugged] is, in fact, neither great nor important. It is, to be entirely frank, a rather ridiculous and overblown philosophical fantasy populated by stock figures whose resemblance to anything human is merely coincidental. The book ... essentially juvenile—an exercise in unintelligent, excessively romanticized hero-worship. Such, in any case, would likely be the estimate of any great mind.
No, GN does not value Objectivism. No he does not really think it's good enough to be worth studying and paying attention to. He just hates it and wants to harm it.
Note, again, the appeal to authority and attempt at intimidation. Supposedly any "great mind" would likely agree with GN. Or put another way, if you don't agree with GN, he's saying you must not be a great mind.
It would have been best for Rand if she had simply owned up to the fact that her ideal man was a mere phantom of her overly romantic sensibility and to seek to base her philosophy on something for less impalpable. But she was too proud, too self-willed, too implacable to do any such thing. She stuck to her guns to the bitter end, insisting with increasing vehemence that only she was right and that all the great geniuses of intellectual history who had arrived at very different conclusions regarding the nature of man were either complete ignoramuses or vicious, evil man-haters. Rand’s idolatry of her “ideal” man set her against nearly every important thinker and scholar, past and present, of Western Civilization.
This is not a critic who hopes to be helpful with his criticism. It is attack and denunciation. And appeal to authority. Rand contradicted many "geniuses", therefore she must be wrong. If that's what you think, you do not respect Rand or Objectivism.
ARCHN also has simple insults.
It should be clear to anyone whose mind is not clouded by a steamy fog of erotic sentiment that Rand’s description of human sexuality contains about as much scientific value as the screeching of a cat in heat.
It is precisely this ethical taint in the Objectivist politics that prevents Rand and her followers from being able to distinguish between political facts and their own wishful thinking.
Pareto’s truculent realism provides a refreshing contrast to the usual political twaddle presented by soft-headed idealists like Rand and her followers.
It is the practical inexperience of intellectuals like Rand and her followers which, when combined with their intransigent hubris, encourages them to believe that their abstruse chatter can exercise a tangible effect on the course of history. A man of experience would never accept such nonsense.
... Rand and her followers have rendered themselves utterly useless to the cause of freedom.
Rand and her followers are egregious abusers of this fallacious mode of describing historical facts.
If this seems like a cheap verbal trick, well, that is precisely what it is.
The trouble is that [Objectivism's] notion of contextual certainty is entirely worthless.
As usual with rationalizations of this sort, the arguments advanced to defend it were inept and confused.
I do believe [Chris Sciabarra's] suggestion that Hegel and Rand shared the same basic method of thought comes pretty close to hitting the nail on the head.
At bottom, [Objectivism's axioms] are merely pretentious reformulations of several irrelevant truisms.
[Ayn Rand] suffered from the delusion that political problems could be solved by manipulating conceptual constructions.
In [Ayn Rand's] eagerness to prescribe how man ought to be, she blinds herself to what he really is.
OK you get the idea.
It takes a lot of study to understand Objectivism very well. GN did not do an adequate job.
World of Warcraft takes the typical person over 10,000 hours to get good at. When people seem to get good faster, it's because they already had pre-existing relevant skill (e.g. from playing other games). Some people never get good at it.
Chess is a harder game than World of Warcraft. It takes more work to get good, and many more people never get good at it, even after decades.
Objectivism is a lot harder than chess. GN never acknowledges or discusses this. He never considers that maybe sometimes the problem is he didn't study Objectivism well enough. He doesn't explain what he did and didn't do to study Objectivism. He doesn't outline all the great lengths and efforts he went to to learn Objectivism. Did he try very hard at all? Did he try using rational methods? We don't know. (But we can perhaps guess in the negative, judging by the book's content.)
Evidence and History
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, religious belief actually intensified, especially in England and America.
This is an interpretation of history presented as a fact. Usually there would be some authority being quoted and a cite to where the authority asserted it. In this case even that is missing. But the important thing is that ARCHN frequently interprets history according to its own philosophy and premises, then treats its conclusions as historical facts and evidence.
History consists of one long and uninterrupted testimony to this fact. Everywhere in history we find individuals governed either by sentiments (e.g. sentiments of religion, nationalism, humanitarianism, etc.) or by desires (e.g., economic interests, political ambition, vanity, sex drives, etc.).
This is assertion that historical facts prove ARCHN right. It does not acknowledge that he has used his philosophical ideas to interpret history. These are interpretations of history, not plain facts.
No investor will give money to some fledgling entrepreneur just starting out.
Venture capitalists do exactly that today. GN's pessimistic view of life was refuted by practical facts before his book was published (2001). It's easier for new entrepreneurs without reputations to raise money today than in 2001, but it was already possible and happened before 2001.
Rather than observe the world and learn from it, as GN claims to do, what he actually does is take his philosophical theories and assert they are historical facts. This is basically what he accuses Rand of doing. What he doesn't understand is there are no neutral facts without interpretation. Instead we need objectivity and philosophy to help us interpret correctly. If we pretend no interpretation, philosophy or objectivity is needed, the result will be interpreting badly using unacknowledged and ill-considered ideas.
Rome likewise flourished on the basis of force for many centuries, and only collapsed when it stopped being good at using force and could no longer defend itself.
This is a good example of how ARCHN approaches historical evidence. First, it doesn't acknowledge it's doing any interpreting or thinking here. It pretends this is just an indisputable historical fact. Second, this "fact" is dead wrong. In The God of the Machine, Isabel Paterson writes:
For two thousand years the example of Rome has been cited erroneously, to the confusion of nations, as a military empire. It was not. There has never been a military empire, nor ever can be. It is impossible, in the nature of things. When Augustus became emperor, his first move toward consolidating the Roman dominion was to reduce the size of the army. Subsequently, when Rome included within its boundaries most of Europe, the near East, and North Africa, the task was performed with less than four hundred thousand soldiers, of whom half were auxiliaries, that is, regiments supplied by subject nations and officered by Romans. Comparison with the numbers under arms in Europe during recent world wars is proof enough that the Roman armies would have been pitifully inadequate to hold such a wide territory for six months by pure force. In its strictly military capacity the army defended the borders. Its internal duty was mainly that of quashing factional quarrels, police work. There were few genuine popular uprisings. The ordinary man wished to live under Roman law. The victorious Legions were a result and not a cause.
The Roman Wall in Britain marked high tide. When the Legions were withdrawn from the Wall, they had not been defeated by the barbarians; they were pulled back by the ebb of energy, the impossibility of maintaining supplies and reinforcements. The barbarians were not a rising force; they floated in on the ebb. They had no objective, and no ability to take over or set up any system; they came in as wild animals will graze across once-cultivated fields when the cultivator cannot muster sufficient strength to keep his fences in repair. The tax-eaters had absorbed the energy. A map of the Roman empire in the fourth and fifth centuries traced with the routes of the barbarian migrations is a net- work of wandering lines showing where the East Goths and the West Goths, the Huns and the Vandals, simply followed the main trade routes. There was nothing to stop them. The producers were already beaten by the bureaucracy.
Did GN neglect to read The God of the Machine? (It was written by a friend of Ayn Rand's, anyone studying Objectivism seriously should be aware of it.) Regardless, he's unaware of the Objectivist view on this matter and never provides an argument against it. Instead he treats his ideas about history as facts with authority.
Regardless of whether Paterson is correct (I think she is, but I won't go into details here), GN doesn't even address it. Rather than study why an Objectivist might hold the Objectivist position, GN tries to attack what he hasn't understood.
Appeal to Authority
Are emotions entirely the product of thinking? Although many psychologists in recent decades have emphasized the role of thinking and ideas in the generation of emotions, few if any psychologists would accept Rand’s theory that all emotions are generated by man’s cognitive ideas. Anyone with extensive therapeutical experience understands that emotions are far more complicated than Rand makes them out to be. Even psychologists who believe that ideas play a crucial role in the development of emotions would never accept Rand’s extreme version of the theory. Cognitive therapist Albert Ellis is a case in point. ...
Rather than say why ARCHN's position is right, or Objectivism's position is wrong, ARCHN says that other people agree with it. This is an appeal to authority. There are a lot of them in ARCHN and I point out some others in other sections.
ARCHN is openly anti-philosophical (including anti-Popperian). It boldly states:
Any assertion about the factual world that is at all debatable requires supporting evidence. In the absence of such evidence, there is no reason why the assertion should be deemed acceptable.
Philosophical explanation, GN believes, is not valuable and shouldn't persuade anyone. No wonder he doesn't like Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand was a philosopher and GN objects to philosophy itself. (This is a theme and is his reasoning for rejecting many aspects of Objectivism).
Rand wanted to convince herself that she could be certain, but since there is a great deal of evidence suggesting that certainty is not humanly feasible, she invented the notion of “contextual” certainty.
Note the method. Rather than give an argument for why certainty is impossible – let alone refute Rand's arguments – GN simply asserts that "evidence" suggests he's right.
I do not believe it would in fact be possible to construct a social order based on Rand’s political ideals. They may very well be the finest political ideals ever promulgated in the history of mankind, but they remain unrealistic and impracticable for all that.
In this quote, GN is attacking ideas as such. Even if Objectivism's political ideas are the best political philosophy ever invented, he still wouldn't be impressed.
it is entirely gratuitous to assume that you can persuade more than a handful of people to accept a theory on logical grounds alone. Human beings are motivated, not by logic, but by desire and sentiment. If a given theory of rights conflicts with an individual’s desires and sentiments, no amount of logical argumentation will ever persuade him to accept the theory in question.
This is a typical example of ARCHN arguing. ARCHN has some premises about how ideas and philosophy are impotent. It then repeatedly points out that these contradict Objectivism. So what?
But what makes Rand think that human beings can in fact be “rational” about their sexuality? If they have not been rational in the past, on what grounds can we assume that they will be rational in the future?
This is a rejection of philosophy and abstract or conceptual thinking. It assumes that what hasn't happened in the past is impossible. It does not explain why good ideas cannot spread and change the world; it just pretends Objectivists never thought about it.
ARCHN pretends to cover Objectivism. Actually it focusses on Rand's non-fiction (and Peikoff and Binswanger get a lot of attention – too much for the book title to say "Ayn Rand" rather than "Objectivism").
The Fountainhead is not in the bibliography, even though it's Ayn Rand's second most important book. We The Living and Anthem are also missing. Atlas Shrugged never gets adequate attention.
Largely ignoring Rand's fiction is ironic given that ARCHN also accuses Rand of philosophical verbalism. If you wanted a different style than her non-fiction, she provided it!
Second handers isn't a topic ARCHN covers. It's a major contribution of Objectivism that many Objectivists value. ARCHN ignores it.
The objectivist view on objectivity is not covered.
GN doesn't understand Ayn Rand's sense of life and largely ignores the topic. He only talks about it in relation to aesthetics. But I don't just mean the term "sense of life". ARCHN largely ignores the Objectivist morality and approach to life.
Rather than understand Objectivism as a whole and discuss it, GN evades significant parts of Objectivism. Look at this:
Central to Rand’s defense of laissez-faire capitalism is her insistence that capitalism is the only “moral” system. Since I have already made clear that I will concede to Rand all her moral claims, I will not question Rand’s ethical defense of laissez-faire. Nor will I question the purely economic claims made on behalf of this system.
By refusing to discuss morality, GN is hiding both his ignorance of Objectivism's morality and the evil of his own moral views.
What ARCHN mostly does is discuss individual philosophical topics from Rand's non-fiction which GN has not integrated together.
ARCHN makes frequent mistakes. There are both misunderstandings of Objectivist positions as well as incorrect arguments. Let's look at a couple examples (more examples can be found in other sections).
The characteristic which defines the state of motherhood is that of having given birth. There are no measurements involved in this characteristic. Either a woman has given birth or she hasn’t.
This is strange. GN doesn't understand what measurement is. Giving birth is empirically measurable. You can count (measure) things like how many children come out of a woman. (Also GN is wrong that giving birth is the criterion of motherhood. Stillbirths don't make you a mother.)
ARCHN also claims colors and materials (like wood vs stone) cannot be measured.
The disciplines of economics, politics, sociology, and psychology are all based on the assumption that some forms of human behavior are more likely than others. Economics, for instance, assumes that there exists an innate predisposition in human beings to buy cheap and sell dear. It is from this predisposition that most of the laws of free market economics are founded, including the law of supply and demand. Imagine trying to run a business without being able to rely on the validity of the basic principles of economics!
Economics makes no such assumption. For example, it could be a cultural predisposition rather than an innate one. Economics has nothing to say about that. (The possibility of cultural tendencies never seems to occur to GN who attributes everything to immutable genetic human nature.)
There were some parts where I agreed with some point ARCHN made. Examples include induction, contextual certainty and measurement omission. To be clear, I did not agree with everything ARCHN said about these topics, just the main point.
However, in these cases and all others, I already knew it before I read ARCHN. I thought of the issues myself while studying Objectivism. ARCHN never provided any valuable criticism of Objectivism that I didn't already know.
To go over these topics briefly, with regard to induction I think Karl Popper is correct. For contextual certainty, it isn't really certainty since it's fallible. With regard to measurement omission, the inductive premises are mistaken and it's specific details that get omitted, not necessarily measurements (nor quantifiable).
For Objectivists, the term reason is a sort of mystical entity whose purpose is to assure them that they are right. As Nathaniel Branden, formerly Rand’s closest associate, once admitted: “Reason was a word we used a great deal. It was a code word, or shorthand, that stood for ... the entire Objectivist philosophy.”
Quoting an opponent of Objectivism attacking Objectivism isn't much of an argument.
Just because GN and Branden don't understand what reason is does not mean Objectivism has no answer.
The way I understand it (and I'm not claiming this is official Objectivism), people already knew what reason was before Objectivism. Objectivism did not invent the concept. What you should do is take the pre-existing understanding of reason and then modify it when Objectivism adds something, clarifies something, changes something, etc... In that way you will arrive at a better, more Objectivist understanding of reason. Objectivism didn't have to give reason a new meaning from scratch.
Further, I think I have an even better answer, which is more Popperian than Objectivist, but which I think is compatible with Objectivism. The point is you can take your best understanding of what reason is and read Rand and improve it a bit and everything works fine. There's no big problem here. And you can even innovate on the topic, come up with a new refined understanding of reason, read Rand, and it still works fine. (Though if your new ideas about reason are bad, then it won't work anymore.)
Here's my approach: Reason has to do with error correction. Rational processes (or approaches, or methods, etc) are ones which are capable of correcting errors (the better at it, the more rational). Irrational processes prevent or disallow error correction. Errors are inevitable, so being able to correct them is really important.
Like me, Atlas Shrugged also talks about fallibility and the importance of the means to correct errors:
"Do not say that you're afraid to trust your mind because you know so little. Are you safer in surrendering to mystics and discarding the little that you know? Live and act within the limit of your knowledge and keep expanding it to the limit of your life. Redeem your mind from the hockshops of authority. Accept the fact that you are not omniscient, but playing a zombie will not give you omniscience—that your mind is fallible, but becoming mindless will not make you infallible—that an error made on your own is safer than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, but the second destroys your capacity to distinguish truth from error. In place of your dream of an omniscient automaton, accept the fact that any knowledge man acquires is acquired by his own will and effort, and that that is his distinction in the universe, that is his nature, his morality, his glory.
While ideas, philosophy and morality are impotent, according to ARCHN, immorality is powerful:
Power and morality do not mix well. Those who wish to dominate their fellow human beings cannot afford to have too many moral scruples, because if they do, they will simply find themselves under the thumb of someone less scrupulous than themselves.
So, OK, I get it: ARCHN's worldview is opposite to Objectivism. Objectivism thinks morality is practical. ARCHN thinks immorality is practical, effective and powerful. Objectivism argues its case on this matter extensively. ARCHN asserts a contrary position and appeals to the authority of its own interpretation of historical facts and their implications. But why would any of this change my mind? Where are the criticisms of Objectivism that could persuade someone who doesn't already dislike Objectivism?
A politician who is neither corrupt and dishonest nor bloody and cruel would be at a severe disadvantage against any rival who excelled in these vices.
This stuff just ignores what Objectivism has to say about the issue. Not only does it fail to understand or refute Objectivism's position, it's already been refuted by Objectivist argument before it was written.
It's not so much that GN disagrees that morality is practical, but more that the concept is so foreign to him he didn't realize what Rand was saying. He's not aware that Objectivism thinks immoral behavior has no advantages to offer, nor why.
Now let us suppose that Peter is adept at using force but not so adept at using his wits, while Paul is adept at using his wits but not so adept at using force. Given these parameters, it is impossible that the interests of these individuals should not in some respects conflict. It is in Peter’s interest to live in a society that rewards individuals adept at using force, while it is in Paul’s interest to live in a society that rewards individuals adept at using their wits. Peter would be better off living under a military oligarchy eager to make use of his talents, while Paul would be better off living under a system of democratic capitalism where he would be free to prosper by the use of his wits.
GN is not aware that Rand already addressed this in Atlas Shrugged:
"One of these centuries," said Danneskjold, turning to them for a moment, "the brutes, private or public, who believe that they can rule their betters by force, will learn the lesson of what happens when brute force encounters mind and force."
Skill with wits and skill with force are not independent. GN ignorantly assumes they are in his argument. He could have learned otherwise by studying Objectivism better.
Rather than refute the Objectivist position, GN has only revealed that he doesn't understand it.
There is no evidence to suggest that only men of lesser ability run to the government for help. Historically, almost all the major industrialists and businessmen, regardless of their entrepreneurial expertise, tried to get the government to help them in some way or another. It is simply good business to do so. The astute businessman uses every means possible to make an extra buck. He will try to profit both from his entrepreneurial genius and from his skill at manipulating government officials.
ARCHN takes pleasure in claiming that everyone is bad. One place this leads is, "If your conception of man’s greatness is unrealistic, no man will ever be able to live up to it." ARCHN thinks no one can be great and objects to Objectivism promoting heroism and greatness.
This quote also illustrates the theme of ARCHN considering evidence an authority and typically argues from authority. And it illustrates the theme of not understanding the Objectivist position on a topic and arguing about that topic anyway. GN does not address or refute the Objectivist view on why it is actually bad business to seek government favors; he seems unaware of it.
I agree with Karl Popper on this issue [induction]
GN claims to agree with Popper's epistemology. He has not understood Popper and actually disagrees with Popper. Consider: how well you would expect him to understand his philosophical opponents, if he doesn't even understand his claimed philosophical allies?
Knowledge concerning how to achieve practical ends comes, not from abstruse philosophical principles, but from day-to-day experience.
This position is incompatible with both Objectivism and Popper. What epistemology is it compatible with? Popper says we learn from conjectures and refutations, not experience.
Hardly anyone ever learns how to earn a living or take care of a household or raise a family from reading Plato or Kant. They learn how to do such things through imitation and practice.
This inductivist approach is incompatible with the claim that GN accepts Popper's rejection of induction. It's also incompatible with Objectivism. Why does GN believe this? He doesn't say. He said he was a Popperian but he's not. What is he?
Popper’s theory of knowledge is based on the idea that the only time we can be certain about a theory is when we have discovered evidence refuting it.
No, Popper's epistemology rejects certainty. GN is ignorant and incompetent not only about Objectivism but also about Popper. As Popper explains in LScD and elsewhere, refuting evidence is itself fallible. Further, Popper's theory of knowledge is not "based" on anything: it rejects foundations and bases.
ARCHN makes a big deal out of the innate ideas topic. It's chapter one. It is a major point of disagreement.
According to my theory of human nature, the individual’s conduct proceeds, not from some abstract principle that has been imposed, arbitrarily, on his psyche, but from his inner character. This is precisely where Rand’s wrongheaded theory of human nature gets some of her more scrupulously literal followers into trouble. Rand’s conviction that man creates his character from the basic premises of his mind encourages her followers to believe that what is important is not who they are but what they can become. However, any attempt to assume a type of character that is not in accordance with the individual’s real, congenital character can only lead to emotional repression, neurosis, and misery. If the individual wants to achieve his highest potential, he must, as Nietzsche once put it, become what he is. But in order to do this, he must first determine the true character of his inner nature and then discover the best way of realizing this true character in a world that demands compromise at every turn.
By denying the existence of this fixed, rooted, congenital inner nature, Objectivism discourages individuals from coming to any kind of understanding of their fundamental character. It is in this sense that Objectivism winds up opposing, unwittingly perhaps, the Socratic dictum, nosce te ipsum, know thyself, which forms the very kernel of philosophical wisdom.
philosophical beliefs rarely play a very large role in determining the practical behavior of the individual
ARCHN is saying: you are bad and you can't change. Accept it. Give up, compromise, sacrifice, give in, bend, break.
This dismal view of life is not a criticism of Objectivism. Ayn Rand didn't fail to take GN's position on this matter by mistake. She rejected his sort of thinking on purpose, and said why.
Also he's wrong about Socrates' position. Socrates actually agrees with me, Rand and Popper here. Popper (who GN claims to be familiar with) explains it in The Open Society and Its Enemies (vol 1, ch 7, part IV):
It is important to see that this Socratic intellectualism is decidedly equalitarian. Socrates believed that everyone can be taught; in the Meno, we see him teaching a young slave a version of the now so-called theorem of Pythagoras, in an attempt to prove that any uneducated slave has the capacity to grasp even abstract matters.
Back to ARCHN:
But if becoming a great man depends solely on choosing “honest and correct” convictions, then why aren’t there more great men? If all men can create their own characters, why do so few men choose to be great?
Because they don't know how, and people like GN trick them with bad ideas. Or maybe they are dishonest and evade. Or maybe they think immorality is practical, like GN thinks. There are many, many ways to be mistaken.
Anyway, what GN doesn't understand here is the difference between choosing what to do at each step and choosing where you end up. You don't get to just choose your conclusion directly.
1. Do innate predispositions exist? Rand rejected the existence not only of innate emotional predispositions, but of innate behavioral and cognitive propensities as well. “Man is born with an emotional mechanism, just as he is born with a cognitive mechanism,” she wrote; “but, at birth, both are ‘tabula rasa.’” (1964b, 30)
Does Rand present any evidence for this view? No, she does not. You can go through all of her writings without finding so much as a shred of scientifically validated evidence supporting her contention that innate predispositions do not exist. There is a very good reason for this: no such evidence exists. The scientific evidence for innate, genetic determination of human behavior is enormous. As scientist and naturalist Edward O. Wilson has noted: “The question of interest is no longer whether human social behavior is genetically determined; it is to what extent. The accumulated evidence for a large hereditary component is more detailed and compelling than most persons, including even geneticists, realize. I will go further: it already is decisive.” (1978, 19)
Note the method of demanding "evidence", not researching what evidence agrees with Objectivism, and then making an appeal to authority as his own "evidence".
GN does not provide any arguments for his position here. Rather, he provides a quote of a supposed authority asserting the conclusion GN wants. He continues with quotes of others. He cherry picks arguments from supposed authorities which are on his side, never quotes anything that disagrees with him, and pretends he's won. I'll give one example:
Studies of identical twins provide further evidence that genetics influence human behavior. Such studies reveal a genetic component in a variety of traits affecting the emotional and cognitive development of human beings, including number ability, word fluency, memory, the rate of language acquisition, spelling, grammar, perceptual skills, psycho-motor skills, and extroversion-introversion. Even when the influence of environment has been factored in, identical twins nevertheless demonstrate a greater similarity in general abilities, personal traits, ideals, goals, and vocational interests then would be expected if genetic determination played no role whatsoever. (Wilson, 1978, 45-46; Pinker, 1997, 20-21)
And how was the influence of environment factored in? (I've read a number of studies along these lines, and the answer is it never really is.) GN doesn't worry about whether the people he's quoting are correct. He doesn't learn about the issue and give persuasive arguments. He just quotes whatever he likes as an appeal to authority.
I can cite authorities too, by the way. For example, why hasn't GN read Yet More on the Heritability and Malleability of IQ and answered it? Why hasn't he read and answered Genetics and Reductionism by Sahotra Sarkar? (I didn't just google these now. I read them years ago. I think they are important.) But we won't get anywhere if we just throw authorities at each other. We'll have to think through the topic to learn much.
Now considering the fact that no reputable psychologist believes that emotions are solely the product of our ideas, you would think that Rand would have been eager to back her theory with empirical data.
Another appeal to authority. GN asserts that all authorities in the field disagree with Rand, and he thinks that is impressive. All it really shows is that he's irrational; he doesn't think for himself.
ARCHN talks about lying. It is confused and doesn't understand the Objectivist view.
ARCHN talks about conflicts of interest. It doesn't understand the Objectivist view.
ARCHN attacks Objectivist arguments about abortion. It says they are bad arguments. ARCHN unaware of the argument that a fetus has no mind.
ARCHN attacks what sounds to me like a brief philosopher's history, because GN expected a detailed literal history like a historian would write. This is GN's fault for not understanding what type of thing he was reading. What is a philosopher's history? I mean this like a physicist's history. Richard Feynman wrote in QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter:
what I have just outlined is what I call a "physicist's history of physics," which is never correct. What I am telling you is a sort of conventionalized myth-story
This is a good thing. The point is to focus on essentials and not worry too much about unimportant details. Tell the main story, get the important ideas across, and suggest enough about the factual history that someone who is interested could figure out the rest with study.
ARCHN attacks James Jerome Hill. Why? Because he's a great man and ARCHN wants to show that there are no great men.
ARCHN is confused by the Objectivist view on the unreality and unimportance of suffering. It doesn't criticize it; it's just confused about what it even is.
ARCHN also doesn't understand what the benevolent universe premise is.
ARCHN does not understand or refute the Objectivist view on compromise.
ARCHN incorrectly presents some ideas as unique to Objectivism and rejected by everyone else. I noticed especially because several of them were ideas I already believed before I knew about Objectivism.
The book was interesting to me because it helped me learn about ways Objectivism is misunderstood and attacked. I would not recommend reading it unless you have "the endurance of an elephant and the patience of a martyr" and already know what I'm quoting.
ARCHN and GN are immoral. They are evaders. They are dishonest haters of Objectivism. Beware.
What a pleasure!
I don't want to talk about folks being immoral if I haven't read their work as yet. But I enjoyed looking at the different parts of Objectivism as presented in this article. I'll go through the article thoroughly over the next week or so, to see what I can learn, where I agree and where I disagree.
>> Now considering the fact that no reputable psychologist believes that emotions are solely the product of our ideas, you would think that Rand would have been eager to back her theory with empirical data.
>Another appeal to authority. GN asserts that all authorities in the field disagree with Rand, and he thinks that is impressive. All it really shows is that he's irrational; he doesn't think for himself.
It's not even that hard to come up with evidence that contradicts the idea that emotions are inbuilt.
I think almost everyone could think of incidents when their emotional responses changed as they learned without much difficulty.
I doubt it's even very hard to find studies that include evidence of that sort - like studies into phobia or depression where the sufferer can change their mind.
Great take-down of Nyquist
This is an excellent take-down of Mr Nyquist’s book, and I am glad that you took the time and trouble to engage with it. I haven’t read his book but have read his blog regularly, and I see these traits of hostility and sheer bad faith over and over. For someone who claims that Ms Rand was a terrible thinker he seems to devote a large part of his mental activity to her. Maybe he worries that her philosophy is becoming more popular around the world (I hope so) and that this will affect future civilisation (I hope so)?
On the issue of innate ideas, Ms Rand is frequently attacked (as much from the Right as the Left) for her “blank slate” point of view. Yet from my reading she did not say that humans have no predispositions that they inherit, only that such predispositions are so general that they don’t amount to much beyond certain capacities, such as curiosity, etc. Example, we don’t, according to this view, have an innate ability to perform calculus or play JS Bach, or speak Latin or design a space rocket. These things have to be learnt, by focusing our minds and using our free will to choose to think or not. People might be quicker/slower to do these things, but the knowledge has to be learnt – it is not already sitting inside one’s head, like a seed waiting to be germinated. The designer of the Spitfire fighter plane did not carry the design specification in his mind. At most, R V Mitchell from a young age thrilled to the sight of flying things. The composer of La Traviata did not have that music already in his head when he was a tiny baby.
And so on. And yet what Mr Nyquist claims is that to all intents and purposes, such knowledge does already exist. And yet he claims a more accurate understanding of human nature than Rand, and is singularly rude about her as a result.
Your harsh language about Mr Nyquist is amply justified. I’d go further and say the man is a charlatan, who is, in true Peter Keating fashion, carving out a little niche for himself by attacking someone who is far greater than he will ever be.
> Yet from my reading she did not say that humans have no predispositions that they inherit, only that such predispositions are so general that they don’t amount to much beyond certain capacities, such as curiosity, etc. Example, we don’t, according to this view, have an innate ability to perform calculus or play JS Bach, or speak Latin or design a space rocket. These things have to be learnt, by focusing our minds and using our free will to choose to think or not. People might be quicker/slower to do these things, but the knowledge has to be learnt – it is not already sitting inside one’s head, like a seed waiting to be germinated. The designer of the Spitfire fighter plane did not carry the design specification in his mind. At most, R V Mitchell from a young age thrilled to the sight of flying things. The composer of La Traviata did not have that music already in his head when he was a tiny baby.
I agree. And also I'd claim – and I think this is also AR's view – that we are not born predisposed to e.g. math or art. I think people are born with ~equal capacity for both, rather than one person being born with a large capacity for math but little for art, and another person vice versa. This is one of the major things that the anti-blank-slate people disagree with.
> Yet More on the Heritability and Malleability of IQ
That link is not working anymore.
#13491 Updated the link to http://bactra.org/weblog/520.html