Sunday, October 29, 2006

Leonard Peikoff's DIM-Witted Hypothesis

Leonard Peikoff is urging Objectivists to vote Democratic. Actually, urging isn't the right word. If you consider voting Republican or abstaining from voting, you don't understand Objectivism and may well be "immoral." I guess he doesn't call himself Rand's "intellectual heir" for nothing.

Peikoff is so worried about the influence of the Religious Right (RR) on the Republican Party that he thinks voting Democratic is the only way to stop it.

A few comments:

First, whether to vote for the Democrats to stop the Republicans is obviously a question of strategy and it assumes something that Peikoff hasn't shown (that the Religious Right is incredibly influential). An Objectivist might plausibly argue that even if Peikoff is correct, we are better off with a Democratic house and a Republican Senate.

Second, Peikoff is wrong about the influence of the RR. Outside the South, the Midwest and parts of the West, the RR isn't particularly influential. And in the two largest states, New York and California, the RR has next to no influence (particularly in New York). In virtually all parts of the US, the influence of religion is less now than in the 1950's. If people weren't complaining about the threat of a theocracy in 1956, why are they in 2006?

Third, that some Republicans may be bad doesn't mean people shouldn't vote for "good" Republicans. In local and state elections, there is every reason to vote for the best candidate even if one accepts Peikoff's view about the influence of the RR.

Fourth, this article is typical Peikoff. As David Ramsay Steele once put it, if Peikoff has seriously wrestled with a philosophical question since graduate school, it doesn't show.

Fifth, if an Objectivist can in good conscience vote for a socialist running as a Democrat, by what principle does it become immoral to vote libertarian or not to vote?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Then Athena Said - Chapter 1

I've started a close reading of Kathleen Touchstone's new book Then Athena Said: Unilateral Transfers and the Transformation of Objectivist Ethics.

Chapter one is called "The Basis for Objectivist Ethics" (although the chapter header on the top of each page says "The Basics for Objectivist Ethics").

This chapter is all of seven pages. Touchstone leaps into a discussion of Objectivist ethics and gives brief discussions of probability theory, drug addiction and mortality tables along the way.

Touchstone says that there are two approaches which have been attributed to Rand in attempting to understand the basis for her ethics: the "general species approach" and the "long-run probability approach."

By way of necessary background (which Touchstone doesn't give) Randian ethics have a problem when it comes to what might be called rational parasitism. If life is the standard of value and life requires reason and productivity, what about a person who lives as a parasite on others? People who survive by looting, fraud or mooching off others appear to contradict the premises of Rand's ethics.

Touchstone explains that the general species approach employs the concept of "man qua man." This approach looks to human nature as determinative and "universalizes" ethical requirements. Human beings can't survive unless they use reason and are productive. So to the extent that an individual succeeds as a parasite, he is acting contrary to the requirements of human nature. His behavior is immoral even if it acts to extend his life.

On the other hand, there is the "long-run probability approach." If a person attempts to live as a parasite, the odds of him succeeding are minimal. People who lie ultimately get caught; people who commit crimes ultimately wind up in jail.

Incidentally, I don't think the secondary literature indicates that there are two approaches. Generally speaking, those who try to "get around" the rational parasite problem by universalizing man's ethical requirements concede that Rand didn't take this approach. Touchstone references Eric Mack's essay from the 1986 collection The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, but I don't think Mack sees this is a valid interpretation of Rand. Mack rejects this approach in a more recent article in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. [JARS, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 39-40.]

Fortunately, I've read a fair amount in Objectivist ethics so I was able to more or less understand this chapter. But Touchstone so quickly leaps into secondary questions without explaining why it all matters for Rand's ethics.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Then Athena Said

My copy of The Athena Said: Unilateral Transfers and the Transformation of Objectivist Ethics arrived. I've just started it and, while I don't know yet if it's worth $49.95, it appears quite interesting. Author Kathleen Touchstone tends to jump into issues and assumes a fair amount of knowledge both of Rand's work and of secondary literature.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Critique of "The Objectivist Ethics"

Prof. Michael Huemer has an excellent piece entitled Critique of "The Objectivist Ethics." Many of the points he makes can be found in the critiques of J. Charles King, Steven Parrish, and Eric Mack, but it is nonetheless well done.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Test Your Knowledge, Number 3

Identify the following:

1. John Calvin

2. John Wesley

3. Martin Luther

4. Joseph Smith


A. The founder of the religious movement variously known as Puritanism, Presbyertianism and Reformed Christinity.

B. The founder of the religious movement known as Mormonism

C. The founder of the religious movement known as Methodism

D. The founder of the religious movement known as Lutheranism

Test Your Knowledge, Number 2

Identify the following:

1. Bill Anderson

2. John Anderson

3. Jon Anderson

4. Lynn Anderson


1. Lead singer of Yes

2. Country singer with hits such as "Swingin'"

3. Known as "Whisperin' . . ."

4. Sang "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden."

Test Your Knowledge, Number 1

Identify the following:

1. The Third Man

2. The Thin Man

3. The Man Who Knew Too Much

4. The Man Who Knew Too Much


A. 1956 movie by Alfred Hitchcock (not related to the book)

B. 1934 movie based on novel by Dashiel Hammett

C. 1949 movie based on novel by Graham Greene

D. 1922 collection of short stories by G.K. Chesterton (not related to the movie)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Ayn Rand and Evolution

I while ago, Diana Hsieh and Don Watkins attacked my article on Ayn Rand and evolution. Apparently the possibility that there is the least bit "tension" in Rand's thought is too much for certain people to take. Professor Robert Campbell came to my (partial) defense.

In any event, here is an article by skeptic Michael Shermer on evolution and why conservatives should support it. He lists six reasons, at least three of which (3, 4 & 5) lend support to my claim that certain well-known implications of evolution likely raised concern for Rand about the compatability of Objectivism and evolution.