Thursday, November 30, 2006

Will The Real Leonard Peikoff Please Stand Up

In the final lecture of his DIM series, Leonard Peikoff rails against George Bush I and II, Christianity, and the Republican Party. LP says that Bush I and II are the worst presidents in history. Concerning Bush I, Peikoff's complaint is that Bush didn't do enough about the Ayatollah's fatwa against Rushdie.

Peikoff says that all the really bad things start with the Republicans, and gives the Sherman Antitrust Act and Herbert Hoover's founding of the New Deal as examples. No mention was made of the Democrats Wilson and Roosevelt getting the US into World War I and II.

Yet in The Ominous Parallels, LP saw US involvement in the wars as the culmination of progressivism and appeared to support an isolationist position:

"But a group of determined intellectuals, religious leaders, and politicians did wish it [US involvement in WW I]. This group, which prevailed over an antiwar public, included in time almost all the leading Progressives." (P. 265.)

"Once again, a period of rising statism in the West was climaxed by a world war. Once again, the American public, which was strongly 'isolationist,' was manipulated by a pro-war administration into joining an 'idealistic crusade.'" (P. 272.)

Does Peikoff stand by his previous isolationism? If so, is he really of the opinion that Bush I's actions surrounding the Rushdie affairs are worse than Wilson and Roosevelt manipulating the US into these two wars?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

There He Goes Again (VI)

Peikoff continues his attack on Christianity in lecture 13 of DIM. He argues that the early Christians opposed science because it was the "lust of the eyes." Peikoff makes a similar attack on Augustine in OPAR saying that Augustine would have opposed blood tests as the "lust of the eyes." He doesn't given any citations or sources for these statements.

It doesn't appear that Augustine was a huge fan of science. At the same time, he didn't oppose it either. In fact, he believed that a literal reading of Genesis might have to be corrected based on the findings of astronomy.

Fred Seddon has an interesting discussion of Augustine in his Ayn Rand, Objectivists, and the History of Philosophy. He points out that Augustine developed the "stolen concept fallacy" long before Rand (or Branden).

Friday, November 24, 2006

There He Goes Again (V)

In lecture 13 of DIM, Peikoff discusses history. As one might expect, Peikoff doesn't like Christianity.

1. He claims that Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire in 315. Apparently, Peikoff is referring to the Edict of Milan (which was in 313). According to most historians, this edict fell short of making Christianity the official religion, which didn't happen until Emperor Theodosius (347-395).

2. He claims that Christians attempted to obliterate pagan culture. Actually, the Christians tended to admire pagan culture and one of the points of the Protestant reformation was that the early Christians had embraced too much pagan thought. For example, here is Lactantius (c. 240-320).

"Lactantius, in a spirit not unlike that of Constantine himself, cites indiscriminately texts from Holy Writ and from pagan seers, poets, and philosopher; utterances of Orpheus, the Sibyl, Hermes Trismegistus, Vergil and Ovid, Thales, Aristotle and Cicero being quoted alongside pasages from the Hebrew Scriptures in support of the belief." [C. N. Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture, p. 211.]

As another example, the greatest early Christian poet Prudentius (348- c. 405) imitated the pagan hymns of Horace.

Monday, November 20, 2006

There He Goes Again (IV)

In session 9 of his 2004 DIM lectures, Leonard Peikoff concedes that many of his listeners will be surprised to learn that Kant supported the US in its war for independence against England. However, LP (as he is known) claims that Kant's opposition was merely an example of nihilism. According to LP, Kant supported the US only because it was opposed to the leading power of the time, England.

I've employed all the internet search techniques I know, but can't find any information on the reason for Kant's support of the US. Does anyone have any information on this?

There He Goes Again (III)

In session 9, Peikoff has a rather convoluted discussion of Robert Bork's originalism, abortion, the founding fathers and religion. During the question and answer session, someone named Tara (I assume Tara Smith) refers to Bork's view of the ninth amendment as expressed in his 1987 Senate Judiciary Committee testimony. Peikoff asks Smith if Bork is "religious". She responds that he is. Peikoff says "it doesn't surprise me." Although Bork converted to Catholicism in 2003, he wasn't, by his own admission, particularly religious in 1987 or when he developed his theory of constitutional interpretation. But if Peikoff doesn't like you, he just knows you are religious.

There He Goes Again (II)

In session 9, Peikoff claims that it was the Jesuits who coined the phrase "the end justifies the means." This sounds like an urban legend to me. I've done a search on this and while many sources point out that it is often attributed to the Jesuits, no one seems to have found a Jesuit source for this. One reference work claims that protestants made up the claim that it originated with the the Jesuits.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

There He Goes Again

In his review of The Ominous Parallels, Dr. David Gordon points out that Leonard Peikoff is not reliable when it comes to intellectual history. Gordon reviewed OPAR and commenting on the mistakes in that book said "The author of The Ominous Parallels has not lost his technique." One of these mistakes was the attribution of the famous phrase "we are all socialists now" to J.S. Mill.

Well, I'm up to session 9 of the DIM lectures and what does Peikoff say? You guessed it. "Mill said we are all socialists now."

Friday, November 17, 2006

The DIM Hypothesis

Leonard Peikoff is a controversial figure in Objectivist circles. Some don’t like the way he claims to speak for Objectivism, as he did most recently in his comments on the 2006 election. As an Objectivist intellectual, I’d say he is something of a mixed bag. OPAR is a pretty good book, given the limitations of space. The Ominous Parallels is a disaster. On the other hand, I’ve heard only good things about his tape series (in particular Understanding Objectivism).

Peikoff is working on a book presenting his “DIM hypothesis.” DIM stands for disintegration, integration, and misintegration. According to Peikoff, societies and disciplines can be analyzed in terms of this triad. Peikoff first presented this theory in 2004. For a limited time, this course is available for free from the Ayn Rand Institute.

Peikoff is an effective lecturer. Through the use vivid examples and well-chosen historical and philosophical vignettes, he presents what appears to be an effective case for his methodology. Unfortunately, he tends to be highly selective in his presentation of evidence.

The most obvious example is religion. Peikoff doesn’t like religion (or “mysticism” as he calls any and all religious belief). All well and good, but with Peikoff it tends to be the motivating factor in his analysis. A couple of examples:

1. He exaggerates the secularism of the Ancient Greeks. He claims that Thales wasn’t religious. But what about Thales’ famous statement that “the world is full of gods”? Granted it isn’t easy to interpret, but claiming that Thales was irreligious goes beyond the evidence.

2. He claims that Descartes wasn’t religious. This overlooks a great deal of evidence indicating that Descartes was a devout Catholic. For example he made a thousand mile pilgrimage to the Marian shrine of Loretto. He received last rites in Sweden. [Jaki, Angels, Apes, and Men, p. 13.] Gilson quotes Descartes as saying that he believed in his proofs for God more strongly than in his geometrical proofs. [Gilson, The Unity of Philosophical Experience.]

However, Kant is made out to be religious. As I’ve pointed out before, Kant wasn’t religious in the traditional sense. It doesn’t appear that he prayed or went to church. He thought religious teaching should be followed only when consistent with reason.

I was particularly disappointed with session 7, on historiography. Peikoff attacks Toynbee’s A Study of History as a “meaningless” collection of events without any epistemological purpose. This is a complete misrepresentation of Toynbee, particularly of the later volumes of the work. Toynbee has often been compared to Hegel as a creator of an idealist system.

Nor is Peikoff correct that Augustine was the founder of historiography. Peikoff wouldn’t have made these mistakes about Toynbee and Augustine if he had studied the source he recommends, Ernst Breisach’s Historiography: Ancient, Medieval and Modern.

In spite of my problems with this course, on average it is valuable if you want to understand how Objectivists analyze philosophical and cultural trends.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Objectivism and Original Sin

A debate between Christian philosopher Steve Hays and Objectivist Don Watkins. Unfortunately I can't find Watkins' original post

Tuesday, November 07, 2006