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Friday, April 28, 2006

Issues And Problems with Objectivism Part I

I'd like to talk about it without being snarky or dismissive. This of course could be interpreted as giving it too much credit, and thus an implicit sanction. But this kind of "meta-argument", often used by Objectivists themselves, is one of the issues I have. By not engaging something except dismissively, you leave a "back door" open for the ideas to persist and resist correction. This is why people still haven't buried "Intelligent Design" or, rather why it took so long. I think that door is pretty much closed now. A good, thoughtful satire can do the trick. But satire is more than mere snark. A good satire gets close enough to the roots of the thing it satirizes that the analogy can regress back to the original argument. Making fun of conclusions, in a "that's crazy talk!" kind of way, doesn't help, and often hurts. It just reinforces the adherents and allows them to circle the wagons, using the snark against itself.

First off, the Objectivist concept of "objectivity" leaves some things to be desired. I definitely believe that existence exists. Reality is real. But that's a vast oversimplification. The reality that comes to me through my senses is "real", in fact its the only thing I can possibly define as real without going into metaphysical speculations. However, science has shown us that the reality in my brain has been filtered and altered by my sense organs and brain. A man with myopia lives in a blurry reality. A color-blind person lives in a reality where "red" and "green" are the same thing.
To get to the bottom of what's going on between all our reality tunnels, we've developed science, to discover testable and replicable "truths" that can withstand the highest levels of scepticism. These do however rely on our perceptions of experimental data as well, but the idea is that if enough people examine the data, they'll come up with something reasonably "objective". The idea of gravity? Pretty fucking objective, if you ask me.
Outside of this kind of objectivity the only other kind is objectivity of necessity. This is the realm of say... Austrian economics. Predicated on ontological necessities, and logically valid, the foundations of austrian economics are, IMO, pretty much unassailable and objective.
I think that many Objectivists get these two kinds of objectivity confused. (For that matter so do some Austrian economists) Now deriving a philosophical base from ontological necessities, requires that you have some. The ones that Austrian Economics derives from are pretty solid: "there is scarcity" and "people act to reduce this scarcity".
One of the mistakes Objectivists make in their ontology relates to the confusion I spoke of above. Not only does existence exist (and therefore, being as well), but they believe that the naive empirical reality they see is an objective perspective.
(now the more sophisticated ones might claim that only a perfectly functioning person will perceive Objective Reality, but I have some problems with that too)
This is almost a variation of Anselm's ontological proof, except with Objectivist man as the self-grounding causa sui. Maybe if the Objectivists studied Existential ontology, they could shape up their philosophy a bit.
But it gets worse. They claim that things have "natures" and that everything acts according to its nature. Well, in a definitional sense that's true. An orange is an orange because it's a round orange citrus fruit. But here, I see a lot of them making the mistake of swapping Identity for Definition. In other words they slip into a sort of pseudo-platonism, in which an orange is a round citrus fruit because that is the nature of an "orange".
This is how they can separate themselves from being "Libertarians" (and the weird claim that libertarians are worse than communists, etc... is that on the grounds that "libertarians" make liberty look bad by trying to justify it with bad reasoning?).
But definitionally, "Libertarian" means someone who supports Liberty. So by definition all objectivists are libertarians. In fact, if they were right about having the one true justification for liberty, they'd be the only real libertarians.
Of course, most 'libertarians' make the same identity vs. definition error, and are not libertarians at all, no matter what they say.
You can call a cantaloupe "an orange" all you like, but that doesn't make it one.
In general, the pattern I get from reading them, is that Objectivists make a lot of oversimplifications, extend their arguments beyond their proper scope, and think that they are hooked into Objective Reason.
There's also a very strange tendency because of this to have very skewed political/social/economic views. Usually, their logic might well be very tight, but their premises are almost always based on variations of the identity error and oversimplifications. They tend to use the "lesser of two evils" argument way beyond any reasonable scope. (thus the ridiculous blood-thirsty republicanism of some Objectivists) One might wonder, if they were living in Germany in 1927, for whom they would vote. (I'm not casting aspersions about crypto-nazism, btw. They might well vote for the communists as the lesser of two evils. But after they did so would they promote communism as a force for good in Germany?)

One question that I've never heard of an Objectivist giving a good answer to is why we should have a government. Now, I'm not arguing that we don't know the objective limits to when force should or shouldn't be used. We do. Defending self-ownership, is a pretty good, albeit short way of putting it.
The problem is this:
I am self-owning. This is where my rights come from, including my right to self-defence. I may, if I wish, hire an agent to better protect my rights, to delegate that task to them, so to speak. However, I am not obligated to (nor do I have a positive right to get defense services for free). And there certainly can be no one pre-determined agent that has a claim on this job (what makes them so special?).
Now, as I've said, if a minimal self-defense state were maintained by robots, or maybe REALLY integral, intelligent people, it could be morally permissible to have one. But it still doesn't seem mandatory or necessary to have one.

There's more on all of this, and I might need to flesh some of it out, but this is a good starting point.


Anonymous Roderick T. Long said...

On objectivity, I think your view is closer to the Randian view than you realise. Randians draw a distinction between "objective" (meaning, being part of the relation between consciousness and reality) and "intrinsic" (meaning, existing in reality apart from consciousness), and they hold that colours are objective rather than intrinsic. (See, e.g., David Kelley's Evidence of the Senses and Leonard Peikoff's Objectivism -- whereas I agree with Mike Watkins' argument that colours are intrinsic and not mind-dependent. So you're actually more Randian than I am!)

Also, I don't think in their official doctrine (as oppose to how they apply it) they're guilty of confusing identity with definition; on the contrary, one of the main themes of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology is the importance of distinguishing identity from definition.

And of course there are good antiwar Randians like Chris Sciabarra -- though he's given up calling himself an Objectivist, out of frustration with some of the loonies.

2:21 PM  
Anonymous Roderick T. Long said...

I wrote a long comment here a week or two but alas, it's never shown up. Is it perhaps still languishing in awaiting-moderation space? Or did it just cease to be?

3:20 PM  
Blogger Adem D. Kupi said...

I've been having problems with the comments here, for a while. I've tried changing settings... maybe I need to contact blogger.com and get a support ticket.

1:41 PM  
Blogger Adem D. Kupi said...

ahh, so it's more a matter of certain Objectivists not being very good at being Objectivists.

1:48 PM  
Blogger Adem D. Kupi said...

also... does Watkins account for colorblindness?

9:20 PM  
Anonymous Roderick T. Long said...

Yes, he does account for color-blindness, as well as for different spectra visible to different species.

2:10 PM  

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