Monday, December 17, 2007
Atheism Equated with Religion
Well. The good news, such as it is, is that Ayn Rand finally gets mentioned in the debate about the "new atheists". The bad news is that she is confused with them.
Whatever you may think of David Sloan Wilson after reading this slapdash article (via Randex), in which he misrepresents Objectivism and puts words into Ayn Rand's mouth, credit him for the following succinct confession that he feels that knowledge is not possible without omniscience: "As for the canons of rational thought, to the extent that brains evolved by natural selection, their main purpose is to cause organisms to behave adaptively in the real world--not to directly represent the real world."
This fundamental error in epistemology leads Wilson in turn to: (1) draw a false distinction between what he calls "actual realism" and "practical realism" (whereby delusions can have an evolutionary advantage); (2) conclude that scientific theories are often "purpose-driven" (in a cynical, underhanded sense) and "cannot be expected to approximate factual reality when they are proposed" since so many eventually are disproved -- I mean "become weirdly implausible with the passage of time" -- rather than being connected enough to reality to prove or disprove (But to admit that would be to admit that man can know things, which would defeat Wilson's purpose.); (3) misrepresent and then condemn Ayn Rand's philosophy for holding that certainty is possible.
He does this last by discussing how the "real world" is full of "messy trade-offs" (Does his mind alone directly know this?) as if Ayn Rand never considered such a problem once in her life. Wilson snidely derides Objectivism for "telling" the "believer" "what to do", but in addition to claiming that Objectivism can't offer guidance in "messy" situations, he both ignores the fact that the whole purpose of any ethical system is to provide some guidance for action (especially in such "messy" situations) and the fact that that in the course of living one's life, one can make choices within an ethical framework. Note also that Wilson is smuggling in unquestioned the religionists' premise that ethics is all about commandments.
Not only did Ayn Rand successfully argue against the premise (another that Wilson both assumes and shares with religionists) that ethics is based fundamentally on a consideration of how one's actions affect others, she weighed the risks and rewards of smoking and chose to smoke for a time. And she later changed her mind after receiving medical advice. And so we see both (1) that Ayn Rand did consider situations involving "messy trade-offs" and (2) that her philosophy, by her own example, was not just some inflexible set of marching orders. Rand chose to accept the health risks of smoking so she could enjoy doing it.
Wilson, for all his professed worship of "complexity", for all his blathering about interesting shades of grey, demonstrates through his simplistic caricature of Ayn Rand and her philosophy that he has hardly bothered to learn anything about Objectivism and probably would be unable to appreciate its subtlety even if he tried.
I was originally going to rebut Wilson's charge that we Objectivists accept everything Rand says without question, but upon further reflection, I do not think that this is necessary. How would one take marching orders from someone whose "orders" I would summarize as, "Use your own mind to grasp reality, and in particular, to understand and evaluate as true or false what I have said. Express agreement with me only if you really do agree."
So Wilson thinks that man knows nothing because his brain does not "directly represent the real world" and that people make stuff up as they go along in a "purpose-driven" way. All I can say to that is, "Speak for yourself, Mr. Wilson."
Except that he already has.
Parting shots aside, why is it that evolutionary psychologists never seem to consider whether there might be an "evolutionary advantage" to -- oh, I don't know -- an organism having a brain that supports a mind with the ability to grasp the world economically through concepts, and the ability to regulate itself through free will?
The Objective Standard is soon to arrive!
From Principles in Practice:
The contents of the Winter issue are:And here's a way!From the EditorHere's a thought: Your Christmas shopping could be done in minutes --and it could change a worldview for life. A subscription to The Objective Standard is the perfect gift for your active-minded friends and relatives.
Letters and Replies
Moral Health Care vs. "Universal Health Care" by Lin Zinser and Paul Hsieh
Instrumentalism and the Disintegration of American Tort Law by David Littel
"Gifts from Heaven": The Meaning of the American Victory over Japan, 1945 by John David Lewis
Creepy Ayn Rand Reference on Post Secrets?
Out of curiosity, I randomly stopped by Post Secret yesterday and found a creepy note reading, "i [sic] plan on telling people that you died," attached to what looks like a jacket on a book by Ayn Rand.
What's up with that?
Walter Williams on Racial Hoaxes
After examining some recent instances in which "civil rights" groups roundly condemned an action as white racism, only for it to turn out that the "perpetrator" was black, Walter Williams sounds the following semi-optimistic note:
More and more blacks are seeing through race hustlers such as Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Doc Cheatham. An even more optimistic note is the financial decline of the NAACP. Declining black support is good evidence that the civil rights struggle is over and won. That's not to say there are not major problems but they are not civil rights problems.I would count the cultural climate that permits such charlatans to continue operating as one of these "major problems". And I would say that the struggle for individual rights is only beginning.
Today, most civil rights organizations get their financial support from white businesses and foundations caving in to intimidation or seeking to sooth feelings of guilt. [bold added]
But there I go again, being simplistic!
Today: (1) Clarified section on smoking, added paragraph at end on evolutionary psychology, and made several minor edits. (2) Corrected link to Post Secret. (3) Corrected typo: "biologists" above should have been "psychologists".