The Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) holds a conference every summer in a different city. Objectivists, students of Objectivism, and other people interested in Ayn Rand‘s philosophy travel from around the country to meet each other and hear talks by experts in various fields. The speakers discuss the ideas of Objectivism and their applications in life, science, and the arts, and answer questions from the audience. It is a very educational event, and a way to meet new people interested in ideas. (For the veterans of OCONs past, it’s also a chance to see old friends.) I definitely recommend it.
I went to OCON 2014 in Las Vegas, but was unable to go this year. But I look forward to videos of some of the major talks being released on ARI’s YouTube channel, as they were for OCON 2014.
There’s a fee to attend OCON, but that fee is reduced quite dramatically for current students and young adults. (Students can even apply for scholarships to cover the costs of travel and lodging.) If you are a student or young adult, I especially recommend taking the opportunity to attend at least one OCON. It’s a great opportunity to take a break from mundane things, meet great people, and learn more about Ayn Rand’s deep philosophy in a benevolent, congenial and exciting atmosphere.
You can subscribe to the Ayn Rand Institute’s Facebook and Twitter pages to see announcements when registration for next year’s OCON is open.
While politicians and the mainstream media in the US have been busy talking about the tax laws that expire at the end of 2012, we are approaching the real “fiscal cliff” very rapidly. This cliff is further in the future and no one knows exactly when we will fall over it, but the US will fall over it if it doesn’t change direction immediately and drastically.
The economist, Peter Schiff, spells out the harsh reality of the situation the US is getting itself into in the following set of videos:
QE stands for “Quantitative Easing,” where the the Federal Reserve creates new money and uses it to buy financial assets directly from banks. QE generates an increase in the money supply.
To paraphrase Ayn Rand: The majority of people in the US can ignore reality, but they can’t escape the consequences of ignoring reality.
The Federal Reserve is setting the US economy up for another huge crash and a round of hyperinflation. Yet, given our history, it is not hard to predict that when the big crash happens, “scheming businessmen” and/or “unscrupulous financial traders” will take the blame from the mainstream media and dominant public opinion.
This Objective Standard article describes the deeper philosophical problem: The Moral Cliff
On November 5th at Duke university, renowned environmentalist and AGW proponent, Bill McKibben debated Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress, on the effect that fossil fuels have on the human environment. Bill McKibben took the position that fossil fuels were harmful and an immediate threat to the human environment, while Alex Epstein took the position that fossil fuels continue to improve the environment we live in.
Here is the YouTube video of the full debate:
Here is a debate highlight from the question period: What does Bill McKibben really advocate?
Another highlight: Are affordable fossil fuels a “market failure”?
Bernie Madoff is sometimes held up by critics of Ayn Rand’s ethics as a poster boy for the evil of self-interest. But far from being an example of Ayn Rand’s ethics, Madoff is a type of person that Ayn Rand explicitly condemned, because he undertook an irrational–and therefore self-destructive–scheme.
Self-interest, for Ayn Rand, does not equate to simple monetary gain, or the pleasures of any given moment. Self-interest is defined by achievement of a deeply happy life over as many years as possible. Ayn Rand recognized that it is impossible to build long-term happiness by theft or fraud. One’s long-term happiness can only be based on the production of life-sustaining/enhancing values, along with honest dealings with oneself and others.
Do you think Bernie Madoff is happy now, in prison? What about while he was running his scheme? This interview should give you a sense of how much he enjoyed himself while defrauding other people:
Does this sound like a man determined to pursue his own happiness and live his life to the fullest? What must it mean for Madoff to be happier in prison, when he has no freedom and no control over his own life, than during his con? His primary emotion while in the middle of the con scheme was fear, which indicates that he sensed his life was out of control. His lies were constantly threatening to catch up with him, and it was just a matter of time before something slipped and he was caught. Continue reading →
By the nature of the following refutation of determinism, it can also be considered a proof (1) of (libertarian-type) volition. It is a refutation of any theory that would deny the existence of non-necessitated events–in the form of fundamental, agent-controlled choices–located in a conceptual consciousness, including incompatibilist determinism and compatibilism.
Here is a short video (by someone else) explaining the general outlines of the argument:
(1) The argument shows that volition is a prerequisite of all knowledge and that the denial of volitional choice implies self-contradiction, thus establishing volitional choice as an axiom of epistemology. Strictly speaking, I think, by Leonard Peikoff’s definitions, this is not a proof, but an axiomatic validation. It establishes the axiom as absolutely and unquestionably true, but does not involve the specific process of logical proof of the positive proposition. The positive proposition is self-evident in each individual’s experience of existence.
Well, it’s finally happened: The impoverished reasoning methods employed by academic philosophy have infected YouTube comments….Shocking, I know….
But, all kidding aside, when most academic philosophers (who aren’t deeply acquainted with Objectivist literature and lecture courses) read about Ayn Rand’s axioms, they tend to deride them as tautologies. They can’t possibly imagine how you could deduce a whole philosophical system from such tautologies. Well, they have something in common with my interlocutor (mirabileamavi) in the comments of a YouTube video. Hopefully, my concise answers to him (her?) should be clarifying:
Interlocutor: …How do you derive causation from tautologies?
Me: The “tautologies” you speak of are axioms. If something is truly an axiom, it is too fundamental to be conceptually analyzed, but is perceptually self-evident. You need only observe reality to see that it is true.
Int: i still dont understand how you can derive causation from tautologies.
‘john’, from that i can infer ‘john’ is ‘john’ but i can’t infer that ‘john is a fireman’ can i? the predicate ‘is a fireman’ is not contained in ‘john’. while ‘john’ is ‘john’ is necessarily true and tautological, ‘john is a fireman’ certainly is not. from a=a we cannot infer that a=b.
heres an example: ‘frank ramsey’, who is his father, what is his occupation? obvious all you can infer is that F.R. is F.R., nothing else.
Me: At the level of bare axioms, all we can say is that, because John is John, John must act as John. That’s it: causality is a corollary of identity. But to identify John as a fireman, we cannot simply deduce from the axiom. We must specifically observe firemen in order to form the concept “fireman.” We must then observe John and see that he fits the concept. (Intro. to Objectivist Epistemology) Once we have observed he is a fireman, causality tells us he can’t swim and lay eggs as a female squid.
Int: ‘is’ is not equivalent to ‘act’.
okie, look at this from another angle. since identity is universally necessary, 2 is 2 is also an identity statement. but what does it mean to say that 2 act as 2? or for that matter, john act as john? if not just ‘john is john’.
from john is john nothing else follows. not causality, not anything. let me ask you again, what casual anything can you deduce from ‘frank ramsey’. thats right, nothing.
Me: An entity’s identity includes its qualities and capacities for action/reaction. We can isolate and focus on them in our thinking, by abstraction, but they cannot be separated in concrete reality. Causality is a corollary of identity, not a separately deduced fact. As a corollary, it is simply another way of looking at the same fundamental fact: an entity is itself. It’s self-evident: look at reality.
2 is a quantitative abstraction. Whatever 2 entities you are focusing on will act as themselves.
Int: take our friend ‘fr’ as an example, obviously we can infer ‘fr’ is ‘fr’ via any standard of formal logic. but we can’t infer ‘fr’ is also p. why? because additional information is needed to establish the new inference.
to say something is corollary is to say that something follows from another. but how do you infer from ‘fr’ without the additional info. that ‘fr’ is also p? can i seriously validly infer that A, therefore B, C, D, X…?
i.e. how am i justified in seeing arsenic for the first time to infer that it can or cannot kill? surely none of its properties follows from my visual perception of it or the mere knowing of its name. yes we can know its effects/properties through observation, but thats an additional step, not something that merely follows from our acquaintance with it.
Me: For the last time, Objectivism doesn’t say you can infer any specific properties/actions of entities from “A=A.” To see that arsenic is deadly, you make specific observations of its effects. Once you have induced that arsenic is deadly, you know that once you have identified a specific sample as arsenic, it will be deadly when taken. Without causality, arsenic wouldn’t have to behave as arsenic, and there’s no way to know what will happen if you ingest it; it could make you live 1000 years.
So the basic point here is that, in Objectivism, proceeding from the axioms does not mean deduction, but induction. The truth of the axioms (including the validity of the senses) makes induction from observationpossible (that is, generalization; including concept formation as a certain type of induction.)
The major model of system building in modern Western philosophy has been that of the rationalists, who deduce consequences from “a priori postulates,” “intuitive” starting points, or mathematical axioms. Thus, when confronted with a philosophic system like Objectivism that claims axioms, most contemporary philosophers simply assume that the axioms are intended as a deductive starting point. They then rightly observe that nothing can be deduced from the axioms alone, and claim that Objectivism is a failure, or is not “serious” philosophy.
This is what I was referring to by “the impoverished reasoning methods employed by academic philosophy”: Real induction, which is a method of generating principles, has been largely supplanted by probabilistic reasoning, which most contemporary philosophers call “induction.”
At the link below, Don Watkins of the blog, Laissez-Faire, describes Rachel Maddow’s misrepresentation of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. Anyone who actually reads Atlas Shrugged should be able to tell that Maddow’s statement is a misrepresentation. Yet this seems to be a rather common falsehood passed around by Rand’s detractors.