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Objectivism Digest, Vol 8, Issue 1

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    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 2003
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      Today's Topics:

      1. Archiving test post #3 -- Please ignore (Neil Goodell)
      2. Announcement -- OWL Archives Working (Neil Goodell)
      3. Re: The Moral A Priori (allen)
      4. Re: The Moral A Priori - Clarification (Rafael Eilon)
      5. Moral Reasoning (Joe Duarte)
      6. Re: Objectivist moral reasoning (Michelle F. Cohen)


      Message: 1
      Date: Sat, 01 Nov 2003 01:34:08 -0700
      From: Neil Goodell <ngmod@...>
      Subject: OWL: Archiving test post #3 -- Please ignore
      To: ObjWTL <objectivism@...>
      Message-ID: <3FA37000.1060200@...>
      Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii; format=flowed

      This post is to test the message archiving for OWL. Please ignore.



      Message: 2
      Date: Sat, 01 Nov 2003 01:46:33 -0700
      From: Neil Goodell <ngmod@...>
      Subject: OWL: Announcement -- OWL Archives Working
      To: ObjWTL <objectivism@...>
      Message-ID: <3FA372E9.2080308@...>
      Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii; format=flowed

      1 November 2003

      I have good news and bad news. The good news is that with the new month, the
      list management software is archiving the messages properly.

      The bad news is that all the messages I have been holding, I will have to
      'reject' back to the sender so they can be resubmitted. The reason for this is
      that the archiving software will use the original October date for when the
      messages were originally sent, and consequently will not archive them
      correctly. By resubmitting them, with November dates, they will be archived

      So please keep in mind that the October 2003 archives are incomplete, and
      messages posted after the security problem in early October will not appear in
      the downloadable text version, although they should be in the sorted lists.

      Thank you for your patience.



      Message: 3
      Date: Sat, 01 Nov 2003 08:28:58 -0500
      From: allen <allen23@...>
      Subject: OWL: Re: The Moral A Priori
      To: Objectivism@...
      Message-ID: <593C857C-0C6F-11D8-A8A0-000393BCF68C@...>
      Content-Type: text/plain; charset=WINDOWS-1252; format=flowed

      It has been my experience that when people disagree about issues, and
      have disagreements about words, there are usually some simple matters
      about which they differ. Let us see whether or not we agree on certain
      fundamentals, which do not depend upon terminology.

      Are there concepts which cannot be denied without contradiction? For
      example, can we deny that people have intentions, that events have
      causes, and that there is regularity? Does intentionality, causality,
      and regularity depend upon the axioms of existence and consciousness,
      or do we understand their validity regardless? It is my opinion that we
      understand certain things, and must take them as given. Perhaps others
      hold that unless these are logically derived from perceptions they are
      not known. (If so, perhaps they will demonstrate how these have been

      If people disagree with the above we ought to confine discussion to
      those issues, since otherwise there is no common basis for further
      discussion. However, if they agree that we understand certain things
      which must be taken as given, then the following comments are at issue.

      Tom Blackstone denies that �logically prior� differs from simply being
      prior, adding that �prior-ness deals with time, not logic.� AR wrote
      �definitions preserve, not the chronological order in which a given man
      may have learned concepts, but the *logical* order of their
      hierarchical interdependence.� Let me elaborate. Something is logically
      prior when it doesn�t make sense to reverse the order. For example
      certain definitions presuppose a given order. One cannot define
      �ancestor� without first specifying the person who has the ancestor.
      Chronologically, the ancestor came first, and had he not existed, the
      person could not have been born. Yet logically, one must acknowledge
      the person, prior to defining his ancestor.

      Another example is where Hammurabi noted that the square of the
      hypotenuse of a right triangle equals the sum of the squares of its
      sides. A thousand years later, Pythagoras proved this. Chronologically,
      Hammurabi came first, and if the result has not been believed
      Pythagoras might not have examined it. Nonetheless, Pythagoras�
      analysis is logically prior to accepting Hammurabi�s result. Still
      another example is that the world was here before man�s mind. Yet that
      concept presupposes a mind to formulate it. Further, let us note that
      Mr. Blackstone could send a posting to OWL, and so could I, where
      either could be first in time. Yet if we say that Mr. Blackstone
      responded to my posting, then mine was logically prior.

      Mr. Blackstone cannot fathom any logical division between the analytic
      and the physical sciences. Let us suppose that we know that John is
      taller than Jim. We now wish to determine whether Jim is shorter than
      John. The analytic scientist proves that it logically follows; the
      physical scientist places the two back-to-back and (eureka!) discovers
      that the top of Jim�s head comes below John�s neck. Are there people
      who cannot see any difference between these methods?

      Finally, he says that I lack a clear definition that I stick to. My
      (actually my professors�) definition of �analytic science� is that it
      is driven by axioms and rules of inference; my definition of �physical
      science� is that it is driven by observations of the world. I do not
      recall having departed from it.

      In an offline email Ram Tobolski mentioned that I had misinterpreted
      his posting. So allow me to clarify my position before addressing his
      posting. I have been focusing on the human action (and moral) a-priori.
      Here, the orientation requires *a-priori axioms* known to be true
      independent of further experience. It is true that I have written about
      games such as chess, because they clarify certain points, such as
      deduction, posited definitions, and the analytic-synthetic dichotomy.
      However, their axioms are arbitrary rather than necessary. I could
      never refer to a game as a-priori.

      So when Ram Tobolski replaces the term �axiomatic system� by �games� he
      eliminates the very issue of the axioms being a-priori. When I speak of
      the a-priori, I claim that it is derived from the human mind, and
      cannot be reversed. For example we cannot deny that men act to achieve
      goals. Another a-priori judgment is �causality� for it is contradictory
      to say that causality does not exist. Conversely, a system that is not
      a-priori can be reversed. Instead of a chess game having a piece that
      moves on a diagonal, we could define it so that it cannot move on a
      diagonal; or instead of requiring that the game is over when the king
      cannot escape a check, we can allow the game to continue after the king
      is captured. Lest anyone say that this is not the way that �a-priori�
      is used, I refer to Immanuel Kant who writes it is �necessary with
      strict universality, that is, in such a manner that *no exception is
      allowed as possible*.� Note that unlike a game, an a-priori axiom
      cannot be rejected by anybody, without contradiction, i.e., it is
      universal. So to belabor the point, I have been referring to systems
      whose axioms are necessary and universal, while Mr. Tobolski addresses
      what is arbitrary and deniable.

      There is a simple test for whether something is a-priori, namely that
      it cannot be falsified. Try falsifying that people act to achieve
      goals. It cannot be done, since the attempt to falsify is itself aimed
      at achieving a goal. Similarly, try falsifying that regularity exists.
      One couldn�t even speak a word, for that presumes that the word means
      the same thing as it did before. Or try falsifying that A differs from
      not A, and you will find that it cannot be done. Such concepts are
      logically prior, for they can neither be derived from nor refuted by
      experience. AR would refer to such a refutation as employing a stolen
      concept, since one must presuppose purpose and regularity in order to
      address them. She speaks of logic as non-contradictory, writing that �a
      contradiction cannot exist�. That is how Mises formulates the axioms of
      human action.

      With this in mind, consider Rafael Eilon�s position. He describes the
      acceptance of reality as a �working hypothesis�. This scientific
      approach presumes the very opposite of the human action position. It is
      the difference between using the a-posteriori approach of science and
      the a-priori approach of human action. Yet even if that is taken as
      given, where corroboration follows, the �working hypothesis� is
      independent of experience, while the corroboration provides additional
      knowledge which is a-posteriori. The fact that additional experience
      provides greater coherence presupposes that there was something in the
      original axiom that was sound.)

      In an offline email, Mr. Eilon clarifies that he is addressing
      epistemic a-priori, while I am addressing methodic a-priori. That is
      true since, to my mind, the idea that one has a concept that did not
      require evolution or language is silly, whereas any concept surely
      required acculturation. Consequently, if the reader chooses to replace
      the term "a-priori" by "methodic a-priori" he might find it helpful.

      To properly discuss an operational approach, one should first address
      how it functions, and on that basis address its epistemology. How does
      an a-priori system function? It takes what we know about people�s
      thought that cannot be denied, and logically derives conclusions. If it
      can be denied, or doesn�t apply universally, it is not a-priori. If
      Messrs. Tobolski and Eilon follow this guide, use its terminology, and
      on that basis refute the a-priori, I will stand corrected.

      To aid them in this regard, let me formulate my position, in a brief
      and simplified manner, to aid falsification. I shall confine attention
      to Austrian economics with its axioms (such as intention and causality)
      and its laws (such as diminishing returns, comparative advantage, and
      subjective utility).

      1. The a-priori is logically prior to experience, where its axioms and
      rules are irreversible and universal, and can neither be proven nor

      2. Since one begins economics with true axioms, and non-contradictory
      rules, the conclusions are certain. (People can err in their logic and
      application, but that is a different matter.)

      3. The vogue economics begins with observations and data, and draws
      conclusions by what some find plausible. Since it is selective in what
      it addresses, and arbitrary in its interpretations, there is no
      assurance that its findings will avoid bias or be compelling.

      4. Consequently, the a-priori method of Austrian economics is superior
      to the a-posteriori method of the natural sciences, for dealing with
      human action.

      Finally, Ram Tobolski finds noteworthy that physics can be treated in a
      pure manner, while mathematics can be treated in an applied manner.
      Generally, empirical matters can be treated as a purely deductive
      system, while a purely deductive system can be treated as an applied
      system. That is correct, but how does it relate to the a-priori
      deductive system of human action? Ram says that �we shall benefit most
      from a _plurality of methods_ on any given subject� as when we use a
      pure and an applied method when dealing with physics. Thus he
      presupposes that science is to guide us when dealing with human action.

      Yet that is the very antithesis of Mises, who claims that science is a
      mistaken guide for human action. Science is essentially driven by
      observations, tests, and measurements of the world, even when it
      employs pure analytical forms. Human action is driven by purposes,
      values, and plans, which we understand from within. (Mr. Tobolski�s
      approach is analogous to the view that brain activity should be the
      guide for understanding the mind.) If Mr. Tobolski is correct, he needs
      to show why science should be the guide for studying human action. If
      he does so, he will have refuted the Austrian school.

      However, let us consider how the combination of methods would work in
      this area. The Austrian (a-priori) school concludes that government
      should not intervene in the economy, which should move toward a free
      market. The vogue (a-posteriori) schools conclude that government must
      intervene in the economy, which should move toward ever more
      regulation. Would the combination of methods result in compromise so
      that there is half as much intervention and regulation? If not, what
      happens when the methods result in diametrically opposed results?

      In science, the pure and applied methods are partners, and work well
      together. In dealing with human action, the scientific method and
      praxeology are antithetic. The former views man from a human
      perspective, while the latter views him from a technical perspective.
      It does not just happen that their conclusions conflict. From a human
      perspective people are understood in terms of their aspirations and
      purposes; from a technical perspective people are understood in terms
      of conditions and drives. The former seeks their long range liberty,
      the latter seeks their immediate material gain. If the Austrians are
      right, the scientific method ought not be the guide; if they are wrong,
      praxeology ought not be the guide. Rather than a plurality of methods,
      what is required is removal of one of them.

      I thank Lissa Fischer for drawing attention to the central issue,
      namely the importance of the moral component when dealing with human
      matters. As she says �In evaluating life�to fail to evaluate values
      would have consequences of compounding error.�



      Message: 4
      Date: Sat, 1 Nov 2003 07:24:07 -0800 (PST)
      From: Rafael Eilon <r_eilon@...>
      Subject: Re: OWL: The Moral A Priori - Clarification
      To: Objectivism@...
      Message-ID: <20031101152407.95765.qmail@...>
      Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii

      Following off-list communication from Allen Weingarten (which I hope
      will eventually make it to the list...), I would like to clarify
      further my position on the existence of a-priori knowledge.

      I think this discussion has brought up two distinct (but not clearly
      defined) concepts of the a-priori:

      1) Standard (Kantian) concept: a-priori knowledge is knowledge which is
      _independent of_ experience; i.e., experience has no part in
      establishing the truth of such knowledge. I would designate this
      meaning of "a-priori" as _epistemic a-priori_.

      2) Allen's concept (and possibly also the concept employed by Mises and
      the Austrian School): a-priori knowledge is knowledge which is
      _logically prior_ (perhaps more accurately: _methodically_ prior) to
      experience; i.e., it is assumed true as a system of axioms and theorems
      which is not derived from experience. I would term this sense of
      "a-priori" _methodic a-priori_.

      I believe I have already stated my reasons for insisting on keeping
      these two meanings distinct, but I would like to clarify them further.
      I do not deny the existence the methodic a-priori, so if this is all
      Allen means when he uses the term "a-priori," then I have no essential
      disageement with him. But since the term "a-priori" is usually used in
      the sense of _epistemic a-priori_, I think anyone who uses it in
      Allen's restricted sense should make such meaning clear and explicit;
      because, as I have said earlier, I believe _no_ knowledge corresponds
      to the description of _epistemic a-priori_. At the risk of some
      repetition, let me make my reasons for believing that as clear as I

      The axiomatic-based systems of theorems or "moves" are often called
      "calculi." Examples abound in the fields of formal logic, arithmetic,
      algebra, geometry, theoretical physics, theoretical economics, games,
      etc. In these calculi, two important aspects are distinguished:
      _syntax_ and _semantics_. The syntax of a calculus is what Ram Tobolski
      called the "pure game" aspect, i.e., the purely formal criteria which
      make a theorem or a "move" acceptable or unacceptable to the calculus.
      Some of the calculi also have an additional aspect, named "semantics."
      The semantics of a calculus is a mapping or correspondence relation
      from the syntactic game onto (some aspect of) reality; i.e., the
      semantic aspect is what makes some of those calculi _descriptive_ of

      a calculus which has only a syntactic aspect, or which (like chess) is
      descriptive of a special, artificial domain, is a pure game. These
      kinds of calculus _are not knowledge_; only a calculus which has a
      clear real-world-related semantics can be considered knowledge.

      It is a very essential position of Objectivism that some axiomatic
      systems do represent knowledge, which means that they have a
      real-world-related semantics. But how do we know that a certain
      syntactic calculus can really be applied with a real-world-related
      semantics? There is only one way to learn that: by reference to
      experience. And this is why the knowledge represented by such a
      calculus cannot fall under the description of epistemic a-priori.

      The Kantian ("epistemic") concept of a-priori claims for knowledge
      contained in axiomatic systems a status of _independence of
      experience_; it thus views all axiomatic systems either as purely
      syntactic games, or as syntactic games which are _constitutive_ of
      their own semantic domains (like chess). The concept of epistemic
      a-priori thus denies the existence of real-world-related semantics for
      axiomatic systems.

      For this reason, a proponent of methodic a-priori, such as Weingarten
      (and perhaps Mises), should make it very clear that calculi _do_ have
      real-world-related semantics, and that such applicability of the
      calculus can only be verified by reference to experience. It is
      therefore my position that proponents of such methodic a-priori should
      state explicitly that their concept does not claim knowledge which is
      _independent of_ experience; only knowledge which is _methodically

      In conclusion, let me repeat that perfect verse which I stumbled upon
      while using Allen's creative terminology:

      Knowledge which appears to have no roots
      Gets corroborated by its fruits.



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      Message: 5
      Date: Sat, 1 Nov 2003 08:29:14 -0700
      From: "Joe Duarte" <joe.duarte@...>
      Subject: OWL: Moral Reasoning
      To: "OWL" <objectivism@...>
      Message-ID: <004501c3a08c$e8698180$6401a8c0@...>
      Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"

      Jennifer Baker offers an interesting example to draw out objectivist moral
      reasoning. I largely agree with Eyal Moses' post on the matter, and here is
      my own...

      First, I don't think objectivism has a sophisticated theory of moral
      reasoning - nothing like what analythic philosophers are used to. The
      objectivist ethics is value-based, and everything flows from a contextual,
      value-seeking orientation. Let's look at the example.

      The situation here lacks detail, but I'll fill it in. The comment about no
      political consequences means this has nothing to do with government per se.
      It's not a government asking kids to tell on one's parents. Let's say it's
      the Ayn Rand Institute, sending out letters to kids asking them to report
      back on whether or not their parental units are "good objectivists."

      This is sort of unreal. Reasonable people would think this was ludicrous and
      comical on its face. But here we go. To be meticulous, we would need to

      1) What is the proper nature of a parent-child relationship?

      2) What values should a child pursue? And who should guide the child in
      pursuit of those values? (Here it would help if the example gave the age of
      the child.)

      3) What is a good objectivist?

      4) Do we care if any given parent is a good objectivist?

      My lazy answer to (1) is that parents should be the principal guiding lights
      to their children, exlusive of unwanted external influence, so long as the
      child is not abused.

      (2) A child should pursue activities that expand knowledge, cognitive
      faculties, joy, play, virtue-building. Generally, a habit of reporting on
      one's parents - or other persons in one's circle of trust - is not an
      activity that will build any known virtue or achieve any ascendent value. I
      know of no context where this would not hold true, except for that which I
      name below. Moreover, such ratting out of one's parents is likely to breed
      certain negative psychological and moral qualities - like lack of intimacy,
      fear of others, general dishonesty. Here, let me introduce a time dimension
      on moral conduct. Life is practice for living better. Practice takes time.
      Ergo, your time should be spent doing things that build strengths and
      happiness. Time spent doing things that build or cultivate vice or
      dysfunction is worse than wasteful. This applies to children as well as
      adults. You have x units of time - spend it tattling on your parents or
      mastering the monkeybars?

      (3) A parent who beats you daily is not a good objectivist. A parent who is
      a loaf on the job is probably not a good objectivist either. So? There are
      many good parents who don't know anything about objectivism. There are many
      good parents that don't like the Dallas Cowboys either, but I don't hold
      that against them.

      (4) So no, there is no reason for any rational person to care if any given
      child's parents are good objectivists. Objectivism is a kick-ass secular
      philosophy of reason and good times. It is not a dues-paying cult of moral

      On the broader issue of persuading children to report on their parents,
      children should be urged to report abuse - sexual, physical, etc., not
      philosophical rigor. As a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for
      abused, neglected, and abandoned children, I've seen many children just take
      it. Not necessary.

      Joe Duarte


      Message: 6
      Date: Sat, 1 Nov 2003 07:20:58 -0500
      From: "Michelle F. Cohen" <michal35@...>
      Subject: OWL: Re: Objectivist moral reasoning
      To: "objectivism" <objectivism@...>
      Message-ID: <000d01c3a072$9c0cb420$f5523744@...>
      Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"

      Bill Walsh wrote on 10/14:

      "Michelle Fram Cohen wrote:

      'Babies, young children, coma victims and mental defectives all have the
      potential to become rational and understand the concept of rights.' Emphasis

      One might add: so does a fetus.
      It seems to me that an objective defense of rights requires more than an
      appeal to rationality or to the potential of rationality. I hope there will
      be more thoughtful posts on this topic."

      Yes, but the ability to reason is the one characteristic that distinguishes
      humans from animals. I was referring to rationality in the context of why
      animals do not have rights. To the best of my knowledge, there is no better
      definition of a human being than Aristotle's "rational animal."

      -- Mihcelle



      End of Objectivism Digest, Vol 8, Issue 1
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