Objectivism Digest, Vol 8, Issue 1
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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)
Date: Sat, 01 Nov 2003 01:34:08 -0700
From: Neil Goodell <ngmod@...>
Subject: OWL: Archiving test post #3 -- Please ignore
To: ObjWTL <objectivism@...>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii; format=flowed
This post is to test the message archiving for OWL. Please ignore.
Date: Sat, 01 Nov 2003 01:46:33 -0700
From: Neil Goodell <ngmod@...>
Subject: OWL: Announcement -- OWL Archives Working
To: ObjWTL <objectivism@...>
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.
Date: Sat, 01 Nov 2003 08:28:58 -0500
From: allen <allen23@...>
Subject: OWL: Re: The Moral A Priori
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
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
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
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.�
Date: Sat, 1 Nov 2003 07:24:07 -0800 (PST)
From: Rafael Eilon <r_eilon@...>
Subject: Re: OWL: The Moral A Priori - Clarification
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
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.
Do you Yahoo!?
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Date: Sat, 1 Nov 2003 08:29:14 -0700
From: "Joe Duarte" <joe.duarte@...>
Subject: OWL: Moral Reasoning
To: "OWL" <objectivism@...>
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
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
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.
Date: Sat, 1 Nov 2003 07:20:58 -0500
From: "Michelle F. Cohen" <michal35@...>
Subject: OWL: Re: Objectivist moral reasoning
To: "objectivism" <objectivism@...>
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."
End of Objectivism Digest, Vol 8, Issue 1