Objectivism Digest, Vol 13, Issue 8
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1. Re: Objectivism's concept of free will (Weingarten)
2. Re: First thoughts about extending one's freedom of will:whim
versus value (Rafael Eilon)
3. Defense + Farewell (Amy L. Hayden)
4. Re: Objectivism's concept of free will (William Dwyer)
5. Re: Re: Procedural Rights (merjet)
Date: Wed, 07 Apr 2004 13:28:03 -0400
From: Weingarten <allen23@...>
Subject: Re: OWL: Objectivism's concept of free will
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Bill Dwyer writes in response to my claim of a-priori knowledge �Well,
I must say that ~I~ do not know from within that I could choose either
alternative (under the same conditions). If I did, I wouldn't be a
determinist! Therefore, on that basis alone, what Allen says is false.�
He does not appear to understand the nature of an a-priori argument,
but thinks of it in terms of the very sophisticated arguments that I
denied were appropriate. Perhaps I was unclear as to the difference
between the self-evident (or a-priori) perspective and sophisticated
argumentation. Let us consider something that any teenager recognizes
as self-evident, namely that he can choose whether to raise his right
hand or his left hand. If you said to him that it is already
determined, he would look at you askance. Yet a sophisticated argument
could lead him to conclude that everything is already determined. His
belief that he can choose to raise either hand is self-evident, even if
by sophisticated argument he might be dissuaded. The teenager�s belief
did not stem from analysis, but was taken as given.
Since some might not understand this distinction between knowing from
within and by argument, let me elaborate. In a science fiction show,
the protagonist is beset by impossible situations wherein everything
that should hold fails. Resolution occurs only after a scientist
explains that the man is an android, created a year before, with
implanted brain cells that caused him to believe that he was a certain
man. (A similar theme occurred in an Arnold Schwarzenneger film, where
he had been brainwashed into believing he had a different identity.)
The man knew from within (self-evidently, a-priori) who he was, but
argument proved him mistaken. Another example is that each of us has a
sense of simultaneity, where everything can be associated with a given
instant of time. Yet Einstein proved by argument that what was
self-evident was mistaken.
Consequently, someone could counter an a-priori position by claiming it
to be inferior to an argument. Another approach would be to claim that
he believes from within that he has no choice, but must do what fate
has decreed. These constitute rebuttals to an a-priori position.
However, it is not a sound rebuttal to state what we all know, namely
that some people believe otherwise, by argument. Finally, to illustrate
the self-evident, we know from within that we have intentions, where
intentions are understood to mean changing things from what they would
have been. (It is senseless to say that one can have an intention to
make something happen that is already guaranteed.) Sophisticated
arguments can deny the necessity of someone attempting to make things
other than they are guaranteed to be. Nonetheless, it is self-evident
(a-priori) and known from within, that each of us intends to make
things different from how they would otherwise have turned out.
Now although I aver that sophisticated argument is not responsive to
the a-priori position, I question the soundness of that argument. Mr.
Dwyer�s position implies that he never had a choice about anything (for
all was determined). For absent free will, nothing could cause
different outcomes. Yet, what meaning is there to his arguments if
every aspect of existence is already guaranteed? Clearly he has the
intention to convince others. *Yet there can be no meaning to an
intention if something is already determined.* (For example, can anyone
intend to change the orbit of the sun?)
If Mr. Dwyer believes he has no choice, he needn�t give any argument,
or intend anything, since whatever will be will be. Now he says that he
knows he has a choice, but only after weighing the alternatives. But
since he cannot choose whether or not to weigh the alternatives, or to
change their consequence, the outcome was already determined. In other
words, *what he calls a �choice� could only have turned out one way*.
The only way to respect Mr. Dwyer�s argument is to view it as an
intention to change another�s perspective. Yet the determinist argument
necessitates that the outcome is already fixed, so that there cannot be
any intention in the sense of changing what would have been. The
argument is contradictory, for it presupposes intention in order to
deny that there can be any intention.
Yet again, *at issue is not the argument but its presupposition*. One
would not present an argument without a sense that it could make a
difference. Thus Mr. Dwyer does know, from within, that he could choose
to argue or not. Otherwise, consider this scenario. Someone sees a baby
crawling into the street, and watches as a car runs over the toddler.
When asked why he didn�t bring the child to the sidewalk, he responds
�the outcome was determined�. Similarly, no critique or recommendation
of any human action would be warranted.
I accept by evidence that some things are determined. *What proof would
Mr. Dwyer accept that some things can be chosen one way or the other
(under the same circumstances)?* He would not accept as proof that in a
chess game, I can always decide on a next move, regardless of whether
my method of evaluation results in a tie. Similarly, given a choice of
which way to bet, with 50:50 odds, I can still make a choice. Yet
again, he would not accept this as proof. The issue then is whether
there is anything that one could say or do that would count as proof.
Mr. Dwyer�s position will not meet the falsifiability criteria, if he
cannot posit what evidence would demonstrate that choice is possible.
Date: Wed, 7 Apr 2004 12:11:37 -0700 (PDT)
From: Rafael Eilon <r_eilon@...>
Subject: Re: OWL: First thoughts about extending one's freedom of
will:whim versus value
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Mike Rael (4/7) holds that the extent of conscious calculation,
planning, and executive control involved in human (or other) action is
a measure of the freedom of the will, on a continuous scale. (I hope my
complete rephrasing of Mike's position is excused). Similar positions
have been voiced by Lissa Fischer and Merlin Jetton. Neil Goodell seems
less decided, but is apparently in transition towards a similar kind of
concept. (Robert Dean also raised pertinent questions, but I could not
quite make out his position).
William Dwyer and George H. Smith, even though they seem to be in
disagreement with each other, both subscribe to an entirely different
-- and, I should claim, gratuitous -- concept of freedom of the will.
In this view, freedom consists of the absence of "necessitating"
antecedent causes. The disagreement between William and George relates
to the question whether such "freedom" exists: while William contends
(correctly) that it does not, because _everything_ is necessitated by
antecedent causes, George contends that human consciousness somehow, at
some special moments, escapes this law and "chooses" to act _without_
necessitating antecedent causes -- which, in this view, is what sets it
I have written about this topic several times in the past, and I am not
going to repeat myself ad nauseam; but there's a sincere request that I
would like to address to both William and George, and to all those who
still subscribe to a concept of free will similar to theirs:
_The concept of freedom is too important; please do not waste it on
meaningless sophistries, or you would miss its true meaning and make it
Freedom means control, and control means causation; so freedom
consists, as Mike correctly observes, of certain kinds of causation;
not of being exempt from causation.
I know that Branden and Peikoff have held that free will is itself a
special type of causation which involves an outcome which is not
necessitated by antecedent factors; but since this view is erroneous
and illogical, I am urging all Objectivists to abandon it, completely
and resolutely. There is no such thing as causation without
necessitating antecedent factors, simply because causation, by
definition, _means_ being necessitated by antecedent factors. To claim
that there is another kind of causation constitutes an attack on the
concept of causation, which renders it meaningless.
The proof of the fact that the outcome of any process has been
necessitated by its antecedent factors is in the fact that that outcome
becomes a reality; no other proof is necessary. Freedom consists in
certain kinds of antecedent factors which originate within the valuing,
planning, trained-to-achieve-by-a-course-of-action, self.
That such a concept of freedom is compatible with a deterministic view
of physical reality is one of the most important arguments in its
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Date: Wed, 07 Apr 2004 23:09:58 -0500
From: "Amy L. Hayden" <radical_mama@...>
Subject: OWL: Defense + Farewell
To: OWL <objectivism@...>
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Jimmy Wales [4/2] said "This rumor about Jamie Lee Curtis might be
appropriate to repeat in a drunken late night dorm room, or a Women's
Studies class, but not in a serious discussion:
http://www.snopes.com/movies/actors/jamie.htm. Essentially, there is not
one shred of credible evidence that this is true. And yet Amy has
reported it as a fact."
Yes, I did report it as fact ... it was something said to me by someone
whom I trusted. If trusting my friends is my worst vice, then so be it.
Nonetheless, the Snopes site addresses the claim that Curtis is a
hermaphrodite (which is not the claim I made) and leaves it ambiguous as
to whether she has AIS. In fact, the "argument" Snopes offers in the
end for the falsity of the claim is that Curtis' body is too good
looking, something that even the most skillful logician would have a
difficult time supporting logically. [Otherwise, a man who was able to
pass as a really attractive woman could actually *be considered" a
woman, with no questions asked, because asking the questions would make
men who found "her" attractive too uncomfortable.]
In any case, the correction is noted ... although I disagree that my
claim is as ludicrous as you have made it out to be. In fact, AIS is a
well documented condition (see
http://www.isna.org/drupal/node/view/187), along with other intersex
conditions (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersexual), and while the
particular case I referenced may not exist, it is not false that AIS is
a confounding situation for advocates of a male-female binary
construction of biological sex. The point of my bringing up Jamie Lee
Curtis wasn't to spread gossip; it was to illustrate that there are
people we consider to be women who are really men. Whether she
illustrates the case or not, there are other women who do ... and so my
being mistaken is irrelevant in the point I was trying to make.
In his same post, Jimmy notes that the numbers I quoted in terms of
intersexed individuals are "highly suspect, see:
http://isna.org/drupal/node/view/91". Well, I did see that site ... and
what Fausto Sterling did was add up all the rates of the anomalies and
translated that into a percentage of the population. I think perhaps
Jimmy has failed in figuring out *how* Fausto-Sterling came up with her
numbers ... but, of course, that isn't my fault and is out of my control.
Furthermore, on the Wikipedia site about intersexuality referenced
above, it is clearly stated that up to 1 percent of live births "exhibit
some degree of sexual ambiguity", which does *not* include births which
include conditions that are not immediately discernable, such as AIS.
Continuing on with Jimmy's post, he says "the 2 percent number
is generally attributed to Anne Fausto-Sterling, a "Biology and Gender
Studies" professor at Brown University, perhaps best known for her
former advocacy of a theory that there are 5 sexes: male, female, merm,
ferm, and herm. So, consider the source."
I fail to see how ad hominem attacks on a professor with nearly 35 years
of professional credibility has absolutely anything to do with the issue
at hand. Has Jimmy read Fausto-Sterling's book? Has he examined her
research that has been published in countless peer-reviewed
journals? Because Jimmy references only Snopes and another Web site, I
suspect he is going on rumor, innuendo and book reviews (at best) to
come to his conclusions. I do not maintain that one must always read
original sources in order to assess their credibility, but in this case
there is reason to actually evaluate the material at hand before
dismissing it with a logically flawed attack. But then again, Rand did
that all the time, so perhaps it's part of the Objectivist tradition.
That being said, I am saying farewell to the OWL list. The longer I
stay here -- and it's been about four years now -- the more I am amazed
at what's allowed to be sent out to the list ... as if sarcasm, vitriol,
being mean, bitterness, and plain pessimism are part of intellectual
discourse, much less that centered around Objectivist values and virtues.
Phil Coates often wonders where all the young intellectuals go ... well,
I suspect they go someplace where people don't rake them over the coals
for making honest mistakes and they can actually engage in challenging
intellectual discourse rather than having to deal with ad hominem
attacks and accusations of lying.
Amy L. Hayden
Date: Wed, 7 Apr 2004 22:53:10 -0700
From: "William Dwyer" <wswdwyer@...>
Subject: OWL: Re: Objectivism's concept of free will
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George Smith (4/6) wrote, "For Bill, deciding that A is preferable to
B is equivalent to choosing A -- for in his scheme, if one prefers A
but does not choose A, then one did not *really* prefer A."
I have no idea what it could mean to say that one "prefers A, but does
not choose A." If you are free to choose A (if no one is stopping
you) and you prefer to choose A, then why would you not choose A?
George continues, "It is therefore quite true, according to this
equivocation [what equivocation??], that under the "same conditions,"
which includes the choosing of A [but it doesn't include the choosing
of A!], that we could not have acted otherwise than to choose A. In
other words, if the actual choice of A is included in what we mean by
the "same conditions" [it isn't!], then to deny Bill's truism would be
to uphold the contradictory proposition: "Under the same conditions,
including the choice of A, I could choose non-A."
This is not my argument. I am not including the choice of A in the
conditions under which one chooses A. There is a difference between
the choice and the conditions under which one makes the choice.
George continues, "The only way out of Bill's useless tautology [??]
is to recognize that preferences (subjective valuations) are not the
same thing as choices."
Of course, they are not the same thing; I never said they were. A
preference is not the choice; it is what motivates the choice.
George wrote: "We subjectively value many things that we don't choose
to act upon."
By "value" in this context I meant "prefer in relation to the
George continued: "...Indeed, it is precisely because of these
sometimes conflicting values that we must *deliberate* and weigh
various alternatives before making a choice."
Precisely! And it is from the ~weighing~ of these alternative values
that we determine our ~highest~ value, on the basis of which we then
make our choice. If, in fact, this process of weighing did NOT give
us the highest value, then it would not constitute a process of
"weighing" -- of assessing the relative value of the alternatives
And if, after weighing these various alternative values and deciding
which is the most valuable, we could then choose a different
alternative -- one that we valued less -- there would be no point in
weighing them in the first place. The idea that we can choose
something other than our highest value belies the very ~purpose~ of
George asks, "How does the determinist define the "strongest motive"
(or any similar term)? More often than not among determinists, the
"strongest motive" turns out to be any motive that prevails, i.e., the
one that actually motivates a given action. And in this case we have
yet another tautology masquerading as an argument for determinism."
It's a tautology only in the sense that to deny it is a
self-contradiction. If in a particular situation we are free to
choose either A or non-A, then one of two possibilities obtains.
Either we have a motive for choosing A over non-A, or we don't.
If we don't, then our choice is unmotivated, which doesn't make sense,
because intentional actions require a motive; they require some reason
for taking the action -- some value that we are seeking to gain or
If, on the other hand, we do have a motive for choosing A over non-A,
then we must also have a motive for choosing non-A over A, if we are
to be able to choose the latter as well as the former. But this
doesn't make sense either, because it implies the presence of
contradictory motives. It implies that we can be motivated to choose
A over non-A and ~simultaneously~ motivated to choose non-A over A --
which is impossible.
Therefore, insofar as a free choice is unmotivated, it is arbitrary
and purposeless; and insofar as it is motivated, it is
George writes, "In the real world of choosing, in contrast to circular
arguments of determinists, the choice itself is an essential element
of the actuating motive."
On the contrary, the choice and the motive for the choice are two
different things. A motive is ~why~ you make the choice -- why you
choose the action. For example, a man drinks a glass of water,
because he is thirsty. The action he chooses is drinking the glass of
water; the motive is to satisfy his thirst.
George continues, "It is not as if we are presented with a "strongest
motive" which we are then determined to choose. Rather, we deliberate
among different alternatives and then make a choice...,"
It's not as if we're determined ~to choose~ the strongest motive.
Rather, it's the strongest motive that determines our choice. But
this is not incompatible with deliberation. On the contrary, we
deliberate in order to ascertain our highest value, which having
ascertained, we are motivated to choose.
George writes: "Hence if we take the phrase "same conditions" in the
only reasonable sense, as referring to a hypothetical situation in
which we are confronted once again with the same *alternatives,* the
question becomes: Is it possible to make a different choice when
confronted with identical alternatives?. To this I would reply, Yes."
But the phrase "same conditions" does not refer simply "to a
hypothetical situation in which we are confronted once again with the
same alternatives." Being confronted with the same alternatives is
only PART of the conditions. The phrase "same conditions" refers to
ALL of the conditions under which one makes the choice (which, of
course, do not include the choice itself.)
I agree that it is possible to make a different choice when confronted
with identical alternatives, provided that the other conditions under
which one makes the choice are different. But if they ~are~
different, then to say that one can make a different choice when
confronted with identical alternatives is scarcely an affirmation of
free will. What the determinist denies is that one can make different
choices when confronted with identical ~conditions~, NOT when
confronted with identical ~alternatives~.
George wrote: "[Free will] does not imply, for example, that our
choices are unmotivated. Rather, it simply means that motives per se
are not necessitating causes. If they were, this would mean that we
would have acted on every motive we have ever experienced, which is
George is dropping context. No determinist is saying that because the
defendant had a motive to murder the victim, he MUST have murdered the
victim -- that he must have acted on that motive. The term "motive"
in ~that~ context refers simply to a reason that COULD provide the
impetus for an action if certain other conditions were met. The sense
in which I am using the term "motive" is in reference to the purpose
or goal of one's action -- to that for the sake of which the action is
George wrote: "The free-will advocate would maintain that our power of
'selective attention' (as William James and many other volitionists
have called it) must be volitionally exercised before evaluations can
even come into play. Does this mean that our choice to think or focus
is somehow unmotivated? No, of course not. It simply means that this
choice is not necessitated by antecedent causes."
But if selective attention must be volitionally exercised before
evaluations can even come into play, then it must be exercised prior
to any value judgments, in which case, it can no longer be regarded as
a choice. George makes the same error as Leonard Peikoff does.
According to Peikoff: "The decision to perceive reality must precede
value judgments. Otherwise, values have no source in one's cognition
of reality and thus become delusions."
This is silly. The choice to "perceive reality" or to engage in a
process of evaluation pertains to a particular ~kind~ of cognitive
act, not to cognition as such. As I noted earlier, if Peikoff's claim
were true, then "the decision to perceive reality" could not be judged
as a moral imperative, in which case, one could not be held morally
responsible for making it. Prior to value judgments, there is no way
for a person to ~know~ that he ought to perceive reality. Nor could
such an act even be viewed as a 'choice' or 'decision,' since that
would imply a conscious recognition of alternatives and a prior
evaluation of their relative merits."
George goes on to quote Nathaniel Branden to the effect that there are
indeed motives for non-focusing, but that these are "not causal
imperatives; they are feelings which a man may choose to treat as
But what is the motive for treating them as decisive ~versus~ ignoring
them? To this, the answer must be that there is none; otherwise the
choice would not be free.
I wrote: "Observe that what is self-evident here is not the ability
to choose either alternative under ~the same~ conditions, but the
ability to choose either alternative when and if I PREFER to choose
it. In other words, if I should prefer to choose A instead of B, or B
instead of A, there is nothing preventing me from choosing it. But
when I choose A instead of B, I could not have chosen B instead."
George replied, "To say that I can choose A only if I prefer to choose
A adds nothing to this discussion, since it doesn't address the
question: "How are our preferences formed?"
They are formed in many different ways, among which is the thinking
that we have done or failed to do. But that thinking or non-thinking
is itself determined by our preferences.
George continued, "If all the determinist wishes to say is that our
choices somehow reflect our preferences, and that given the
*identical* preferences (including a preference for a given choice),
identical choices will follow -- then I daresay that no volitionist in
the history of philosophy (or at least none that I can think of) would
dispute this trivial claim."
Really? Then why did George say that "preferences (subjective
valuations) are not the same thing as choices"? Why did he say that
"We subjectively value [i.e., prefer] many things that we don't choose
to act upon" -- if he believes that "given the *identical* preferences
(including a preference for a given choice), identical choices will
He continues, "But the relevant point, of course, is whether a
rational agent can form different preferences, and therefore make
different choices, when confronted with the same *alternatives.*"
Sure, he can, if the conditions are different -- e.g., if he has
different knowledge, understanding, dispositions, desires, etc.
I wrote, "Not only is free will not experienced directly; it cannot be
experienced directly, because in order to do so, one would have to
experience the ability to choose differently under the same
conditions, which is impossible to experience, because the conditions
(both internal and external) are never precisely the same on any
subsequent occasion. At the very least, one will have changed
George replied, "This observation counts as much against the
determinist as it does against the volitionist. It means that the
determinist has ruled out any empirical confirmation of his theory."
Not true, for even if it were possible to recreate the identical
conditions, determinism could not be ~confirmed~ through this kind of
empirical observation; it could only be ~refuted~. For even if on
every subsequent recreation, the subject were to make the same choice,
this would still not ~confirm~ determinism, since it could be argued
that he made the same choice volitionally -- that he COULD have chosen
George continued, "It should be mentioned, however, that even purely
physical experiments are not, and cannot be, repeated under
*precisely* identical conditions. Rather, the scientist distinguishes
between relevant and irrelevant variables."
True, but the doctrine of free will does not say simply that we can
choose differently under relevantly similar conditions (whatever
exactly that is supposed to mean in this context.) It says that we
can choose differently under ~exactly~ the same conditions, because it
says that we can make either of two different choices ~at the same
time~. In order to prove this claim, one ~would~ have to reconstruct
exactly the same conditions and observe the performance of a different
George wrote: "Similar reasoning may be applied to the realm of human
action. All of us have confronted similar alternatives that we deem
the "same," because we regard their differences as nonessential to our
subsequent deliberation and choice. And we have all made *different*
choices under these 'same' conditions."
But why would we undertake subsequent deliberation with regard to
similar alternatives whose relative values (or preferences) had
previously been determined, if not to ascertain whether or not there
were any differences in those values? And if we ended up making
different choices as a result of our deliberation, then that would
mean that the conditions were ~not~ relevantly the same after all,
because our preferences were different.
Besides, if a scientist observes different behaviors under what appear
to be relevantly similar conditions, he typically infers that there
must be some unobserved factor or condition that is different and
would, if discovered, account for or explain the difference in
I wrote: "...values always suffice to render a decision, because one
necessarily decides between alternatives on the basis of that which
one values; if one didn't value the alternative that one is choosing,
then there would be no ~point~ in choosing it."
George replied: "This is clearly false. Values are *not* sufficient
to render a decision. For example, I value many past events, such as
the outcome of the American Revolution, but I am unable to make any
decisions or choices in regard to that outcome, because nothing I can
possibly do will influence the outcome (the victory of the Americans)
of something that has already happened."
What I meant is that if one values choosing A over B, then one's value
is sufficient to render a decision ~if nothing else is preventing the
choice~. In other words, I was making the point that one couldn't
value A over non-A, yet choose non-A over A.
George continued: "Bill's statement, literally construed, would mean
that we 'always' act on every value we have. This is so obviously
wrong as to require no further comment."
I think it's important to construe people's statements within context.
Nothing is easier than to give an irrelevant or unsympathetic
interpretation as the basis for a quick dismissal of a person's
remarks. Obviously, I wasn't using the term "value" in the sense in
which George is construing it.
Date: Thu, 8 Apr 2004 09:02:07 -0500
From: "merjet" <merjet@...>
Subject: OWL: Re: Re: Procedural Rights
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Tim Starr wrote in part:
>You are making a disanalogy. An analogous situationWrong. That was precisely the situation I posited.
>under a minarchy with trial by jury is one in which
>there is no mutual consent to abide by the outcome of
> under a minarchy with trial by jury is one in whichIf citizen X brings suit against citizen Y and it goes
> there is no mutual consent to abide by the outcome of
> that trial. In that case, there will still be a state
> of war between the State and the loser of the dispute.
> Minarchist trial by jury is not a war-free solution,
to court, it is a dispute between two citizens. It is
hardly a "war between the State and the loser
of the dispute." The State is judge or "referee",
not combatant. If there is a jury, it is even less
in the hands of the State.
How often has Tim seen trials by jury result in a
war? I have not witnessed any in my area of the
Is Tim implying that under A-C a murderer must
agree to abide by the outcome of a trial in order
to be tried?
> Furthermore, trial by jury is not consistent withSays who? I suggest Tim consider the ideas of the
> minarchist theory, as it substitutes the judgement of
> a random representative sample of the population for
> that of the State, thus violating the State's monopoly
> on dispute-adjudication.
minarchist Thomas Jefferson. Trial by jury is quite
consistent with minarchy. It is another way to limit the
power of the State. Tim's claim flies in the face of reality
-- there are trials by jury and arbitration agencies in the
>It is a vestige of medieval legal polycentrism which isHow ironic! Tim Starr despises a govt monopoly on
>inconsistent with State monopoly, no matter how much
>minarchists feel attached to it and try to claim it as their
>own . . .
retaliatory force yet demands a monopoly for trial by
jury for A-C.
Tim implies that trial by jury is "A-C's own" looks like
assertion w/o evidence to me. And Tim has yet to explain
how trials by jury will arise under A-C when a disputant
is uncooperative. I repeat Tim's reply as follows:
>Then the party that is clearly in the right willThe picture Tim tries to paint is becoming clearer. A trial
>have lots of allies, and the party that is clearly in the
>wrong will have few, and the party in the right will
>be most likely to win the war.
by jury in which govt has a role is war-like. But a trial by
jury under A-C is just dandy. "Defense agencies" will be
run only by angels but govt must be run by mortals.
End of Objectivism Digest, Vol 13, Issue 8