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Post 20

Thursday, February 26, 2004 - 12:10pmSanction this postReply
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In all fairness, I did go through a rather rabid anarchist phase when I was an undergraduate, and I count Murray Rothbard as a personal mentor of sorts (having benefited from his encouragement and commentary on my senior honors thesis, for example).

Nevertheless, I do engage in a methodological critique of Rothbard in Total Freedom. Still, I really must protest: I am not an anarchist on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I save those tendencies for the weekends.

Cheers,
Chris

Post 21

Thursday, February 26, 2004 - 3:13pmSanction this postReply
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With regard to the origins of ideas, I would like to relate something, because I think it speaks to many controversies here, and illuminates a central fact about Ayn Rand and those who are drawn to her. It also explains why I do not accept certain arguments offered for believing some thinkers influenced others (although I accept the phenomenon).

My father was an aircraft mechanic, and my mother was an office worker. None of my family or relatives could be said to have any intellectual leanings. Indeed, the higher up in the social ladder our relatives, it seems, the more distant the relation to us. It was only some time after I had discovered THE FOUNTAINHEAD at the age of eighteen (totally on my own--that’s another tale) that I entered university myself. I am still the only one in my immediate family who went beyond high school.

I got my elementary and secondary education in a Roman Catholic school system, and I remember just one contact with secular philosophy in grade school. In some connection, the teacher explained Aristotle’s three laws of logic (Identity, Non-contradiction, Excluded Middle). My reaction was delighted enthusiasm, in contrast to that of my classmates who seemed a bit bemused. To me learning about these laws meant, not a conversion or startling revelation, but a firmer grasp of facts that had been lurking at the edge of my awareness. It was like my mind had had new batteries put in. As Ayn Rand has said, you have to make concepts your own by retracing the important steps by which they were formed, and that is what I did.

Did Aristotle influence my thinking? The notion of “influence” is more useful, in my view, when we are talking about the adoption of highly specific and/or optional styles and procedures. But the laws of logic are the identification of objective facts that underlie all thought; they are an indispensable step in any man’s intellectual development. All persons are looking at the same reality using the same human faculty of consciousness, and it is more accurate to say Aristotle taught me. In every meaningful sense, I arrived at the laws of logic independently; I did not have to, for example, buy into “the logical project” of my milieu.

I did not intend this Aristotle example to illustrate the point I am making; it was supposed to be an aside about my background. But it has turned out to be more relevant than I thought. Anyway, the main story I wanted to tell was this:

One day when I was in my early teens, years before I read THE FOUNTAINHEAD, I was in my bedroom thinking about words and their meanings--I think I knew and used the word “definitions,” but not the word “concepts.” And I remember the moment when I said to myself, “What you do is, you take the ideas that are in the distinguishing things about the word, and YOU LEAVE OUT THE MEASUREMENTS.”

I think the Objectivists here can see the relevance of this anecdote to why I think “influence” is an idea to be used with care, especially when it is fundamental truths and epistemological necessities that are in question.

Rodney Rawlings

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Post 22

Thursday, February 26, 2004 - 3:31pmSanction this postReply
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What a great and lively discussion! I have learned a lot from it.

Certainly, I agree with Tibor that the matter is a complicated one and that a person cannot handle all of the issues in a short piece. My intention was merely to bring up the main issues involved. My goal was to explain some similarities and differences between these two great thinkers. There are some common themes underpinning their worldviews. At a fundamental level they agree on a metanormative role for politics--Rothbard's anarcho-capitalism and Rand's minimal state, natural law,natural rights, and the separation of personal morality from political morality.

Adam, as I said, I only wanted to demonstrate the above basic-level similarities between the two-- not equivocate between them. The way I see it, Rothbard's views are closer to, and, more compatible with, Rand's philosophy than Mises's views are.

Adam, I enjoyed your fine article in JARS in which you argue that the architectures of knowledge in Object-Oriented Programming and in Rand's Objectivism are isomorphic even though the similarities did not result from mutual influences. Both rose from the need to represent knowledge in accordance with the facts of reality. I contend that both Rothbard and Rand were also concerned with basing their views on reality.

My own approach is to search for correct ideas and to promote what is true and right. I believe that there are many ideas in the doctrines of Austrian Economics and Objectivism that are not only true and right, but are also compatible with one another.

My next piece for SOLO is called "Contributions of Post-Randian Philosophers of Human Flourishing". It will look at the view of Doug Den Uyl, Doug Rasmussen, Tibor Machan, and others that I believe improves on Rand's Objectivism. The Philosophy of Human Flourishing can integrate and enhance the traditions of Objectivism and Austrian Economics and provide a more solid foundation and a more unified perspective with respect to understanding the nature and workings of the world. Of course, more work will need to be done. This can occur in an atmosphere of open rational inquiry. We need to be open to further intellectual interaction as there is always more to be learned about reality.

Hey Linz, would you be interested in publishing an expanded version of my forthcoming SOLO piece on Human Flourishing in The Free Radical? :]

To the rest of you, Lindsay and I are on excellent terms and he has published many of my essays. He can disagree with one and still be a good friend! For example, he and Chris Sciabarra have disagreed on virtually every issue and they remain the best of friends!

Cheers!

Ed

Post 23

Thursday, February 26, 2004 - 3:47pmSanction this postReply
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Hey, Ed - give *me* the *un*-expanded version first. Don't tell those naughty boys at SOLOHQ, Jeff & Joe. They are clearly smuggling good articles behind my back before I've had a chance to publish them in hard copy. Damn good flogging is what they need. Mel Gibson will have nothing on Linz the Riled.:-)

As for "For example, he and Chris Sciabarra have disagreed on virtually every issue and they remain the best of friends!" ...

Whaddaya mean, "virtually"??!! :-)

Post 24

Thursday, February 26, 2004 - 11:05pmSanction this postReply
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Ed, thank you for the compliment, but I think that we still disagree about the relative importance of good epistemology in getting at facts. I do not find the parallel with the development of Objectivist epistemology and object-oriented programming persuasive, because it turned out that the two systems were grounded in exactly the same empirically discovered facts. Those facts came mainly from the developmental psychology laboratory of Jean Piaget. Rand got Piaget's facts from the Montessori movement, of which Piaget was a long-time intellectual leader. Alan Kay got the same facts from Piaget's collaborator Seymour Papert. Rand and Kay were led to the same result by he primacy of reality, and by the method that the primacy of reality requires: get the data from observations and experiments first, then build your theory on this foundation of facts, and take every available opportunity to check your conclusions against additional observations and experiments, and don't hesitate to change your premises when your conclusions from a previous set of premises contradict a newly obtained fact.

I think that Rothbard has been a pernicious influence against the development of real objective economics, because bad epistemology led him to disparage the necessity for grounding (and constantly re-grounding) theoretical thought in observations, experiments, and quantitative measurement of the actual facts of reality. He just picks a set of premises that seem adequately "obvious", and builds a huge edifice of theory without any further reality checks. The trouble is that some of those "obvious" premises have turned out to be false. And at least one of those premises - that subjective preferences are not amenable to linear measurement - was actually known to be false, thanks to good lab work, even before Rothbard started building his theoretical pyramid.

In the course of radar development during WW2, engineers invented a method for measuring radar signals hidden in noise (signal detection theory, or STD.) Around 1954, experimental psychologists discovered that SDT could be used for linear measurement of subjective intensities. Any subjective intensities, potentially including the intensity of subjective preferences. But then, largely thanks to the influence of Mises and Rothbard and their followers, it became a universally accepted assumption in libertarian and Objectivist circles that subjective preferences cannot be measured on a linear scale. I once responded to an argument based on this assumption in another Objectivist forum, and pointed to SDT. The poster, an eminent academic psychologist, wrote that of course, one might be able to use SDT for linear measurement of the intensity of subjective preferences. He knew SDT, and had first taught it in his courses two or three decades earlier. The intuitive "obviousness" of Rothbard's assumption had somehow blinded him to the contradiction until it was explicitly pointed out.

I am not an economist, but I think that good objective economics will start with the deconstruction of the false dichotomy - the "dustbowl empiricism" of today's "mainstream economics" versus Austrian apriorism. An real objective economics will integrate observation and measurement with quantitative theory of distributed self-organizing systems, genetic algorithms, and the many valuable theoretical contributions of Mises, Rothbard etc. Rand's epistemological legacy points in the direction of this kind of integration. Rothbard's does not.

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Post 25

Friday, February 27, 2004 - 8:06pmSanction this postReply
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Linz said: "If Rothbard were alive, he'd be a Saddamite, joining Chomsky in railing against US "imperialism." The anarchists argue that Rand would have been a Saddamite as well. Funny that."

"Rothbardians, anarchists, Saddamites et al should leave poor Ayn alone & not try to enlist her to their cause - which they know she wouldn't join - when she's in no position to protest."

The quote above raises a very interesting question - one which I think deserves comment - even though it is outside the main theme of this thread.

I was acutely aware - leading up to the war on Iraq - that there was a philosophical rift appearing in the ranks of self-confessed Objectivists, and those who considered themselves aligned with Objectivism.

I was personally horrified at the prospect of war with Iraq, and saw it as a manifestation of the worst excesses of state power. I felt I was living in Orwell’s world - with my eyes and ears bombarded by the inanities of the "Ministry of Truth". I simply didn’t believe the words spewing forth from politicians’ mouths.

So, it was a great shock to find I was in the minority - amongst those who admire Ayn Rand and her philosophy - by being against this wretched war. I couldn’t understand how anyone, who claimed to share the same underlying philosophical convictions, could disagree about something as fundamental as the rightness or wrongness of the war on Iraq.

I spent a lot of time thinking this over - and examining the logical conclusions of my own presumed beliefs.

In the end, I was compelled to admit to myself that I am in fact an anarchist. This quite shocked me, as I had never explicitly thought so before - and certainly never acknowledged such to myself.

I also discovered I was virtually on my own - for, contrary to what Linz says above, I now firmly believe that Ayn Rand would have been a supporter of the war, like most of the people on this forum.

Like most of you, I was a committed supporter of the concept of constitutionally limited government - politically a "libertarian". It seemed obvious to me - and rational.

The Iraq war changed all that.

I saw an immovable contradiction in the fact that so-called Objectivists were in many cases on separate sides of the "war" fence. I was not content to let this lie as simply a matter of personal taste. To me it was an indication of something fundamental - and it needed explaining, at least to myself.

I think I know the answer.

I have come to the conclusion that Rand was wrong in her declared support for the minimal state.

The state is that entity which is supposed to have a monopoly on the use of defensive force in a geographically defined area. However, it cannot fulfil this role without also initiating force. For it must use such force to squash any pretenders to its throne - in the provision of so-called government services (even if citizens want such, and voluntarily organise amongst themselves to provide the same).

Consequently, there is no such thing as a state which doesn’t initiate force. The fact it has a monopoly on the legal use of force, simply leads it to abuse its monopoly position.

The very concept of a minimal state is flawed. It is an attempt to find a compromise between statism and voluntarism - between the "political" and "voluntary" means of social organisation.

And, as in any compromise between good and evil, it is always evil that wins.

Statism evil? Yes, absolutely. It is the belief that the best way to organise society is via the political process - which ultimately means "at the point of a gun".

If the US state didn’t have the power to tax its citizens (initiation of force) for the purposes of waging war - then I can confidently declare this ill-conceived war would not have proceeded.

If it had been left up to individual Americans to weigh up the evidence, and "vote with their pockets" by personally and voluntarily coughing up, or not, the billions of dollars needed - then I am convinced common sense would have seen the vast majority of Americans saying "no" - and using their money for something eminently more worthwhile.

To be in support of the war (financed at the point of a gun) is an admission that being a “minimal statist” is no protection against the virus of statism - which can only end up leading to full blown tyranny.

The great American experiment itself is proof of that. It started out, on paper, as a limited government - based on a recognition of the rights of the individual. A first in human history, and a marvellous achievement. But look how fast it has degenerated to statism and the consequent relentless abrogation of individual rights.

The America of today is a far cry from what the Founding Fathers envisaged.

Those who supported the war on Iraq were mesmerised by what the USA 'stood for" - historically - not what it has become. They have confused its founding principles and its people with the government - which is now a statist behemoth.

Not facing up to this fact, is simply running around with blinkers on.

I now realise that even a grain of statism will grow to a full grown tree - regardless of praiseworthy constitutions and good intentions. For within the "limited government" idea is the seed of corruption and downfall - the justification for the initiation of force. Sure, in small things at first, but forever expanding in scope and power.

The minimalist state will never happen, it can never survive. It is, by definition, impossible. Even if it was possible to start or vote for such a state, it would be doomed to ultimate failure and degenerate, over time, into an omnipotent state.

For any self-respecting individualist - the spectacle of the American people, being goaded into war via the most powerful propaganda the world has ever seen (and the most voracious global tax system in history), should be more than one can bare. But apparently it isn’t

It’s certainly more than I can bare.

I see the beast - and its essence is contained in that very first acceptance, for whatever reason, of the initiation of force.

Yes, I asked myself whether Ayn Rand would have supported this war. And I fervently wanted to believe that she would not have. But I now know she would. Her acceptance of it was already in place - by the acceptance of the idea of "limited" government.

So, the division between the pro-war and antiwar Objectivists and libertarians is best explained, in my opinion, by this issue of minimal state vs no state. The philosophical base of each position gives rise to a completely different reaction to the legitimacy, or otherwise, of the war on Iraq.

Anarchists and "closet" anarchists were and are against this war. Limited statists as well as "unlimited" statists are for it.

Check your premises.

As for me, I’m now an Anarchist - and proud of it.

Post 26

Saturday, February 28, 2004 - 1:27amSanction this postReply
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I'm for the war? Well, thanks for lettin' me know, David! :)

Post 27

Saturday, February 28, 2004 - 3:23amSanction this postReply
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David, I'm a minarchist, but I was also against the invasion of Iraq.

Post 28

Saturday, February 28, 2004 - 5:29amSanction this postReply
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Here’s a good place for my “short answer” to the anarchist position: What quarrel can you have with the present state of affairs? What we have is a situation where various governments have competed successfully.

Rodney

Post 29

Tuesday, November 2, 2004 - 2:39pmSanction this postReply
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rodney wrote:
What quarrel can you have with the present state of affairs? What we have is a situation where various governments have competed successfully.
But tell me, have the states in our history respected peoples liberty? Or have they forced people into dealing with them on their terms? When a government forces you to deal with it, just because you happen to be in the geographical area that it has by its whims declared it owns (that is its monopoly), it has become a tyrant. Why? Because it forced you to deal with it. And what happens when we accept tyranny, no matter the amount, is much better described by David in his earlier post, it expands.
A proper government respect its peoples liberty to associate/disassociate with it or form their own governments.

To belive that a monopoly is desirable in the production of security, is to belive that communism is a better form for its production, then capitalism.


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Post 30

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 - 7:53pmSanction this postReply
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There's a lot more about Rand and Austrian economics in the Spring 2005 issue of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies:

http://www.aynrandstudies.com/jars/v6_n2/6_2toc.asp

Getting to Adam's main point, though, about the linear measurement of preferences:

In the course of radar development during WW2, engineers invented a method for measuring radar signals hidden in noise (signal detection theory, or SDT.) Around 1954, experimental psychologists discovered that SDT could be used for linear measurement of subjective intensities. Any subjective intensities, potentially including the intensity of subjective preferences. But then, largely thanks to the influence of Mises and Rothbard and their followers, it became a universally accepted assumption in libertarian and Objectivist circles that subjective preferences cannot be measured on a linear scale. I once responded to an argument based on this assumption in another Objectivist forum, and pointed to SDT. The poster, an eminent academic psychologist, wrote that of course, one might be able to use SDT for linear measurement of the intensity of subjective preferences. He knew SDT, and had first taught it in his courses two or three decades earlier. The intuitive "obviousness" of Rothbard's assumption had somehow blinded him to the contradiction until it was explicitly pointed out.

Hmm...  I seem to recall a discussion of Signal Detection Theory and subjective intensities on OWL, back in September or October of 2002.  I did participate in it, and I am an academic psychologist... though I must confess that my degree of eminence is subject to debate.

Some well known theories of decision-making require there to be a single dimension of "utility," or judged goodness or badness--and require that there be cardinal or ratio-scale measurement of values along that single dimension.

If the assumption of cardinal measurement of utility (measurement using a numerical scale, where "utiles" function like grams in measuring weight) is false, then these theories of decision-making must also be false.

Rothbard (and before him, Mises) denied that subjective preferences will allow measurement on more than an ordinal scale (a rank ordering from what is most preferred to what is least preferred, which does not support judgments of "how much more" or "how many times").  Rand seems to have accepted this assumption.  And as far as I can determine, ancient ethical theorists (Aristotelians, Epicureans, Stoics, etc.) made the same assumption.

There have been a few applications of Signal Detection Theory along the lines that Adam has suggested. Whether they will lead to widespread ratio-scale measurement of subjective preferences is an empirical question.  After Adam pointed out the relevance of SDT to me, I read a couple of articles concerning applications of SDT to taste preferences.  It remains unclear to me whether the results can be replicated and the overall approach will scale up.

But the way you find out about such things is by trying them.  You don't rule them out a priori.  That was the fundamental point that Adam was making.

Robert Campbell









 



Post 31

Thursday, August 11, 2005 - 7:24amSanction this postReply
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Thank you for resurrecting this topic. (Should this be a new thread?)

I'm interested in knowing if any SDT references address any of the following:
1) Interpersonal comparisons (e.g. Mill's GHP's one-man-one-unit assumption): It seems to me that the intensity of emotion must be affected by habituation, such that attempting to compare measurements of, say, a billionaire and a pauper would yield inconsistent results, especially concerning measures of value. Moreover, is it possible to normalize baseline differences in intensity, especially if one person may value life far more intensely than another? And how would evolution fit into this?
2) Fluctuations: It is obvious that desires intensify and fade over the course of even a day, yet pinning long-term preferences on any one measurement, or on any arbitrarily-weighted set of measurements, would yield arbitrary results. How would desires be weighted to reflect time preference? How would you compare a preference for death in an emergency or high-value situation with the alternative years of non-zero happiness as measured?
3) Multidimensionality: If happiness depends on a balance of incommensurate desires, does it make sense to collapse them to one dimension? How would one then tease out the components relevant to a set of decisions having different bases but a combined effect?
4) Inconsistency: If it takes conscious effort to make a set of desires consistent, even with a generally-correct view of reality, why wouldn't happiness, subjectively obvious or at least available, lead automatically to consistent preferences, when not repressed?
5) Apprehension of reality: Of what use would the measurement of happiness be in any socioethical or political realm, except in the vaguest way -- for which measurement would likely add nothing to the intuitively obvious?
6) Drugs and disease: Wouldn't mind-altering drugs and diseases affect signal intensity? What justification would there be for discounting this?

I think there is ample basis for putting the burden of proof on those who assert that SDT might measure happiness and thus value. As this seems related to the repeated attempts to refute Mises's assertion of the impossibility of rational calculation under socialism, success seems highly improbable.


Post 32

Saturday, April 14 - 8:52pmSanction this postReply
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A blast from the past...  The discussion is within the strictures of academic philosophy and all points are interesting to consider on their own merits. However, no one identified the essential differences. The failure of Austrian economics is that it is devoid of personal morality, whereas personal morality is central to Objectivism. While both agree that you should have a political right to "do whatever you want" (as long as you do not  engage in aggression against others), to Objectivism, that is merely a secondary consequence of personal morality, of living a life as "man qua man."  

 

 

Ed Younkins: "At a fundamental level they agree on a metanormative role for politics--Rothbard's anarcho-capitalism and Rand's minimal state, natural law, natural rights, and the separation of personal morality from political morality.

 

1. I do not know what "metanormative" means. Does it mean "setting standards for standards"? 

2. For Ayn Rand, there was no separation of personal and political morality. The contradiction originates in reversing cause and effect: a personally moral individual does not engage in political immorality even though a politically moral person can be personally immoral.  Objectivism recognizes that you could be "politically moral" establishing a voluntary communist society, but it would be personally immoral to participate in one. Murray Rothbard never addressed issues of personal morality. For an Austrian economist, whether an individual seeks their highest ideal or not is irrelevant. All that matters to the Austrians is that economic action be unrestrained, even to the point of anarchy. An Austrian could evaluate the markets for mafia hit men without ever questioning its morality.

 

Murray Rothbard's A History of Money and Banking in the United States: The Colonial Era to World War II was flawed in its details, lacking in important evidence, and a scissors-and-paste republication of The Suffolk System. His monograph, What Has Government Done to Our Money was similarly an emotional ideological special pleading that (1) charged all increases in purchasing power of money caused by expanding trade and productivity against government "inflation" and "debasement" and (2) ignored fundamental facts about competing currencies known even to numismatic hobbyists, which any active academic should have unconcovered with a workmanlike literature search. (See Murrary Rothbard: Fraud or Faker? on my blog, as well as Numismatics: The Standard of Proof in Economics.)  See also Fractional Money: A History of Small Coins and Fractional Paper Currency in the United States by Neil Carothers (John Wiley & Sons, 1930; reprinted by Bowers and Merena, 1988.)  



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Post 33

Sunday, April 15 - 6:07amSanction this postReply
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If I go into the business of producing shoes and I mess it up, producing something that does not even deserve to be called "shoes", for the most part people will be harmed to the extent that they or someone they depend on voluntarily involved themselves with my "shoe" business in some way.  The same is true if for "shoes" we substitute "milk" or "video games" or "IT services" or almost any other good or service.  This limits who can be harmed and how they can be harmed, and it gives people a reasonable way of protecting themselves and those that depend on them, by being careful what businesses they involve themselves with.

 

If I go into the business of producing justice (a wording I have seen in anarcho-capitalist writings) and I mess it up, producing something that does not even deserve to be called "justice", someone who has not involved themselves with my "justice" business in any way may be very grievously harmed, if I wrongly brand them an aggressor.

 

While this is not a complete proof, I think it captures the essence of why producing justice has to be handled differently from producing other things.



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