The Free Radical Online - Perigo vs. Nola

Three: Robert Nola Responds

Those fed only on a diet of Ayn Rand's jejune epistemology will never understand modern logic since she never understood it herself. In Letters of Ayn Rand (edited by M. Berliner) there is a section called 'Letters to a Philosopher'. The philosopher is John Hospers, a one-time associate of Rand; he is a professionally trained philosopher and wrote a classic text An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis. Hospers permitted Rand's letters to him to be published, but editor Berliner clearly did not want to publish any of Hospers' replies to Rand. As a condition of publication Hospers insisted that a protest note be added saying that without his letters her misunderstandings of him would go uncorrected and, given only her replies, he would appear a 'bloody fool' (p. 502). However for those who know logic Rand is the 'bloody fool' in the exchanges.

From the letters Hospers clearly tried, unsuccessfully, to show that logical principles cannot be deduced from her naive formula 'A is A'. Readers who wish to know more about logic should consult any text by W. V. Quine who says (of classical propositional logic): a logical formula is a tautology if and only if it always remains true for any values of true or false for the component propositions, valid arguments being a subclass of tautologies. (First year students learn this through working out 'truth tables'.) This has little to do with what is real and everything to do with the invariance of validity under varying conditions of truth and falsity for premises and conclusion. The definition can be extended to other logics of which Lindsay Perigo's arguments are examples. For those wanting more, the classical definition of logical consequence (which Quine adopts) can be found in the logical writings of Alfred Tarski.

Why cite Quine? Well, he is an excellent logician. And he does not accept the analytic-synthetic distinction. So his definition of a tautology and valid argument is guaranteed independent of that dreaded (!) distinction. Perigo, like all Randians, has a phobia about the distinction. But a little reading of Hospers will afford some relief. Perigo thinks I am a devotee of the distinction; but I have said nothing about it in our exchange.

As for Perigo's argument in which he tries to prove from false premises the false conclusion that he has eaten a meal with his fax machine and modem — it is invalid. Why? Study some first year logic!

Perigo complains that I debased the currency of the debate by referring to Randians as 'cultists' and 'Objectivist thought police'. Well, the currency was already devalued in Perigo's first reply in which he pulls an old trick of using an example of an argument which at the same time attempts to cast aspersions on his opponent.

Are Randians cultists? The split between Rand and her ex-lover and ex-disciple Nathaniel Branden revealed it to be so for many. Ronald Merrill in his The Ideas of Ayn Rand tries to steer a non-partisan course but does report that several ex-disciples described 'the Objectivist movement as a snake-pit of cultism, emotional repression and thought control' (p 3). Merrill cites Peikoff and Binswanger as her "'official' successors" (p. 179) — which smacks of the Papacy, or the succession of Muslim Imans. For those who need to pray in the Rand Church (e.g., those who pepper their prose with citings of Rand scripture) this succession of 'authorities' would be reassuring. But the juicy scandal of the schism aside, ideas should be assessed independently of the antics of those who hold them.

And now for something completely different! In his final paragraph Perigo abandons the topic of logic and shifts to the important but contested issue about whether ethical values are objective or subjective. Ethical objectivity is not to be guaranteed by attempting to subvert the principle that one cannot derive 'values from facts'. Nor is it correct to say that 'philosophy has thrown in the towel on this'. Just consult recent "state of the art" books such as Peter Singer (ed) Companion to Ethics, especially the articles by Rachels on subjectivism, Wong on relativism, Smith on realism (or, if the Randians want, objectivism but with a little 'o'), and so on; each is a careful assessor of what is wrong with subjectivism and relativism. If philosophers cannot even get their message on logic through to Randians, what hope have they of converting the mass of subjectivists and relativists that always seem to be with us!

Why is it immoral for the Red Guards to beat up on people if they hold different ideas? Those with any moral sense will know; and ethical theories can tell us why. Thus Kant, who tried to found ethics on principles of rationality, would have us universalise the maxim of the Guards' action in order to show that it could not be consistently applicable to all and that they would have to make exceptions of themselves — i.e., 'don't do to me what I do to you' (but Randians despise Kant's philosophy). Adam Smith would invite us to assess their acts from the stance of an impartial judge fully appraised of, and fully empathising with, all in the situation. Utilitarians would have us assess acts on the overall ratio of pleasure and suffering they bring about. Virtue theories would have us investigate the virtues, vices and motives involved in such action and the kind of person one would therefore be. J. S. Mill would tell the Red Guards about the scope of freedom of speech and thought. And so on. Even Perigo hints at some reasons up his sleeve. So pick any of the above — each tells us something about Red Guard immorality.

All of the above are (small 'o') objectivist moral theories and none appeal to God, one's impulses or the Government (!). Nor are they subjectivist, relativist or nihilist. They also rule out egoism and selfishness, notions Rand herself advocates — but confusingly tells us she does not give them their conventional meaning! I am sure Rand would also object to the Red Guards. But does she have a viable moral theory? She attempted to deduce her preferred values from life. But the deduction fails, as Robert Nozick, a philosopher whose political theory was once similar to Rand's, has shown (see the USA Objectivist's publication The Personalist, 1971).

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