Lindsay Perigo
Lindsay Perigo

The Free Radical Online - Perigo vs. Nola

Four: Perigo Responds

Among the fascinating things about Robert Nola's latest response are the questions he dodges & the tangents he goes off on. Suddenly Ayn Rand's letters to John Hospers are introduced, with Rand being described by Nola as a "bloody fool" in these letters. It might be instructive to reproduce exactly what Hospers himself says:

"I am afraid the reader who read what Ayn wrote to me, and not what I wrote to her, would gather that I was a bloody fool. I daresay that in some ways I was, yet not so much as one would get the impression of from the letters." (Italics mine.)

It's interesting that Rand's being a "bloody fool" went undetected by Hospers, who to this day speaks glowingly of her intellect, innovativeness & impact (see, for example, Full Context magazine, June 1998). But back to the matters at hand. Rather than answer my questions, Dr Nola simply repairs to the injunction: read modern logic (i.e. "nonsense modelled on logic," as I described it last time). What is it in modern logic, I wonder (kidding), that makes it impossible for Robert to answer these questions quickly & succinctly:

1) How could we establish the validity of logical procedures like the syllogism without reference to facts in the first instance? — e.g., in the famous Socrates syllogism, without the factuality of the premises, "All men are mortal" and "Socrates is a man"? Engage in whatever flights of fantasy you wish to, after the validity of the procedure has been so established, but please acknowledge that without facts to start with the validity of the procedure could not have been established! (This is because words, contrary to Nola's modern nonsense, do have referents in reality. He hasn't got to this yet, but it's coming!)

2) Why, if "the certification of the rules of [modern] logic is not done by an appeal to reality" would modern "logic" declare invalid the syllogism: "My fax machine is a knife; my hard drive is a fork; I can eat a meal with my fax machine & hard drive"? — i.e. what possible exception can be taken to two false premises leading to a false conclusion if such reality-driven trifles as "truth" and "falsity" don't matter ( in which case why does Robert invoke them repeatedly — does he indeed distinguish between factual truths & logical truths?!)? Leaving aside that there may be some omitted premises in that syllogism that we may designate as "understood" & could reinsert if necessary, why would modern "logic," which revels in nonsense, rule it invalid, as long as the two bits of nonsense were "logically" linked up in the equally nonsensical conclusion? Does not modern "logic," in other words, accept the procedure of false premise/false premise/false conclusion as "valid" in certain cases (and the conclusion as logically true ... guffaw)? Yes or no, Dr Nola, not a lengthy treatise beginning "It depends what you mean by the word 'as.' "

3) While we're about it, how would modern "logic" go on a true/false/true or a false/true/true syllogism like: "Robert Nola is a dog (false); all dogs are mortal (true); therefore Robert Nola is mortal (true)." If "certification from reality" is not required, this one surely has to rock!!

Come on, Robert, get your head out of those silly books, stop invoking your Gurus & give us your own clear, non-obfuscating answer! And while you're about it, have a crack at answering Rand's question to John Hospers, since you describe her formula "A is A" as "naive":

4) "What, if not 'A is A,' gives any validity to 'All A is B, all B is C, therefore all A is C'?"

And come out of the closet on the logical/factual (analytic/synthetic) distinction. You say, "Perigo thinks I am a devotee of the distinction, but I have said nothing about it in our exchange." Well ...

5) ... are you or are you not?! (We already know you are — you'll feel a lot better if you can bring yourself to acknowledge it!)

Nola hints that he might not be, by claiming the imprimatur of the egregious Willard Quine, & says in effect, "Quine is opposed to the analytic/synthetic distinction, so there — I just might be too!" Well, Quine's "refutation" of the idea of an inherent difference between analytic & synthetic truths reduces to: any statement may be regarded as an analytic truth if we "manipulate" the words it contains in the right way! No need to cross-check with reality here: what is reality after all? As one of Quine's admirers paraphrases him: "All statements are theoretical, and any theoretical statement can be held immune from refutation by sense experience." "In point of epistemological footing," says Quine, physical objects and the gods of Homer "differ only in degree and not in kind. Both sorts of entities enter our conception only as cultural posits. The myth of physical objects is epistemologically superior to most in that it has proved more efficacious than other myths as a device for working a manageable structure into the flux of experience." (Italics mine).

This is not a refutation of anything — it is simply garbage. The kind of numbingly pretentious, stupid, sophistic hocus-pocus that makes it exasperatingly clear what Ayn Rand was talking about when, in discussing Linguistic Analysis, she said: "The detailed discussions of inconsequential minutiae — the discourses on trivia picked at random and in midstream, without base, content or conclusion — the countering of the question: What is the meaning of philosophy? with: Which sense of 'meaning' do you mean?, followed by a discourse on twelve possible uses of the word 'meaning,' by which time the question is lost — and above all, the necessity to shrink one's focus to the range of a flea's, and to keep it there — will cripple the best of minds, if it attempts to comply." (Italics mine)

Perhaps her home truths are what impel Robert to resort to ad hominem. He cites Ronald Merrill to back up his claim that "Randians are cultists." Here is what Merrill actually concludes: "That hotbeds of cultism existed I do not deny, though I never happened to encounter them. That the movement itself was a cult is simply not true." (Italics mine.) If Nola read the rest of Merrill, he would know that, in the eyes of many Objectivists (including myself), the movement did degenerate, not into a cult, but into tribalism, after Rand's death — which is why the alternative Institute for Objectivist Studies was formed.

And so to the ethical question: given that both Robert & I would condemn the behaviour of the Red Guards, and that I know my grounds for doing so, on what grounds would he do so?

Oh my giddy Kant! What a smorgasbord of subjectivism (or its side-kick, intrinsicism) Nola dishes up in response:

- a "moral sense" (?? — is this some Platonic mystic insight whereby "to those who know, no explanation is necessary; to those who don't know, no explanation is possible"?!);

- the Kantian universalisability principle (universalisable by reference to what standard?);

- Adam Smith's unconditional empathy for all (the Red Guards??);

- the utilitarian pleasure/pain calculus (what about sado-masochism?);

- theories of virtue & vice that have no standard of virtue & vice ...

"Pick any of the above!" says Robert. No thanks, if you don't mind! (But again, Robert, don't be coy — which one do you pick from this subjectivist morass? All of them have something to say, you say? Which one tells us, objectively, why the Red Guards were immoral?)

Nozick destroyed Rand's own answer of "life as the standard of value" says Nola. Well Robert, open your Merrill at Pg 118 & you'll see a nifty little debunking of Nozick on this very matter!

In conclusion, I am indebted to Robert for his real-life, modern-day illustration of subjectivism in epistemology leading straight to subjectivism in ethics. This, let us remind ourselves, is what passes for philosophy in this very sorry age. I am now persuaded that the situation is even worse than I portrayed in my original article, Objective Philosophy, which sparked this debate.

On a more edifying note, by contrast, here's another passage from Merrill:

"A hundred years from now, if civilisation survives its present crises, Rand will be seen as a giant among twentieth century thinkers. Not only will Objectivism be recognised as a major contribution to philosophical thought; not only will Rand's ideas be accepted as correct; but very likely our whole way of thinking about philosophy will have changed. Philosophy will be to every thinking person what it was to Rand: not an abstruse subject roughly comparable to Latin grammar in interest & importance, but the fundamental source of right thinking & right action, of crucial, everyday importance."

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