How “We” Achieve Ignorance

Here’s a Facebook thread, featuring arch-Objectivist Robert Mayhew (Philosophy, Seton Hall University, and Board of Directors, Anthem Foundation), discussing a newly-published review in Reason Papers, by Ray Raad, of Harry Binswanger’s book, How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation. In the last of his comments, Mayhew refers to Robert Campbell’s review (sarcastically dubbed a “review”) of Binswanger’s book in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

There it is on display–the vintage ARI-inspired intellectual slovenliness, the reflexive resort to sarcasm, the unargued dogmatism, and the all-consuming desire to poison the well for The Tribe. Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation: res ipsa loquitur.

What an asshole.

8 thoughts on “How “We” Achieve Ignorance

  1. I keep hearing how things are “changing” among certain members of a certain organization. Alas, the cliche applies: ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Nothing of substance has changed. What’s changed is just the PR. They want to build bridges with libertarians because that’s their intended route to power, and want to look academically respectable so as to make their intended inroads into academia. Academics tend to be a little smarter than libertarians about asking why, but there’s enough naivete and cupidity on all sides to facilitate forward motion.

      Mayhew is a paradigmatic example of Objectivist Machiavellianism at its best (or worst)–the malevolent ideological commissar with the respectably academic face. But ultimately, he’s just the worst expression of what is a fundamentally corrupt enterprise.


  2. According to the position that Harry Binswanger takes in the book, a claim made when the claimant has no evidence for it is an arbitrary assertion. And nothing could be worse, in Leonard Peikoff and Harry Binswanger’s take on Objectivist epistemology, than making an arbitrary assertion. “Indulging in the arbitrary” is a traumatizing jolt of unadulterated irrationality, from which those exposed to the assertion may eventually be able to recover—but the assertor will remain beyond hope. I guess some people are exempt from the prohibition.

    Anyone who wants to evaluate my review of Binswanger’s *How We Know* is welcome to do so. Just read Binswanger’s book, and my review, before you do it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I did…but I had an excuse, so it’s not as lame as it seems.

      I know how to take a screenshot on a computer, but not on my phone. As it happens, Carrie-Ann Mayhew deleted the thread from her Carrie-Ann’s Facebook fairly early on. So by the time I thought of writing this post, I could no longer see the original thread on my computer. But for some reason, I could still see it on the Facebook app on my phone. So I got Alison’s phone and took a picture of my phone. Apart from not knowing how to do a screenshot on a cellphone, I also had this superstitious fear that if I did anything to the phone, I would lose the cached version of the Facebook post, and all would be lost. So I gingerly put the phone down, tiptoed into the next room, got her phone, and the rest is history.

      This is one of those cases where pragmatism gets it right, right? It worked, didn’t it? So typical of you Aristotelians, always insisting on some deep logos for everything.

      Truth is, I probably would have taken a picture of my computer screen, too. As I write this, Alison is in the next room yelling about some glitch in her PayPal account. Technology is bullshit, dude.

      OK, I’m going to stop now before I turn into Heidegger.


      • Correction: Carrie-Ann tells me that it was Robert Mayhew who deleted the thread from her Facebook, not her. In fact, she’d never seen the exchange until she saw it here at PoT. I’ve corrected that above.

        I wasn’t aware that a commenter could delete a whole thread from a friend’s Facebook page (including third party responses to one’s comment), but I guess they can: in deleting one’s own comment, you delete all responses to it. It doesn’t seem right, but that’s Facebook for you.

        I love the method, though: first, start an inappropriate line of commentary on someone else’s Facebook; then assume that only sympathetic respondents will respond; then, on seeing the whole thing go south, delete the whole thread without apology or explanation as though nothing had happened. As Facebook behavior, I suppose it’s par for the course. Coming from the editor of Ayn Rand Answers, it’s even more to-be-expected. But I still find myself shaking my head at it–an expression of the naive assumption, I suppose, that higher standards than these exist, and matter.


  3. I’ve read Ray Raad’s review, which I heartily recommend to anyone who is looking for responses to Binswanger’s book. Ray makes a straightforward argument that I wish I’d come up with against the claim that propositions are intensively closed-ended (pp. 92-93). I very much doubt that Harry Binswanger will read Ray’s review. For he will have learned from Robert Mayhew that Ray’s review cites my review, which we already know Binswanger won’t read. Not to mention that Ray Raad and I have both taken Binswanger to task for making use of key ideas from James J. Gibson’s work on perception, without acknowledging David Kelley’s prior use of the same ideas. A deal-breaker unto itself. Nor is Binswanger likely to read two articles on propositions by Roger Bissell, which criticize his proposition theory in depth and propose an alternative to it. And of course he won’t read my forthcoming piece on re-presentations of the doctrine of the arbitrary assertion. My response to Binswanger’s “rant” about the arbitrary, as Ray calls it, was not in my book review, because I was holding it for the new article. (Binswanger, Ben Bayer, and Greg Salmieri have reaffirmed Peikoff’s doctrine and made further mischief with it, while ignoring published criticisms of the doctrine.) What makes Ayn Rand Institute intellectuals different from nearly any other kind? *They don’t read.*

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve read Ray’s review as well, and have a comment on it that I’ll be posting here when I get a chance. It’s on the old Objectivist mantra (mentioned by Ray, and evidently by Binswanger) that consciousness has a “biological” function, so that the Objectivist epistemology and philosophy of mind are somehow distinctively “biological.”

      I agree with everything in your comment but the very last sentence (and the parenthetical, not because I disagree with it, but because I haven’t read the pieces you’re referring to). I don’t think it’s true to say that ARI intellectuals “don’t read,” full stop. If you peruse their bibliographies, it’s very clear that they do read, and read pretty extensively. I don’t think that there’s any point in denying that they’re all highly competent scholars. What they won’t read is anything published in JARS, except as a last resort (e.g., Gotthelf reading Rasmussen on the “choice to live” because it was impossible to avoid doing so). I strongly suspect that Binswanger has read Kelley’s Evidence of the Senses, as it came out before Kelley was condemned by ARI. What he won’t do is cite it. He wants to act as though it doesn’t exist. Allan Gotthelf had certainly read Barbara Branden’s Passion of Ayn Rand. What he wouldn’t do is cite the text by name.

      The explanation is not that they “don’t read” per se, but that they have a skewed moral vision that requires them to de-legitimize certain people on moral grounds. It would be an understatement to say that the task of de-legitimization “extends” to scholarship; that’s primarily where it takes place. The failure or refusal to read would involve a kind of laziness or lack of curiosity in a different kind of person, but the rancor they feel for you and for JARS can’t be explained by way of laziness or incuriosity. It’s moral rancor that arises from specifically moral pathology.

      The people in question are far too intelligent, and far too sophisticated, to “fail” to read JARS because they simply lack the intellectual get-up-and-go to do so. Get-up-and-go is something they have in abundance, and something that falsely convinces them that it’s OK to de-legitimize those they regard as their intellectual/professional inferiors. They refuse to read JARS on “principle.” Having done so, they subsequently have to convince themselves that it’s not worth reading–whether they have the evidence for that belief or not. The inference to “it’s not worth reading” is licensed by one of the Postulates of Pure Objectivist Reason: no apostate or heretic Objectivist can think objectively; hence none of them is worth reading. Robert Campbell and Chris Sciabarra were paradigmatic heretics; I am, I suppose, an apostate. We’re all in the same boat. (Not that this really bothers me, to be honest. I don’t particularly want to be read by them: I only want to be read by people I’d actually like to deal with, and I don’t ever want to deal with any of them again in my life.)

      I spent more than a decade working closely with Allan Gotthelf, listening to him blather about his various ARI colleagues (including both Mayhew and Binswanger) as well as the various people on his shit list. The intensity of his rage against his anti-Objectivist enemies is easy to remember: Sciabarra was well-meaning but delusional; Campbell was delusional and malevolent; Roderick Long was a “fraud” (that one I remember verbatim). That was the Gotthelf line. You can see what it would imply for JARS. The attitude wasn’t “I don’t feel like reading JARS“; it was more like, “I wish the whole thing would burn to the ground.”

      Though I knew Gotthelf better than I knew the others, I have dealt with Binswanger, and have observed Mayhew’s “contributions” from a safe distance. That was enough to grasp that they were or are all peas in a pod. Inedible peas, to be sure, but not many measurements to be omitted between them.


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