Natural Law Libertarianism in Two Flavours

My two latest Agoric Café videos:

In the first one, I chat with philosopher Eric Mack about walking out on Ayn Rand, clashing with Nazi Sikhs in Seneca Falls, libertarian rights theory, Kantian vs. Aristotelean approaches to fixing Randian ethics, Nozickian polymathy, the unselfishness of Samuel Johnson, the ethics of COVID lockdowns, physical distancing in Durango, the CIA as an argument against anarchism, shoving someone in front of a bus as a form of restitution, and the edibility of matter.

In the second video, I chat with philosopher Gary Chartier about Robin Hood, left-wing market anarchism, natural law, free speech and employer power, libertarian secularism, Seventh-day Adventism, religious epistemology, long-arc television, urban fantasy, Lawrence Durrell, Iris Murdoch, Whit Stillman, the evils of giving extra credit and taking attendance, and the attractions of being emperor.

More Tubes for the Rubes

I have three more videos posted on my YouTube channel. The first one focuses on the connection between philosophical thought experiments (from Plato’s Ring of Gyges to Judith Jarvis Thomson’s defense of abortion) and science-fiction (and fantasy) literature.

In the next one, I discuss the distinction between markets and capitalism as drawn in the 1919 textbook THE ABC OF COMMUNISM (written by two Soviet apparatchiks, Nikolai Bukharin and Yevgeny Preobrazhensky), as well as in the Marxist tradition generally, with attention to how Marxism twists itself into a pretzel to avoid endorsing free-market anti-capitalism.

Finally, in my first video interview for my YouTube channel, I chat with philosopher Neera K. Badhwar about backyard buffaloes, wild attack monkeys, Ayn Rand, airline deregulation, eudaimonia and virtue, paternalism and suicide, sociopathic grandmothers, child abuse, Aristotelean business ethics, 19th-century robber barons, charitable Objectivists, friendly Manhattanites, charismatic nationalist leaders, and national health care. In more or less that order.

Coronavirus Diary (19): This Isn’t John Galt Speaking

The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not: it depends on a specific course of action. Matter is indestructible, it changes its forms, but it cannot cease to exist. It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. If an organism fails in that action, it dies…

–Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics”

Imagine a version of Atlas Shrugged in which the Taggart Tunnel disaster involves a causal process driven primarily by Mother Nature, and what goes off the rails is not a train but a health care system. Now imagine that the hero of the piece is not a shadowy figure like John Galt but the functional (not moral) equivalent of Dr. Robert Stadler. Now imagine that a retreat to Galt’s Gulch is a physical impossibility. If, for some readers, this requires a re-conceptualization of how the world works, maybe a lot of other things do, too. Continue reading

“The Reason That Makes You Afraid of It”

The title of this book may evoke the kind of question that I hear once in a while: “Why do you use the word ‘selfishness’ to denote virtuous qualities of character, when that word antagonizes so many people to whom it does not mean the things you mean?”

To those who ask it, my answer is: “For the reason that makes you afraid of it.”

–Ayn Rand, “Introduction,” The Virtue of Selfishness

Apropos of selfishness, a snippet from my Phil 100 class today, devoted to discussing J.W. Davis et al, “Aggressive Traffic Enforcement: A Simple and Effective Injury Prevention Program,” Journal of Trauma 60:5 (May 2006). Continue reading

Atlas Shrugs–Gradually and In Reverse

From a news release by the New Jersey Department of Transportation:

(Trenton) – New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) officials announced today the start of a railroad crossing rehabilitation project that will require a seven-day closure and detour of John Galt Way to start tomorrow in Florence, Burlington County.

Beginning at 7 a.m., Friday, October 4, until 7 p.m., Friday, October 18, John Galt Way will be closed and detoured in both directions at the railroad crossing between Richards Run and Route 130/Bordentown Road to remove the existing crossing and replace it with a new concrete crossing, as well as new asphalt approaches.

I don’t know, I feel like there’s something off about this.

Useful back story.

Reason, Naturalism, and Free Will

People familiar with Objectivism will remember an old article by Nathaniel Branden titled, “The Contradiction of Determinism,” (Objectivist Newsletter, May 1963). In it, he argues, not that the doctrine of free will is true, nor that determinism is false. Rather, he argues that if determinism is true, we cannot know it. And the reason we can’t know it is that, if determinism is true, no knowledge is possible at all.

The argument is that knowledge must be validated by a process of reason. Our suppositions about the world are not self-certifying. The mere presence of an idea in your mind does not establish that it is true. Therefore, we have to evaluate our suppositions about the world by means of sensory evidence and other tests, such as coherence. This must be done by a process of reason. But the process of reason cannot be realized by merely mechanical causation of the sort that is expressed by causal laws. Causal laws determine that a certain sort of event results in consequence of a certain sort of prior event, and this sort of determination is entirely different from that of seeing reasons or recognizing logical connections.

Continue reading

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.

More on Aesthetics: Nietzsche, Postmodernism, Dewey, and Ayn Rand

A few brief conversations on aesthetics with Anoop Verma: Nietzsche on the idea of “giving style to one’s character“; postmodern art and postmodern philosophy; and Dewey’s philosophy of aesthetics.

Though my promises obviously mean nothing, I’m hoping to post a series of critical reflections here on Ayn Rand’s aesthetics. Of course, having put that hope in print, it’s now likely that I’ll end up reneging or backsliding on my quasi-commitment, and say nothing at all on the subject. But having re-read Rand’s Romantic Manifesto for the first time in several years, I’m struck by how frankly awful a book I find it–much worse than I did on my last reading in 2014, when my marginal notes, though highly critical of Rand’s claims, were not as dismissive of them as I now feel. Right now, I’m having a hard time understanding how anyone could take the book seriously.

So if you think it should be taken seriously, feel free to convince me when the time comes. I’d like to think that there’s more there than meets the eye, but right now, I’m not seeing it. At the moment, The Romantic Manifesto strikes me as one of the worst books of its kind (of any kind) that I’ve ever read.

My War Against America

Almost thirty years ago, as a callow Rand-intoxicated undergraduate, I bought Ayn Rand’s collection The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought, opening with breathless anticipation to Leonard Peikoff’s anti-academic rant, “Assault from the Ivory Tower: The Professors’ War Against America.” This passage briefly arrested my attention:

If you want still more, turn to art – for instance, poetry – as it is taught today in our colleges. For an eloquent example, read the widely used Norton’s Introduction to Poetry, and see what modern poems are offered to students alongside the recognized classics of the past as equally deserving of study, analysis, respect. One typical entry, which immediately precedes a poem by Blake, is entitled “Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane.” The poem begins: “Hard Rock was ‘known not to take no shit / From nobody’ …’ and continues in similar vein throughout. This item can be topped only by the volume’s editor, who discusses the poem reverently, explaining that it has a profound social message: “the despair of the hopeless.” Just as history is what historians say, so art today is supposed to be whatever the art world endorses, and this is the kind of stuff it is endorsing. After all, the modernists shrug, who is to say what’s really good in art? Aren’t Hard Rock’s feelings just as good as Tennyson’s or Milton’s?

Two things struck me at the time about this passage: Continue reading

Reason Papers 39:2 Out (Winter 2017 Issue)

The latest issue of Reason Papers is now out–Volume 39, Number 2 (Winter 2017). The issue includes a symposium on Tara Smith’s Judicial Review in an Objective Legal System, as well as Part II of a symposium on Den Uyl and Rasmussen’s newest book, The Perfectionist Turn. There’s also a revised version of a piece I posted here at PoT on teaching Osama bin Laden’s “Letter to the Americans” (scroll all the way down to “Afterwords”). And other stuff as well–psychological egoism, Nozick on patterned theories of justice, interviews with Nazi filmmakers, commentary on a theatrical production of Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead. Enjoy.  Continue reading