Lord of the Trolls


by Nick Land
http://www.xenosystems.net/lord-of-the-trolls/

Note: This sounds an interesting model for the Libertarian Alliance to follow. I could dress up in funny robes and go about chanting “Tutenda est Libertas,” or whatever. We might also get a younger and better-looking class of subscribers for the Executive Committee to seduce. Or we might just get some more paying subscribers. SIG (High Lord of the Spamming Lists)

Lord of the Trolls

Mark Shea might not quite be the most ludicrous idiot alive (judge for yourself), but he earnestly shares the following warning with his readers. I’m putting the whole story here, because Shea’s credulity about it is so radically humiliating I can only assume he’ll want to take it down.

The Dark Enlightenment Exposed

I first heard about the Dark Enlightenment (aka “Neo-Reaction” or just “Reaction”) last year, the year after I graduated from college and was interning at a conservative think tank. I briefly become involved with the Dark Enlightenment and then left the movement in disgust. Here is what I learned:

- The Dark Enlightenment is controlled by what the media call “Sith Lords”. You have more public Lords like Mencius Moldbug and Nick Land, but there are even some Lords up higher whose names are not revealed. They say the Master Lord says ‘Et Ego in Arcadia’ which is an anagram for ‘Tego Arcana Dei’ (“I hide the secrets of God”).

- But only the media call them ‘Sith Lords’. In Inner Speak, they will often use phrases like the Men of Númenor or the Eldars.

- I never met any of the higher Eldars, but I did once meet an Eldar in Training. I don’t know his real name but people called him Legolas. He had long blond hair, was dressed like a 19th century count, and wore a pendant that had both a Christian Cross and Thor’s Hammer on it.

- The movement is a weird mixture of ethno-nationalists, futurists, monarchists, PUAs (“pick-up artists” like Chateau Heartiste), Trad Catholics, Trad Protestants, etc. They all believe in HBD (what they call “human biodiversity” i.e. racism) but disagree on some other minor points.

- The religious people in the movement (both Christians and pagans) practice what is called “identitarian religion” (religion that doesn’t deny ethnic identity).

- Some of the rising stars of the Dark Enlightenment on the internet seem to be Radish Magazine, Occam’s Razor Mag, and Theden TV.

- The Dark Enlightenment allegedly has millions of dollars of money to play with. They have a couple big donors. One is rumored to be a major tech tycoon in Silicon Valley. They actually had a private 3-day meeting on an island which was furnished with a French chef, etc. Different forms of formal attire were required for each day (tuxedos, 3-piece suits, etc), and some weird costumes were required too (capes, hoods, etc) — which sound like a pagan cult. (I wasn’t at this function but heard about it.)

- I was initiated into the first stages of the Dark Enlightenment, which involved me stripping down naked so people could “inspect my phenotype”. I was then given a series of very personal questions, often relating to sexual matters. I was then told to put on a black cape. (I really regret doing this but at the time I was younger, more impressionable and eager to please.)

- For the initial oath taking, everyone must swear on a copy of Darwin’s Origin of Species, just to show their fidelity to HBD. After that, for the later oaths, seculars will swear again on Darwin, while Christians will swear on the Bible, and pagans on the Prose Edda or Iliad.

- At one of the meetings I heard someone continuously chanting “gens alba conservanda est” (Latin for “the white race must be preserved”) and then others were chanting things in Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse and Old German, but I don’t know those languages so I can’t remember exactly what they were saying.

- They also have all their own secret handshakes, and their own terminology [like the Cathedral ("political correctness"),
thedening ("re-establishing ethnic group identity"),
genophilia ("love of one's own race"), NRx ("neoreaction"),
etc.].

- On the philosophical level, this movement is not entirely original. Much of it is borrowed from the Identitarian movement in Europe. They also all detest democracy. They are not trying to be a “populist movement” but are only trying to convert other elites to their way of thinking.

This whole movement is like a secret cult, which is why I left. Also, because of the valiant and brave efforts of people on the net exposing this movement, I saw this cult for the evil it truly is. Please stay away from it.

(Thanks to Alex for pointing me at this.)

About these ads

106 responses to “Lord of the Trolls

  1. I rather like the quote from Tolkien an 1941 (contained in the link); – (his German publishers had apparently requested proof of his Aryan heritage)

    “I have in this War a burning private grudge—which would probably make me a better soldier at 49 than I was at 22: against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler … Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light.”

  2. It sounds like so leftist version of the satanic panic ( By that I mean a mad panic that they actually believe in– rather than one they know is shite and the bogus creation of their femmi-sisterhood+ born again loons).
    Who are this “Dark Enlightenment” crew anyway–I have vaguely heard of this Moldbug fellow–hasn’t Fosetti (a sometime commentator here mentioned him and Whiskey (of Whisky’s Place ) certainly has. As far as I know these people are just bloggers–why are all the loons emerging into the moonlight over this?.

  3. The post seems to be a mixture of several different mythologies – oh well as long as they are having fun…….

    Hugo – yes that is a good quote from Tolkien.

    Individual honour being at the heart of it – those who say “my honour is loyalty” have been deceived. Honour must be to a higher thing than orders.

    As for anti-Semitism – the best answer to that is simple enough (to say – if not to do).

    “Axes of the Dwarves – the Dwarves are upon you!”.

  4. Julie near Chicago

    The Dark Enlightenment folks are a bunch of self-described “reactionaries” who have somewhat similar outlooks. Not a “party” or anything. Here are a few of the people who seem to be in that circle; if anyone is curious he should take his own look-see.

    “Mencius Moldbug” (look up the two names on a search program): http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/

    “Foseti”: http://foseti.wordpress.com/

    Nick Land: I assume the site http://www.thedarkenlightenment.com/ is his.

    Alfred W. Clark:
    http://occamsrazormag.wordpress.com/2013/04/27/what-are-characteristics-of-the-dark-enlightenment/

    This column starts thus:

    What are characteristics of the Dark Enlightenment?
    Regarding the recent conversations on the Dark Enlightenment (here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here), I’d like to offer a few comments. (If you’re unfamiliar with the Dark Enlightenment, read British philosopher Nick Land’s series “The Dark Enlightenment“. [Busted link, but see link #1 for Nick Land. --J.])

    As I’ve noted previously, the Dark Enlightenment, largely an American phenomenon notwithstanding Land, has much in common with the European archeofuturist [LINK]or identitarian movement, although the later is less influenced by libertarianism (perhaps for the better).

    But what are these underlying characteristics?

    Here are some:

    [SNIP -- read the rest of the piece for further information. --J.]

    A piece on the Dark Enlightenment by James A. Donald, who had an interesting page back in the ’90’s or 2000’s (and has gotten some mention from people like Randy Barnett), of whom more below:

    http://blog.jim.com/culture/the-dark-enlightenment.html

  5. Julie near Chicago

    James A. Donald’s Liberty File is at http://jim.com/
    Mostly important short pieces or extracts in the classical Classic Liberal tradition; also Spooner, Ayn Rand, Hayek, … and some original stuff. For instance, here’s the start of one of his pieces:

    Natural Law and Natural Rights

    By James A. Donald
    jamesd@echeque.com

    Natural law and natural rights follow from the nature of man and the world. We have the right to defend ourselves and our property, because of the kind of animals that we are. True law derives from this right, not from the arbitrary power of the omnipotent state.

    Natural law has objective, external existence. ….[SNIP]

  6. Julie near Chicago

    As to the original posting, I think that Mr. Mark Shea was giving Mr. Land’s Dark Enlightenment movement a bit of satirical drubbing, to which Mr. Land was objecting. (Follow the link and skim the Shea piece–you’ll see what I mean.)

    On that understanding, I think our host has a fine idea there. :>))

  7. Thank you Julie

  8. Julie-

    Rights can’t “follow from the nature of man and the world”; David Hume showed that over two centuries ago with the famous “Is/Ought Problem”.

  9. Ian – David Hume CLAIMED to show……

    As you know, the great sceptic (Hume) would not have liked his ideas presented as Holy Writ.

    A person does not have to be convinced by the replies to Hume (the various replies offered by Thomas Reid, I. Kant and so on), but there were replies. People did not all just say “well that is it for natural law then ……”

    David Hume was not happy with the smug complicacy if early 18th century thought – and so challenged everything.

    Not just belief in God, but belief in an external universe (prove it…..) and in the mind itself (so you say that a thought implies a thinker, a reasoning I, I am going to say that it does NOT…….) as well as both the idea that government should be limited (I think I will defend the absolute monarchy of France…..) and traditional ideas of natural law and natural rights.

    No sacred cows – everything up for attack.

    But if one assumes every one of his sceptical attacks to be correct, one is left with just a void.

    The value of Hume (as with any great sceptic) is in the stimulus he offers for replies. But it one treats him as a system-builder (someone who seriously meant every attack on traditional truths) then one is left with something similar to the Logical Positivism of the Vienna Circle.

    The Vienna Circle liked Hume – but I do not think he would have liked them.

    It is interesting to note that Hume’s actual friends (Reid. Adam Smith, Edmund Burke….) believed in every principle that he (Hume) attacked.

    And when David Hume actually met people (such as Rousseau) who really did reject the traditional principles – he did not get on with them (not at all).

    It is easy to laugh at morality – till one meets someone who is evil.

    Just as it easy to laugh at the idea of constitutional limits on government – till one lives under tyranny.

    Still Hume is best summed up by the note of thanks sent to him by Thomas Reid – on behalf of the Aberdeen Philosophical Society.

    …… I think I can speak for all the members of the society when I say how greatfull we are to you, as without your works to oppose we would have had little to discuss!

  10. Julie near Chicago

    Thanks very much, Paul.

    Ian, rather:

    Rights can only [i.e., do and must] “follow from the nature of man and the world”; Ayn Rand (and others) have shown that, as they demolished the famous “Is/Ought Problem”.

    One must distort the world that we experience beyond recognition in order to accommodate the idea that there is something in Reality that affects us and that yet is beyond our capacity to experience. In fact, putting it that way shows the inherent illogicality of such an idea. (It is analogous to theories about “what exists outside of, i.e. beyond, Reality?” Such a question is meaningless; it simply asks what it is that IS while NOT existing, that is, will NOT being. One takes everything that exists — thoughts, trees, black holes, toothache, and even G-d if such an entity exists — and puts it in a great big pile, and then starts talking about what is left outside the pile. Well, nothing, of course! By definition of the Pile, a.k.a. Reality.

    But that idea is the postulate that Absolute Knowledge in the allegedly-Humean sense requires. (“Allegedly”: in that Paul argues that Hume never meant the idea to be taken seriously.) And the “can’t-derive-ought-from-is” position assumes that kind of Absolute Knowledge, from which Man is forever debarred.

    In short, that sort of Humean ‘skepticism’ is pure fantasy which, I think, is born out of Man’s hunger to KNOW — which is one of the fundamental traits of Man’s nature, or, as we call it, human nature.

  11. Julie near Chicago

    So now, there are two ways of taking the word “ought”: One can take it in the sense of “how much chocolate ought I to put in the cake batter?” Or one can mean, “What ought men to do?” in a sort of open-ended, moralistic sense.

    Actually, the conceptual meaning of “ought” is the same in both cases, but in the first case the question is not a general one but specific as to the time and circumstances of the situation, and possible outcomes depending on how one decides the “ought” in that particular case.

    The second case involves the same concept of “ought,” but it’s one of the Cosmic Questions and as such FEELS different to us. However, it’s still in fact a “consequentialist” question. One does one’s best to reason out what is the proper standard by which the actions of men should be measured, and then what men “ought” to do in terms of moral theory is decided by evaluating the possible consequences of action A or policy P in terms of that standard.

    Miss Rand’s standard is human life: The great moral “Oughts” are those which IN PRINCIPLE, and therefore also IN FACT (assuming no errors of knowledge, judgment, or logic have been made), promote human life.

    The devil is as usual in the details, in particular as to just how “promoting human life” is to be understood; but that’s the gist of the Objectivist position.

  12. Julie near Chicago

    Not to hit anybody over the head with a flatiron, but the concept of “ought” already IMPLIES a standard of judgment, a criterion. “Ought” does not come into the world naked and alone, and ignoring that fact is, to my mind, the essence of the more serious moral philosophies of Scepticism and of what’s wrong with them.

  13. “promoting human life” depends on what definition of “human” one has.

    For example (and I believe that Ayn Rand accepted this – Julie will correct me if I am wrong) it may be that the best way one can promote one’s life as a human is to act in a particular way in a particular situation knowing that this form of conduct will get one killed.

    That the only way to live “as a human” is to get killed.

    And this is independent of any belief in an after life.

  14. None of which answers Hume. Ayn Rand’s attempted answer is very feeble. She is entitled to prefer that self-preservation is the dominant moral principle, but this cannot be derived from nature either. Her claim is that it is because “if one does not exist one cannot act”; while this is true there is again nothing in nature that declares that the facility to act is preferable. It is just her preference. Which comes back to Hume’s point that our morals and ethics are derived not from nature, but from sentiments.

    Basically, on a universal level, there is no “ought”. As Julie says, the word implies that there is an ought (in the general, universal, unequivocal sense) at all, and that is the error.

    Paul-

    Rand doesn’t talk of “promoting human life”. Her badly reasoned argument is simply to try to derive all morality from continuation of existence. Rand’s argument falls apart most obviously in lifeboat situations; an elderly person with a terminal illness who gives up a space in the boat to a child is, by Rand’s reasoning, acting against nature and thus “nature derived morals”. The family who hid the Franks in their attic were similarly acting against nature by exposing their own lives to risk, to preserve others. And so on. Rand’s argument is very poor indeed, upon consideration.

  15. Julie near Chicago

    Paul, indeed I believe you are quite right. A.R. would see a suicidal action as perfectly justifiable (within a given person’s value system) as long it served the values most important to him.

    So, by that understanding, a jihadist suicide-bomber would not be wrong WITHIN HIS OWN VALUE-SYSTEM to kill himself in the process of also blowing up a bunch of innocent Israelis in a restaurant.

    But we do not subscribe to that value-system, and we see his action as profoundly wrong. On the other hand, soldiers fighting our own physical enemies often undertake what they believe to be suicide missions because of the importance, TO THEM, of seeing that their values, traditions, customs, culture, countrymen, worldview, families continue to exist. In short, you could say “It’s better to be dead than to live in certain territories of Hell.”

    Of course, Cheryl Taggert drowned herself because the reality she thought she faced, of finally seeing her husband James Taggart as he really was and of believing that he and his kind would ultimately turn the world into one in which the Good was impossible, was one she could not bear. And of course John Galt was ready to kill himself rather than live at the cost of seeing Dagny tortured.

    . . .

    And yes, “promoting human life” (or however one wishes to phrase it) does indeed involve making a judgment about what it means to be human. That’s one of the places where I don’t agree with Miss R.: As you and Ian both know, I’m against abortion in all cases except where the mother’s life is seriously in danger, BUT it does depend on when you think the “human” part of the humanity of the new life in the womb begins.

    And that’s just one of the difficulties. There’s still a lot of discussion as to how close A.R.’s phraseology of “man qua man” was to ancient Greek Eudaimonism, or, as we often say, to “human flourishing.”
    So even if we have an understanding of what counts as “human life” that is as certain as that 2+2=4, we still have to adopt a criterion by which we can adjudge what counts as “flourishing.”

    Philosophers (and normal human beings) have struggled with those problems through the ages, and in the end it seems that one must agree with my personal favorite philosopher, the German Professor von der Vogelweide (see Wikipedia), a.k.a. the comedian Severn Darden, who announced, in answer to the question “Vhat ISS everyssing, anyvay,” that “Philosophers can tell you lots of ssings zat it issn’t, but zay can’t tell you vhat it iss, UND ZISS BUGS ZEM!” LOLOLOL

  16. Julie near Chicago

    Now we get to Objectivism-as-amended-by-Julie, Philosopheress Extraordinaire.

    Ian, you cannot, cannot, cannot dispense with the unprovable assumptions–the POSTULATES–that support any, any, ANY conclusions that you reach by applying the human faculty of logic to Reality as you observe it. That is, not if you are trying to construct a logically consistent system that corresponds with the facts we observe.

    It’s not, by the way, that in real life one starts with the fundamental postulates and develops one’s actual, working philosophical system (i.e., belief-system) from there. I can’t recall if it was Aristotle or Plato or both, but in any case it’s true: We live awhile, we have experiences, we try to “make sense” of those, and if we’re of an abstract turn of mind we wonder what are the principles implicit in our experience thus far, and we try constructing some sort of rational-empirical theory (“model,” to use a word I hate) that explains our experience, and we try out these-or-those principles to serve as postulates that will support our theory. And we live awhile longer, and experience some more, and find we have to adjust the theory or maybe scrap it altogether in order to include new facts or understanding in a consistent theory … and this may include adopting different postulates.

    Now, as I understand it this is not much at variance with Objectivism’s (and, specifically, A.R.’s) understanding of the importance of context. All that living and experiencing is one of the ways in which our knowledge (or “understanding” or “grasp”) of the context–the Reality–in which we find ourselves grows in breadth and depth.

    So it often happens that our postulates change as our knowledge of Perry’s “meta-context,” that is, as our grasp of Reality, changes.

    Now, Miss Rand chose the value of “the survival of a human qua human” as the ultimate value, that is, as an indispensible primary, a value without which no other values are–in principle, in logic, in reason–possible at all.

    In so doing, I say that she has chosen the foundational postulate (or perhaps I should say one of the foundational postulates, and the one of most importance in this discussion) of her value system; whence flows, logically, her moral system; which ends up as Applied Philosophy, informing our decisions about What To Do in particular real situations, just as mathematics ends up as Applied Mathematics when you –*apply*– it to problems in physics and engineering.

    It’s no good, ever, asking somebody to “prove” a proposition or claim that is in fact a postulate in that person’s system. What you can ask is why the person insists on adopting that postulate. What are the logical, empirical, and, sometimes, the psychological reasons why this person adopted this postulate? Sometimes the person can explain, to the extent that he’s good at citing his observations and at explaining his rationale and his psyche. (Aside: it’s a fact that you can state a proposition in two different ways, and in the first way the other guy can’t make heads or tails of it, but in the second way it’s crystal-clear.)

    Although a rich logical system often (if not always) has the characteristic that whereas it’s presented as assuming postulates A, B, C, you can scrap those and generate the same system using postulates D, E, F; which means that you can look at the same logical system, or the same real-life problem (be it in physics, in philosophy, or in what to have for dinner–i.e., in engineering) in various ways which elucidate different aspects of the situation if you’re lucky, but which are entirely consistent with each other.

    All that is by way of saying, Ian, that you’ll never get a logical proof of another guy’s postulate. The best you can hope for is an explanation or a justification. Evidence, maybe. Proof, no. And Miss R’s choice of the fundamental value is a lot more sensible, to us, than the jihadists’. And THAT is the ultimate reason why I would adopt hers and not theirs.

  17. Julie near Chicago

    By the way, Ian, on re-reading yet again your final paragraph above, I can only say you have the unfortunately all-too-common misunderstanding of what Ayn Rand meant by “survival” as what I will call the “highest value.” It’s a cardboard-cutout, no-brains-nor-imagination-required statement of her view, and contrary to your statement, in Ayn Rand’s view the terminally-ill old person (if psychologically reasonably healthy, and if she were convinced that that was her only choice) would I am sure kill herself rather than the child. I already gave examples above, but yes, of course she takes into account both the long-term consequences of our actions and the effect of our actions on other people.

    In fact, this is the Classical Liberal principle of Rational Self-Interest, in fine and in simple. Both she and others have been at pains to say, over and over and OVER AGAIN that Rational Self-Interest, Rational Egoism, and Objectivism do not not NOT see bare physical survival as the sine qua non morally speaking. Ayn Rand railed against the view of humans as comprised of two categories, the predators and the prey. She insisted that one may not victimize others in order to achieve one’s own survival. She explained that in her view, “rational ethics” are not applicable in lifeboat situations, which is to say, in situations where there is literally NO truly ethical solution.

    (Libertarians are always wrangling about this issue too, you know. Some of them advocate using the Property Principle to solve the problem of who gets thrown out of the lifeboat, and I suppose that’s one solution…but what if the owner didn’t make it to the lifeboat?)

    We do not get to ignore what X said loudly, plainly, and often, and then fault him for never having said it.

  18. Julie near Chicago

    I need to clarify one thing. I wrote,

    Miss Rand chose the value of “the survival of a human qua human” as the ultimate value, that is, as an indispensible primary, a value without which no other values are–in principle, in logic, in reason–possible at all.

    In so doing, I say that she has chosen the foundational postulate (or perhaps I should say one of the foundational postulates, and the one of most importance in this discussion) of her value system; whence flows, logically, her moral system;….

    I want to make it clear that this is what I say, not what she said. She had things in the other order. As a brief clarification, at

    http://www.atlassociety.org/objectivist_morality_ethics

    we find an extract from an overview by philosopher and very-long-time-Objectivist Dr. David Kelley of Objectivist ethics:

    Objectivism holds that the purpose of morality is to define a code of values in support of one’s own life, a human life. The values of Objectivism are the means to a happy life. They include such things as wealth, love, satisfaction in work, education, artistic inspiration, and much more. We choose many of our values, such as what work we enjoy and who are our friends and lovers. But we cannot choose the need for material goods or for friendship, if a happy life is what we seek. The ultimate choice open to us is whether we want life or not. Life is a choice we must make consciously and seriously, argues Rand, or else we may find that, by default, we have chosen the alternative: suffering and death.

    The cardinal values of Objectivism are Reason, Purpose, and Self. Reason, because it is our means of gaining knowledge, and, through production, our means of survival. Purpose, because each of us has free will and must direct himself toward chosen goals, through a chosen course of life. Self, because without self-esteem, a self-motivating being cannot find the means to continue. Just as one’s own needs lie at the heart of the Objectivist ethical code, so should respect for them lie at the heart of one’s values.

  19. Julie near Chicago

    Correction: The quote above is by William R. Thomas of The Atlas Society, not by Dr. Kelley.

  20. Well I just wrote a long comment – but things froze on me. I am not going to write it all out again.

  21. Julie near Chicago

    Sympathies…it makes one want to use bad language, or maybe throw the computer at some convenient target.

    Just the same, I’m sorry to miss your comment. ;)

  22. Julie,

    The problem here is that you have admitted that Hume is right-

    “It’s no good, ever, asking somebody to “prove” a proposition or claim that is in fact a postulate in that person’s system.”

    -in your general argument. Every philosophy is based on some postulates which are themselves simply based on personal preference, Hume’s “sentiment”. This is why we have different philosophies and they argue against one another; Objectivism, Stoicism, Socialism, Epicurianism, Hedonism, various Faiths, Conservativism, etc, are all predicated on some set of axioms (postulates) derived from the person’s preferences as to how they feel the world “ought” to be. And none of those oughts are derived from an “is”.

    The problem is that Rand deliberately (and n my view very poorly) was trying to argue that she had got her “ought” from an “is”- life as existence- although her cursory and dismissive discussion suggests to me that she didn’t really grasp waht she was dealing with. Her personal beliefs as to what is “right”, upon which she based Objectivism, were so strong and heartfelt that she saw Hume’s crushing objection as a fly to be swatted away in a couple of paragraphs, without grasping its magnitude.

    The second point is that her argument is not the promotion or preservation of “human life”. The argument from existence can only be applied to one’s own life. To do otherwise is to introduce an irreconcilable and- by Rand- unaddressed conflict of interests between individual lives. One might end up with a form of utilitarianism (“the balance of lives resulting from action A rather than action B”) but that isn’t objectivism.

    The third point is that she does something utterly philosophically unforgivable, which is to apparently deliberately confuse two meanings of the word “life”; the first being the fact of existence, the second being the collogquial use as in “get a life”, the “a life” then being defined by Rand’s personal “oughts” already. It’s the same as saying that the postulate “if you haven’t visited Paris, you haven’t lived” proves that those who have not visited Paris are literally not alive. This is how she tries to bind in her “flourishing”- or at least subsequent writers of Randian apologetics have done. But it doesn’t work.

    Her postulate is life- being alive, existing as a functioning biological organism. Her attempt to extend that across to “living a good Objectivist life” simply isn’t allowed.

    We’re still back with Hume. The “is” is existence as a functioning biological organism. That still doesn’t imply an “ought”. Most of us find being alive preferable to being dead- but not everyone, which is why there are suicides- but that still remains just a preference, not an “is” proving an “ought” that leaps the uncrossable divide between the two that Hume first identified.

  23. It was more like an essay than a comment Julie.

    I should have guessed I was pushing my luck with the computer.

    Anyway one thing I did NOT mention in my “comment” (which was an overview of the Great Tradition), was the attitude to the soul.

    To an atheist such as Rand the soul (the essence of what it is to be a human being – a reasoning I) dies with the body, but that is a very different thing from holding that the soul does not exist.

    And it is the latter position (that human BEINGS do not really exist) that seems to have gained a stranglehold in the universities – and the wider “intellectual” culture.

    As for David Hume……

    I do not think that one would need to write out all the arguments of Thomas Reid to Harold Prichard against him.

    Because, if he was around in the post 1789 world, Hume would not (I believe) have played the role of the sceptic.

    Being a sceptic makes sense when the Great Tradition has become smug and self satisfied – unreflective.

    It does not make sense when civilisation (the basic founding principles of civil freedom) is under full scale attack. Then it is sensible to use one’s intellect (and everything else) to defend (not undermine) the central principles (the objective nature of the physical universe, the objective existence of the human “I”, the real existence of right-and-wrong good-and-evil, and the ability of human beings to choose between good and evil).

    And David Hume was a sensible (and decent) man.

    It may be the ultimate expression of freedom to attack freedom itself, but it is a luxury that should be chosen when freedom is overwhelmingly strong (and insufferably smug – the age of 18th century High Whigdom when David Hume was writing, when collectivists in politics were as rare as Calvinists in the Church of England) – not when freedom (the principles of both philosophical and political freedom) is undermined and in danger of extermination.

  24. If we were just dealing with language stuff (such as “you can get an ought from an is”) it would be easy to reply with other language stuff.

    “Yes you can ….. for example this liquid IS poison so one OUGHT not to drink it (unless one wishes to be poisoned)”. And “Rape IS evil so one OUGHT not to rape (unless one wishes to be evil).”.

    But it is not just a language game – it was more basic than that. Relating to whether there was any such thing as objective good and evil at all, and (if so) whether humans had the ability to choose between them.

    That is why (I believe) David Hume would be happy to play the role of sceptic in the period of High Whigdom (when few seriously doubted these matters), but not in the post 1789 world, when evil became the ruling ideology of the most populated nation in Europe – with powerful supporters everywhere. And this is a very different thing from rulers doing evil things (which was common anyway), what the French Revolutionary regime (in fact regimes) was about was the denial (at the level of doctrine) of the traditional principles of good and evil. Not just evil actions (there were many of them in the pre 1789 world), but evil as a SYSTEM. Evil calling itself GOOD. Slavery calling itself FREEDOM. The fantasies of Rousseau made flesh.

    As with the Cold War – the time for language games was over.

  25. Julie near Chicago

    Paul, thank you very much. As usual, clarification, new information, and application to our own times.

    Please don’t hold back from writing essays on my account *g*!

    . . .

    Ian, first, please don’t confuse my understand of The World with Ayn Rand’s. I did try to make it clear above where I think I was departing from her.

    I understand why you say that my point about postulates leads me to agree with Hume on ‘the “ought/is” problem.’ But I’m insufficiently acquainted with his writings to agree or disagree with your judgment on that.

    Anyway, the point is not whether it’s “rational” for the jihadists, GIVEN their worldview and their choice of Glorious Death for Killing the Infidel in the Name of Allah as a value greater than the value of their own lives on this earth as rational and benevolent persons, to go about blowing up the WTC and whatnot. The point is that such a worldview and such a value choice are in themselves irrational because they contradict the ineluctable fact that biology already provides the human organism with the urge to live, and the facts of how men are built — their nature as humans — require that to defeat that urge, there must exist some sort of malfunction of the organism (in my view) or the “will” (in hers).

    Miss R. understood that there IS a Reality out there, which is knowable to us in that (I paraphrase) any given part of it can be grasped by our perceptual apparatus in a way that allows us to make relatively reliable mental “maps” of Reality. We say “relatively,” as opposed to “perfectly” in some absolute sense, because we are fallible. This is why I say that “Humean skepticism” proposes a mere fantasy.

    It’s also important to remember that she did NOT believe in “intrinsicism” — that the “goodness” or “badness” of a “thing” (item, fact, situation) in Reality lies not in the thing itself, but rather in its effect on us in particular. If there were no entities that could conceive of “good” and “bad,” of “right” and “wrong,” then those qualities would not exist. (Remember, when we say “X is good for my tomato plants,” or “the Yucatan asteroid was terribly bad for the dinosaurs,” it is WE, not the tomato plants nor the dinosaurs who are making that judgment. The plants and the critters couldn’t care less whether they’re alive or dead because they haven’t the equipment to care. But we humans do have it, so we make value-judgments “in their name,” so to speak. We are really talking about the effect of their condition on our own needs, wants, or sensibilities.)

    Nor am I any expert on Objectivism — few are, but then it seems to me that very few people really understand any serious philosophical work. (That’s not a snark, by the way. The issues are complex, language does not consist of entire well-defined words, starting points of view make a difference in how we interpret Reality, which I certainly agree exists — the “non-existence of existence” is a meaningless phrase, which is why “Existence exists” is a logical axiom about the real world.)

    If you’re interested in explications of A.R.’s thought, David Kelley, as a life-long student and teacher of it, has books and essays which are a good place to start. (And one of his books, now in I think its fourth edition, is in use nationwide as a textbook on logic.) You might also be interested in looking at the board objectivistliving.com, which consists of discussions on various issues by people most of whom are not professional philosophers and still less are of the “Randroid”/True-Believer variety.

    From that board, I quote from a posting by Ed Hudgins, who is currently Director of Advocacy for The Atlas Society (co-founded many years ago by David Kelley in order to spread understanding of Objectivism, and as an institute with a different perspective from that of Leonard Peikoff’s Ayn Rand Institute, a.k.a. “ARI”). I have put our issue here into boldface type:

    Choosing Life
    by David Kelley

    The entire Objectivist morality, Ayn Rand said, stems from the choice to live. But at the heart of this issue is the question of whether life is a value because one chooses it or whether one chooses life because it is a value. In his essay, Kelley illuminates the role of this choice in the moral philosophy of Objectivism and in our actual lives as individuals.

    His links to Dr. Kelley’s essay no longer work, but thanks to Wayback, you can find it, on a single page, at

    http://web.archive.org/web/20090129200039/http://atlassociety.org/cth-13-2108-Choose.aspx

    From that article, the Abstract, the Table of Contents, and then the beginning of the meat: First part of the Introduction.

    Choosing Life
    by David Kelley

    Abstract

    The Objectivist morality, Ayn Rand said, is based on the choice to live. A perennial question in Objectivism is whether (1) life is a value because one chooses to live, or (2) one should choose to live because life is a value.. When the question is posed in this form, (1) is the correct answer.

    But what does this abstract issue mean in our actual lives as individuals? At this level, there is truth in both (1) and (2). The perennial search for the meaning of life shows that we do choose our lives because they are valuable. We will explore the sources of meaning in the primary purposes that shape our lives, the role of achievement and experience as elements of purpose, and the consequences of the loss of meaning. At the same time, our purposes can be tyrannical masters unless we choose them. We will explore the choice of the values one seeks to achieve as well as the experience of choice as one renews one’s commitment to those values—and to one’s life—day-by-day.

    Outline

    I. INTRODUCTION: THE CHOICE TO LIVE AND THE OBJECTIVIST ETHICS

    II. THE PHILOSOPHICAL PUZZLE: DO WE CHOOSE TO LIVE BECAUSE LIFE IS A VALUE, OR IS LIFE A VALUE BECAUSE WE CHOOSE IT?

    A. The nature of the alternatives
    B. Is the choice to live subjective and arbitrary?
    C. The choice to live and the objectivity of values

    III. THE MEANING OF LIFE: CHOOSING ONE’S LIFE BECAUSE OF ITS VALUE
    A. The paradox of meaning and its resolution
    B. The content of one’s life
    C. Primary purposes as sources of meaning
    D. Achievement and experience as poles of purpose
    E. The loss of meaning: depression and suicide

    IV. COMMITMENT: VALUING ONE’S LIFE BY CHOOSING IT
    A. The tyranny of purposes and bad faith
    B. Choosing one’s purposes

    I. INTRODUCTION

    (Back to outline)

    “My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists—and in a single choice: to live. The rest proceeds from these.” (Atlas Shrugged, 944) In these words, in Atlas Shrugged, John Galt announces the new morality that Ayn Rand offered to the world. What is the nature of this choice to live? What is its role in the moral philosophy of Objectivism and in our actual lives as individuals?

    For those who are well-versed in Objectivist theory, the choice to live is a familiar concept. Even so, it seems remote. Is it relevant only to someone thinking of suicide? That doesn’t seem like a very promising place to start for a moral code that claims to be universal. When do the rest of us make this choice, and how? Do we make it once and for all, and then get on about the business of life?

    . . .
    About David Kelley:
    http://www.atlassociety.org/david-kelley

    Mr. Hudgins’ posting is at
    http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=6508

    About Mr. Hudgins:
    http://www.atlassociety.org/ed-hudgins

  26. Julie near Chicago

    Re-posting with corrected html. If administrators wish to delete the erroneous one above, please do so!
    . . .

    Paul, thank you very much. As usual, clarification, new information, and application to our own times.

    Please don’t hold back from writing essays on my account *g*!

    . . .

    Ian, first, please don’t confuse my understand of The World with Ayn Rand’s. I did try to make it clear above where I think I was departing from her.

    I understand why you say that my point about postulates leads me to agree with Hume on ‘the “ought/is” problem.’ But I’m insufficiently acquainted with his writings to agree or disagree with your judgment on that.

    Anyway, the point is not whether it’s “rational” for the jihadists, GIVEN their worldview and their choice of Glorious Death for Killing the Infidel in the Name of Allah as a value greater than the value of their own lives on this earth as rational and benevolent persons, to go about blowing up the WTC and whatnot. The point is that such a worldview and such a value choice are in themselves irrational because they contradict the ineluctable fact that biology already provides the human organism with the urge to live, and the facts of how men are built — their nature as humans — require that to defeat that urge, there must exist some sort of malfunction of the organism (in my view) or the “will” (in hers).

    Miss R. understood that there IS a Reality out there, which is knowable to us in that (I paraphrase) any given part of it can be grasped by our perceptual apparatus in a way that allows us to make relatively reliable mental “maps” of Reality. We say “relatively,” as opposed to “perfectly” in some absolute sense, because we are fallible. This is why I say that “Humean skepticism” proposes a mere fantasy.

    It’s also important to remember that she did NOT believe in “intrinsicism” — that the “goodness” or “badness” of a “thing” (item, fact, situation) in Reality lies not in the thing itself, but rather in its effect on us in particular. If there were no entities that could conceive of “good” and “bad,” of “right” and “wrong,” then those qualities would not exist. (Remember, when we say “X is good for my tomato plants,” or “the Yucatan asteroid was terribly bad for the dinosaurs,” it is WE, not the tomato plants nor the dinosaurs who are making that judgment. The plants and the critters couldn’t care less whether they’re alive or dead because they haven’t the equipment to care. But we humans do have it, so we make value-judgments “in their name,” so to speak. We are really talking about the effect of their condition on our own needs, wants, or sensibilities.)

    Nor am I any expert on Objectivism — few are, but then it seems to me that very few people really understand any serious philosophical work. (That’s not a snark, by the way. The issues are complex, language does not consist of entire well-defined words, starting points of view make a difference in how we interpret Reality, which I certainly agree exists — the “non-existence of existence” is a meaningless phrase, which is why “Existence exists” is a logical axiom about the real world.)

    If you’re interested in explications of A.R.’s thought, David Kelley, as a life-long student and teacher of it, has books and essays which are a good place to start. (And one of his books, now in I think its fourth edition, is in use nationwide as a textbook on logic.) You might also be interested in looking at the board objectivistliving.com, which consists of discussions on various issues by people most of whom are not professional philosophers and still less are of the “Randroid”/True-Believer variety.

    From that board, I quote from a posting by Ed Hudgins, who is currently Director of Advocacy for The Atlas Society (co-founded many years ago by David Kelley in order to spread understanding of Objectivism, and as an institute with a different perspective from that of Leonard Peikoff’s Ayn Rand Institute, a.k.a. “ARI”). I have put our issue here into boldface type:

    Choosing Life
    by David Kelley

    The entire Objectivist morality, Ayn Rand said, stems from the choice to live. But at the heart of this issue is the question of whether life is a value because one chooses it or whether one chooses life because it is a value. In his essay, Kelley illuminates the role of this choice in the moral philosophy of Objectivism and in our actual lives as individuals.

    His links to Dr. Kelley’s essay no longer work, but thanks to Wayback, you can find it, on a single page, at

    http://web.archive.org/web/20090129200039/http://atlassociety.org/cth-13-2108-Choose.aspx

    From that article, the Abstract, the Table of Contents, and then the beginning of the meat: First part of the Introduction.

    Choosing Life
    by David Kelley

    Abstract

    The Objectivist morality, Ayn Rand said, is based on the choice to live. A perennial question in Objectivism is whether (1) life is a value because one chooses to live, or (2) one should choose to live because life is a value.. When the question is posed in this form, (1) is the correct answer.

    But what does this abstract issue mean in our actual lives as individuals? At this level, there is truth in both (1) and (2). The perennial search for the meaning of life shows that we do choose our lives because they are valuable. We will explore the sources of meaning in the primary purposes that shape our lives, the role of achievement and experience as elements of purpose, and the consequences of the loss of meaning. At the same time, our purposes can be tyrannical masters unless we choose them. We will explore the choice of the values one seeks to achieve as well as the experience of choice as one renews one’s commitment to those values—and to one’s life—day-by-day.

    Outline

    I. INTRODUCTION: THE CHOICE TO LIVE AND THE OBJECTIVIST ETHICS

    II. THE PHILOSOPHICAL PUZZLE: DO WE CHOOSE TO LIVE BECAUSE LIFE IS A VALUE, OR IS LIFE A VALUE BECAUSE WE CHOOSE IT?

    A. The nature of the alternatives
    B. Is the choice to live subjective and arbitrary?
    C. The choice to live and the objectivity of values

    III. THE MEANING OF LIFE: CHOOSING ONE’S LIFE BECAUSE OF ITS VALUE
    A. The paradox of meaning and its resolution
    B. The content of one’s life
    C. Primary purposes as sources of meaning
    D. Achievement and experience as poles of purpose
    E. The loss of meaning: depression and suicide

    IV. COMMITMENT: VALUING ONE’S LIFE BY CHOOSING IT
    A. The tyranny of purposes and bad faith
    B. Choosing one’s purposes

    I. INTRODUCTION

    (Back to outline)

    “My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists—and in a single choice: to live. The rest proceeds from these.” (Atlas Shrugged, 944) In these words, in Atlas Shrugged, John Galt announces the new morality that Ayn Rand offered to the world. What is the nature of this choice to live? What is its role in the moral philosophy of Objectivism and in our actual lives as individuals?

    For those who are well-versed in Objectivist theory, the choice to live is a familiar concept. Even so, it seems remote. Is it relevant only to someone thinking of suicide? That doesn’t seem like a very promising place to start for a moral code that claims to be universal. When do the rest of us make this choice, and how? Do we make it once and for all, and then get on about the business of life?

    . . .
    About David Kelley:
    http://www.atlassociety.org/david-kelley

    Mr. Hudgins’ posting is at
    http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=6508

    About Mr. Hudgins:
    http://www.atlassociety.org/ed-hudgins

  27. Julie – a big history of the Great Tradition was a bit much (I got carried away in the comment that got away).
    There is also the division between the Aristotelians and the intuitive people – from Cudworth via the Scots Common Sense people to Harold Prichard and co.
    The conclusions are the same – but the language is very different (and philosophers do love language disputes). My “natural” (de fault) language is closer to that to that of the intuitive people (perhaps because I am impatient and what to cut to the chase – rather than carefully going step-by-step).
    Also “Aristotelian” covers a broad area.
    The Scholastics added theology to it – and Rand (and others) took the theology away again.
    And one can reject both Thomas Aquinas on the one side – and Ayn Rand on the other (and still be Aristotelian).

    Ouch – my head hurts.

    Where is Kevin when I need him? Some nice bit of cong propaganda for me to skin alive (with a spoon “because it is blunt – IT WILL HURT MORE”) so that Sean can denounce me for being beastly again.

    With this philosophy stuff I haver to use my brain – not natural for an Englishman.

  28. On Islam …..

    The mainstream of Islam rejected reason (in ethics) a thousand years ago. Taking instead that position that whatever God commanded was good BECAUSE GOD COMMANDED IT (that “good” and “evil” had no other meaning other than “God commands” and “God forbids”).

    In this they are uncomfortably close to extreme Calvinists.

    Not top of Ian’s most-liked-people list.

    I (and other people) once had a little disagreement with Brother Glenn (Beck) about something related to this.

    His admiration for the Calvinist George Whitefield.

    Theologically this made no sense – as G.W. was a Predestination man (and whatever they are Mormons are not Predestination people). -“no it is not the theology – it is the preaching and the ethics”.

    Accept the preaching is totally pointless if who is going to be saved was decided at the beginning of time.

    And the “ethics” – G.W. helped bring slavery to Georgia (against both Natural Law and the written instructions of the Founder of the colony.

    And yet he denounced the “luxury” of Wedgewood China.

    Nothing to do with Mr Wedgewood being anti slavery (even to point of sending off china anti slavery designs free – thus putting his money where his mouth was) – oh dear me no.

    If this is a “good” man, then give me a naughty person such a Ian any day. Of course (as Glenn B. had to admit) G.W. was not a good man.

    No substitute for the hard grind of “the facts” (Tom Grandgrind style) in history – one can get way with brain power in philosophy (and theology) but not in history.

    No praising people such as Tom Paine or George Whitefield. (no matter how well their speeches read) without finding out the facts about them.

    And that takes time and “donkey work”.

  29. Julie near Chicago

    Goodness, I forgot. Ian, your second point:

    “The second point is that her argument is not the promotion or preservation of “human life”. The argument from existence can only be applied to one’s own life.”

    Quite. Furthermore, she and I both agree with you. In fact that point, at least as I understand your meaning, is at the very foundation of Objectivist ethics, as it is of individualism (as opposed to any version of collectivism). She was an individualist, remember? She was never talking about survival of the human species. Surely that was, and is, perfectly clear.

    . . .

    Also:

    “Her claim is that it is because “if one does not exist one cannot act”; while this is true there is again nothing in nature that declares that the facility to act is preferable. It is just her preference. Which comes back to Hume’s point that our morals and ethics are derived not from nature, but from sentiments.

    Which is why the continued emphasis on the importance of context, and of the fact that our existence and our ability to conceptualize about it — to think about it — to form judgments about it — are not to be found in “external” Reality nor in ourselves, but rather in the interaction between the two. This is the core difference between Randian Objectivism and the garden variety of either “objectivism” (which leads to Forms, Essences and whatnot) and to endless arguments about whether we can ever “know,” which is the very foundation of Skepticism; or subjectivism (which leads to “all that is, is I” — so that other people don’t matter; morality properly speaking is impossible; and which can be taken as far as solipsism, if one cares to).
    . . .

    It’s true that Miss Rand did not ALWAYS specify “human life” as meaning to include the mental and psychological necessities for maintaining a mostly (at least) functional human life. But surely it’s obvious from the number of times she did stress the point when discussing “life” as the ultimate end of the human being.

    Which brings me to another point: the “ultimate end” of the human being. This way of putting it is, I think, intended as a counter to the collectivist idea that “the proper end of each person is to serve others.” (Or, of course, “the proper end of a man is to serve god, or Allah, or ….) No, the proper end of each person is to serve himself as best he can, while not coercing, defrauding, or aggressing against others. It’s in that sense that life, his own life, is the proper “end” of each person; and here, again, by “life” is meant a life that the person can find fulfilling, rewarding; in short, worth the living.

    . . .

    And one more time: Just as our existence, that is our experiencing of it, is (as I might put it, somewhat poetically) a collaboration between external Reality and our own selves, physical and mental; so, according to me at least, “is/ought” might be said to operate in collaboration with each other, so that the one is in fact MEANINGLESS without the other.

  30. There is a very broad view of what “one’s life” means in there Julie.

    As broad as all the virtues of Aristotle – the things that makes a human, human (someone to be).

    Thomas Hobbes (to give the obvious example) would have a radically different view of what “one’s life” means.

    “So I have to betray these people in order to avoid being executed – well here is their location then”.

    “What you mean I am no longer living as a human being – I have checked my heart at it is still beating, whereas the honourable man who resisted the torture to the death is very much dead. What do you meaning he has served his life and I have not – I am alive and he is dead”.

    The idea of what it is to live as-a-human is radically different (because the concept of what a human is – is radically different).

  31. Julie near Chicago

    Yes, Paul, time and donkey work. More answers to my question (intentional or not, but I bet the former), and I thank you.

    I have concluded that there are real differences in the way people’s minds work, and I mean not just in the ways we see them working — the kinds of connections they make, the sorts of things that come more or less readily to them, etc. — but right down at the physical level. (I do not presume to say whether this is innate or not, though I think it’s most likely both.)

    Sometime we’ll have to work up a list of Englishmen who were utterly hopeless at using their brains. Let’s see, I know, Newton! Locke … Babbage … Bertrand Russell (as a mathematician, that is) … Oakeshott … Flew …

    What a bunch of dummies!

    Then there’s this Paul Marks fellow….

    Speaking of which, I can hunt up some juicy postings by Kevin, if that would satisfy your urge for mayhem….

  32. Julie near Chicago

    I just saw your last comment above, Paul.

    Yes.

  33. Julie near Chicago

    Sigh…always One More Thing.

    Ian:

    ‘Her claim is that it is because “if one does not exist one cannot act”; while this is true there is again nothing in nature that declares that the facility to act is preferable.’

    The point is, that if one does not exist, the question of the morality of one’s actions can’t even arise because there can’t BE any actions “I” — who don’t exist — can take. The question “What ought I to do?” can’t come up if I don’t exist: if there IS no “I.” The whole subject of morality and ethics becomes meaningless — indeed, becomes nonexistent.

    As to the rest, we humans ourselves are “in nature.” We are as much a part of reality=nature as anything else. And as such, nature gives us an urge or drive to live. But this can only succeed if we can act (in certain ways). In this way, nature does indeed endow (most of) us with a “preference” or, more properly speaking, a downright NEED to act in order to satisfy that need (urge, drive) to live.

  34. Yes Julie – the goal of Classical ethics was a human being who thrived (not just existed), for example someone who took pride in his house not left it to get dusty (one look at this place and the ancients would know that my soul, in the old sense, is in disorder – as it often is with males who live alone).

    As for the reasoning “I” (the agent, agency, the human being) being the centre of ethics (there being no ethics without the human BEING) – yes, absolutely.

    But I do not think for a moment that David Hume ever really doubted the existence of the “I”.

    I think he was just challenging smug, complacent thinkers.

    “So you say you have free will – well PROVE IT mate”

    And in the face of hard core sceptical arguments proving the existence of agency (indeed proving the existence of anything at all) is very tough.

    Then came the French Revolution.

    With its notion that only “the people” (not individual persons) mattered – as there was no soul (not just in the theological sense – but in the philosophical sense, the main French philosophers of that particular period taking one side of John Locke’s thought to a demented extreme of sensationalism).

    I do not think that David Hume would have been pleased by this – not at all.

    I think he would have been utterly horrified.

  35. Julie near Chicago

    Paul, if either my “moral worth” or the degree of my “flourishing” is properly measured by the condition of my house … then, as you folks say, “I’m for it.” I am not naturally much domesticated, although occasionally I get an irresistible compulsion to create Order where there was Chaos. And the Critters keep busting through the roof. I suppose I now have 5″ of new snow in my attic….

    It is certainly immediately clear that there IS always an “I.” The question is always, What is the nature of “I”? And the answer is, “Complex!” *g* Because there are so many aspects to “I.” ….[10-volume book on the topic SNIPPED]….

    OLL has Hume on-line. Surely I could spend a few minutes daily reading just a paragraph or two. Unfortunately I was dreadfully turned off by him in college (over a point of pure mathematics), but I should offer him the chance of Redemption. *g* Thank you for all the info on him.

    And thank you and Ian both for the “nudge” to brush up on Ayn Rand, after lo these 40 years or so. And for this whole discussion, which I’ve found informative and pleasant.

    I would like to carry it on. If not here, then maybe I can manufacture an excuse at CCiZ (where Cats has recently made it clear that Ian B is still quite welcome).

  36. Julie.

    Someone who does not like the situation around him (for example his dusty house) and has the physical ability to change it (indeed used to correct it), but does not – has a disordered soul.

    Still for that is for me to sort out (or prove some Mr Hume’s scepticism correct).

  37. As for Ian being welcome – of course he is.

    Mr Hume would also be welcome (if he was still around), but I would draw the line at Mr Rousseau (as Mr Hume eventually wished he had).

  38. Julie-

    I promised Cats and the rest of the Kitty Counters that I would leave and not return. When the situation with Nick arose, it was apparent to me that he is a certain type of person who, once he has decided a certain situation is a matter of honour, will not let it drop until he gets what he considers a win condition. He thinks this is manly. I think it’s retarded. Since I have more to do with my life than spend it arguing on the internet about who is Mr Poopy Pants, it was apparent that the only reasonable solution was for me to bow out indefinitely, since followers of the Klingon Honourable Kidult philosophy never cool off and let a matter be water under the bridge. It’s always “We must fight to the deaths with bat’leths because you spilled my pint 40 years ago”.

    When that situation occurs in a group of friends, colleagues etc, the reality is that the only resolution available is for one or the other of the antagonists to leave; even if they agree a “truce” it will invariably break down at the slightest provocation and there will always be unease and bad feeling. I did not like withdrawing from a circle of people I enjoyed the company of in an internetty kind of way, but not being Klingon in outlook myself, the win condition did not bother me. Nick was welcome to it.

    It must be said though, the idea of him typing- typing!- a threat to “punch my lights out” on the internet was pure comedy gold.

  39. …all of which, come to think of it, is another reminder that Hume was correct, and personal value systems are subjective.

    The interesting thing for me is that libertarians generally don’t grasp this. Because Libertarians generally recognise subjective economic value- it is the very core of our understanding of economics. But economic values are just a subset of the individual’s general value system. It is thus inconsistent to declare that one set of values can be subjective, but demand another set be objective. Morals and ethics have no more “intrinsic value” than gold, silk or a box of eggs. It thus seems to me that this is at the heart of being an individualist. As such, an individualist is a libertarian, and vice versa; it is to say, “I want to live one way, another man wants to live another way, so let us each live our own way and not disturb one another in so doing”.

  40. “All personal value systems are subjective” – Hume style presentation indeed, because it assumes the answer in the first bit of the statement (by declaring morality just a “personal value system” of course it is “subjective”).

    This is how the infamous essay on miracles works – first Hume ASSUMES that it is impossible to break the laws of nature, then he carefully explains how a miracle is (by definition) a violation of the laws of nature, and “therefore” impossible. If one assumes that God does not exist – then, of course, God can not do anything (because He does not exist).

    Turning back to the moral law……

    To most people the idea that rape and murder are just a matter of “personal value systems” is absurd, indeed utterly absurd.

    Indeed I suspect that it was absurd to David Hume also. He was just doing his normal “sceptic” thing (as in PROVE you have free will, PROVE the physical universe is not just sensations in the mind [the mind he has just implied does not exist] and so on).

    Certainly if it is NOT absurd then there is no justification for libertarianism – because the nonaggression principle falls.

    As someone can just say “it is not against my personal value system to rob, rape and murder”.

    Only if it is objectively WRONG (evil) to rob, rape and murder can one talk about non aggression being a PRINCPLE.

    PROVE murder is wrong.

    PROVE that the human “I” (the human person – free will) exists.

    PROVE that the universe is not just sensations in the mind (the mind he just demanded we PROVE exists).

    Oh go for a walk Davy lad – stop asking people to PROVE what you (Davy lad) already know is true.

  41. To most people the idea that rape and murder are just a matter of “personal value systems” is absurd, indeed utterly absurd.

    *shrugs*

    The same could be said of Libertarianism. So, not much of a guide really.

    You see, this is the problem. Rather than get to grips with the actual philosophy, nearly everyone responds by looking into their own heart and picking something that they are firmly convinced is beyond the pale, and using that as the disproof of Hume. But that just doesn’t work. I could catalogue the endless human cultural variations regarding both the things we call rape and murder, but then you would probably say, “oh those other cultures were just wrong. We are right”.

    The challenge is this. To defeat Hume, you have to actually be able to prove- using only facts about the world- that rape (for instance) is objectively wrong. And you can’t do that. You have to always, at some point in the chain of reasoning, introduce a sentiment- a preference. And that is the point he was making, and which no philosopher- least of all Ayn Rand who, like most people it seems didn’t grasp what she needed to address- has been able to do.

    It is of course enormously appealing to followers of every moral system to believe that theirs is not just best, but has some objective basis; once you’ve done that, you can dismiss everybody else as suffering some kind of false consciousness. But you cannot derive truth from what you want to be true. I myself would love to be able to prove that libertarianism is a “natural order”. But it isn’t, any more than any other preferred value system is. We just have to live with that.

  42. Julie near Chicago

    Ian, you say:

    ‘…[A]an individualist is a libertarian, and vice versa; it is to say, “I want to live one way, another man wants to live another way, so let us each live our own way and not disturb one another in so doing”.’

    So, fine. You want to live one way–drawing cartoons to put biscuits on the table, and occasional carousing on the libertarian internet boards, and not bothering anybody very much. As is your preference.

    And I have my preference too, which is to come over to your place and liquidate you in some entertaining fashion. And since there is really no such thing as a “right” — except maybe as prescribed by law, but then again that assumes a society with some way of enforcing its law — there’s no reason for me not to act on my preference of murdering you, if I can do it and get away with it..

    I mean, it’s mere “sentiment” that holds you back from committing mayhem yourself, right? The only reason you don’t is that you don’t feel like it. And since I DO feel like it, why shouldn’t I?

  43. That’s about it, yes. Objecting to reality won’t actually change reality.

    The interesting thing for me is that Natural Rights Libertarians insist that nature provides this moral and ethical code, despite it never having actually applied to or been implemented by any humans ever, anywhere in history. That’s an astonishing level of disconnect.

  44. Ian “you can not prove that rape is wrong”.

    By this standard of proof I can not “prove” that the universe exists – that it is not just sensations in the mind.

    Nor can I “prove” that the mind (the reasoning I – free will) exists either. Especially if one does the “a thought does not mean a thinker” tap dance.

    Thomas Reid answered this with words – lots of them (too many even for one of my comments).

    Dr Johnson answered it more directly – by kicking people who came out with such silliness.

    After all – if the external universe did not exist then he (Dr Johnson) did not exist, and the sensation of pain was just a “mental event” that the target was having.

    And, if the mind (the reasoning I) did not exist – then he (Dr Johnson) could not be blamed for an action he had no CHOICE over (it being predetermined by a series of causes and events going back to the start of the universe).

    And even if the Sceptic dropped their first two absurdities – there remained the third absurdity.

    “So I have kicked you – but you say there is no objective right or wrong, so what I have done is not wrong”.

    It does not matter if one calls it “Natural Rights”, “Natural Law” or “Common Sense” – what matters is that one understands (which people do – even when the pretend they do not) that aggressing against others is objectively WRONG.

    That is why the Nonaggression Principle is a PRINCPLE – not just an arbitrary thing of no importance.

    One can go for hundreds of Aristotelian pages if you insist – but what matters is this…..

    Rape is wrong (because it is an aggression) – and someone who claims otherwise is lying.

  45. Paul,

    The issue is not whether humans have codes of what is right and what is wrong. It is the question of where those values arise from, and as Hume demonstrated it is not from the state of nature.

    Sadly, in my experience, pretty much everyone who thinks they’ve done an end run around this, be it the likes of Ayn Rand or the neo-atheists like Sam Harris, in fact just hasn’t understood what they are addressing. It is thus unsurprising that they always find miraculously that “nature” confirms their own moral values (for instance, Harris has discovered that nature thinks that single payer government healthcare is the most moral thing).

    The NAP is a good principle from which to derive our philosophy. But it does not appear in nature. Yesterday I argued briefly with someone at the Telegraph who thinks that preservation of one’s ethnic group is the primary moral imperative- again, quoting his perception of nature- and other people find other such principles to guide their morals. But none of these “oughts” can be derived from the “is”. Which was Hume’s point.

    One interesting and illuminating aspect of this subjectivity is different perceptions of severity. It may be that a community all agree that X is wrong. But how wrong is it? Does it deserve a fine, or a short or long prison sentence, or the death penalty? Again, there is no means to derive an answer to this from objective facts, resulting in continual debates in societies about what is a reasonable punishment.

    This is an important matter for Libertarians. We cannot just hope that if we shout loudly and certainly enough, it will go away.

  46. Ian I repeat what I have already pointed out.

    If right and wrong (good and evil) are not objective – then the non aggression principle is not a principle (it is just an arbitrary preference of no importance). And libertarianism would, therefore, be a dead duck.

    Those who hold that good and evil are just “boo” and “cheer” words (the Logical Positivists and so on) may say (they did say) that they were followers of David Hume – but I do not believe that David Hume would have welcomed such “followers”.

    His sceptical position was designed to wake people up (from their smug, self satisfied slumber) David Hume was NOT really trying to establish there was no such thing as a objective right and wrong (good and evil). No more than he was really trying to establish that the universe did not really exist (just sensations in the mind) or that the mind itself did not really exist (that a thought does not mean a thinker).

    Human beings do not make up right and wrong (good and evil) – on the contrary these are the standards by which human conduct is judged (if each person can just make up the rules there is no truth – no yard stick to judge actions).

    This is why we can (and should) say “your action was wrong – even if many people in your “race” or your “historical period” did the same”.

    This is why (for example) Aristotle (the very inventor of the “natural slave” argument) freed his own slaves in his will – because whatever his historical period said (indeed whatever HE HIMSELF said) he knew (at the base of his mind) that slavery was wrong.

    When someone does an evil think they know they are doing an evil thing (whatever they claim) – and no matter how many other people are doing the same evil thing.

    Denials are Bad Faith – adding insult to injury.

  47. David Hume was NOT really trying to establish there was no such thing as a objective right and wrong (good and evil).

    Nobody but you is claiming that he was. I repeat, the matter he investigated and which we are discussing here is that of where our concepts of them come from, and the answer is that they cannot be derived from facts about nature, but instead arise from our sentiments.

    This does not claim that such concepts do not exist, nor does it claim that the human moral sense is irrelevant. It is a matter of origins.

    The problem Paul is that you are dismissing this because it doesn’t suit you. Which you are entitled to do (ironically, on the basis of your own sentiments) but it is tantamount to either not understanding the issue, or simply choosing to ignore it. If you need to derive your principle “from nature” then you are indeed onto a loser. Because it simply cannot be done, and never has been done, and never will be done, and that .1% of the population who call themselves Libertarians want it to be so does not change that.

    If you think you can derive the non aggression principle from nature, please do so in your next reply. If so, I’d recommend then submitting it to a Philosophy journal and buying a suit for your Nobel Prize, because you will have achieved something nobody else has in over two centuries.

    The floor is yours.

  48. Julie near Chicago

    Ian, let us see if we can focus the discussion of the status of the N.A.P. as an ethical statement so as to make said discussion worth pursuing. What we lack, I think, is first of all some solid ground.

    In pursuit of which, would you please define EXACTLY what YOU PERSONALLY mean by “the Non-Aggression Principle”? This includes:

    1. Your exact and precise DEFINITION of the word “principle” as you yourself use it in the phrase–this time, WITH whatever caveats and modifications to the bald phrase you understand, or suspect, it’s necessary to make, and including which of these are your rational convictions and which are “suspicions,” that is, conjectures on which you haven’t come to a firm conclusion;

    2. Your exact and precise definition of the word “aggression,” and, following from that, of the term “non-aggression” as you yourself use it in the phrase; and

    3. YOUR exact and precise definition of the phrase “the Non-Aggression Principle” as a whole.

    4. Examples of the circumstances in which you believe “aggression” occurred in a manner contrary to your understanding of the N.A.P., and

    …4a. Your personal judgments, or feelings, as to whether these aggressions each were “right” or “wrong,” in the context given by the examples;
    …4b. A statement as to whether you yourself believe you were basing your opinions of Point 4a. more on judgment (a reasonably rational, intellectual product) or on feelings (your personal emotional reaction to the incidents described or hypothesized, in the context given); and
    …4c. Your precise meaning of “right” and “wrong” as you use them in answering Point 4a., and also as you personally believe that it is proper to apply them in their ethical sense.

    None of this is intended to be tricky or “gotcha,” because personally I don’t believe in “debate” in the sense of a competition with a winner and a loser, and according to what you’ve already written there’s a simple and obvious way for you to cut off further discussion right at Point 4a, if you can do so while remaining intellectually honest and true to the the facts of your actual positions, in real life, as you’ve exhibited them in words and applied them in your life (which, indeed, only you can know).

    But I would like to see these Points carefully dealt with, because their answers would almost certainly provide a solid ground for discussion. Otherwise, I think we’re just going around in circles.

    Thanks,

    –J.

  49. Julie near Chicago

    Ian, if you’re up for continuing the discussion, I believe that for the same reason I’ve stated above, we also need the same rigorous analysis of what YOU PERSONALLY understand the phrase “derived from nature” to mean, in the context of a statement of general form “This is [or isn't, or can or can't be shown to be] a principle derived from nature.”

    This is at issue in the first sentence of your last comment above:

    “If you think you can derive the non aggression principle from nature….”

    And, alas, if one is going to talk about a principle that can or can’t “be shown to be…,” one also must analyse what one means by the phrase “shown to be.”

    –J.

  50. Julie near Chicago

    Hm, no closing italics tag after quoting Ian, penultimate paragraph above. Apologies. :>(

  51. Julie – what Ian could be saying is that he personally believes in nonaggression, but that it is am arbitrary preference (for him – or for anyone else), no better or worse than aggression.

    That he (Ian) does not like to rape, rob or murder people – but that other people do (and that is correct – many people do enjoy inflicting such violations). And that there is no objective right and wrong (good and evil) to judge the actions of others. No difference between “good” as in pleasurable and “good” as in moral.

    Of course there are people who enjoy (for example) killing – but still do not murder people (restricting their killing to self defence and the defence of others), however the septic can still say “that is just your personal (arbitrary)moral code”.

    It is quite possible for the sceptic to live a moral life, even to die in defence of the innocent, whilst all the time (to their dying breath) denying there is any objective standard (measuring stick) for actions.

    Just as it is possible for the sceptic to believe that the external universe (including other people) do not exist (as its existence can not be proven beyond all doubt) and yet still choose to act as-if it existed.

    This can be frustrating from a philosophical point of view.

    “But you can deny the existence of objective right and wrong”. “Yes I can – and I do, PROVE that right and wrong (good and evil) are anything more than arbitrary preferences – with the man who says that rape is right no more arbitrary than the person who says that rape is wrong”.

    However, from the political point of view……

    What matters (to the political point of view) is what someone does (whether they violate the bodies and goods of others or not), not what they believe.

    Of course a radical disconnect between beliefs and actions may turn out to be a problem over time.

  52. Julie,

    I don’t know why you’re asking me to precisely define the non-aggression principle. Paul brought it up. I just referenced it- however he, you or I may define it- as one of an unlimited number of potential moral principles which may be preferred, but which cannot be derived from nature, which itself can be defined well enough for this discussion as “facts that are known or can be known or are true but unknown about the universe”. So, it doesn’t matter precisely what each of us may think it means, nor is it my responsibility to come up with a definition that we would then inevitably argue about.

    In general on the issue, I am at that point where I cannot think of another way to explain what I’ve already explained. This isn’t a matter of opinion. It’s a matter of fact, and a person either grasps that fact or they don’t. I am all out of words.

  53. Julie near Chicago

    Ian, you made certain statements, using certain terms. Very often when people are in disagreement, it is because they disagree on the meaning of the various terms they’re using, without realizing it.

    You keep insisting that you can’t derive X from Y. I’m wondering what you mean by X and, especially, Y. You made a flat statement about the N.A.P., regardless of who brought it up, and I wondered how closely your understanding of the term is to mine; because a person’s exact conception of a thing has implications that a slightly different conception might not.

    The thing is, you say right here that “It’s a matter of fact, and a person either grasps that fact or they don’t.” I would say, “You keep saying that you are speaking truth, and that I don’t grasp the truth; but the trouble is, from my point of view it’s you who don’t grasp the truth.”

    Nobody said it was “your responsibility” to define anything. What I said was that it might help to move the discussion beyond this impasse if you defined terms precisely and analyzed them carefully, so that I could see exactly what you’re talking about.

    I actually agree with a great deal of what you’ve said, as I’ve explained now at least twice, and I don’t see this as a contest of intellects. I honestly believe that in fact your understanding of what the term “Natural Law” refers to (even given the fact that every philosopher has a slightly different take on it) is really not what it means to most of the philosophers, whether professional or serious amateur, who’ve worked within that tradition (i.e., from the position that there IS something that can reasonably be understood as “natural law”). And I do know that your understanding of Ayn Rand’s philosophy is faulty.

    Anyway, if you want to drop the discussion at this point there are no hard feelings, although I’ve been making notes for a comment explaining my own current understanding of Natural Law within the context of this discussion and its issues. :>((((

    Still, in the freezer there is ice-cream to be eaten for my nightcap, so I won’t commit suicide if you want to drop it (the discussion, not the ice-cream) at this point. :>))

    And the final paragraph below is addressed to you also.

    . . .

    Paul,

    I’m positive you’re quite right in all that you said above, and furthermore I’m quite sure that Ian is a good man (who does not murder innocent people in their beds, nor advocate the politics of an Obama or whatever worthless slugs “lead” either of our two countries). As for Hume, in the end he thought whatever he thought, regardless of what you or Ian or I think he thought. But it’s valuable to run try to his thought to ground, so to speak, and a collaborative effort to catch that rabbit is going to involve differences of opinion or else we’re in the Echo Chamber, which is a very comfortable place until it becomes either boring or uninformative. :>))

    . . .

    Ian and Paul,

    With that I’ll say what I said before: Thanks to both you guys for a very interesting discussion that has provoked me to considerable thought and exploration. I’ve gotten a lot out of it, including enjoyment, and I hope you have too.

  54. Julia,

    The point I’m making is that we don’t need these (in practise, impossible to achieve) precise definitions. This comes back again to the central issue, which is the inherent subjectivity of human thought, and thus language. Everyone has a slightly- or very- different worldview and uses words in different ways; language only works because we have what we might call “sufficient similarity” in our uses of it. When they are significantly divergent, we get people “talking past each other” and constant complaints from both sides of “you’re not understanding what I’m talking about” and accusations of deliberate misrepresentation. We could sit here for a year breaking every word down into finer and finer agreed definitions, but we’d be basically wasting our time.

    So the thing is, the challenge is this; all you or Paul has to do is derive an “ought” from an “is”, and then you or he win the argument. I don’t care what one. If it’s the NAP, define it in whatever way it means to you. Don’t worry about what I think it precisely means. It doesn’t matter. Go with your version.

    But you have to then objectively prove it from some prior objective facts about reality (or nature, or existence, or the universe, whichever term you prefer). That is what it means to get an “ought”- which means literally something which one considers a universal moral rule- from an “is”.

    The claim of “natrual rights” is that there is some set of rules|principles which is intrinsic in nature, and thus universal to us all, which remain objectively and provably true even if nobody happens to know of or believe in them at any particular time or place. So, all you have to do to win this is to prove one of them. Any one will do.

  55. All one has to do is to get an “ought from an is” in order to win the argument.

    Easy.

    “This liquid is deadly poison, therefore you ought not to drink it” – ought from is.

    “But what if someone wants to die – then they should drink the liquid”.

    The same “argument” is as follows.

    “Rape is an aggression, therefore you ought not to rape”

    “But I want to commit an aggression (a violation) therefore I will”.

    That is not denying that rape is evil (objectively evil) that is just someone saying they want to be evil.

    The “ought from an is” remains – “this is evil therefore you ought not to do it” – has actually been accepted, but the violator (the criminal) has decided (has made a choice) to be evil.

  56. Julie – I am actually a rather dark person, that is how I know that morality is naught to do with personal preferences.

    When I have done bad things in the past I have know perfectly well that they were bad. And that no preference of mine (“but it feels good”) could alter that.

    By the way it is not just the sceptical position (that good and evil, right and wrong. are just “boo and cheer words” – meaning nothing more than personal preferences) that is wrong. It is also the idea (pushed from the “Socrates” of Plato) that crime (real crime – violation of others) is an intellectual error, a “lack of knowledge”.

    It is not a lack of knowledge, when a person chooses to do an evil thing they know it is evil (whatever they say) – it is a CHOICE (not an innocent mistake to be corrected by education).

    Harold Prichard pointed this out (in his “Is Moral Philosophy Based Upon a Mistake” – Mind 1912), but doubtless many others had pointed it out before him.

  57. Paul-

    The same “argument” is as follows.

    “Rape is an aggression, therefore you ought not to rape”

    No, that doesn’t work. You see, you’ve assumed that aggression is a moral bad, rather than deriving it from an “is”. Which is the subtle crux of the is/ought problem.

    You have to derive the statement “aggression is morally bad” from some other fact(s).

  58. Julie near Chicago

    Paul, above, 1:45 p.m. — yes, excellent examples.
    . . .

    Here is a 9-minute video, more than half of which is directly pertinent to our discussion here. The description:

    Dr. Douglas Rasmussen … is professor of philosophy at St. John’s University in New York and is coauthor (with Douglas J. Den Uyl) of “Norms of Liberty: A Perfectionist Basis for Non-Perfectionist Politics” (2005). Here, Dr. Stephen Hicks interviews Dr. Rasmussen about his talk on Philippa Foot’s book “Natural Goodness”….

    I certainly hope the Embed code works. If not, the URL is

    http://www.ethicsandentrepreneurship.org/20100427/douglas-rasmussen-on-natural-goodness/

  59. Julie near Chicago

    Try it directly from YouTube:

  60. Julie near Chicago

    Sigh…apologies. — Update: Just got a “Posting too quickly” message again. Maybe the Embed problem is also WP’s. :>(

  61. Julie-

    Excellent examples of what? They don’t answer the question at all.

  62. “Paul you have assumed that aggression [rob, rape, murder] is a moral bad”.

    It is a moral bad. If someone says “it is not a moral bad” they are just lying, and if they then proceed to rob, rape, murder, one does not “argue” with them, one PUNISHES them (because they are violators).

    Just as 1+1=2 – contrary to Bertrand Russell this is not a matter of “proof” (so the hundreds of pages in his book are a waste of time) it is a basic fact. One does not “argue”, or “debate” basic facts.

    “This liquid is a deadly poison, therefore you ought not to drink it” – is-from-ought only “does not work” if someone wants to die.

    “Rape is evil (an aggression – a violation), therefore you ought not to rape” only “does not work” if someone wants to be evil.

    And it is pointless to try and humour evil people. They know (whatever lies they come out with) that what they do is evil. One does not “debate” or “argue” with such people – one punishes their crimes.

  63. My apologies.

    “This liquid is a deadly poison, therefore your ought not to drink it” is an ought-from-is not an is-from-ought.

  64. “It is a moral bad. If someone says “it is not a moral bad” they are just lying,”

    Paul, I know you well enough to know that you have a good brain, so I can only assume that you are being wilfully pig ignorant. The whole issue is here is how we conclude that rape (or anything else) is a moral bad. Just restating it does not address that issue.

  65. Ian – I repeat what I have already said.

    When someone commits an evil act (a clear violation) they know what they are doing is evil.

    Evil is a CHOICE – not a “lack of knowledge”.

    Sadly I know that – from my own personal experience.

    David Hume also knew it.

    And you, Ian, know it as well.

    Saying “well it (the terrible thing I decided to do – and then did) is not really evil – because there is no objective good or evil” is just nonsense, bad faith.

  66. For fuck’s sake Paul, we’re doing moral philosophy here. “What do we know, and how do we know it?”

    At least make an effort.

    “How do you decide that X is evil”? That is what we are trying to find out. You can’t just keep saying “because it is, and anyone who disagrees is evil”. It doesn’t work that way.

  67. Ian.

    I repeat what I have already said (several times) and no amount of philosophical double talk (or swearing) alters the fact that it is correct.

    David Hume’s demands that people “prove” the obvious (such as the existence of the external universe, and the existence of the reasoning agent, the “I”, and the existence of objective right and wrong – good and evil) were an error (if they were meant seriously).

    David Hume was asking for “foundations” for what actually are the foundations (including of his own existence).

    David Hume knew that he (David Hume – an agent an “I”) existed – so his “thoughts do not prove the existence of a thinker” was just silly.

    David Hume knew that the external universe existed (so his “well it could be just sensations in the mind” [the mind he had just questioned the existence of] was not useful).

    David Hume knew that right and wrong, good and evil, objectively existed (that they were nothing to do with personal preferences) so his demands that people “prove” this was a category mistake.

    The demand for “proof” for the very foundations of the concept of “proof”.

    It is all very well to wake people up from their “dogmatic slumbers” (as Kant put it).

    But it is not well (it is very far from well) if people start to take it seriously.

    David Hume never intended to be a system builder – that people would take these intellectual games (which is all they are) seriously and try and ACT ON THE BASIS OF THEM never entered his head (I would argue that he should have seen that danger – but that is with centuries of hindsight).

    When Hume actually met Rousseau he was horrified by the man – but still did not see the danger.

    The danger that some people (some powerful people – with many followers) will take such intellectual games seriously, and try and put them into practice.

    The Logical Positivists (the Vienna Circle and so on) tried to do the same thing in modern times (as have many others).

    See Joad – “A Critique of Logical Positivism”.

    Yes David Hume never intended such things to come to pass – the idea that objective good and evil (right and wrong) do not exist, that they are just “boo and cheer words” would have horrified him. Living in the High Whig age – it never occurred to him that an intellectual game could get out of hand.

    But it did get out of hand – people started to take it seriously. David Hume never intended that (far from it).

    And, of course, if there is no such thing as good and evil (right and wrong) then the libertarian “non aggression principle” can not be right – it would have no basis (none). And nor would anything else – all that would be left is the VOID (and that which exists in the void).

  68. Okay, I give up. You really are either stupid or being wilfully dishonest Paul. Either way, I’m disappointed. The accusation that anyone (in this case Hume) who disagrees with Paul Marks’s magical intrinsic certainties was just having a laugh is particularly assinine.

  69. Ian.

    I have never said that David Hume “disagreed” with objective right and wrong (good and evil), indeed I have said (many times) the exact opposite of that. That is why I always stress that he is playing incredibly complex intellectual games – NOT really saying that the physical universe does not really exist (just sensations in the mind), NOT really saying that the mind (the reasoning “I”) does not really exist either, and NOT really saying that right and wrong (good and evil) do not exist.

    Nor have I have ever said that right and wrong (good and evil) were “magic”.

    Nor have I ever said that David Hume’s incredibly complex intellectual games (designed to challenge complacency – what was later called “dogmatic slumbers”) was “having a laugh”.

    Those who really do deny the real existence of right and wrong (good and evil) as yardsticks to measure human behaviour (not as just personal preferences) are, whether they admit or not, slaves of evil.

    For that is where “we must free ourselves of these moral chains of right and wrong” (the head of the World Health Organisation – quoted, with horror, by F.A. Hayek) leads – not to freedom, but to slavery (political as well as spiritual).

    Those who claim to be above right and wrong (that right and wrong, good and evil, are whatever their preferences say they are) are slaves of evil – and it does not matter whether the Devil exists or not, for that to be true (it is just as correct in an atheist universe as it is if God exists – as the Scholastics were fond of pointing out “Natural Law is the law of God – but if God did not exist Natural Law would be exactly the same”).

    David Hume did not want people to be slaves of evil – not at all.

    For that we must go (for example) to a late 19th century German philosopher who died in the madhouse.

    It is often pointed out (I have done so myself) that Fred N. did not support the specific political principles of the National Socialists.

    Fred was not an anti-Semite (unlike his sister), nor did he believe in economic collectivism or German nationalism.

    So why the fasciation with him by the National Socialists?

    It was pure philosophy – the denial of objective (universal) right and wrong, good and evil.

    David Hume is engaged in an intellectual exercise (THOUGHT EXPERIMENTS).

    Frederick Nietzsche is in deadly earnest (he actually means it – all of it).

    That is why he is so terrible – and that is why the followers of the Black Flag felt drawn to him.

    There is a brief point in Nietzsche, when he discusses “Athena”, when he seems on the verge of redemption (when the good in him shows itself – for redemption can be a SECULAR term, it is not just a religious one) – but then he thrusts it away (makes a choice to turn away from the good in himself) and returns to his (false) claim that the choice is between “Apollo” (the ILLUSION of right and wrong) and “Dionysius” – the acceptance of (embrace of, leaping into the swamp) of evil – with the claim that there is no objective good and evil (right and wrong), just one’s own desires (the deliberate rejection of the voice of conscience).

  70. Paul, I apologise for losing my temper.

    But, I have a dream, like Dr King, except my dream is that one day we get past arguing about this point to discussing the ramifications of a subjective moral sense.

    You see, it does not follow that a subjectivist morality is a negation of morality. It does not deny the existence of categories of good and bad behaviour. It does not imply the absence of rules, and ethics, and judgement. It even, in a curious way which I personally find quite marvellous, allows one to derive something similar to the non-aggression principle by a curious route.

    One way I would put it is this; the lack of intrinsic value of economic goods is central to understanding Austrian economics. But Austrian economics does not deny the existence of value; quite the opposite. It tells us the true origin of value (in subjective judgement). Likewise, the absence of intrinsic moral values does not deny the existence of moral values; quite the opposite. It tells us the true origin of them. That is not something to be scared of. It opens up a whole vista of understanding how a libertarian approach is the most suited to reality.

    I do not deny that many people have naively suggested that there are no morals at all; but that is not what I am saying at all.

  71. Ian I agree that economic value is subjective – but that does not mean that everything is (for example the subjective nature of economic value is an objectively true theory).

    My position is basically one of conscience – what Socrates called his “demon” (not he did not mean some imp with a tail). The real Socrates – not that thing that Plato creates.

    The conscience is not the same as personal preferences (on the contrary they are often wildly different) and it is quite clear that many people make a choice to ignore the “voice of conscience”.

    One does not need to go to Frederick Neitzsche – one can go back as a the plays of Ancient Athens.

    For example, “The Trojan Women” is really an attack on the Athenian slaughter of the men (and enslavement of the women) on a neutral island – check the dates.

    This play was put on in the theatre before the very Citizens who had ordered the crime (Athens being a direct democracy).

    Why did it bother people?

    After all they did not have the same religion as us, and they were not in same “historical stage” – so why were they upset?

    They were upset because they (the people) had a conscience – they knew (deep down) that they had done wrong and the play reminded them of this. Otherwise the play would not have “worked”.

    Yet the “culture” of these people was totally different to ours (and it was thousands of years ago). So if conscience is just an “illusion” (relative – just individual preferences or a “cultural product”) how come this (and other plays) so upset people? How come they are still powerful now?

    People can choose to go against their conscience (and do terrible things) – but they still have a conscience.. At some level (even as they robbing, murdering, enslaving and so on() they know that the moral law is not “relative” or “subjective” – they now they are DOING WRONG.

    For example someone who says “my subjective moral sense tells me we were right to murder those men on the island and enslave the women” he is not telling the truth, his “subjective moral sense” is not “equally valid” with his conscience – if he is pretending that he does not “hear the voice of conscience”.

    That is why when a dam breaks and the wall of water kills people – it is not being evil (the water is not agent – it made no choice and has no conscience).

    But a human being who (for example) goes around smashing the heads of babies, is being evil – because they could have chosen not to do this (they could have done otherwise than they did).

  72. Julie near Chicago

    Ian B | 25 February, 2014 at 12:17 pm says:

    ‘ … [W]e’re doing moral philosophy here. “What do we know, and how do we know it?”’

    Of course using words carefully and knowing what one is talking about is no use, as Ian as assured us vehemently (10:31 p.m. 2/23; 11:43 a.m. 2/24, esp. last paragraph), but I just have to observe that “What do we know and how do we know it” is precisely the subject matter of Epistemology, or “the study of knowing,” rather than of Moral Philosophy, which is “the study of Morality.”

    It’s like the distinction between math and physics: they aren’t the same thing — when we work on issues in physics (analogue: morality) we use results from mathematics (analogue: epistemology).

    This may be a minor error on Ian’s part or it may result from ignorance (NOTE WELL, that’s not at all the same thing as stupidity!); but my request so many paragraphs up was aimed at getting clear statements of what he himself understands his concepts to mean, because it seems to me this sort of error abounds.

  73. Julie near Chicago

    O/T ??? Paul — Bertrand Russell wasn’t saying that “In Real Life,” so to speak, it’s anything other than self-evident that if you take one apple and put it in a basket and then take another and put it in the basket also, then you will have two apples in the basket. And the same principle holds whether you’re talking about apples or eggheads or whatever. And we write this in shorthand as 1+1=2, which we know applies across the board, given that we have a strictly-agreed-upon understanding of the words “plus” and “equals,” to which the signs “+” and “=” will always be used to mean.

    Russell, and the mathematician Peano, and lots of others, have been interested in seeing if they could come up with a set of definitions and postulates which would logically imply regular integer arithmetic (example, 1+1=2). And they found they could.

    This is in no way a big deal when you & I go to the grocery store, but it’s a very big deal to mathematicians because it helps them to develop mathematical systems that they can be sure hang together logically. And interestingly, these systems usually turn out to be useful in trying to understand some of the more abstruse realities — understand at least “how they work,” if not exactly “what they are” — and then to be useful in making things, like computers.

    It’s in that sense that Russell’s or Peano’s or any abstract thinker’s work is not worthless, even when all it does is to give us another way of looking at something that we all know perfectly well to begin with.

    Connection to main discussion below:

  74. Julie near Chicago

    Connection as promised. On 2/28, 11:23 p.m., I wrote:

    I have concluded that there are real differences in the way people’s minds work … the kinds of connections they make, the sorts of things that come more or less readily to them, etc. ….

    So for instance, Paul’s way of thinking gives him both viewpoints and strengths that Ian and I both lack, but by the same token when he doesn’t quite see Ian’s, or my, point of view and the conclusions one of us draws from it, that’s not likely to be willful “blocking” or “pigheadedness” or whatever pejorative one ascribes to him.

    (Although speaking mostly from introspection but also from my experience teaching calculus to college students, “willful blocking” certainly does occur. Where a person has an attitude “I don’t understand this and you can’t make me!” lol)

    It is equally the case that Ian’s mind doesn’t work quite like Paul’s or mine.

    I don’t think we’re going to “resolve” our issues here, but it would be nice if each of us could come away with a bit of additional knowledge or, at least, with the realization that the others might have something in their viewpoint that is worth considering.

  75. Julie,

    Please stop dancing around the point, weaving rococo patterns. The issue here is very clear, and well described (elsewhere on the web, even wikipedia). It is whether or not one can derive an “ought” from an “is”.

    I have said several times now that if I am incorrect- if it is possible to do so- then all you have to do is to derive an ought from an is, and that will prove me wrong.

    All you have to do is declare one moral statement which can be found in nature. That is it. That’s all you have to do.

  76. Julie “if you put one apple next to another apple” it is anything “other” than self evident that there are two apples?

    Surely it is self evident – not “anything other than self evident”?

    But then also basic truths are self evident – that is why they are called “basic” truths. Hence the way of speaking the Founders took from Thomas Reid “we hold these truths to be self evident”.

    But then Bertrand Russell was one of those “liberals” (they go back to many of the Philosophical Radicals, the Westminster Review crowd) who tried to combine liberty and Thomas Hobbes – which makes no sense at all (not politically and philosophically either).

    Not that I remember him for that – I remember as just another lefty idiot (like his mathematician partner Whitehead – who thought that Franklin Roosevelt was wonderful). It was not just submission to the Soviets…….

    Back in the 1930s the Bertrand Russell defence policy was “we should invite the occupying Germans in for tea and explain our way of life to them” – and Russell was not joking.

    He was as wrong headed as his ancestor the Duke of Bedford who supported the French Revolution.

    Yes the Revolution that wanted to kill all aristocratic landowners (like himself) – and hundreds of thousands of other people.

    Even after Burke addressed “Letter To A Noble Lord” to the Duke of Bedford (the Russell of his day – in more ways than one) the Duke still did not “get it”.

    Sometimes you can explain something as best you can – but the person still does not “get it” (or claims they do not – I have never believed them).

    Then one ignores that person – unless they commit treason (or some other major offence) then one kills them.

  77. So, now we know. Whenever anyone in the world wants to know what the truth is, they just phone up Paul Marks and ask him what he finds to be “self evident”.

  78. That should have been “all” (not “also”) basic truths are self evident – that is why they are called “basic” truths.

    Still I am no mathematician – so I do not wish to imply that I am.

    In logic I hate what happened in the 19th century – the replacement of normal language with letters and numbers (as if logic was mathematics – accept drop the “as if” – they made reasoning a branch of mathematics).

    I could hand a copy of Richard Whately’s “Elements of Logic” (the standard early 19th century Oxford text on logic) to most ordinary people on a stake out (or whatever) and (with an effort) they can understand it. I know that because I have done it – there is a lot of waiting around in jobs I have done. That does not mean that it is perfect (far from it), but people can get something from if – if they make an effort.

    But I a modern work? It might as well be collection of magic spells. Written in the speech of Mordor.

    I hate it (what they have done to the teaching of logic) really hate it. But (as Ian would rightly say) “if that floats their boat”.

    While I am here…….

    A protest against modern Science Fiction and Fantasy.

    Specifically the division between “Order and Chaos” that seems to have taken over from the old division of good versus evil.

    As they are normally presented (in modern Science Fiction and Fantasy) “Order” and “Chaos” are BOTH evil (although that is not admitted) – because “Order” is presented as some ruler (or rulers) ordering people about (evil) and “Chaos” is presented as a lot of raiding, robbing, raping and murdering (also evil).

    Toss the “you have to choose Order or Chaos” thing down the toilet.

    Slavery (this sort of statist “Order”) is evil – and raiding (this sort of “Chaos”) is evil also.

  79. That should have been “all” (not “also”) basic truths are self evident – that is why they are called “basic” truths.

    Paul, you do realise that this statement is entirely unsupportable?

  80. Julie near Chicago

    Paul — Russell-the-mathematician is entirely different from Russell-the-would-be-political-philosopher. (I know you know this.) I was focussing strictly on the former.

    It is certainly self-evident that if you hold up an apple and then hold up another with it, and if I hold up one finger and then hold up another finger alongside it, the number of apples and fingers held up is the same. In shorthand, 1+1=2, for both apples and fingers.

    We are in perfect agreement there (well, nearly perfect, and certainly for our present purposes).

  81. Julie near Chicago

    Strictly an aside, because I love talking about this stuff: The symbols of “formal” logic that we use today are only an extension of the symbols of old-fashioned arithmetic. They are useful to the extent that they allow us (that is, those of us who want to use them) to think through various chains of deduction without being hampered by our feelings about the subject of our inquiry. And this does go all the way back to Aristotle, only his “symbols” were words, not the special ones logicians use today.

    So for instance, let us say we know that “If B must be true whenever A is true, and A IS true, so therefore B is true” is a correct (and Aristotelian) syllogism, or a valid process of reasoning.

    Usually we’re less wordy: “If A is true, and if A always implies B, then B is true.”

    Sometimes, the single premise “A” isn’t enough. Sometimes you need A, A’, A”, and so forth each to be true before you can conclude that B will be true.

    Of course one can be “Intuitionist” in one’s way of thinking, and actually I think all of are Intuitionists at the core, which is not to say intuitions have no bases. In fact in my opinion, intuition rests on our experience, and it occurs because of the way the human mind “digests” and produces expectations or “understandings” from that experience.

  82. All of which is fascinating, but in this context meaningless until you can verify the validity of the axioms of your logical system. Then you can construct any system on top of them of dizzying and thrilling complexity.

    So, back to the axioms. So far, Paul’s offering is that they are whatever he considers to be “self evident”.

    What’s your offering, Julie?

  83. ian – if you want to read a decent work on traditional logic (such as the one I cite above) then do so, and come back to me when you have done so.

    Till then – fuck off.

    See I know how to swear just as well as you.

  84. Julie.

    I do not deny that using numbers and letters (rather than full language) can sometimes save time. However, it has gone too far (much too far) and a lot of vital information is lost by trying to shove all reasoning into a mathematical form.

  85. Well Paul, now we know you know how to swear. We also know you can’t do basic reasoning.

    So, quite instructive all round then.

  86. Ian – traditional logic IS “basic reasoning”.

    And self evident statements (such as the law of identity – A is A) is a basic part of it.

    Have you read any works on traditional reasoning?

    Have you read (for example) Richard Whately’s “Elements of Logic”?

    I suspect the answer is “no”.

    So you are rejecting stuff without knowing anything about it.

    “Well that is a long time ago”.

    Very well – let us turn to ethics.

    Thomas Reid is no older than David Hume – but you will not read Reid because he was a long time ago (there is a problem in “basic reasoning” with that position), but let us let that slide.

    Have you read Harold Prichard and Sir William David Ross – the main writers on the ethics in early 20th century Oxford?

    Again I suspect the answer is “no”.

    “But Paul I do not need to read X,Y.Z, people to know the difference between right and wrong”.

    I agree with you (if that is your fall back position) – and that is exactly my point.

    You already know the difference between right and wrong – good and evil.

    And so do other people.

    Otherwise you can not explain why such plays as “The Trojan Woman” were so powerful in Ancient Athens (in spite of their different religion, culture and “historical stage”) and are still powerful today.

    Knowing the difference between right and wrong (good and evil) does not mean that people always do what is right.

    On the contrary people often choose evil.

    Just as those Athenian citizens who “The Trojan Women” was written for – had chosen evil (which was why the play was written – to remind them what they had done).

  87. Paul, the problem is how you decide what is “self evident”. Suppose you have a list of statements about the world; how do you formulate a method for distinguishing the self evident from the not self evident? The fact that you feel certain of which category a statement should go in is not good enough. Many people may consider statements like, “Jesus loves you” or “Whites are superior to blacks” or “The nation is more important than the citizen” to be self evident. Others would not.

    Have you an objective system for distinguishing A from not A in this manner?

  88. ian.

    If you have not already done so…. (which you may have done).

    Read a traditional work on logic – such as the one I have cited (although it is far from perfect).

    Then come back when you have.

    As for an example of a self evident statement – I have already given you one “A is A”.

    An example of an none self evident statement would be….

    “Lord Keynes was really Ming the Mercyless Emperor of the planet Mongo”.

    This statement is far from self evident – and would require proof.

    A self evident statement is (for example) a statement that does not require “proof” because it is true BY DEFINITION.

    To ask for “proof” for a statement that is a matter of self evident truth is an error.

    It would be like asking……. “WHY does 1 + 1 = 2, PROVE that 1+1=2″.

    That is not reasoning – it is silliness.

    Reasoning depends on certain foundational principles – to demand “foundations” for what are the foundations is an error.

    One starts from certain principles (example – A is A, law of identity) and uses them for more difficult matters.

    If one denies the concept of self evident truth one has not “improved” or “reformed” reasoning – one has destroyed reasoning.

    Thankfully Thomas Reid and Harold Prichard are not around to sue me for plagiarism.

    Sadly even my friend Antony Flew is not around any more.

  89. As for ethics.

    As I have already said – such plays as “The Trojan Women” show that basic right and wrong (good and evil) is NOT culturally specific – tell the story to a tribe in the Amazon jungle and they will still get the point.

    The alternative view is that ethics is a matter of arbitrary personal preferences – either of one’s self (the position of Frederick Nietzsche and others) or (more often) God.

    This view stresses the WILL (not the reason) of God – and denies that human beings can know what is right and wrong without the commands of this form of God (because it DEFINES good and evil as simply what God commands and what God forbids – Nietzsche just takes this and puts the “master man” in the place of God).

    It is, of course, the extreme Calvinist or Islamic view – and NOT one that I would expect Ian to have sympathy with.

  90. Nietzsche’s brief examination of the idea of “Athena” (before he pushes away the best part of himself) shows that even he knew the difference between right and wrong (and that it was not the same thing as what he liked to do and what he did not like to do).

    An Islamist is no different.

    When an Islamic cuts off the head of an innocent man he knows that he (the Islamist) is doing wrong.

    That is why it is correct to talk of an Islamist being “evil” (because he has made a choice), but not correct to talk of a wall of water that kills people (after a dam has failed) as being evil.

    So when Thomas Hobbes confuses the “freedom” of water after a dam has failed with the moral freedom of a human being (not that Hobbes would use the term human “being” of course) he is making a basic error.

    People refuse to read Ralph Cudworth because he is “old” (even though he was younger than Hobbes and was replying to Hobbes) ditto Thomas Reid (in relation to David Hume).

  91. Once again Paul you haven’t answered the question. Definitional statements such as A is A or 1+1=2 are self evident because they are definitions.

    We then have statements about the world which are “obvious”, such as “my head is attached to my neck”. But these are themselves in the category of statements which need proof; it is simply that the proof is immediately apparent and thus trivial. Other statements- “Paul Marks lives in Kettering” or “The sun is a fusion reactor” demonstrate a need for more proof, and are varying degrees of uncertain; in fact Popper demonstrated that we can never quite prove any of these things; so as humans we just set a level of “beyond my personal doubt” and move on. (Popper didn’t say that last thing; I did. Just now).

    Nonetheless, we can probably agree that there is an objective reality, about which statements of various degrees of certainty can be made. “My head is attached to my neck” is much more certain than “the sun is a fusion reactor”. But I personally accept them both as pretty much certain.

    None of which helps us jump the gap from Is to Ought. The basic problem that you keep skirting around- but which is central- is that “ought” statements cannot be derived from statements which are either self-evident or provable. Any “ought” statement always, we find, has another “ought” in its derivation, either explicit or implicit. And there we get stuck. Simply repeatedly declaring that it is “self evident” to you that certain actions can be certainly categorised as good or evil doesn’t help. It’s just a declaration of faith. Which is itself, ironically, subjective.

    Which in turn is why no two people have the same moral systems. Everyone disagrees to greater or lesser degrees about what is moral and what is not and, most significantly, to what degree something is moral or immoral.

    Which brings us to the other interesting demonstration that we’re talking about values, the same as economic values. And thus, they have no cardinal value, but are ranked ordinally. People think, rape is worse than murder or, murder is worse than rape. They may agree that both are bad; but how bad, based on which is worse than the other…

    well, that is why nobody can ever decide whether the courts are being too lenient or too severe, and so on. Because it’s all subjective.

  92. Julie near Chicago

    This is ridiculous. Paul writes, on 2/26 at 11:46 a.m.,

    “A self evident statement is (for example) a statement that does not require “proof” because it is true BY DEFINITION.”

    And then Ian begins his VERY NEXT POSTING, at 26 February, 2014 at 1:14 pm:

    ‘Definitional statements such as A is A or 1+1=2 are self evident because they are definitions.’

    which is exactly, precisely what Paul said.

    This whole discussion has been going like this.

  93. Julie,

    The problem is that Paul is then smearing his “self evident” to mean anything that he personally considers personally certain. Which is a different thing. Which is why I specified that.

    That is, he is attempting (so far as I can tell) to claim that there are self evident moral statements. Which is not the case.

  94. Anyway Julie, are you going to address the actual issue, since I’ve asked you several times to?

  95. Julie near Chicago

    And, of course, I have. But you either don’t read the responses, don’t grasp them, or deliberately change the subject.

    Paul says there are self-evident moral statements–“Which,” as you state flatly, “is not the case.”

    Fine. That’s your opinion, or preference, or sentiment. But the fact that it’s your opinion has no probative value whatsoever.

    As an aside, what is self-evident to one person is not necessarily self-evident to another.

    In all seriousness and all honesty, I would like to ask you what is your real motivation in this discussion? Is it truly just to enjoy exploring each others’ ideas and points of view and understandings, with a view to seeing whether they offer you anything of value to consider in your own thinking?

    Or is it to play the obstructionist game, because the important thing to you is “winning the argument”? If the latter, say so honestly and up-front. Then the rest of us can decide if we want to play a debating game on those terms or not.

    Ian, I can explain my positions on various issues until I’m blue in the face, but if you’re not going to get anything out of the explanations except another chance to jeer, there’s not much motivation for me to do so (unless Paul’s sufficiently interested in my POV, as I am in his). Furthermore I don’t see why you do this, nor why you make statements like your last, seeing that I’ve said more than once that I agree with you to a fair extent.

  96. Julie. I am interested in what the truth of the matter is. That’s why I’m debating. The same as I am interested, say, in whether the Austrian view of economic value is correct compared to, say, the Marxist view or the Ricardian view.

    So, let’s take that as an example. The theory of economic value is not a matter of opinion. If I say, “economic value is subjective”, I am stating that as a statement of fact. Paul would, I know, agree that it is a statement of fact. Not a statement of an opinion. It is a statement which is either true, or it is not, and I (and Paul) would argue that it is beyond doubt (interpret that as you will) that it is a correct statement.

    Why does it matter? Because if your theory of value is wrong, you can’t do any meaningful economics, because all your hypotheses based on an incorrect theory of value (e.g. the labour theory of value) would be subsequently wrong; which was Marx’s problem.

    So, analogously (or indeed homologously); either the statement “moral values are subjective” is true, or it is false. And that is what I am trying to discuss here.

    Is there one, objective, discoverable moral value system. Yes or no? That’s the issue. I say it is no.

    If you say it is yes, then all you have to do is supply one moral statement- one “ought”- that is derived from nature- the “is”. It’s that simple. I don’t understand why you refuse to address this request.

  97. Just as a reminder, this is because it is a central issue to libertarians as to whether there is such a thing as a set of “natural” rights or not.

  98. Julie near Chicago

    “all you have to do is supply one moral statement- one “ought”- that is derived from nature- the “is”. It’s that simple. I don’t understand why you refuse to address this request.”

    I HAVE “addressed it” about 8000 times by now, and so has Paul.

    Whereas YOU have been asked to plant your goalpost by telling us exactly what you mean by your various terms, since they seem to change every time you speak; and you have given us long lectures about how defining your terms will only lead to arguments and so forth, and besides that it’s “not your responsibility” to do any such thing.

  99. Julie, this is really straightforward stuff. Paul made one attempt, and I showed that his ought relied on a prior ought. You haven’t made one attempt. You’ve just asked me to define terms, and I graciously said that I am happy to use whatever definitions you want to use because they do not matter because the problem is a general and broad one.

    Look, please go and read, say, the Wikipedia on Is and Ought. It’s not like I made this up. It is a broadly understood problem in philosophy.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Is–ought_problem

    I know that that is patronising and I normally avoid doing it and I do not mean to be rude, but it really seems you can’t engage with the issue.

    To analogise again, it is like trying to discuss subjective economic value with somebody who keeps saying “define what you mean by “value”, define what you mean by “economic”, define what you mean by “labour”, define what you mean by…”

    Which is enormously frustrating.

  100. Julie near Chicago

    Now. Any logical argument (and I mean “argument” in the sense of an intellectual as opposed to a combative exchange) that is supposed to tell us something about “Nature” or “Reality” — and when capitalized I DO USE those words precisely synonymously — is going to rely on “input,” or givens, taken FROM Nature/Reality.

    WE are part of Reality, part of Nature. We humans also have our own individual natures. Part of an individual’s nature is common to all properly-functioning humans, and is therefore called “human nature.” Human nature itself exists within Nature, so is natural. Also, part of an individual’s nature is particular to him and some others, and part is unique to him; but those parts are still found in Nature.

    It is human nature to be able to perceive (some) parts of Nature that are external to the particular person, and it is human nature to be able to perceive (some) parts of Nature that are internal to the particular person.

    So, since we each exist WITHIN Nature, and we each HAVE a nature which is part of Nature, we can observe how at least some things in external reality, i.e. external nature, affect us.

    It is an observable fact that fire can kill us, that certain substances can kill us, that x, y, z will cause us pain of a sort too terrible to endure, that certain circumstances will arouse in us the feeling that life is well worth the living even though it also sometimes brings great pain.

    A thing that seems likely to kill us, or cause us great suffering, we sort into the category of things we label “bad.” And if they are virtually always so, for virtually everyone in nearly every circumstance, we elevate “bad” to Bad, meaning AGAINST HUMAN NATURE. The leaves of Atropina belladonna are against human nature in that they have the natural and nearly certain effect of destroying the human. And, of course, his human nature with him.

    Whereas other things, things that are necessary or useful for the continuance of almost every human’s life, things that make life worth living, are sorted into the category of things we label “good.” And if they are virtually always so, for virtually everyone in nearly every circumstance, we elevate “good” to Good, meaning FOR HUMAN NATURE. “For,” as opposed to “against,” human nature and therefore “for” human life. Promoting human life by being good for humans.

    Objective Good, then, is that which is good for humans, as measured by their nature as humans. Objective Bad is that which is bad for humans, given their nature as humans.

    Please notice that all humans without exception have this in common, that they are INDIVIDUAL BEINGS. Therefore it is part of human nature to BE an individual being, and that which would obliterate or ignore that fact is Bad. So the anti-individual idea or action or agenda is already against human nature, which has decreed that we are individuals, and that that’s that.

    We can understand Natural Law as our conceptualization of fact that there are always consequences to us as humans that will follow naturally from this or that circumstance. It is Natural Law that if I drink hemlock I will die (absent quick intervention, of course). It is Natural Law that certain foods will tend to increase my chances of being physically healthy.

    It is a Law of Nature that if I let go of an apple from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it will fall to the ground (unless it happens to land on the back of a gull flying under the window). The phenomena of physics are examples of Natural Law at work.

    It is Natural Law that when we see people who appear to be acting for the Bad of other people, people who are not hurting them, we think badly of them, we judge them as “bad people” and sort them into the category Bad, and consider them “immoral,” as shown by their bad acts.

    (In light of all that, we could say that morality is the art of avoiding doing bad to either others or ourselves, and certainly avoiding doing Bad. ["Do not unto others...."] Our moral code is the set of principles and rules we try to follow to enable us to act morally. One other thing: This definition also requires that we try at a minimum to do positive good for ourselves, because for each individual, to neglect his own good is to do bad to himself.)

    Of course, humans are fallible and foolish and misguided and worse, and sometimes do not recognize what properly belongs in the category “Bad” or the category “Good,” just as sometimes they misjudge the distance from one stairstep to the next and fall and break their skulls. That does not mean there’s no such thing as an objective distance between the stairsteps, and it does not mean mean that we should not judge the fallen as having a bad (harmful) notion of what that distance means for him personally (or for those he cares about, if he was on his way to work but goes to the hospital instead).

    And we are so constituted (by Nature: It is our human nature) as to judge whether we ourselves are performing acts or have performed an act that on balance should be sorted into Bad (“immoral”), or Good (“moral”) or more-or-less neutral morally.

    So here is the reason for yesterday’s discussion of the logical syllogism:

    Our “ought” needs, in any case, two “givens”:

    GIVEN that such-and-such is the reality, or is so, i.e.: that it exists in Nature (or “is a fact of Nature”)
    and
    GIVEN that we wish such-and-such to exist, or to occur, in Reality, in Nature,

    THEN

    We OUGHT to do so-and-so.

    This specifically derives “ought” from “is”: In fact, from two “is’s,” that is, from two existent facts: A fact of Nature which may or may not be external to us, and a fact of Nature which is specifically internal to us.

  101. “No man ever denied that there are self-evident truths and that these must be assumed as the foundation of our reasoning”.

    J.S. Mill – in his “Examination of the Philosophy of Sir William Hamilton” (as cited by James McCosh on page 220 of his “The Scottish Philosophy” – also see McCosh’s “Examination of the Philosophy of John Stuart Mill”).

    Of course some people who DO deny this – but J.S. Mill was not one of them. And the quote is NOT out of context (as further quotes, on the same page, show).

    Sadly (in another place) J.S. Mill followed his father (James Mill) in thinking there might be worlds were “two plus two equals five”.

    This can lead to a misunderstanding (a fundamental misunderstanding) of what freedom is.

    Freedom is not the ability to be free of the consequences of nature and logic (to make two plus two equal five) freedom is the ability to make a choice – then the consequences of that choice follow.

    For example, people are “free to rape” – but they are NOT free to not having then done an evil act.

    People are free to choose whether or not to commit an evil act – but we are NOT free of the guilt of having committed an evil action, simply by declaring that the evil action (acting on the evil choice) was not evil.

  102. For an example of how a supposedly abstract principle (a logical axiom) has practical consequences in nature…..

    See how the demonstrations of Archimedes concerning conic sections apply to the elliptic orbits of the comets as shown by Kepler (hat tip to McCosh “The Scottish Philosophy” page 243).

    For Mill on the possibility of two plus two making five – see McCosh (op cit) page 384-385.

    McCosh did write a full length work on Mill (“A Defence of Fundamental Truth: Being an Examination of the Philosophy of Mr J.S. Mill”), but I do not believe he did that in relation to David Hume. The section devoted to David Hume in “The Scottish Philosophy” is from page 113 to page 161.

    I think it (this section) does bend over backwards to be nice too much. But then McCosh was writing in 1875 – and as know as a kindly man even in that polite age.

    However, if James McCosh were to return to Princeton today (he died in 1894) it is not hard to see that he would be sent to righteous anger – when confronted with the sheer wickedness (the word is not too strong) of such people as Paul Krugman.

    The moral decay of Princeton started only a few years after McCosh left – with the university falling under the control of Woodrow Wilson (a man who deceived in the most dreadful ways).

    I will end this as McCosh does.

    “But as Mill and [Herbert] Spencer have not been able to get rid of first truths so no other will, and this whether they avow it or no. All processes must conduct to something ultimate. Thought requires a final resting place, that will be found, self-evident, necessary, universal. The age demands that the subject be rediscussed, with the view of determining what are the first, the last, and the everlasting principles of thought and truth. Some of those defended by the Scottish metaphysicians may be derivative [just as McCosh exposes Reid when he is sloppy, pages 217-221 op cit, so others can expose the mistakes of MCCOSH - and he would not have been offended], but they will be found to imply a root from which they have sprung”.

  103. Julie near Chicago

    Very, very well said, Paul. I was going to have hemlock tea for breakfast, but now I think I’ll stick with mundane (but hot and delicious) old coffee instead. :>)

  104. Julie,

    I’m not ignoring your reply. I’ve written two further replies and abandoned them because they foundered on language; I’m having trouble stating what I mean clearly. Also, quite busy with other things at the moment. But I’ll reply when I can do so adequately :)

  105. Julie near Chicago

    Ian, at this point I need a break anyway. Maybe we can revisit the topic sometime later on.

    Thanks for your nice comment, much appreciated. :)