Friday, March 17, 2006

Noodlefood Gem

Diana over at Noodlefood has written an illuminating piece dissecting some of the major errors committed by David Kelley in his interpretation of (read: attempt to re-write) Objectivism. I found this passage particularly insightful:
The most glaring oddity in this passage is Kelley's claim that "we measure the degree of irrationality by considering the scope and value significance of the foreseeable consequences that were evaded" (T&T 10). Since when?!? Apparently, irrationality is no longer to be understood in principled terms as the willful indifference to or rejection of the facts of reality (VOS 27-8), as the pursuit of desires contrary to facts (VOS 31), and as the attempt to defy reality by rejecting reason (AS 959). According to Kelley, that broad perspective is dangerous: it encourages us to think of evasion as "intrinsically wrong, apart from its consequences" (T&T 10). Instead, the irrationality of any given mental process is to be judged on the basis of the harms likely to result from it, as in the comparison of the dieter to the dictator. Kelley interprets "the fundamental and all-encompassing standard" of life in the most concrete-bound terms, so that it only concerns "the foreseeable consequences" of actions (T&T 10). Ayn Rand's broad integrations -- like the inevitable peril to human life of rejecting reality and reason in favor of fancy and whim -- are discarded. And so Kelley reduces the scope of irrationality from evasion of any fact whatsoever to just evasion of the likely outcomes of action.

What does all that mean in practice? It means that if John's wife threatens divorce if she catches him in bed with yet another hooker, John can be morally condemned as irrational for soliciting the in-home services of "Bunny" only to the extent that he evades the risks of detection and the pain of divorce. He cannot be condemned for ignoring his past promises of fidelity, blaming his actions upon his "bad" genes, and deceiving himself about his hostility toward his wife -- even though those evasions also made the call to "Bunny" possible. Also, if "Bunny" insists that John use a condom, then his wrong isn't quite so bad, since he need not evade the great risk that he will transmit some nasty STD to his wife.

Similarly, if a Marxist professor evades the facts about the respective histories of capitalism and socialism, he's not to be condemned as irrational -- so long as he has some tissue-paper rationalizations blaming the poverty and repression of socialist countries upon capitalist enemies or poor leadership. Those rationalizations, after all, mean that he's just evading some historical facts, not "the scope and value significance of the foreseeable consequences" of implementing socialism.
Anyone interested in the philosophy of Objectivism should read the whole thing.


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