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Deirdre McCloskey’s list of true liberals

Almost a decade ago now, the still much missed Findlay Dunachie did a posting here about the wicked sayings and doings of Communist academics and supporters and subverters in America, some of whom were then trying to expunge from the historical record their long catalogue of blunder and subterfuge and just plain evil. Earlier this year I encountered this posting again, and recycled its particularly eloquent opening sentences as a Samizdata quote of the day.

But this posting contained other things that were perhaps even more memorable than those opening sentences, namely two lists of the bad communists and communist sympathisers in question. List One: The Academics. List Two: The Spies. May they live in infamy.

I was reminded of those lists when I recently encountered another such list, this other list being a roll of honour rather than of dishonour. It appears towards the end of Deirdre McCloskey’s book Bourgeois Dignity, which was published in 2010. (The Anton Howes talk that I flagged up here recently is pretty much Anton Howes channelling this book.)

What is this book about? Well, one way to describe it would be for its author to list all the people whose ideas she approves of and is herself channelling.

So, that’s what she does, on page 400:

My theme in short is the true liberal one of the de la Court brothers, Richard Overton, John Lilburne, William Walwyn, Thomas Rainsborough, Richard Rumbold, Spinoza, Dudley North, Algernon Sidney, Locke, Voltaire, Hume, Turgot, Montesquieu, Adam Ferguson, Smith, Thomas Paine, Destutt de Tracy, Jefferson, Madame de Stael, Benjamin Constant, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Charles [not Auguste] Comte, Charles Dunoyer, Malthus, Ricardo, Harriet Martineau, Tocqueville, Giuseppe Mazzini, Frederic Bastiat, Mill, Henry Maine, Richard Cobden, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Cavour, Johan August Gripenstedt, Herbert Spencer, Lysander Spooner, Karl von Rotteck, Johan Rudolf Thorbecke, Carl Menger, Lord Acton, Josephine Butler, Knut Wicksell, Luigi Einaudi, H. L. Mencken, Johan Huizinga, Frank Knight, Ludwig von Mises, Willa Cather, Rose Wilder Lane, Walter Lippmann until the 1950s, Nora Zeale Hurston, Karl Popper, Isaiah Berlin, Michael Polanyi, Friedrich Hayek, Raymond Aron, Henry Hazlitt, Bertrand de Jouvenel, Ronald Coase, Milton, Rose, and son David Friedman, Murray Rothbard, James Buchanan, Ludwig Lachmann, Gordon Tullock, Thomas Sowell, Joan Kennedy Taylor, Roy A. Childs, Julian Simon, Israel Kirzner, Vernon Smith, Wendy McElroy, Norman Barry, Loren Lomasky, Tibor Machan, Anthony de Jasay, Douglas Den Uyl, Douglas Rasmussen, Deepak Lal, Chandran Kukathas, Ronald Hamowy, Tom Palmer, Don Lavoie, David Boaz, Richard Epstein, Tyler Cowen, David Schmidtz, Donald Boudreaux, Peter Boettke, and the young Robert Nozick. It is the obvious and simple system of natural liberty. It contradicts the aristocratic sneering by conservatives at innovations and at the bourgeoisie, or the clerical sneering by progressives at markets and at the bourgeoisie. The true-liberal claim is that unusual bourgeois dignity and personal liberty in northwestern Europe, and especially in Holland and then in Britain, made for unusual national wealth, by way of a revaluation of ordinary, bourgeois life.

Interesting, both for its inclusions and for its exclusions. Particular kudos to the very select few who need only be mentioned with one surname!

The most notable exclusion that commenters here may want to notice and opine about is Ayn Rand. Rand gets no mention either in the book’s index or in the list of works cited. My guess is that McCloskey’s attitude to Rand can be summarised as the claim that Rand contributed a minus quantity to our understanding of, to quote the title of McCloskey’s earlier book, The Bourgeois Virtues.

For me it is the inclusions in this list that are the most interesting. It makes me want to learn more, in particular, about the English men of the seventeenth century at the top of the list, and about all those Germanic sounding people, throughout, several of whose names are entirely new to me.

I’d be very interested to hear if anyone reading this list can honestly claim to have even heard of everyone on it. Paul Marks has, obviously, but … anyone else?

Happy Christmas to all who are reading this, and happy googling, of the who is he? sort, that this posting will, I hope, stimulate.

50 comments to Deirdre McCloskey’s list of true liberals

  • I’m on the list and haven’t.

  • I was curious in general about what McCloskey thought of Rand, and so looked up every index entry for her. It did not seem to me that McCloskey had read Rand very carefully, as her responses to Rand’s views were based on reactions to the words Rand chose to use, and not on a careful study of the text to find out what Rand meant by that words, or what Rand actually thought; that is, I did not find her comments to be made in a spirit of careful scholarship, and insofar as careful scholarship is one of the bourgeois virtues, I thought she fell short of her own standards.

    More broadly, I have to say that I was not favorably impressed by McCloskey’s advocacy of the four cardinal and three theological virtues of medieval thought as “bourgeois” virtues. Surely there ought to be something distinctive in a list of such virtues? And while I can see merit in the four cardinal virtues, I think that Rand had it exactly right in holding that if you reject Christian doctrine (as she did and as I do) you need to reject Christian morality as well.

  • Paul Marks

    “Paul Marks has, obviously” – that was a very nice thing to say about me.

    Although being able to recognise the names (and know a few facts) is a very different thing from being an expert on their thought.

  • Paul Marks

    As Christians have historically been unable to agree on what Christian morality is…..

    Should force be used in matters of religious faith? No it should not (to try and make people believe in religious doctrines by violence is both evil and wrong headed – all it produces are corpses of the brave and the lying hypocrisy of those who choose to pretend to believe things they do not really believe) – but many theologians from Augustine onwards have argued that it should be.

    Should the virtue of charity be voluntary? Yes – or it is not a virtue (because it is compelled) and it is not charity (by definition – because it is not voluntary), yet many theologians (and philosophers) have argued that it should be compulsory – compelled by state violence.

    And on and on……

    As Christians can not (historically) agree what Christian morality is – how is it possible to reject it?

    And I speak as a Christian.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes I know – it was off topic.

    Still what does it profit a man to gain the whole world if he loses his own soul – his self. The opposite of “self sacrifice” (the destruction of the self) that Ayn Rand (quite rightly) condemns.

    A person may lay down their life for their friends (or for a cause) – but that is not dishonouring the self (the soul – whether the soul dies with the body or not)) it is affirming it.

    Ayn Rand was always clear that she was not interested in brute survival – only in survival as a person (in the Aristotelian sense).

  • Snorri Godhi

    In my opinion, Spinoza and Rothbard should not be in the list.
    Spinoza was a totalitarian — not in the sense that the State OUGHT to have complete power over the people, but in the sense that the State DOES have complete power over the people, and you better resign yourself to that.
    (Unless i seriously misunderstood the Tractatus Politicus.)
    As for Rothbard, we discussed his work here recently.

    Having read what Acton wrote on Cavour, I am also bemused by a list that includes Mazzini, Cavour, and Acton. I’d have thought that you can have at most one of them in such a list.

  • Snorri Godhi

    PS: I’d also exclude JS Mill. The reason why, was mentioned in a recent comment here. For those of you who are not keen readers of my work, here is a link:

  • Snorri Godhi

    PPS: as a challenge to Paul Marks here are some stats wrt the above list:

    names i never heard of: 30
    names that sound vaguely familiar: 11
    names that i can actually associate with some idea*: 25
    authors i actually read, even if it’s just a blog post: 25

    *possibly wrongly

    Greetings to David Friedman if he read this: he is one of my favorites in the last class.

  • RRS

    It was also passing odd to note the omission of Edmund Burke, particularly since:

    “Burke himself was still too deeply imbued with the spirit of ‘sound antiquity’ to allow the concern with individuality to overpower the concern with virtue.”

    Leo Strauss – Walgreen Foundation Lectures 1952

    What has not yet been covered in McCloskey’s two Bourgeois works is an examination of Individuality (that’s ity not ism) both for its role in the formation of the Bourgeoisie, and as the probable root cause for the Industrial Revolution to begin in England (with its tremendous multiplier effects); and not least as the “Typhoid Mary” of the very virtues of McCloskey’s disquisitions.

    The inclusion of Walter Lippmann “until the 1950s” brought a chuckle to me as an avid reader of most of McCloskey’s writings “post Max-U.” surely she would segregate the Wilsonian phase, the eugenics and certain other aberrations, despite the clarity of their presentations and his value in the ultimate formation of the Mount Pellerin Society.

  • Paul: As someone whose greatest philosophical influence is Ayn Rand, I’m gratified to see her position stated with such justice by someone who, as a Christian, can hardly agree entirely with it. This kind of intellectual conscientiousness is far less common than it ought to be, and all the more to be valued when someone attains it.

  • Paul Marks

    Many thanks Mr Stoddard.

    Snorri – agreed.

    I was trying to be nice (rare for me) – as for Cavour, an interventionist. Italian Unification (like German Unification) was bad (not good).

    As for Spinoza – he is like marmite, one either likes him or one hates him.

    I like marmite – I hate Spinoza.

    Better an honest atheist than a “the universe is God” type (at least he did not include the words “in a very real sense….”).

    And another bleeping determinist – someone who believed in necessity not liberty.

  • Tarrou

    Many of those names are obscure, but I’ve heard of a good quarter to a third, and actually read maybe ten or twelve of them. Smith, Spooner, Voltaire, Hume, etc. I have a thing for eighteenth and nineteenth century Enlightenment folks.

  • Incidentally, I have read something by 34 of them and heard of 38 more.

  • Snorri Godhi

    A belated Merry Christmas for readers of this thread (minutes after i wrote it on Perry’s thread).

    Paul: i must admit that i don’t actually hate Spinoza; i just think that he is vastly overrated, like most continental philosophers (except Austrians, and of course ancient Greeks).

    His Political Treatise, however, is worth reading because (a) it’s short and (b) it has a passage that can unambiguously be used to legitimize ethnic cleansing of the West Bank and Gaza. (I might track it down on request.) Not that i myself advocate such a policy, but i find it amusing that some people consider Spinoza a “good Jew” as opposed to Israeli Jews.

  • Snorri Godhi

    As for this from William:
    “I think that Rand had it exactly right in holding that if you reject Christian doctrine (as she did and as I do) you need to reject Christian morality as well.”

    On the face of it, this is a fallacy:
    A –> B does not imply notA –> notB.
    But i suppose there was something more behind it.

    What i do believe is that if you do NOT reject Christian morality, then it is futile to reject Christian doctrine.

  • Snorri: Spinoza is dead, which makes him a very good Jew. Israeli Jews however – no so much:-O

  • Julie near Chicago

    Paul, at 8:40–

    Yes indeed, and I’m glad you made the point about the lack of unanimity regarding “the” Christian morality.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Paul, at 8:51 — Yes indeed, on both counts.

    I never thought* Miss R. understood that “There is a God” is a postulate which one assumes “without proof,” that is, without analytical proof; but not necessarily without what seems to be the evidence of direct experience.

    Every logical system rests upon postulates. They are the “givens” of the system, the assumptions that one makes, from which the other truths of the system, that is the theorems or “provables propositions” are derived. (Leave Gödel out of it; that’s not what I’m talking about.)

    In the case of religion, the postulate “there is a God” is derided because it is (analytically) unprovable, and it is referred to as “faith,” in a contemptuous, condescending, or ruefully pitying tone. Yet the opposite statement, “There is no God,” is equally a postulate, unprovable, and therefore deserving of the term “faith.”

    *Although it seems to me that recently I read something she wrote that indicated that she did indeed understand “There is a God” to be a formal logical postulate. I hope I can find it again.

    Anyway, Paul, your entire summation at 8:51 is spot on and beautifully, concisely put.

    And it implies that Randite morality is not so far removed from Christian morality properly understood (that would be, as you and also I understand it *g*).

    Miss R. did like very much the proposition, “Do not unto others as you would not have them do unto you.” Because it did not obligate you to “serve” others in any way; it only obliged you not to mistreat them. I am sure I first read that formulation somewhere in her writings, and it hit me like a ton of bricks.

    As she grew older, I believe she also became less hostile to religion.

    It was Ayn Rand’s fiction that first presented to me the idea that I might have just as much right to my life and my preferences as anyone else; and that the need to live without guilt might be satisfied, at least partially, without becoming either a hypocrite or a psychopath (a.k.a. “selfish bastardess”). In other words, that every human being is “valuable” in his very humanness — not because of his usefulness to others — unless he loses the very quality that makes him worthy of human respect, which is his understanding that he must respect others.

    To me this is exactly, precisely the meaning of the statement “We are all equal in the sight of God” and “All men are brothers.”

    William, I’m glad you’re among those of us who enjoy her writing or admire her thought (without necessarily agreeing with it wholesale), or both. :>))

  • Paul Marks

    Yes it is astonishing, but on basic principles (such as the ones I pointed out) there has historically been no agreement among Christians. And very often the bad guys have been in charge – in spite of (or because of) their basic logical errors and contradictions.

    Driving away enemies….

    Up to 1948 all land lived on by Jews in the Holy Land had been voluntarily bought – this did not stop repeated attacks (going back to the 19th century – but getting worse over time).

    In 1948 the war to exterminate the Jews was launched at the urging of the Grand Mufti (a friend and ally of the late Mr Hitler).

    When people are trying to exterminate you all bets are off – including respecting their property rights (after all they are not respecting yours – if it is not a two way street it is a no way street).

    For example a wonderful hill top village can not be allowed – because they will shoot down from there.

    There is a basic problem here.

    I might argue (I would argue) that Christians who commit terrible crimes (as so many have) are spitting on the life and teachings of Jesus.

    But how am I (or anyone else) to argue against the Grand Mufti (or Islamic leaders today) – when the life and teachings of Mohammed are so much in accord with what they teach?

    This is an incredibly serious matter for the world (not just for Israel).

    Mr Blair, Mr Bush and so many others have assumed that the problem is a “perversion” of Islam – indeed Mr Bush often sounded as if he expected an Islamic version of Mr Wesley to turn up (Bush is Methodist).

    But what if the problem is Islam itself? In that case peace is simply not possible – with an Islamic population. Although that can change – after all the ancestors of the people of Malta were Muslim, the language even evolved from Arabic.

    To turn back to the list……….

    What is Thomas Paine (paper money is O.K. if it is issued by a democratic government, plus state pays for education, old age, poverty, everything – and if the sums do not add up just bung of the land tax till it reaches 100% for large estates) doing on the list?

    Middle class virtue?

    Tom Paine?

    I was under the impression the man drank himself to death.

    Still I have little middle class virtue myself……

  • Paul: The basis of Islam, as I understand it, is that Islam = peace, which = submission to the one valid legal system, which = submission to the god who ordains it; and if you’re not in the dar al-Islam (the house of peace) then you’re in the dar al-Harb (the house of war). That actually makes sense to me, in a way. I subscribe to a different law, the law of individual rights, reason, and the Enlightenment, and I’m willing to live at peace with monotheists of any stripe as long as they submit to that law, as many, perhaps most Christians have, but few Muslims; but if they aren’t willing to submit to the demand for toleration of other beliefs then I favor subduing them by force. So ironically any Muslims who demand supremacy for their law are quite right to regard people like me as enemies, because I am no more willing then they are to compromise on my supreme law, which is different from theirs, and I’m perfectly willing to see them compelled by force to endure infidels, apostates, and blasphemers.

  • Mr Ed

    I’d be very interested to hear if anyone reading this list can honestly claim to have even heard of everyone on it. Paul Marks has, obviously, but … anyone else?

    I have not heard of all of them by any means, but I do note that the list of names cited would be a good source of names for a libertarian Musical. We just need a plot, add a few good tunes and the dialogue should come to us: Samizdata, the Musical‘.

  • Laird

    Quite an interesting list. Like everyone else here, there are names on that list I’ve never heard of, as well as others whose names are vaguely familiar but whose works I haven’t sampled. More books to add to the list, I suppose (including McClosky’s). Sigh.

    I agree with Snorri’s comments, also Paul’s (as always). I would also add that, as someone who considers himself a libertarian, I have some problems with a few of the others on this list: JS Mill (more a communitarian than a libertarian), Malthus (seriously?), Voltaire (some very clever epigrams, but on the whole a bit problematic; I would recommend Philipp Blom’s “A Wicked Company” for a somewhat contrarian take on him), and Deepak Lal (I can’t get past his pop psychology). It was good to see Mencken on the list, though; he tends to be overlooked as a philosopher.

    This has all the makings of one of the better threads.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Laird: thank you for the pointer to A Wicked Company. Maybe it can help me understand what this fuss about the French Enlightenment is about.
    It’s also good that you see that there are important areas of agreement amongst us, in spite of philosophical differences which might or might not matter in practice.
    I was unsure whether to comment on this, but i might as well get it off my chest: a major problem that i find with Ayn Rand is the Aristotelian baggage in her philosophy … which transpires, for instance, from Julie’s comment @4:06.
    Julie (and Paul, if you share her epistemological views) it’s nothing personal, but i strongly feel that, after Euclid and other Hellenistic scientists, the foundationalism and essentialism of Plato and Aristotle have become obsolete.*
    Of course, i am aware that philosophers have been slow in taking stock of this fact, and many of them still haven’t — including normative relativists, paradoxically.

    * That’s not to say that the texts of Plato and Aristotle are obsolete btw.

  • Snorri Godhi

    PS: wrt Thomas Paine, i am vaguely aware that he wrote a few influential pamphlets, but what first comes to mind when i hear his name is that he defended the French Revolution and almost lost his head for it, at the hands of the Jacobins.
    Not a Machiavellian.

  • Paul Marks

    William – yes Islam is clear, alas only too clear.

    “Voluntarists” – but not in a libertarian sense.

    Vs in the theological sense of defining “good” and “evil” simply in terms of what God (arbitrarily) commands and what He (arbitrarily) forbids (what Calvinists are accused of believing in – the WILL of God being the only thing that matters).

    The old core of the Scholastics “Natural Law is the law of God, but if God did not exist Natural Law would be exactly the same” is totally against Islam.

    There was a sect of Islam that was open to the idea of morality not being a matter of the WILL of God – but they were crushed (a thousand years ago).

    Now there is just the Koran and the Hadiths (the sayings of Mohammed).

    And any effort to interpret them in the light of reason is forbidden by the various Schools of Islamic law – that would be the same as the offense of the Jews that led to the cry of “raise your hand”.

    It was Jewish practice in the time Mohammed to place one’s hand over sections of the Torah (the books of law in what Christians call the Old Testament) that needed a lot of explaining via the Talmud (the book of commentary) this was in case one accidentally read aloud parts of the Torah in the hearing of ignorant persons who would interpret it literally (and go out and stone people who committed adultery to death – and so on).

    To Mohammed and his followers this was unacceptable – as God had written (for they held that all of the Koran was the direct word of God) so should it be (without need for correction – indeed “correction” would be a terrible crime).

    So “raise your hand” – read out the punishment, and carry it out.

  • Paul Marks

    By the way – the book that John Selden (the great English Common Lawyer) asked for whilst in the Tower of London was the Talmud. It was the reasoning that he respected.

    I suspect that he and Mohammed would not have got on.

    Islam being best understood as a “revolt against the Talmud”.

  • Paul Marks

    My own problem with it all is that it should not take some of the greatest legal minds the human species has ever produced to get the Torah and make it compatible with basic morals (I know that they did NOT put it that way – they were explaining and so on….).

    Anyway – let us leave the question aside.

    On the original list of Findlay Danachie (the list of socialist, anti American, academics) is the name of Gabriel Kolko – and it is right that this name should be there, for the man’s endless lies (that the government is the puppet of big business, that government interventionism benefits most large business enterprises – and on and on).

    Never forget people exactly where Murray Rothbard and the others got this stuff from.

    It was NOT from “historical research” (proving that T. Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and so on were really the puppets of the capitalists) they got it from G. Kolko (the socialist America hater) and other such.

    I am reminded of one of Tolkien’s stories.

    Huren (a great human hero) is captured by Morgoth (basically Satan).

    Huren’s mind and spirit are too strong fall under Morgoth’s control – but Morgoth has another plan.

    He hold Huren prisioner – but “allows” him to see and hear everything that happens to his wife and children.

    But Huren does not see or hear the truth – he sees and hears what Morgoth wants him to see and hear.

    So when Morgoth (pretending pity) lets Huren go (years later) Huren goes off and kills or betrays the people that Morgoth wants him to (without even knowing he, Huren, is serving evil).

    Libertarians who get their “facts” from socialists (about the Progressive era, about Vietnam, about…..) “see all things crooked”.

    Those who “see all things crooked” do the bidding of the enemy – without even knowing that is what they are doing.

  • Paul:

    that government interventionism benefits most large business enterprises

    How is this not true?

  • Laird

    Re Julie @4:06 AM: “Yet the opposite statement, ‘There is no God,’ is equally a postulate, unprovable, and therefore deserving of the term ‘faith’.”

    Sorry, but that does not logically follow. It is generally impossible (and almost never necessary) to “prove” a negative. The onus is on others to prove the positive (i.e., the existence of god). The default assumption (subject, of course, to refutation) should be that he/she/it does not exist. That is not an article of faith, just observable reality.

    Snorri, FWIW when you deign to comment here (and I haven’t seen you around in a long time; welcome back) I generally find myself in agreement with you. And even when I don’t I appreciate your comments.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Laird, that business about “you can’t prove a negative” is balderdash, which you know perfectly well, although you may not realize it. Because you, yourself, do it every day in some way; we all do! For example: I’m at the grocery. Boy, I’d love to buy a nice lobster tail. But I can’t, because I don’t have the money. (A 2-fer: two negative statements, both provable.) And this same example shows how often it really is necessary to prove a negative: We’re always figuring out whether we can afford X or not, or should do A or not. And when we arrive at the answer, we have in effect proven the negative: I cannot afford X; I should not do A.

    Another kind of very common example (fictionalized, for humor’s sake):

    “Honey, can you get me the butter from the fridge please?”

    (Honey opens door, sticks head in fridge.) “Muffin, there’s no butter in the fridge.”

    “Honey, you can’t prove that. You can’t prove a negative!”

    “Muffin, there’s nothing in here but air–look for yourself.”

    “Oh. Well, I guess I was misinformed…. 🙁 ”

    Or here’s a nicely abstract one: There is no integer X such that X+1 = X.

    Proof: Suppose the contrary, that there is an X such that X+1 = X.

    Then X+1 – X = 1.
    But since X = 1, 1+1 = 1, or, 2 = 1, “which is absurd.”
    Therefore there does not exist an integer X such that
    X+1 = X.
    …. QED (or, quod erat demonstrandum *g*)

    Suppose S is any statement in some logical system under discussion (the “universe of discourse”). Then S may or may not be provable (which means, quite specifically, “provably TRUE”). In particular, S is not provably true if it is in fact false (by the rules of logic as applied to the system).

    So, some negatives can’t be proven because in fact they’re false.

    However, some negatives “can’t be proven” only contingently: Either there’s insufficient information to show their truth or falsity, or no one has yet come up with a valid proof of their truth or falsity.

    In other words, you can’t prove a negative proposition if it’s false, and you also can’t prove it if the premises or the argument you’ve provided don’t support it. But in this latter case, the proposition might still be true.

    One more example. If you can’t prove a negative, then you can’t prove that Jones didn’t do the murder–regardless of what Jones OR what murder you’re talking about–because that is a negative statement. I can’t prove that my daughter didn’t murder Thomas á Becket. I can only say that since she wasn’t born until some 807 years after he was murdered. *shrugs shoulders*

    There is also the simple fact that if negative propositions are inherently logically unprovable, then so are positive propositions — since they are simply the negative statement of a negative statement.

    (If S is a statement, then not-S is its negative. But S itself might be a negative, say S = not-P for some non-negative, i.e. positive, statement P. So, not-S = not-(not-P) = P.)

    . . .

    However, your conclusion doesn’t even conform to your initial claim. If “you can’t prove a negative,” then you can’t prove the statement “there is no God,” because that is itself a negative statement.

    . . .

    The simple fact is that one can presume, for what seem to him good and sufficient reasons, that there is some entity which he calls “God” and which has what he thinks are the characteristics of the more-or-less Judeo-Christian God as traditionally understood — more-or-less, that is.

    Or one can presume, for what seem to him good and sufficient reasons, that there is no entity whose characteristics approximate whatever he takes to be the more-or-less traditional understanding of the more-or-less Judeo-Christian God.

    Or one can take the attitude (as I do) that since I neither sense His presence nor feel a need to build a logical system in which He figures at all — that is, one which either affirms or denies His existence — to do the latter, that is to adopt either the existence or the non-existence postulate and fit it into my worldview — I don’t get involved with the issue in any serious way at all.

    . . .

    What you can prove is that there is no entity (whether it’s called “God” or “Mrshpbk”) that has characteristics X, Y, Z, which “both are and are not, at the same time and in the same sense.” Or which contradict facts that we most truly know about the real world, for instance that sometimes people’s physical bodies get physically damaged.

    St. Thomas Aquinas’s Great Work was to figure out what must be the characteristics of God, given that He must exist (postulate, assumed without analytic proof) in a non-contradictory fashion. Or so I have always understood, at any rate.
    . . .

    Aside: That business about who bears the burden of proof is tricky, because in fact it turns out that the one who bears it is the one who’s most interested in persuading the other guy to his conclusion.

  • Antoine Clarke

    I think I’m familiar with all the names. At least enough to wonder why some of them are included. Cavour, for instance, I think of as an unreliable supporter of any values but Italian unification.

    You don’t have to be Hans Herman Hoppe to think his methods and goals were not particularly liberal. 😉

  • Julie near Chicago

    Oh nuts. x+1-x = x-x = 0. So 1=0.

    It’s still absurd.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Laird: I have mostly been lurking in recent months, but it’s nice to be welcome back, especially in this season of goodwill.
    WRT the existence of God I must take exception to what you say about the burden of proof, though i do not side with Julie either.
    The burden of proof should be on those who can bear it, and neither theists nor atheists can bear it. Dawkins himself relieved theists of the burden of proof, when he said that he would not believe in God even if he (or she?) revealed himself to him. (That is, to Dawkins.)
    Another way of looking at it: theists might say that God revealed herself to them, and what can i say to that? it’s circular reasoning, but circular reasoning has the virtue of consistency.
    By contrast, what can Dawkins tell me? that God revealed that he (God) does not exist?

    In any case, it seems to me that the problem common to many theists and practically all atheists, is the inability to cope with uncertainty. I myself have learned to accept uncertainty (thanks to Popper, in the above list) and even feel smug about it (thanks to Taleb, who should perhaps be in the above list).
    So i reject both theism and atheism.

  • Paul Marks

    How is it not true Alisa?

    Because government taxes and regulations hurt far more than they help.

    The line is “they hit small business enterprises more” – which assumes a ZERO SUM GAME (less for small business meaning more for big business), but the economy is not a zero sum game.

    Government interventionism makes the economy smaller – it hurts small business enterprises AND it hurts most big business enterprises.

    The whole “libertarian left” (really socialist – for that is what Kolko and the others actually were) theory is a double lie.

    It is a lie in motivation – as it claims that the Progressive state is really under the control of “the Capitalists” (it is not – and was not a century ago either).

    And it a lie in effect – as it claims that big government is a net benefit to most big business enterprises (it is a net loss).

    What has actually benefitted the American economy recently – much to the astonishment of gloomy guts people such as ME.

    The oil and gas boom – which the government desperately tried to UNDERMINE (clue the Koch Brothers and so on are not on the Whitehouse Christmas card list).

    And the “Sequester” cuts in government spending.

    Much to my astonishment (I confidently predicted in 2012 that some squalid deal would be made to prevent the Sequester cuts coming into effect – and I was WRONG), the Sequester cuts actually happened in 2013.

    Smaller government benefitted most “big business” and “small business” – however, now a squalid deal has been made (thanks for nothing Paul Ryan).

    Let us see how this turns out…..

    Cue cries of “the deal was made to benefit the defence companies….”.

    Yes the Defence budget which has gone for over 10% of GDP to 3% of GDP in my lifetime.

  • Paul, the reality is that regulations tend to hurt small business owners more than the big ones (and with the really big ones there are no ‘owners’ at all, not in the sense that a small business owner would understand). That is not to say that they don’t hurt the big ones, or that they don’t hurt the economy in general, and thus everyone in it. But you can’t ignore things such as barriers to entry that government regulations create, in addition to their other harmful effects.

  • And none of that means that government is controlled by business, either big or small. The fact that some businesses benefit from some government actions does not mean that they control the government. The latter still has monopoly over both the money and the big guns.

  • Laird

    Snorri, if I’m following your logic correctly, you’re merely saying that you’re an agnostic. Which is fine with me (although I tend to view agnostics as atheists without the courage of their convictions!). But I have no problem with uncertainty, and agree that we cannot know whether or not any being having the characteristics of what we would call a “god” exists. I merely have no need of that hypothesis.* If you wish to convince me otherwise produce proof, or at least strong evidence. I have seen none. (But please don’t quote Dawkins at me. He has done atheists no favors.)

    Julie, that’s a long line of silliness. I can never prove that there is no butter in the fridge. Even if neither of us can find it, it might nonetheless be lurking in a hidden compartment, or someone could have accidentally put it into the yogurt container. But you can prove its existence by producing the stick. Nor is your “abstract” illustration any sort of “proof of a negative”; it’s merely the proof of a logical inconsistency. The inability to prove a negative is elementary logic. I cannot “prove” the non-existence of god, because it is always possible (or you can always claim) that he is choosing not to be found (omnipotence is a useful attribute in such matters!). That’s my whole point.

    As a practical matter you’re probably correct that the burden of proof in this area is on the one who is “most interested in persuading the other guy to his conclusion.” I have no particular interest in converting anyone to atheism (what you choose to believe is of no concern to me as long as you’re not trying to harm me on the basis of those beliefs), so from my perspective it falls on those who would convert me.

    * Credit to Pierre Laplace.

  • I tend to view agnostics as atheists without the courage of their convictions

    Actually, agnosticism by definition means having no convictions on the matter at hand (the existence of god, in this case). Same as uncertainty, it seems to me, at least for the purpose of this discussion. The literal meaning is along the lines of something as simple as ‘I don’t know’.

  • Mr Ed

    I fail to see why theists and atheists get so excited about proof for God. If we replace ‘God’ with ‘elf’ and we have ‘elvists’ and ‘anelvists’ arguing over whether Elves exist (or even ‘Elvis’), neither side has any reason to sensibly argue that law or government policy should be based on the existence or non-existence of Elves. The absurdity of the whole argument is self-evident.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Laird: “if I’m following your logic correctly, you’re merely saying that you’re an agnostic.”

    No: my logic is that you should be agnostic too.
    In fact, you are:
    “I have no problem with uncertainty, and agree that we cannot know whether or not any being having the characteristics of what we would call a “god” exists.”

    “If you wish to convince me otherwise produce proof, or at least strong evidence.”

    You have to convince me of something, namely, of the non-existence of god(s). You assert that proposition, you take up the burden of the proof.

    Alisa: good point. Although i do have a couple of near-convictions. One is epistemological, namely, that trying to prove or disprove the existence of God is futile. Another is that atheism (at least, Dawkins atheism, perhaps not Laird atheism) is almost invariably the result of a psychological need for a feeling of certainty (not to be confused with actual certainty).

    BTW a few years ago i developed what i call “religious agnosticism”, which consists in the belief that we shall all be punished in the afterlife for the certainties that we hold in this life. (Though we shall probably be forgiven for certainties about logic+math.)
    The point to note is that i do not claim that there are one or more gods who will do the punishing.
    Also, this belief can itself be punished in the afterlife, if held too strongly.
    Coming to think of it, perhaps we should also be punished for not acting decisively in spite of uncertainty.

    Thomas Huxley is our Prophet.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Mr Ed: that’s a good point too; though i note that people do not necessarily argue about these issues for political reasons.

    Also, if the elves are on Earth, then the burden of the proof should be on the elvists. If otoh the elves, or Elvis, have moved to another planet, then neither elvists nor anelvists can bear the burden of proof, and you can pick either side, or none, according to taste.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Heh…actually, Laird, I wasn’t trying to convert you to anything but logic.

    As a matter of cold fact, though, we mathematicians prove “existence theorems” all the time, and the proposition is always either “there exists an x such that…” or “there exists no x such that….”

    And my math example uses the method of proof by contradiction, which most people do remember for their early brush with plane geometry as (usually) sophomores in high school, if they’re approximately our age (I have the idea that you and I are near contemporaries).

    As for the butter, if you’re so unwilling as to believe that a refrigerator that is, by direct observation, 100% totally empty of anything but air (as per the given of the proposition) still somehow hides a teaspoon of butter, I don’t see how you can be reasonably certain of any report of your senses, let alone the one that “there is no God.” Maybe He’s lurking in the corners somewhere, along with the butter.

    Anyway, my whole approach to the “God” question is to look at the underlying logical, abstract system of a worldview that specifically includes or specifically excludes “God,” where “God” may or may not be well-defined. As I’ve said repeatedly over the years, including in this very thread of this very discussion, I’m not a believer myself. But the subject interests me (clarifying my earlier statement) very much, because of what it may tell us about human history and the nature of human beings and the human condition; and also as a field of investigation in the abstract, which is an issue of pure logic.

    One attempts to apply reason (logic) to the Reality one observes; that’s “rational empiricism,” and you don’t get to throw out the nonexistent butter, and you don’t get to throw out basic methods of elementary mathematics, either.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Actually, I think that the degree of agreement among people who are ostensibly arguing different positions is remarkable. Snorri says he’s not “taking my side,” but what he says is quite close to what I was trying to say in addressing that particular part of the issue.

    And Laird wrote,

    “I … agree that we cannot know whether or not any being having the characteristics of what we would call a “god” exists. I merely have no need of that hypothesis.*

    The part before the statement in bold typeface needs unpacking if we were to follow that issue out (we’d have to discuss what would be the defining characteristics of an entity that “we would call a ‘god'”).

    But given what seems to be the general tradition of the nature of the Judeo-Christian God: Laird’s second sentence, that I put in boldface, states my personal belief on the existence issue exactly and precisely.

  • Julie: I can’t think that how mathematicians use the term “exist” is of much relevance to this issue. In mathematics, to say that something exists is more or less to say that it can be imagined, or thought of, or conceived without self-contradiction. The universe of mathematics is logically full: Any two regions of cognitive space that a definition draws a line between are inhabited. But that’s because mathematics is about what Hume calls “relations of ideas,” not about “matters of fact.” In dealing with the real world, we are concerned with matters of fact, which are not reducible to relations of ideas. Whether something exists is not a question about the insides of our heads, but about the world out there.

    The agnosticism you put forth is in fact a descendant of Hume’s philosophy, which repeatedly tends to reduce questions about what is out there to questions about what is inside our heads (though admittedly not in so crude a fashion as in Berkeley’s ideas). Agnosticism is simply the application of the academical or skeptical philosophy to religion. But as Hume himself admitted, the academical or skeptical philosophy is at use at most in the study; we can’t actually apply it to living in the real world. Its end result is to leave us in chronic doubt about everything. It isn’t suited to guiding us in the actual conduct of life.

    On the other hand, for outside-in philosophers—which includes figures as varied as Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Reid, and Ayn Rand—the matter looks different. Some of these philosophers were theists; Rand at least was a consistent atheist. And what all of them agree in rejecting is the idea of skepticism, which includes the idea of agnosticism in particular.

    I don’t propose to argue whether the outside-in (or as Rand calls it, “primacy of existence”) position is true, or more rational, or preferable. But simply to assume that the academical or skeptical philosophy is true, and to apply its standards without question to dismiss atheism, is prejudging the case at issue.

  • Julie near Chicago


    On the contrary: “Existence” in mathematical discourse always, without exception, refers to a mathematical “object” (for instance, a geometric figure, or a number of some sort, or a set of cycles, or a single cycle, or a series, or a function, or … or something more abstract than any of these.

    And a given “existence theorem” pertains ONLY to objects within the particular “domain” under discussion.

    As to Ayn Rand vs. David Hume, it has never seemed to me that Miss R. properly understood the nature of postulates; but I would like to go back over her epistemology and see if I may have been wrong about that. On the other hand, my memory has it that it was she who first brought me to understand the nature of axioms. (And apparently I am at odds with a large number of people, and dictionaries, and WikiFootia as well, on that.)

    Anyway, I don’t see that I’m particularly skeptical. It was Laird, after all, and not I, who wouldn’t accept the evidence of “Honey’s” senses that the fridge was empty.

    I think your comment above and my response here may have us talking past each other, and it seems to me that for us to understand each other properly might take a whole separate discussion. But here are a couple of disconnected thoughts:

    Humean skepticism. First, the only Hume I ever read was maybe 45 years ago, in college, and I was not impressed. The only thing I remember was that he simply didn’t grasp the concept of a mathematical point. So if I’m “influenced” by him, it’s purely indirectly, osmosis from the culture or some such. My natural sympathies are with the viewpoint of Miss Rand and, presumable, of Aristotle; but that doesn’t mean I think either of them got everything right.

    I think that the word “know” is used in two ways: One, to refer to a kind of “absolute” knowledge, which is in principle (and, of course, in fact) utterly unquestionable. This kind of “knowledge” is a fantasy, in my opinion, but we all yearn for it and many people think they have it. I would conjecture that for some it is one of the drivers of traditional religions. But then, I believe that angels and the Socialist Utopia are also fantasies. This does not make me skeptical that there are unusually virtuous human beings or that it is possible to devise a political order that is reasonably satisfactory.

    So there is another understanding of “to know,” or of “knowledge,” that is not absolute in the sense of “absolutely absolute,” but which is certain for all practical purposes. I really am certain that I am “typing” on the computer, that the weblog called “Samizdata” exists, that I am eating creamed spinach, that there’s snow on the ground. I really am certain that there are things called airplanes that fly through the air, and that the discipline of aerodynamics pretty much explains why its wings hold an airplane up.

    I know that certain people really have loved me, and vice-versa.

    I’m pretty certain that I can cross the Mississippi River on the bridge at Quincy, Illinois, and it will keep me out of the water. But I could be wrong, of course, as those poor folks in Minnesota were a few years back.

    Anyway, “skepticism” as a philosophical doctrine (or, perhaps better, attitude) arises from the fact that we have all had experiences where our senses misreported the situation, or our brains misinterpreted the input, or even that our minds underwent catastrophic failure in some way.

    But as a practical matter — as things are in Reality, and not as they might be in some nightmare fantastical reality where nothing is as it seems or where, to quote Miss R., “nothing is anything” — knowledge and certainty do exist. And that’s as good as it’s going to get.

    And I do understand — not just “believe” but UNDERSTAND — that proper axioms exist, the axioms of reasoning, the principles the denial of which is impossible because you must invoke them even to deny them.

    Blah blah blah, there’s so much to say about all this, and I want my supper. But one other thing–different people really do see things differently. Somebody on ObjectivistLiving.com observed the difference between logicians and others in their viewpoints or attitudes and their styles of thinking, and of expressing their thoughts.

    Anyway, my fundamental position is that reasoning about reality follows the same rules of logic as reasoning about abstract systems, be they “mathematical” or “philosophical.” It’s just that reality throws in all kinds of complications that the abstract systems of thought exclude, simply because the latter are idealizations. (In Newtonian mechanics we talk about the movement of a ball down an inclined plane without the complications of friction with the plane and even air resistance against the ball.)

    Over to you, if you care to respond or pursue this. And I’m signing off without proofreading at all, because I’m starving. :>)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Further thought. William, you write:

    “In dealing with the real world, we are concerned with matters of fact, which are not reducible to relations of ideas. Whether something exists is not a question about the insides of our heads, but about the world out there.”

    But, of course, we deal with the facts by means of the ideas in our heads that represent the facts. These are not necessarily mathematical ideas, of course; there are the patterns of ideas that we put together and call history; in fact preparing a recipe or building a bridge depends upon following a course of action represented by a set of ideas in certain specific “relationships” with one another: in short, a pattern of ideas.

    Of course, the clearest example of how effective our abstract, in-our-heads patterns of ideas can be in understanding and manipulating the real world is the use of mathematics to draw forth and to express the theories (themselves abstractions) of physics, and the “recipes” of engineering.

    It does seem that we are blessed with the ability to make mental maps that represent reality, and that we also are able to refine and improve these maps as time goes on. I believe that the best course is to accept this simple fact, and quit fantasizing about “essences” and so forth as something inherent in the outside world. These “essences” are just what our minds are prompted by the real world to devise, as our minds go about their business of preparing and improving our maps.

  • Julie near Chicago

    “In mathematics, to say that something exists” is to say that the nature of the system being considered requires that it exist. That is the whole point.

    . . .

    Agnosticism: There are various definitions of agnosticism and atheism floating around, and the people adopting these various definitions all urge etymological reasons for accepting them.

    How I describe myself in any particular discussion depends on what I think is the best description to use with the particular interlocutor, in order to get my real meaning across.

    But what I am trying to stress in the present conversation is that I don’t see the need to concern myself in any religious or philosophical sense with the whole issue of “the existence of God.” (There are other dimensions to the religious issue than just those, but they’re beside the point here.) That is, I don’t say “I don’t know whether there is a God”; what I say is, “I don’t have any personal need or urge to assume one, so I simply don’t attend to the issue, if it is an issue.” There’s a difference there, like the difference between “I don’t know if I’d like vanilla” and “I don’t care enough about vanilla to find out whether I’d like it or not. Vanilla is not an issue to me.”

  • Julie: Well, I was formulating a response, and then I came back and found that your responses had miraculously multiplied. But I think I will mostly say what I had worked out to say, and reserve response to your later points until I have had time to think more.

    I believe that you misunderstand what is going on with Rand’s use of the term “axiom.” Rand’s choice of this term was not really the best she could have made; it invites exactly the interpretation you make, and in contrast to her use of “altruism,” which is contrary to widespread popular usage but derives directly from Comte’s definition of it, her use of “axiom” does not come from previous usage.

    You seem to be taking “axiom” as equivalent to what is often called “postulate” in mathematics: a basic, unproven assertion from which other assertions are derived by deductive logic. In post-Hilbertian mathematics, postulates are usually taken to be arbitrary, in the spirit of “‘Take what you like,’ said God; ‘take it, and pay for it.'” That is, you can prove anything you like, but you must start by assuming the right things.

    Now, in the first place, Rand’s philosophy is not primarily deductive, though her talk of “logic” often suggests otherwise. She is not using “axiom” to mean a premise from which you deduce a long series of propositions in the manner of Spinoza’s Ethics. Her axioms serve more to emphasize things you must bear in mind to avoid errors of concept and method in thinking about the real world.

    And in the second place, her axioms are not, in her view, arbitrary. Rather, they identify things that cannot be denied if you wish to claim to know anything. In effect, they are her armamentarium against skepticism and fideism.

    For example—one Rand does not explicitly discuss—there are skeptical arguments against memory. But human knowledge is conceptual, and the nature of concepts is that they do not refer simply to the experience of the present moment, but to past experiences and anticipated future ones; if we did not have concepts we could not, for example, use language. And if we reject memory as having no evidential value, we have no past experiences to integrate into our concepts, which thus at best collapse into momentary perceptions. So the validity of memory is axiomatic: skeptical arguments that memory is never to be relied on can be rejected out of hand, as invalidating all concepts and all propositions, including the proposition that memory is unreliable, and arguments against a statement made from memory must rest on actual evidence of error, not simply on the general fact that memory is not perfect.

    Axioms are reaffirmations of the basic structure of human cognition and of the features of the world that make it possible. A consistent denial of axioms is a denial that human cognition is possible, and thus a denial of any claim that anything is true, including that denial itself. That is, it’s not false so much as incoherent and incomprehensible.

    The other thing I’m going to say is that I distinguish between weak agnosticism, “I don’t currently know if there is a God, but I might someday know”; strong agnosticism, “No one could ever know if there is a God”; weak atheism, “The evidence we now have supports the conclusion that there is no God”; and strong atheism, “No evidence could ever show that there is a God.” I’m a strong atheist: I adhere to a view of “axioms” much like Rand’s (though not to her exact list of axioms) and I am convinced that the claim that there is a God is one of the claims that those “axioms” exclude.

  • Julie near Chicago

    William, if you are still interested after the two-day holiday hiatus — which I do hope you enjoyed — I’ll continue the discussion of terminology a bit, first speaking of my own experience of the term “axiom” and then hauling out The Dictionary. :>)

    . . .
    You write,

    [Miss Rand’s] use of “axiom” does not come from previous usage.

    There is currently disagreement amongst the ranks of mathematicians and logicians as to what will be called an “axiom” and what will be called a “postulate”: some use the former term where others use the latter, and vice-versa, as Searches for the terms will show. This causes considerable confusion among philosophers and others who are trying to understand abstract logical systems, as tends to happen when mis-usages or elisions of usage are absorbed into language.

    The distinction between axioms (so understood) and postulates is quite clear, if we remember our Euclid, with its famous “Parallel Postulate.” (The Wikipedia article linked below is mess in its paragraph that mentions hyperbolic geometry.) And indeed, those concepts were distinguished from one another and introduced to us in the first week of our high-school plane (i.e., Euclidean) geometry course in 1958.

    It was still the usage in Birkhoff’s and Maclean’s classic textbook A Survey of Modern Algebra, which was the U. of Chicago’s first course in modern algebra for mathematics and physics majors in the early 60’s. In particular, that book names and studies the Peano Postulates for generating the positive integers.

    I didn’t say, nor intend to imply, that I didn’t grasp the distinction before I ever heard of Ayn Rand, but rather I meant that I hadn’t quite articulated to myself that the axioms are the basis of rational thought itself and are perfectly applicable outside the province of mathematics.

    In any case, Miss R.’s use of the term “axiom,” as it applies to logic, is precisely congruent with the usage I learned back in the 50’s and early 60’s.

    I follow the usage of “axiom” to denote the foundational principles without which it is impossible to think logically about anything.

    . . .

    The Compact OED, print edition of 1971, 10th U.S. printing of 4/75, gives these definitions:


    1. A proposition that lends itself to general acceptance; a well-established or universally-conceded principle; a maxim, rule, law. [There follow examples of usage, 1485-1838, including this: “Specifically restricted by Bacon to: An empirical law, a generalization from experience,” noted as Obsolete.]

    2. Logic. A proposition whether true or false. [Examples follow: one from 1558, two from the 1660’s, and one from 1742.]

    3. Logic and Math. A self-evident proposition, requiring no formal demonstration to prove its truth, but received and assented to as soon as mentioned.

    The most pertinent definition given there of “postulate” would seem to be this:


    II. 2. Logic and Gen. A proposition demanded or claimed to be granted; esp. something claimed, taken for granted, or assumed, as a basis of reasoning, discussion, or belief; hence, a fundamental condition or principle.

    Subhead b. Sometimes with special reference to its undemonstrated or hypothetical quality: An unproved assumption, a hypothesis.

    Thus the OED’s on the history and meaning of “axiom” and “postulate.” It certainly supports my understanding of the terms at issue, but you might easily also plead its testimony, at least vis-á-vis “postulates,” which certainly bears on the discussion since the issue is, in part, the difference that may exist between the meanings of the two words.

    Yet you also wrote,

    “In post-Hilbertian mathematics, postulates are usually taken to be arbitrary, in the spirit of ‘Take what you like,’ said God; ‘take it, and pay for it.’ That is, you can prove anything you like, but you must start by assuming the right things.”

    And there you will get no disagreement from me. In fact one of my textbooks (I thought it was Herstein, but if so I can’t find the quote) observed that a few people have tried to do mathematics that way, but they end up generating uninteresting systems. (His point was that worthwhile math seems to have been inspired by reality and not merely constructed out of arbitrary postulates.)

    The Wikipedia article


    on axioms is not bad, but it does attest to the unfortunate existence of confusion; without, however, calling it “confusion.”

    [It also states a crucial understanding that I (and David Kelley) share:

    One must concede the need for primitive notions, or undefined terms or concepts, in any study.


    The F becomes decorated with the S *g*, in my opinion, with this statement on “structuralist mathematics”:

    The distinction between an “axiom” and a “postulate” disappears.

    … More discussion. …which ends, contra Birkhoff and Maclean, with a reference to “Peano’s axioms.”

    The lesson from all this is, that as always when using language, we should be very, very careful to see that we and our interlocutors or communicants are using our words to mean the same things. Sometimes the discussion revolves around “what the word means,” which is somewhat of a meaningless question since the issue is, “What does the word mean to you, or to me, or to ‘most people’? What shall we mean by it in this particular discussion?”

    In particular, I continue to agree with Miss Rand, and Dr. Kelley’s explication of her axioms. So for me,

    Axioms are the fundamental principles which a properly-functioning human mentality cannot avoid following when it is engaged in reasoning. (I use “reasoning” in the broad sense here. Reason involves empiricism, that is, checking logical conclusions against observed “facts,” or starting from such facts and applying logic to create a part of a map of Reality, and then checking back to see how accurate the map is. I note this because the Objectivist axioms are not only the axioms of logic, but also include the Law of Causality and the Primacy of Existence.)

    William, I have no idea of either your age or your background. But purely by chance I ran across not one but two of David Kelley’s lectures yesterday on The Most Popular Video Site (which I abbreviate as UT). If you’re interested, the second one, entitled “Objective Reality,” is ~29 minutes long. It deals mostly with Miss R.’s Axioms, and presents them with great clarity. (I don’t fully agree with Dr. K. in the last few minutes, but as I keep saying, I never fully agree with anyone, including me. It’s also possible to pick some nits if one wishes to be obstructionist, but I’ve been working on giving that up for Lent for several decades now. Nit-picking is fun, easy, and usually consists of empty calories. Understanding, if more difficult, is more likely to present nutritious food–although the thing understood may turn out to be worthless-in-itself. Still, to know something is worthless is to know something, and there’s no such thing as useless knowledge.) Vid link:

    UT period com/watch?v=YYgOT2DZ-J8
    . . .

    You wrote:

    [A.R.] is not using “axiom” to mean a premise from which you deduce a long series of propositions in the manner of Spinoza’s Ethics.

    Agreed. Objectivism is not a “rationalist” philosophy in that sense. However, it does depend on logic, which is applied to observed reality (which includes the thinker, his consciousness, and his perceptual and conceptual apparatus).

    . . .

    “[A.R.’s] axioms are not, in her view, arbitrary. Rather, they identify things that cannot be denied if you wish to claim to know anything. In effect, they are her armamentarium against skepticism and fideism.”


    . . .

    Axioms are reaffirmations of the basic structure of human cognition and of the features of the world that make it possible. A consistent denial of axioms is a denial that human cognition is possible, and thus a denial of any claim that anything is true, including that denial itself.

    Agreed, and very nicely put.

    . . .

    “God” awaits a definition.

    . . .

    As for my two subsequent comments, I was musing. Don’t know whether you wish to pursue or not. :>)