Judgment, Facts, and Values

 Posted by on 9 December 2005 at 8:53 pm  Uncategorized
Dec 092005

Trey Givens wades into the Kelley split for the first time by reading “Fact and Value.” (For the full context, Trey should also read David Kelley’s “A Question of Sanction.” However, I do think that Leonard Peikoff’s article can stand on its own.)

Trey writes, “I gather no directive from this essay that when one hears another say something evil that one should spit venom in their eyes and stomp away.” Obviously, Trey has yet to receive his “Fact and Value” decoder ring! Perhaps I have an extra one stashed away in a drawer somewhere that I could send him.

Trey then adds:

I have noted that this essay is sometimes criticized for offering no definitive threshold by which a person can distinguish the errors of another as either honest mistakes or just plain evil.

Based on this essay, such a request is absurd and can only be submitted by a person who either misunderstood or ignored a rather large part of the essay with regard to the parts about intrinsicism and subjectivism.

Peikoff clearly outlines the process for evaluating facts, ideas, and people. He begins with an example of evaluating the sun and he repeatedly states that the process and standard of evaluating things is the same for each of the sets of entities listed above and that the value is set by its relationship to man’s life.

Does anyone think it’s reasonable for Peikoff to name an exact amount of sunlight that is good for every person? The idea is just as laughable as the other request.

Obviously, “Fact and Value” is a refutation of David Kelley’s basic departures from Objectivism in “A Question of Sanction,” not a treatise on moral judgment. It presupposes a substantial understanding of and education in Objectivism, yet that is precisely what its critics so often lack.

Certainly, I encountered far too much ignorance of Objectivism in my years at TOC, in both myself and others. As I’ve mentioned, active study of the Objectivist corpus was rare. Muddled interpretations of Ayn Rand’s philosophy were the standard (if not the only) interpretations. Most people, including regularly lecturers, were unfamiliar with most (if not all) of Leonard Peikoff’s lecture courses. (Given his split with Kelley, he could hardly be acknowledged to be a knowledgeable teacher of Objectivism!) All in all, Objectivism wasn’t regarded as a difficult philosophy worthy of serious study. Personally, I know that my acceptance of those aspects of TOC’s intellectual culture slowed me down tremendously. Only when I started seriously studying Objectivism again was I able to first recognize and then understand TOC’s practical and philosophical failures. For many of the promising and enthusiastic Objectivist students, the results of their involvement with TOC was much worse: They abandoned Objectivism after just a few years, often highly skeptical of the philosophy, if not embarrassed by their past interest in it.

So I thoroughly agree with Don Watkins’ recent comment, “To the extent that honest people are still confused [about Kelley's views], I say it’s because they do not have a developed or accurate understanding of Objectivism. Apart from such an understanding, it is impossible to see how completely divorced from Objectivism (and reality) Kelley’s philosophy is.” That’s exactly why I think that anyone who wants to delve into the philosophic side of the Kelley-Peikoff split needs to be reasonably well-versed in Objectivism first. My own case — with its ten years of wasted time with TOC — is an excellent example of what not to do, namely attempt to settle the philosophical issues of the Kelley-Peikoff split just a few months into my study of Objectivism. (Duh!)

That doesn’t mean that people new to Objectivism need remain neutral between ARI and TOC for years and years while they study Objectivism. As I said in my recent Axiomatic interview, I think that people can justly reject TOC’s claim to being an Objectivist organization based upon its numerous obvious betrayals of Objectivist principles, such as all those appeasing op-eds. They can compare ARI’s amazing practical successes with TOC’s years of floundering. And so on.

As for the outline of moral judgment that Leonard Peikoff offers in “Fact and Value,” I should mention that he does discuss moral judgment at some length in other works. The section on justice in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand is obviously critical as an outline of Peikoff’s general views of moral judgment. Understanding Objectivism includes lengthy discussions of the challenges of objective moral judgment, including the judgment of intellectuals. It also has a far more detailed explanation of inherently dishonest ideas than found in “Fact and Value.” (While at TOC, I’d always heard that course described as Leonard Peikoff in his “tolerant” and “benevolent” phase before he’d freaked out with the publication of Barbara Branden’s The Passion of Ayn Rand. So when I heard it for the first time in the fall of 2003, I was shocked to hear his clear and reasonable explanation of that supposedly nasty notion of “inherently dishonest ideas”! In fact, he’s the same in both temperament and philosophy in that course as in all his others. That was just another self-serving myth of TOC.) Also, Judging, Feeling and Not Being Moralistic has some very provocative discussion of difficult cases of moral judgment.

I’m not sure if I’ve said all that before. If so, I apologize. Due to a recent conversation, I’ve been mulling over these old issues again. In any case, Trey’s post on “Fact and Value” also included some noteworthy comments on the closed system. Since that’s a big and distinct topic, I’ll comment upon that in a separate post.

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