Dec 26, 2008

What is bias?

Example 1: "Judge Sandra Olson recused herself from presiding at the trial of her niece, Ms. Bernice Smith, who had been charged with embezzling from the Tri-County Children's Fund. Judge Olson said she wanted to avoid even an appearance of bias."

What does "bias" mean here? Does the term name a valid concept? If the concept is invalid, should I keep the term, but use it to label a valid concept of my own creation, or should I abandon the term?

DICTIONARY USAGE. Like most general-purpose dictionaries, mine--The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd ed., Unabridged--does not formally define concepts. Instead it records various conventional usages of terms. The usage of "bias" relevant to individuals is: having a "particular tendency or inclination . . . that prevents unprejudiced consideration of a question."

I see two points worth spotlighting. The first is the idea of "tendency" ("inclination"). Where does a "tendency" arise? It arises in the subconscious, an area not directly visible to me, the area where I may make decisions but without awareness of the process and the factors that cause me to reach a particular conclusion. (I can, of course, consciously test and evaluate any decision that emerges from my subconscious; and I can consciously identify my "tendencies" and correct for them.)

The second point is the negative phrasing "prevents unprejudiced consideration." What that wording is not saying is "bias undermines objectivity" (which is a logical relationship between facts of reality and ideas). Our cognitive goal should be objectivity, not merely avoiding prejudice.

Returning to the conventional usage of the term "bias," another question arises. Why would an individual have a subconscious "tendency" to reach nonobjective conclusions? The following example illustrates a typical situation in which the term "bias" would be used.

Example 2: "In civilian life, Mr. Blair ran the Institute for Defense Analyses, a nonprofit group . . . that does extensive work for the Pentagon. But he had to step down from the post in 2006 amid concerns that his positions on the boards of several defense contractors constituted a conflict of interest."[1]

In this situation, Mr. Blair has an "interest" (extra income) that might lead him to favor a particular recommendation to the Pentagon because it would benefit him personally, not because the recommendation is the best for defending the country. For instance, Mr. Blair might, despite contrary evidence, recommend that the Pentagon purchase a certain new combat aircraft, one manufactured by a company of which he is a paid director.

Those who watch government are right to raise an alarm when consultants to the government are in a position to benefit indirectly from the advice they give. However, an alarm is not a proof. A particular individual, if he values objectivity, can have an apparent "conflict of interest" and yet render objective judgments. Not any particular short-term benefit, but the principle of objectivity as well as the virtues of rationality and honesty, can and should guide him. Only cynics--those who believe virtue is impossible--would automatically assume everyone in a supposed conflict of interest automatically chooses the particular interest over the principle.

Of course, a fully objective person--one who values reason and therefore objectivity--has no actual long-term "conflict of interests." He examines facts, draws conclusions logically from those facts, and then evaluates them objectively, in the full context of his philosophical as well as personal values. (Honest individuals can be confused, on the short-term, in selecting between particular values, but not between principles vs. particular values.)[2]

CONCLUSION. In its main elements and charitably interpreted, the conventional meaning of bias is valid but poorly formulated. A proper definition is: a mental condition in which a value held in the subconscious might lead a person who does not supremely value objectivity to make a judgment not supported logically by facts of the case being judged.

APPLICATIONS. In a debate, if I hear the word "bias" used as an accusation, I take it to mean that the accuser thinks the accused person has a particular interest (value) that might be more important to him than objectivity. (Ironically a charge of bias, if unexplained and unsupported, can prejudice an uncritical audience. It is a smear against the accused person.) If such an accusation is being made as an attack on the person, then I would ask for a definition and proof.

On the other hand, if the debater is bringing up bias as a caution--as in examining the medical results of clinical studies whose conclusions favor the pharmaceutical manufacturers who financed the studies--then I would accept the caution but make a point of not leaving it hanging in the air. I would ask for evidence that the conclusions were or were not objective.

I will generally avoid the term "bias." I will try to be more specific by using "illogical," "prejudice," "rationalization," or a similar concept that directly identifies the problem, if there is one. I will also stress the positive, objectivity, as the standard.

Burgess Laughlin
Author of The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

[1] Mark Mazzetti, "Likely Pick for Intelligence Chief Would Face Task of Corralling Fractious Agencies," New York Times, Dec. 20, '08, online. [2] For examples of (subconscious) prejudice influencing decisions in science: David Harriman, "Electric Current" subsection of "Errors in Inductive Reasoning," The Objective Standard, Winter 2008-09.

Nov 30, 2008

Rationalization--What is it?

INITIAL DEFINITION. As an accusation, the term "rationalization" appears in casual conversations, weblog posts, and formal essays. Examples I have heard are: "Her explanation sounds like a rationalization to me." "Is what he said really true, or is it just a rationalization?" "His whole theory is a rationalization!"

A mundane but classic example of rationalization, is: "'I bought the matzo bread from Kroger's Supermarket because it is the cheapest brand and I wanted to save money', says Alex (who knows he bought the bread from Kroger's . . . because his girlfriend works there [and he wanted to see her but without admitting his interest])."[1]

As an initial definition then rationalization refers to someone justifying what he is doing with an explanation that he knows--at some level in his mind--is not the true reason for his action, but one he made up to make his behavior appear to be more acceptable.

STANDARD USAGES OF THE TERM. Wherever possible, I prefer using terms/ideas as they are conventionally used--to make communication easier. My home dictionary offers this primary conventional usage of "rationalize": "1. to ascribe (one's acts, opinions, etc.) to causes that superficially seem reasonable and valid but . . . actually are unrelated to the true, possibly unconscious and often less creditable or agreeable causes."[2] This usage captures the fact (1) that a rationalization is a statement; (2) that the statement is false; and (3) that the statement is designed to make the speaker's behavior appear to be acceptable.

An online dictionary of psychology defines "rationalization" thus: "A defense mechanism where one believes or states an acceptable explanation for a behavior as opposed to the real explanation." And defense mechanisms are: "Psychological forces which prevent undesirable or inappropriate impulses from entering consciousness (e.g., forgetting responsibilities that we really didn't want to do, projecting anger onto a spouse as opposed to your boss)."[3]

An online philosophical dictionary describes the fallacy of rationalization thus: "We rationalize when we inauthentically offer reasons to support our claim. We are rationalizing when we give someone a reason to justify our action even though we know this reason is not really our own reason for our action, usually because the offered reason will sound better to the audience than our actual reason."[4] 

AYN RAND'S VIEW. Ayn Rand, who developed Objectivism, the philosophy that I have adopted, also classifies rationalization as a psychological phenomenon, "a process of providing one's emotions with a false identity, of giving them spurious explanations and justifications--in order to hide one's motives, not just from others, but primarily from oneself."[5] "Rationalization is a process not of perceiving reality, but of attempting to make reality fit one's emotions." Further, Ayn Rand notes, as the term/idea applies to a person who is taking a particular philosophical position, rationalization means: "I can't prove it, but I feel that it's true."

WHAT RATIONALIZATION IS NOT. "Lying" is not synonymous with "rationalizing." Lying, which is consciously making false statements to gain or keep a value, is the general case. Rationalizing, if done consciously, is differentiated from other cases of lying by its purpose: making one's own actions appear to oneself or others to be morally acceptable. A con man may lie to his victim to get the victim's life savings, but the con man, in that instance, is defrauding not rationalizing. The con man might rationalize later in a courtroom by telling himself and the judge that we live in a rotten world and that scams are the only way to earn a living.

Nor is rationalization innocently providing a merely false explanation developed through an error in information or in method of handling the information. Rationalization, whether done consciously or subconsciously, is goal-directed not inadvertent. In this way, I would suggest, rationalizations are arbitrary not false. There is no connection to reality, not even a "broken" one that arises from error.

PROOF OF RATIONALIZATION? How can I know someone is rationalizing? In other words, what constitutes proof of this behavior? To even suspect that a person is rationalizing, I must know the person well (even if only through his writings, as with Kant) or I must have enough knowledge of the situation he is describing (that objects must conform to our a priori knowledge of them) to doubt his explanation (which conveniently serves to "make room for faith").

For example, in the case of Alex, named in the example at the beginning of this post, I would need to know him well enough to doubt that he would ever spend time going to a particular store merely to save money on one product--because I already know he is disorganized, uncaring about the future, and an impulse buyer who pays little attention to prices.

If I suspected rationalization, based on my knowledge of the person and the situation he is describing (in a way that makes his behavior seem credible and creditable), then I would need to inquire further, either by asking him questions (and observing his manner of handling them--such as evasiveness or incoherence) or by investigating the situation further (for example, by asking his friends if Alex has any connection to Kroeger's).

For the realm of philosophy, Ayn Rand offers two leads for uncovering rationalization. First: "When a theory achieves nothing but the opposite of its alleged goals, yet its advocates remain undeterred, you may be certain that it is not a conviction or an 'ideal', but a rationalization."

Second: When a person uses false philosophical catch phrases to excuse his reprehensible beliefs then he might be rationalizing. Ayn Rand identifies six common philsophical catch phrases rationalizers use: "Nobody can be certain of anything . . . It may be true for you , but it's not true for me . . . Nobody is perfect in this world . . . Nobody can help anything he does . . . It may have been true yesterday, but it's not true today . . . Logic has nothing to do with reality . . . ." These catch phrases provide a philosophical justification for taking an intellectual position that is not otherwise creditable or even credible.

CONCLUSIONS. Rationalizing is fake reasoning for the purpose of convincing oneself or others that one's actions are proper--done either consciously (in which case it is immoral) or as an automatic and hidden act of the subconscious (in which case it is a form of mental illness). The actions being justified may range from social behavior to taking a particular intellectual position. Even mere implausibility of an explanation can be grounds for suspicion, but proof of rationalization requires argumentation based on detailed evidence gained through inquiry. In most cases, fortunately, one need not prove another person is rationalizing; rather, the suspect carries the burden of proving his statements--if the situation is serious enough to demand proof.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

[1] For the matzo example: "Rationalization" in the "Fallacy" article of the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy[2] Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd ed., unabridged. I am ignoring radically different uses of the term "rationalization" in mathematics, architecture, and economics. [3] From "Rationalization" and "Defenses (Defense Mechanisms)," AllPsychOnline[4] "Rationalization," listed in the "Fallacy" article of the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy[5] This and subsequent references to or quotations from Ayn Rand come from: Ayn Rand, "Rationalization," The Ayn Rand Lexicon, citing Ayn Rand, "Philosophical Detection," Philosophy: Who Needs It, pp. 21 and 24(hb) or pp. 18 and 20 (pb).]

Nov 9, 2008

Asymmetrical Debate?

[This question arose on Study Groups for Objectivists in discussions of Yaron Brook's and Onkar Ghate's insightful "Cultural Movements: Creating Change" lectures (available on the website of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, under the headings Participate/Activism).]

Here is a problem for students of the history of ideas, intellectual history, or cultural history: Reason is difficult and rare, but mysticism--in all its many forms--is easy and common. How can reason ever win?

Reason is difficult because it requires effort to be aware, to define a problem, to select a method, to persist in seeking information, to check the results for contradictions with already-held knowledge, and so forth. Mysticism is easy. If it is subjectivist, ideas are whatever the mystic wants them to be, regardless of facts. If it is intrinsicist, ideas simply arrive, either from the subconscious as intuition or from God as revelation.

In debate between advocates of reason and mystics, those who support reason do research, think about their results, formulate answers to essential questions, consider the nature of their audience, and so forth. Mystics need only blurt out whatever they feel.

Consider a contemporary example. In general, the conservative and leftist enemies of a culture of reason are mystics of one sort or another. They do not offer reasoned arguments. If I say I am pro-choice on abortion, a conservative may show me a picture of a dead fetus. A picture is not an argument, that is, not a reasoned process leading from facts to conclusions. It is an appeal to emotion. If I am to win the debate (held before a worthy audience) then I may need to go through a step-by-step argument identifying the problem underlying my opponent's last statement and offering a solution. My conservative opponent, if typical, next responds by screaming that I am a baby-killer. This is mysticism vs. reasoning--in debate.

(Intellectually, no debate is possible between mystics and advocates of reason, but socially such debates occur frequently before audiences that are, one hopes, at least mixed: Some members of the audience are at least implicitly advocates of reason but may not yet agree with a particular pro-reason position on a particular issue.)

Consider another contemporary example. You try to explain a principle of economics--that state interference (aggression) in the home-finance marketplace has long-term destructive consequences--and why. Your opponent responds with a bizarre false-dichotomy based on unspoken hints of egalitarianism and altruism: "But we are just using this bailout as a way of protecting Main Street against Wall Street!" You then must (1) determine what he is talking about in reality, if anything; (2) prepare your conclusions in terms and in a form that a rational but ill-informed audience listening to the debate would understand; and (3) offer an objective alternative based on principles you want to disseminate.

At first sight, the odds seem stacked against advocates of reason ever winning in their struggles with mystics. Yet, advocates of reason have won issue after issue, in some places and in some times. How can that be true when the odds against them seem so high?

I do not have a fully integrated answer to this problem yet, but I can suggest elements. First is the fact that in some societies there have been enough decision-makers and decision-influencers who were rational enough (in most areas of their lives) that advocates of reason and its products had a chance to win enough support, or even merely acquiescence, to at least make progress. Galileo lived in Italy. His ideas were censored there, but he managed to smuggle his writings out to lands where they met an eager audience. Perhaps the political fragmentation of Europe--from the Greeks up to the European Union--usually provided a refuge somewhere for advocates of reason.

Second is the fact--at least in Western culture--that rational people creating rational products have always had an effect far beyond their public numbers. Think again of Galileo. On the short-term he lost in his struggle with the Church in Italy in the mid-1600s. But his ideas ultimately did win wide acceptance among intellectuals. His ideas were presumably persuasive to dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of often nameless individuals in the following decades. In this manner, Galileo's ideas won. The people advocates of reason need to reach are not only the tiny number of Galileos and their peers, but also the thousands (out of millions) of rational individuals who will integrate and propagate, if not originate, rational ideas. An advocate of reason does not need to reach everyone or even a majority.

Only a few people set the direction of a culture. If advocates of reason can persuade, or even just neutralize, half of those people, then the advocates of reason can start making cultural changes within one generation. I have seen this process of changing the views of the powerful minority happen in business. On a committee of twelve people, two to four people either directly make the decisions or influence decision-making. Most of the others on the committee swivel their heads back and forth as each debater in turn presents his case pro or con.

In summary, I do see that reasoned presentations can indeed win support from rational members of one's audience, even in a "debate" against a mystic--but only in a culture already accepting a philosophy of reason to some extent; and only over the long term, which is the time required to analyze problems, develop solutions, figure out the best way to present the solutions, and actually make one's case to the intended audience (narrow or broad).

As a long-term student of history, I would love to have the time to investigate at least one case of such a victory: Galileo's ideas on astronomy, Darwin's ideas on evolution, Locke's ideas on politics, the idea of freedom of speech, or others.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

Oct 24, 2008

Predicting the timing of cultural changes?

Study Groups for Objectivists (SGO) recently completed its five-week "Cultural Movements: Creating Change" study group. The "text" was the series of three lectures, by the same title, which Drs. Onkar Ghate and Yaron Brook presented at Objectivist Conferences 2008, now available for viewing on The Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights website under PARTICIPATE/Activism (or Search).

Lecture 3 drew conclusions from the historical reviews in Lectures 1 and 2. Around 0700-0900 of Part 1 of Lecture 3, Brook said (in my paraphrase): No one knows with confidence how much time we have left before present trends become irreversible. Some observers of today's culture say that, if present destructive cultural trends continue unopposed, the period of decline in the USA (before economic and cultural collapse) will be about 40 years. However, I, Onkar, and others estimate we may have only about 20 years to turn the culture around before the trends become irreversible.

Brook's and Ghate's comments here, and throughout their lectures, are stimulating. One question that emerges for me is a question of methods: How can one predict the timing of changes in society and culture? That question, in turn, leads me to another question: Why can specialists who study aspects of society or culture--as economists do--predict that certain results will follow from certain other events, but cannot predict when the results will appear and how much effect the cause will have?

I remember that in 1971 Republican President Richard Nixon, imposed price controls on the United States. Free-market economists predicted that shortages would result. They disagreed about when the shortages would appear and how severe the effects would be.

The only lead to an answer to my question that I can offer is that scientists, like philosophers, make assumptions about conditions. One example might be in physics, a field in which laboratory experiments control background conditions (such as humidity and air pressure) that might affect the outcome of an experiment, while looking at the effects of one changing variable, such as temperature. In the sciences where physical experiments are not possible, the scientist (for example, an economist) assumes "all other factors being equal." He conducts a sort of "thought experiment," separating out irrelevant variables for the particular prediction he is making.

By contrast, predicting the future course of a society or culture as a whole requires the inclusion of those "other factors." There are so many "other factors," most of which depend on many individuals choosing or not choosing to take certain intermediate actions, that predicting the quantifiable results becomes a matter of "guesstimating" or making a "professional judgment" by someone who has long experience in the field and has immersed himself in the details of a particular problem.

In the absence of a clearly defined method developed by a philosophical genius, making "professional judgments" is probably the best anyone can do. Are there better solutions?

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

Sep 29, 2008

What can historians study?

As a long-term student of history, I am fascinated with the many ways one can approach the subject. By "history" here I mean the total of all human events of the past. We can know those events through the historical record: blood-stained flint arrowheads; paintings on cave walls; relief sculpture on marble monuments; "holy scripture" on vellum; the weave of clothing on bodies buried in peat bogs; handwritten philosophical journals; and governmental records stored on sun-baked clay tablets, sheets of papyrus, or computer hard drives. History, as a field of productive work, is an inquiry (historia, in ancient Greek) into events of the past.

WHOLES. First of all, historians can draw inferences from these items to describe whole periods of history: the Roman Empire (27 BCE-c. 400 AD), the Gupta Empire of northern India (c. 320-550), the explosive expansion of Islam (c. 600-800), the Ming Dynasty in eastern China (1368-1644), the Renaissance (c. 1400-1550), and the spread of communism in the 20th Century.

INDIVIDUAL DIMENSIONS. Each type of evidence used by some historians to describe broad periods of the past can itself become an object of long-term study by other historians. For example, one can study the history of stone tools, as a section of the history of technology, itself a division of the history of culture, that is, all the products created by some individuals and passed to other individuals in their own society or in later generations.

Other elements of culture suitable for historical study include languages, customs, institutions, and ideas. In the latter domain, one may study individual ideas--such as the idea of progress, the idea of reform, or the idea of a particular metaphysical hierarchy; or one may study ideas as systems, as in the study of the history of a particular worldview (religion or philosophy). In one way, studying the history of a particular religion, such as Christianity, is narrow because it excludes many other religions; but in another way, in the number of objects subsumed, studying the history of a particular religion is an enormous task: from the past flows a river of ideas, customs, institutions, and the lives of millions of individuals, each with his own particular understanding of the religion.

Time is another dimension that partly defines a historian's object of study. One historian might study a particular subject either at one point in time (the culture of the Americas in 1491) or through a great length of time (the Church in the Middle Ages). Another historian might specialize in generalizations, so to speak. For instance, a historian who is fascinated with societies considered as wholes might compare cultures such as the Indus River Valley culture of c. 2000 BCE and the culture of the Mayans c. 500 CE.

Still other historians can work in the area that underlies history as a field of inquiry: the philosophy of history. These historians would address questions such as: What is history? What are the proper objects of study? What special cognitive problems arise in studying aspects of reality that no longer exist and can be known only by fragments from the past? What ethical problems, if any, arise for historians, knowing that their conclusions may influence views of the past and therefore affect not only contemporary politics but also the inferences of philosophers?

At the other end of the scale of abstractions, some historians, those fascinated with the manner in which particular individuals acted in the circumstances of their time, might turn to writing biographies. Or historians who are fascinated with examining history under a microscope might turn to a particular event (the Islamofascist attack on the USA on September 11, 2001), a particular institution (socialized medicine in Britain), or a particular movement (the movement to abolish slavery in the 19th Century). At this scale of work, the historian can observe particular individuals taking particular actions which had particular observable effects. Carrying this approach further, some historians might study an event while it is happening--as in the seemingly endless NATO "war" in Afghanistan against "terrorists."

In summary, a particular historian may choose for study any element of human action or culture at any particular time or place. His object of study may be ancient or contemporary, small- or large-scale, concrete or abstract, and particular or general in scope. The historian is limited only by his own purpose, the length of his productive life--and the facts of what individuals have actually done, as shown in the historical record.

EXAMPLES. Following are examples of historical studies from my library. (I am not making recommendations, only citing examples.) Together they illustrate the vast range of objects which historians can study.
- The Story of Maps, Lloyd A. Brown: a history of maps from the ancient world to c. 1950.
- The Great Chain of Being, Arthur O. Lovejoy: a history of an invalid but enormously influential idea, a metaphysical hierarchy ranging from God down to the lowest worm.
- The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change, 950-1350, Robert Bartlett: a detailed examination of the extraordinary wellspring of Viking-French "nobles" spreading from their homeland in Normandy to the periphery of Europe, from England (in 1066) to Constantinople.
- Holy Entrepreneurs: Cistercians, Knights, and Economic Exchange in Twelfth-Century Burgundy, Constance Brittain Bouchard: a report about the dynamic this-worldly economic activities of Cistercian monasteries (which were officially devoted to poverty and separation from this world), based on the author's detailed study of monastic records surviving for 800 years.
-Clocks and Culture: 1300-1700, Carlo M. Cipolla: a study that is both narrow (looking at one mechanical invention, the clock) and broad (what the radical differences in design and use of clocks in Ming Dynasty China and Renaissance Europe reveal about the two cultures during the "period of the great divergence" of Eastern and Western culture).
-That Noble Dream: The 'Objectivity Question' and the American Historical Profession, Peter Novick: a study of the struggles over the issue of objectivity--myth or norm?--in the profession of history in the USA from c. 1880-1980.
-Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial, Richard J. Evans: a close look--written as an intellectual detective story--at Evans's own research into the Holocaust and at his objective testimony in a British civil trial, a trial in which Nazi-sympathizer David Irving sued an American writer for libel because she said Irving's historical writings were fraudulent (which they were).

To a beginning student of history who is wondering what to study, my suggestion is to follow your passionate interests, held within the context of your highest values, including your central purpose in life. Are you fascinated with the history of Pittsburgh, the evolution of stone tools, or the development of logic? Follow your love.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

Aug 31, 2008

A Study Group for Intellectual Activists

Would you like to improve the world in which you live? The four-week "Cultural Movements: Creating Change" study group (CMCCSG) might be the right place for you to start. Within a few weeks, the CMCCSG will begin in SGO at:

Every SGO study group is focused on a particular text, but as an experiment the "text" here consists of videos of the three lectures Yaron Brook and Onkar Ghate presented at the 2008 Objectivist Conference (OCON).

The CMCC lectures examine three 20th Century movements that were at least partly successful: free-market economics, environmentalism, and religious fundamentalism. (For the nature of a "movement," see the July 5 and July 14, 2008 posts.) The two speakers then draw from what they learned about those movements to suggest techniques for the Objectivist movement.

CMCCSG is a very short-term study group for anyone who wants to improve our world in the decades ahead. For long-term students of history, an added benefit of studying these lectures is seeing the value of applying lessons from history.

To join this study group, (1) register as a member of SGO, and (2) click on the home page link ("All") for the "Cultural Movements: Creating Change" study group. That link will take you to the "Details" page, which describes the study group and allows you to participate. 

Aug 29, 2008

Study Groups for Objectivists (SGO)

Gene Ligman, a registered member of SGO, says:

By participating in the ITOE, Ch. 5 ("Definitions") study group, I have assuredly learned more than I would have through self-study by itself. I would not have broken the subject down into such small sections, which helped immensely, nor would I have known the questions that I should ask myself in order to make sure I had integrated it sufficiently. I appreciated the time scale, having other pursuits in life to take care of.

The optional study questions were very helpful. They were targeted to help ensure integration of the material studied. The act of stating something in one's own words is an act that causes further thought. Whenever I had to think of examples to use, it helped me to fit the new information into the right places. Also, reading other peoples examples and answers provided extra insight as well.

PURPOSE. SGO provides a platform for short-term, specialized study groups working with particular texts, mainly in the fields of philosophy and history. A study group is not a classroom, a tutoring session, or a debating arena, but an opportunity for trade. In SGO, highly motivated students of history or philosophy can enhance their individual studies of a certain text by trading insights, questions, and answers with other individuals who are studying the same text at the same time.

FEATURES AND BENEFITS. SGO offers five main features:
- Rigorous etiquette ensures that study-group members focus their comments on ideas not on other members of the study group.
- Scheduling--one section of text per week--encourages steady, thorough, and consistent study.
- Leadership--one administrator overall and one moderator for each study group--provides focus and continuity throughout the weeks or months of study. The temporary position of study-group moderator offers a brief opportunity to practice project-management and other social skills as a means for achieving one's individual, long-term, intellectual goals.
- Open archives provide information that enables serious students to decide whether to purchase and study a particular text.
- Advanced notice allows students to prepare adequately, perhaps completing an initial reading of the assigned text as a whole, long before the study group begins addressing parts of that text.

PARTICIPANTS. SGO welcomes serious students of Objectivism. They may be young or old. They may be enrolled in academia or studying on their own plan. They may have a lot or only a little knowledge of the subject they wish to study. Trade arises from such differences. For example, a novice in a particular subject may ask a question that requires more knowledgeable members to stop, think, and make explicit what they had only assumed as "obvious" before.

When a study group is complete, each member should have expanded his knowledge of the particular text the group examined. He will have answered some of his original questions, but the study group experience should also give rise to new questions, which only more study will answer. A study group is not the end of study, but only one turn on the spiral of learning.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

Aug 8, 2008

In-line vs. off-line activism

[For this post, I assume my readers have studied Ayn Rand's most important philosophical work, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, especially Chs. 1-5.]

As a preliminary step toward clarifying the differences between in-line and off-line activism, consider five imaginary examples of intellectual activists--individuals taking action in society to disseminate philosophical principles as they apply to current social or political issues.

(1) A physicist, Dr. A, works for a nuclear power-plant management company. He works 8 am to 5 pm, five days per week. In his spare time, in the evenings and on weekends, he writes a long article for a popular magazine. In the article, Dr. A argues for liberation of the nuclear-power industry. In support of his theme, he offers ethical principles (e.g., the moral right to property), political principles (the only function of a proper government is protecting rights from aggression and fraud), and technical knowledge (nuclear power does not cause neighbors to glow in the dark). Dr. A also occasionally meets informally with investors, power-plant managers, and others to convey to them his philosophical and technical views. He hopes to give them the information they need to clamor for liberating the nuclear-power industry. Dr. A is a scientist, not a professional intellectual, that is, his central purpose in life is not in the area of the humanities.[1] Besides being a scientist, he is also an in-line intellectual activist.

He is an activist because he is taking action in society to improve his world. He is an intellectual activist because he is applying philosophical principles to the culture in which he lives. (He is, in some measure perhaps, also a political activist if he takes steps to change his government in particular ways.) He is acting in-line because he is disseminating information that he has gained, directly or indirectly, through his efforts to achieve his central purpose in life, which is, in his particular case, "to facilitate the production of energy through nuclear power," or some similar statement of purpose.

(2) A second physicist, Dr. B, has essentially the same central purpose in life but is now retired from working for an income. She writes a series of articles, pamphlets, weblog posts, and books--some written to the general public and some to her scientific peers--calling for the deregulation of the nuclear-power industry. Capitalizing on the many contacts she made while working, she also occasionally meets with investors, power plant managers, and others to convey her philosophical and technical views, in hopes of giving these powerful individuals the ethical, political, and technical "ammunition" they need to fight for liberating the nuclear-power industry. She too is an in-line intellectual activist. Dr. B differs from Dr. A in that she can work full-time at her activism.

(3) A third physicist, Dr. C, has essentially the same central purpose in life as Drs. A and B, and he works for a nuclear power-plant management company 8 to 5, five days per week. In his spare time on one weekend, Dr. C writes a letter to the editor of the local, small-town newspaper. The subject of the letter is a protest against the local police department wasting time arresting prostitutes and heroin addicts in the town. Dr. C writes the letter in favor or abolishing victimeless-crime laws. He uses moral arguments (e.g., the right to liberty), political arguments (e.g., the proper function of government), and financial arguments (half the police budget goes for victimless crimes, while rapists and robbers run free). In this project, Dr. C is an off-line intellectual/political activist.

(4) Dr. D is a professional historian. Her particular central purpose in life is to "promote understanding of our past." She is a professional intellectual.[2] So far, her career has consisted mostly of publishing her own historical research and teaching in academia. She chooses to spend some of her weekends and evenings preparing philosophical arguments (e.g., about the nature of objectivity) and other arguments to persuade local public school board members to adopt more objective history texts for middle-school students. Dr. D is, in this respect, an in-line intellectual and political activist. If, instead, she chooses to devote some of her evenings and weekends to working with a local, ad hoc group trying to stop a proposed sales tax, then she is, in that respect, an off-line intellectual activist.

(5) Mr. E is a carpenter. His central purpose in life is to use wood--which he loves in all its many forms--for making things that improve life, such as houses, boats, conference tables, and model planes for the children of his friends. He is not a member of a carpenter's union, so he works only on nonunion jobs. On the side, he likes reading about and discussing basic philosophy. He has also invested some time into reading the laws of his city and state as they apply to unions. When he works as a carpenter, he works long hours. Between jobs he writes letters to the editors of newspapers and of magazines for carpenters. In these letters, Mr. E cites fundamental principles, stated in his own words, as support for a free market in labor. In particular, he opposes restrictions on immigration and laws that regulate relations between corporate management and laborers, particularly in the construction business. Mr. E is an in-line intellectual activist.

The preceding five examples illustrate this point: The defining characteristic of an in-line activist is the special relationship between his work (physics, history, or carpentry) and his intellectual activism: The two areas have the same general subject matter, at least in part. An in-line activist is an intellectual/political activist in his field, which is the field of his beloved central purpose in life.

An off-line activist, by contrast, is active in a field outside the field of his central purpose in life. Whether the off-line activist spends only a few minutes or 60 hours per week at his activism is not an issue here. What makes him off-line is the fact that the subject matter of his activism is outside ("off") the field of his beloved central purpose in life.

NONDEFINING CHARACTERISTICS. In defining ideas, the thinker should set aside nonessential characteristics. Examples of nonessential characteristics for in-line activism are: the amount of time the activist invests in his activism; whether the activist is a professional intellectual; whether or to what degree the activist needs to increase his communication skills; and how much (if any) research the activist needs to do for particular activist projects.

(1) In-line activism can be a full-time activity, as in the case of a retired person who maintains the same central purpose in life but perhaps in a different form, one not requiring that he work a regular job. Or in-line activism can be part-time. Likewise, off-line activism can be either full-time or part-time. How much time an activist spends on his activist projects is not an essential (causal, explanatory) characteristic. As in the formation of concepts generally, measurements are omitted in the formation of the idea of in-line activism.

(2) One need not be a professional intellectual in order to engage in intellectual activism, either in-line or off-line, just as one need not be a professional politician in order to engage in political activism, and one need not be a professional scientist in order to advocate that schools teach the scientific method. In the Objectivist movement, as Ayn Rand explains, the "New Intellectuals" are "those who will take the initiative and the responsibility [for applying Objectivism to life]: they will check their own philosophical premises, identify their convictions, integrate their ideas into coherence and consistency, then offer to the country a view of existence to which the wise and honest can repair."[3] The New Intellectuals of the Objectivist movement need not be professional intellectuals.[4]

(3) A need to improve one's skills in objective communication is common to both in-line activists and off-line activists--and even individuals who are not activists at all but who want to succeed in the advanced levels of their careers.[5] So the need to improve one's communication skills is not a characteristic that distinguishes in-line from off-line activists.

(4) Both types of activist may need to do additional research for some of their activist projects, but not for other projects (e.g., those projects that involve only a quick statement of position, backed up by a very simple argument). A need for research and a potential need to substantiate all assertions with citations are not distinguishing characteristics of either in-line or off-line activism.

SUMMARY. In understanding the idea of in-line (versus off-line) activism, it is very important not to define the idea by any characteristic other than the relationship between the activist's field of beloved work and the subject matter of his intellectual/political activism. The amount of time invested in an activity, one's professional status, one's skill in communication, and the amount of research required are all inessential and therefore nondefining characteristics of either form of activism.

The essential defining characteristic of in-line activism is the positive relationship of the activist's area of activism to the field of his central purpose in life. In-line activism means intellectual (or political) activism that is "in-line" with--drawn from, congruent with--the work he has done to fulfill his central purpose in life.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

[1] For central purpose in life: posts for May 20 and June 5, 2008. [2] For "professional intellectual," see: Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual, p. 25 (hardback) or 27 (paperback); or see "Intellectuals," The Ayn Rand Lexicon, first excerpt. [3] For a description of the New Intellectuals of the Objectivist movement: Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 59 (hardback). [4] For the nature of a movement, see the July 5, 2008 post. [5] For a series of lectures and practical exercises (performed by audience members) on objective communication, suitable for anyone who communicates as the core of his work, but especially for the New Intellectuals: Leonard Peikoff, "Objective Communication," an audio recording of a long series of lectures, available from The Ayn Rand Bookstore.

Aug 1, 2008

What is in-line activism?

The Summer 2008 issue of The Objective Standard carries an article by Raymond C. Niles, "Property Rights and the Crisis of the Electric Grid." According to his profile under the "Contributors" tab on the TOS website:

Mr. Niles manages an investment fund focused on the electric utility and related industries. Prior to initiating his fund, Mr. Niles was a senior electric utility analyst at Citigroup and Schroders. He has appeared on numerous industry and media forums, including the Edison Electric Institute, the NYMEX, the Wall Street Journal, Barron's, CNBC, and ABC News. Mr. Niles holds an MBA from the Stern School of Business at New York University.

Mr. Niles's clearly written and tightly edited article looks at the history of the economics of power generation and transmission. The article calls for a principled change toward a free market ("a liberated electric grid based on property rights and private ownership of the rights-of-way") and away from the crony-statism now controlling this industry. Mr. Niles's article is thus, in part, a project of intellectual and political activism. He is working as an activist from a broad base of philosophical, historical, and technical knowledge that he has accumulated throughout his career.

Mr. Niles has also taken his activism one step further than writing a substantial article in a prestigious journal. He has taken his activism directly to individuals in the electricity-generation industry, individuals who have some economic power and potentially some influential power of ideas with others inside and outside the industry. He writes (reproduced with permission):

I gave a speech based on my article to an industry trade group that represents owners of power plants and electricity traders who do business in California. I wasn't sure how they would react, especially after I told them that the 'deregulation' that they thought they were pursuing wasn't deregulation at all, and actually has made the industry worse. Also, when I told them that people should own rights-of-way underneath and above the city streets and that we should have competitive electric grids, I thought they would think that I had three heads!

Well, to my very pleasant surprise, they reacted with genuine interest in what I had to say. What I took from their reaction is that most people hold socialist/interventionist views only by default. Many people implicitly support a capitalist society but they have not been properly sold on it. When I presented my reasons, they 'got' much of it, to my great surprise.

To make things happen, the first thing required is the idea. For the electric utility industry, I presented that idea in my article, a way forward out of the morass of pseudo-deregulation and ratebase regulation. As far as I know, I am the first one to state it. However, until it gets said, it cannot happen.

Mr. Niles is an in-line activist. He is engaged in an activism that is a direct and natural application of his career and his central purpose in life.

As a student of history, especially of philosophical movements, I wonder about the comparative potency of various forms of philosophical and intellectual activism. As a working hypothesis, I would expect that in-line activism would be, all other factors being equal, more effective in disseminating ideas than off-line activism, that is, actions taken in one field by someone who is an expert in another field. Why would in-line activism be more effective? I can suggest four answers, as elements of a working hypothesis.

1. The in-line activist has the specialized knowledge required to back up his principles with technical and historical details. Principles and concretes together are objective; and, rhetorically, objectivity is far more persuasive than either principles or concretes alone.

2. The in-line activist knows his audience, not only their degree of knowledge, but also which individuals have power--the ability to make changes in one's world despite opposition. The in-line activist can tailor his argument to the appropriate individuals at the appropriate times and places. He can talk in their terms, understand their problems, and share their aspirations

3. The in-line activist is more likely to gain personal access to the most powerful members of his audience as individuals--at professional conferences, at lunch meetings, or at other events.

4. In-line activists can organize, lead, and participate in public discussions and debates more successfully than individuals outside the field could do. An in-line activist is more likely to have already heard the opposition's standard objections, usual fallacies, and conventional rhetorical tricks. The in-line activist is well-armed through experience.

A student of history or contemporary culture can test these elements of the working hypothesis for in-line activism. Such testing might mean (1) studying the records of successful movements of the past (for example, a movement to abolish tariffs) and (2) observing activists engaged in struggles today (for example, in the tiny but growing movement to stop statist monopoly medicine, that is, the politicalization of medical care).

A central topic of this post is the question of which type of activism (in-line or off-line) might be more effective in disseminating fundamental ideas for change in special fields and, cumulatively, in the general culture. However, whether a particular individual should choose one form of activism over another (or any form of activism at all) may properly depend on factors such as other personal interests and purposes besides his central purpose in life.

Based on my observation and speaking generally, I would say rational people act more intensely, persistently, and effectively when they are operating on their "home territory," which is the domain defined by their highest personal as well as philosophical values--including their central purpose in life.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

Jul 28, 2008

Fiction Writing: The most difficult career?

PROBLEM. In the forty-five years that I've known students of Objectivism, I have met about fifty individuals who said their central purpose in life is to write fiction--either historical, philosophical, or other genre. Most of them soon switched to another central purpose in life. (For my views of CPL, see my posts of May 20 and June 5, 2008.) Some of those who switched are still in art, but in a different medium, such as painting, and are doing well. Why do so few individuals stay with fiction writing?

PARTICULAR REASONS. One reason, which I know from personal experience, is that the novice fiction writer may discover a more suitable central purpose while in the process of learning fiction writing. For example, for twenty years, my central purpose in life has been to tell success stories. In the beginning, I assumed that meant fiction. After studying the basics of fiction writing for two years, and then planning and writing two short practice novels (adventure genre) over a four year period, I realized that the success stories I most wanted to tell are real-life stories, specifically drawn from the history of philosophy. (My second, and last, practice novel was historical, which became a natural segue into history as a field.) So, after switching to historical writing from fiction writing, my basic purpose remained the same, but no longer in the form of fine art.

I know of two young men who started as fiction writers and have switched to visual arts because the visual arts objectively fit their needs and wants better. A few others have equally objective reasons for switching to another career. Beyond these individual explanations, is there something in the nature of fiction writing, itself, that makes it initially more attractive and simultaneously more difficult than other careers?

GENERAL REASONS. First, fiction writing, more than other arts, is a process of creating another world, an imaginary one. A sculptor creates a single object, but a novelist creates a whole world, implicitly and explicitly. Combine that with the fact that the medium is wholly abstract -- relying on visual symbols, that is, words -- and you have a recipe for an art that takes a long time to learn and great labor to enact.

Now add a second ingredient: there is no "career" in fiction writing except what the fiction writer builds for himself. The career of medicine, for example, is intellectually difficult, but the general academic and professional steps in the ladder are clear. There is no comparable ladder in fiction writing.

A third ingredient adds another burden: there are no jobs for fiction writers that allow them to earn an income while learning the art. A would-be attorney can work as a file clerk in a law office, then as a paralegal, while going to law school at night. After officially becoming an attorney he can work for an established law firm before setting up his own practice. Nothing comparable exists for fiction writers.

A fourth ingredient is that fiction writing involves the whole person more than any other career, even more than other arts (with the possible exception of acting). For example, a writer who has a psychological problem with repression may be more crippled in his work than if he were an electronic engineer.

A fifth ingredient is the great time lag between starting a story and seeing it made real. The process of researching, planning, writing and editing a novel--especially one that is historical or philosophical--is too long for artists who want to see quicker results.

Given these difficulties, the small number of persistent fiction writers, and the even smaller number of artistically successful ones, is not a surprise. But for someone who has selected fiction as his central purpose in life, and is objective about his ability to succeed, the long, slow climb to competence might still be very rewarding personally.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

Jul 21, 2008

The Cause of History: Ideas or Insults?

In the last few years, I have frequently examined many advocacy websites. One of my purposes was to identify the manner in which the authors made their points; their style in responding to comments, especially critical ones; and their effectiveness as intellectual or political activists.

In some weblogs, one element of style stands out: insults to opponents. These writers call their opponents names such as: nutbars, nutjobs, morons, cowards, idiots, goat herders, ragheads, and scum. They also use adjectives such as: moronic, idiotic, stupid, nuts, crazy, loony, insane, delusional, and childish.

Why do these writers use insults? Judging from their statements of purpose and the contents of their weblogs, these writers want the world around them to adopt certain views. Do these writers think that insulting their opponents will persuade their opponents to revise their values? I am not sure of the answer. I have only a "working hypothesis."

What I see in some weblogs--and also, I am sorry to say, in some of my own writing in various forums several years ago--is the use of language primarily to either express the writers' own emotions (typically anger) or to evoke emotions (typically anger) in their sympathetic readers and perhaps even in their targets. For such writers, emotions, usually expressed indirectly as insults, seem to be both the values to be achieved and the means for achieving them.

Such writers also seem to assume that emotions--especially those expressed by or triggered by insults--somehow cause history, that is, cause people to change their actions. The writers seem to assume the world is filled with human monads, each one radiating emotions, and the monads radiating most vibrantly win whatever struggle they have undertaken.

Most of the weblog writers who use insults also freely use hyperbole, for example: "This is absolutely and totally the world's foremost case of stupidity in all of recorded history." Perhaps such writers think hyperbolic language makes their emotional "vibrations" stronger. I suspect it is the equivalent of shouting in English when trying to communicate with a man who understands only Spanish. This is intrinsicism applied to communication.

My "working hypothesis" is plausible but unproven. Philosophically, I still wonder: What worldview underlies such insults? And, historically, I still wonder: What benefit have such insults secured in achieving any objective movement's goals for improving the lives of rational people here on earth?

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

Feb. 17, 2012, P. S. -- Many of the individuals I have observed using terms such as "idiots" are conservatives and libertarians. However, the technique is not limited to them. There may be an underpinning epistemology shared by all such speakers. Stephen R. C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism, pp. 177-178, offers comments about postmodernists' use of language as a weapon to change the world. Since postmodernists reject reason (and reason's premise, the idea that everything in reality has a definite nature), they are free to use language any way they want. To change the world to match their nonobjective values (egalitarianism, polylogism, and so forth), postmodernists use language to attack, not persuade. Hicks notes (p. 178, 2nd edition): "The regular deployment of ad hominem, the setting up of straw men, and the regular attempts to silence opposing voices are all logical consequences of the postmodernist epistemology of language." (I have reviewed Hicks's book at:

Jul 14, 2008

Quality control in movements?

Within a few years I hope to look at one or more movements that have contributed to Western Civilization. (For the nature of a movement, see the July 5, 2008 post.) Examples in the USA are movements to abolish slavery; secure property rights for women; spread the theory of evolution; abolish alcohol Prohibition; and repeal "Jim Crow" laws. Following are preliminary notes for this project; the notes are mostly questions at this beginning stage.

WHAT IS QC? In the electronics industry, from which I retired twenty years ago, quality control is the active, purposeful, and organized effort to make sure that a company's products and services meet the company's standards--and the customer's expectations. The main positive motives for QC are pride in the products and higher profits; negative motives include reducing complaints from customers and the expense of handling returned products.

QC IN A MOVEMENT? What would be QC in a movement, that is, in an effort--especially through advocacy--by various individuals to improve their society in a certain way? Consider the individuals in the movement as individuals acting on their own. (Organizations within a movement can set rules for quality of their own membership and quality of their own product.) QC would consist of individuals examining, not only their own products (lectures, essays, and conversations), but also the products of other individuals in the movement, and then taking action to remove or improve poor quality products. In a free or semi-free society, the control in QC would be peaceful and honest.

MOTIVATIONS? Why examine the products of other individuals in a movement? One example of a member of a movement who might deserve scrutiny is an individual who is influential but is spreading a mixed or erroneous message (an "abolitionist" who wants merely to improve the living conditions of slaves), thereby undercutting the work of other individuals who have perfected their understanding of the issues involved. A second example is an individual who is advocating the correct position of the movement but whose personal behavior is an embarrassment--for instance, destructively poor grammar, foul language, or public displays of mental illness--that might reduce the movement's chances of succeeding.

TECHNIQUES FOR "CONTROLLING" QUALITY? Are such aberrant individuals actually a problem, that is, do they actually threaten the success of an objective movement, one whose goals are drawn logically from facts of reality? If they are, have past movements identified such individuals as a threat? If they have, how have concerned members of those movements handled such problems? Based only on brief personal experience and observation of contemporary movements, I would expect to find, in historical movements, a range of tools being used by some members of a movement to improve the quality of the movement overall. Possible QC tools for individuals who are trying to minimize the effect of counter-productive members of a movement might include the following.

1. Shunning is disassociation. On a personal, face-to-face level, an example of shunning is refusing to speak to a certain person at a party or even refusing to attend the party. Blacklisting, a tool of shunning, is compiling a list, written or not, of individuals to avoid for any kind of formal association such as hiring them or accepting them as members of organizations. Boycotting, a special type of shunning, is specifically economic, neither selling to certain individuals nor buying from them.

2. Criticism is an alternative to shunning. Criticism is pointing out defects either in the person or in his products and then offering a superior alternative. Criticism may be either public or private.

3. Pre-emption is a second major alternative to shunning as a dominant strategy. Pre-emption can take several forms. In one form, a member of a movement may tell his general, non-movement audience that the individuals in the movement agree on the one goal that they all seek, but that otherwise they are as diverse as individuals in the remainder of society, so do not be surprised if you meet a wide variety of individuals bearing the same message. In a second form of pre-empting, a member of a movement might steer listeners who are outside the movement to the best sources of information about the movement's goals. This "positive" approach publicizes superior sources and thus indirectly draws attention from inferior sources of information about the movement's goals. In a third form of pre-empting, a member of a movement might single out particular false representatives of the movement and tell his audience why those individuals are false representatives as a contrast to the true representatives.

In summary, when I research particular movements, I will be looking for evidence, if any, that, outside of organizations, at least some members of each movement considered quality control to be important enough to take action. If they did take action to ensure quality, my next step will be to see what techniques they used. Last, I will try to assess the effectiveness of such efforts.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

Jul 5, 2008

What is a movement?

In the late 1100s in Paris, various educators were inspired by a new idea, the unity of knowledge: A fully educated man is not only an accomplished specialist in a particular career (the lucrative arts of Law, Medicine, and Theology), but he also has fundamental knowledge applicable to everyone's life (the liberal arts). This idea of the unity of knowledge became an ideal--that is, a goal worthy of action, including advocacy to others.[1]

Individually each Parisian educator, in his own manner, was taking steps toward ensuring that his students benefited from this new approach to education, and he was advocating that others do likewise. Considered together, these educators were a movement, that is, they were individuals taking action (including advocacy) toward a common goal of changing certain conditions in which they lived. By contrast, if one thousand people separately and coincidentally decide to paint their houses white, out of personal preference, they would not be a movement. To create a movement for painting houses white, the individuals would need to be motivated by a desire to change their society or culture, and they would need to advocate that idea to others.

The individuals in a movement need not know each other personally or even be aware of each other as individuals. A "movement" is thus a mental grouping of physically dispersed, socially unconnected individuals. Often, however, in a particular society when individuals realize they can achieve a common goal faster through cooperation, these individuals form actual groups, that is, sets of individuals who interact with each other in one way or another for a common purpose. Groups within a movement can take various forms.

In a network, Mr. Adams knows Ms. Beaumont, who knows Mr. Carter, who knows Mr. Daniels; but Mr. Daniels need not know Mr. Adams or Ms. Beaumont. A modern example is a network of neighbors who want to reduce crime in their neighborhood by watching out for each other. In an ad-hoc organization, individuals structure their relationship to achieve a particular, but short-term goal. An example would be a group of individuals who select a chairman and a treasurer for a political campaign to support a mayoral candidate who will fight to reduce crime. When the election is over, the group disbands. In an institution, which is a second kind of organization, individuals structure their relationships to achieve a goal that might require an effort longer than the lives of the founders. An example would be a group of individuals who want to make their neighborhood safe for themselves, their children, and their grandchildren, so they form The Institute for Safety in the Southside.

In Paris in the late 1100s, the advocates of unity of knowledge in education were a successful movement. They networked in the city that was the hub of the kingdom of France. They formed particular organizations to express their views. They eventually founded an institution: a guild of all members of the faculties of liberal arts, theology, law, and medicine. This guild fought for its members' goals. The Latin word for guild was universitas. The institution they created was the University of Paris, the world's first university, a unique invention of Western Civilization, the civilization whose foundation is a philosophy of reason.

In the United States, in our own time, an example of a movement is the conservative legal movement, a group of conservatives who want to see conservative views of the law presented in the top universities, in competition with leftist views of the law. The conservatives have rapidly achieved partial success.[2]

In conclusion I would say that a movement, as a group of individuals in a certain time and place, has two essential, defining characteristics: (1) a common goal of changing social conditions through (2) advocacy and other individual actions.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

[1] See Stephen C. Ferruolo, The Origins of the University: The Schools of Paris and Their Critics, 1100-1215, Stanford University Press, 1985, especially the Introduction. [2] See Larry Salzman's book review of Steven M. Teles, The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement: The Battle for Control of the Law, in the Summer 2008 issue of The Objective Standard (

Jun 5, 2008

The third greatest sacrifice?

I began reading Ayn Rand's writings 47 years ago. From the beginning, almost everything I read sounded right. Only one idea didn't fit: the idea of sacrifice. Ayn Rand defines "sacrifice" as "the surrender of the greater value for the sake of the lesser value."[1]

At the age of 17, I wondered, "Why would anyone give up a greater value for a lesser value?"

As the years rolled by, I saw examples of sacrifice. To stop a war, a pacifist burns himself to death (the greatest sacrifice of objective value, life itself). To please her mother, a young woman marries a man she doesn't love (the second greatest sacrifice, happiness in life). To be more "practical," a 25-year-old man abandons his central purpose in life, telling success stories from history, to become a technical writer (the third greatest sacrifice, a passionately held central purpose in life).

Nearly twenty years ago, I met a man who was active in a local network of supposed students of Objectivism. He had all the accoutrements of success, such as high income, professional prestige, a large house with a grand view, and exotic vacations. And he was unhappy.

I asked him why he was unhappy. "Because," he said, "what I most want in life is to do something creative, like writing novels."

I asked, "Why don't you make that your central purpose in life, and throw yourself into the work full-time?"

He gestured to the walls of his living room, lined with paintings and the best of sound systems, a way of living that a beginning novelist could not afford. He said, "Learning to write novels could take decades of full-time effort. I would have to give up all this."

I was too stunned to respond. Now, with better understanding of the issue, I would reply: "So what?"

A PROBLEM. I have seen this situation repeatedly. It is giving up a passionate pursuit of a central purpose in life, a higher objective value, for the sake of comfort, a lower value. I have finally accepted the fact that people do this, and I have tried to understand why. There are several explanations, different for different individuals.

One explanation, which I infer partly from introspection, is mistaken methodology. This individual starts with a lifestyle--his particular set of ways of living, such as hobbies, kind of housing, dining habits, and form of transportation. Then he tries to fit his central purpose in life into that lifestyle. He cannot make it fit. The result? Instead of adjusting his lifestyle, he abandons his central purpose in life. He abandons "I love" for a set of comforting "I like" choices.

A SOLUTION. I know from personal experience, including 15 lost years, that this method--trying to integrate a central purpose in life into a predetermined lifestyle--is backwards. The proper place to start is with the central purpose, not a preferred lifestyle. Why?

"A central purpose serves to integrate all the other concerns of a man's life. It establishes the hierarchy, the relative importance, of his values, it saves him from pointless inner conflicts, it permits him to enjoy life on a wide scale and to carry that enjoyment into any area open to his mind; whereas a man without a purpose is lost in chaos."[2]

A central purpose is the foundation from which to build a life. By contrast, choosing (or defaulting to) a central purpose life by the standard of a lifestyle is like defining by nonessentials: a reversal of cause and effect. Imagine a young student of architecture in a school of his choice in New England. He likes to swim outdoors. He learns that he can do so, year-round, in the Dominican Republic. He leaves architecture school, moves to the Dominican Republic, and becomes a bookkeeper to earn an income--but swims outdoors every day.

To sacrifice passionate productive purpose for the sake of comfort (or any other lesser objective value) is the third greatest sacrifice. It causes the second greatest sacrifice, unnecessary unhappiness; and it leads to the greatest sacrifice, a wasted life.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

[1] Ayn Rand, "Sacrifice," Ayn Rand Lexicon, p. 429. [2] Ayn Rand, "Purpose," Ayn Rand Lexicon, p. 398.

May 20, 2008

What is a central purpose in life?

[Jan. 31, 2011. My latest and final version of this post appears in the "What is a central purpose in life?" section of the Appendix to my latest book, The Power and the Glory, described here:]

In the first scene of Ayn Rand's novel, The Fountainhead, the protagonist, Howard Roark, stands on the edge of a cliff, preparing to dive into the lake below. As he looks at the world around him, elements of his central purpose in life (CPL) come naturally to mind. He sees granite, to be cut into walls. He sees a tree, to be split into rafters. He sees iron ore, to be formed into girders. In fulfilling his central purpose in life, he will take these elements and build homes and businesses. Howard Roark's CPL is to bring into reality his form-and-function designs of buildings.

Ayn Rand's CPL was the "presentation of an ideal man" in various forms of literary art--a prose-poem, short stories, plays, movie scripts, and novels.[1] At age 50, two-thirds of the way through her life, she fulfilled that purpose to the maximum degree with the publication of Atlas Shrugged. In that novel, the protagonist is John Galt, a complete portrayal of her ideal man as well as the basic elements of "the philosophy that made him possible."[2] At that point she re-examined her CPL. She decided to devote the remainder of her life to defending that ideal by further developing and then speaking and writing about the underlying philosophy, a philosophy of reason.[3] In my view, the essential elements of her CPL--portraying the ideal man--remained the same, and only particular activities changed. She continued to portray the ideal man but, as she had all along, by functioning as an ideal man in terms of the philosophical values and virtues of her own philosophy.

For a third example, consider a particular student of intellectual history. He defines his CPL as telling success stories from history. By doing so, he brings together tasks such as research, outlining, writing, and editing. He moves from project to project, from book to book, or article to article, but his CPL subsumes all of them.

THE NATURE OF A CPL. First, a CPL is a statement of action. It takes this form: "My central purpose in life is to ...," followed by an action word (for example, "design," "portray," "tell," or "write") that names a form of production. What is being produced? Something of high value to the producer and, ideally, to others in society who might wish to buy the product.

Second, a CPL is an abstraction, one that subsumes and integrates the many particular productive tasks in which a man engages to support his ultimate purpose in life, happiness. A simple metaphor for the relationship between a man's ultimate purpose and his CPL is a great tent, which is a life of happiness. Its main (but not only) tent-pole is his CPL. Other high purposes holding up the "tent" might be social relationships and a favorite leisure activity. Howard Roark loves designing and constructing buildings. He loves Dominique Francon and befriends Mike the construction worker. When time permits, he enjoys swimming.

Third, while the need for a CPL is philosophical--applying to everyone, everywhere, at all times in history--a particular person's formulation of his CPL is a personal statement, that is, it is tailored to (1) who he is as an individual, (2) what he wants to do, and (3) the world in which he lives. (A CPL is objective when it is drawn logically from all three facts, though the initial trail leading to its formulation might be a strong, persistent, positive emotional response to certain sets of activities that he later learns to state abstractly.)

Fourth, and ideally, a CPL should provide an income, thus paying one's way through life, at some level. Carpenters, architects, and some fiction writers earn an income from implementing their personal CPLs and selling their products--their labor, designs, or novels. However, for some CPLs, such as writing poetry, there may be too much competition or too little demand to provide a sufficient and steady income (at least during the first decades). In such cases, the passionate valuer might hold an intermittent, part-time, or full-time "day-job" to earn enough money to meet his minimal needs, while devoting as many hours as he can to the work he loves. A poet, for example, might work as a warehouseman because: he can mentally walk away from the job at the end of each workday and then devote his attention to his poems; he can work limited, predictable hours, freeing time for his art; and his warehouse skills are easily transferable elsewhere if he decides to move. On the other hand, a man who loves reading and critiquing poetry, but not writing it, would not need a "day job," but could develop a financially rewarding CPL as a full-time university teacher of poetry.

WHAT A CPL IS NOT. First, a central purpose in life is not primarily a statement of being, but a statement of doing. Of course, for convenience in communicating with others, a CPL might initially be stated most concisely as being a certain kind of producer: an architect (who designs and constructs buildings), a soldier (who destroys his country's enemies), a carpenter (who manipulates wood to fit human needs), or a doctor (who treats illnesses). However, a full statement of a CPL should identify the essential (causal) productive activity: portray, tell, write, construct, and so forth.

Second, a CPL is not merely a career, which is an ever-more demanding progression of jobs (or projects). A physician might progress from general science student, to medical student, to intern, to physician in private practice or a staff position in research or administration. That progression of jobs is a career. Each job, in turn, includes a combination of particular tasks such as diagnosis, treatment, report writing, and leadership. As an abstraction, a CPL subsumes the particulars of career, jobs, and tasks but it is not any one of them. As a broad abstraction, a CPL subsumes a vast number of details in a variety of circumstances and potentially over the span of one's life. In this sense, having a clear, concise, objective CPL is a tool of integration--that is, of finding "the one in the many."

Third, a CPL is not a statement of philosophical values or virtues. "Act rationally," "integrate logically," and "solve 'mysteries' in life" are not proper statements of a CPL, but identifications of what everyone needs to do in order to achieve his CPL and other purposes in life. A CPL is a personal, possibly unique, statement of productive purpose, a purpose that need not be attractive to anyone else.

CRITERIA FOR FORMULATING A CPL. What criteria should a CPL meet if it is properly formulated? First, it must be objective, that is, drawn logically from the facts of who you are, the nature of the productive activity, and the nature of the world in which you live. Second, as an abstraction, it must be broad enough to subsume a variety of circumstances, activities, jobs, and perhaps even more than one career. Third, it must be an active statement that you can expand or shrink as you need from moment to moment. A long-form statement should be specific enough to help you start planning the main steps of your career. A short-form statement of the same CPL will help you recall it quickly and thereby help you "refuel" and keep yourself on track in moments of turmoil, fatigue, or temporary loss. Fourth, it must be ambitious enough to make you "stretch" to fulfill it, but feasible enough to offer a probability of success. (If you do not succeed at your CPL, you will not be happy, though you might still earn second prize, which is the great satisfaction that arises from knowing you did everything you could have done.)[4]

A central purpose in life is not all of life, but it is the core of life.[5]

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

[1] For Ayn Rand's statements of her central purpose in life: The Romantic Manifesto, pp. 161 and 163 (hardback), in Ch. 10, "The Goal of My Writing." Ayn Rand also used the terms "portrayal" and "projection," apparently as synonyms of "presentation." In the title of the chapter she speaks of a "goal," and in the main text she speaks of "purpose," "first cause," "prime mover," "motive," and "ultimate literary goal." For me, here is an unresolved problem: What is the distinction between the ideas named by the words "goal," "value," and "purpose"? Do they all refer to essentially the same thing--something we want that requires action to achieve--but perhaps as seen from different perspectives? Or do they refer to essentially different things? I do not yet have an answer. I welcome one. [2] For the comment about Atlas Shrugged completing her ambitious literary quest, see her biographer's description, from which I have quoted: Jeff Britting, Ayn Rand, pp. 87-88 and 91. (Available from The Ayn Rand Bookstore.) [3] For the change in Rand's CPL: Britting, Ayn Rand, p. 92. [4] For Ayn Rand's distinction between happiness and satisfaction: Mary Ann and Charles Sures, Facets of Ayn Rand, pp. 74-76. (Available from The Ayn Rand Bookstore.) [5] For Ayn Rand's comments on CPL and subjects related to a CPL, see the entries for Purpose, Productivity, Career, Ultimate Value, and Happiness in The Ayn Rand Lexicon. (Available from The Ayn Rand Bookstore.)

May 2, 2008

What is "essentializing"?

As a student of history and philosophy, one of the best items of advice that I have received is: "Learn how to essentialize." So, I have been a student of essentializing, and I am still looking for ways to improve. Following is my interim summary.

WHAT IS ESSENTIALIZING? As a noun, the term essential is shorthand for the phrase "essential characteristic." Characteristic of what? Of any existent--a table, a man, a society, or a philosophy.[1]

In a metaphysical (ontological) perspective, an essential is a certain kind of feature of a thing--a feature that causes all, most, or many of the thing's other characteristics to be what they are.[2] For example, in a philosophical (not biological) context, an essential characteristic of man is his ability to reason. That ability does not cause his chromosome count to be what it is, but his ability to reason does enable him to write symphonies, plan a garden, design a computer program, choose a suitable spouse, measure a board for framing a new house, and debate laws.

BENEFITS. Epistemologically, an essential is a characteristic which explains all, most, or many of the other characteristics of a thing. (What is a cause in reality is an explanation in cognition of that reality.)[3]

As a second benefit, identifying essential characteristics also allows me to simplify my mental activities. Holding all of a thing's characteristics in mind at one time is impossible. Rather than needing to remember thousands of characteristics of a thing, when I think of that thing, I can remember an essential characteristic that causes and thereby explains all, most, or many of the other characteristics.

When I recall the definition of a thing, I am recalling its essential characteristics. A table is an "item of furniture, consisting of a flat, level surface and supports, intended to support other, smaller objects."[4] In part, its essential characteristics are its structure (a flat surface raised off the floor to a level accessible to human hands) and its purpose (to support other objects in a way accessible from all sides). Remembering structure and purpose is much easier than trying to remember a table's many other, inessential characteristics.

A METHOD. Essentializing is a mental method. It is looking for the underlying characteristic of a thing -- whether the thing is a perceptible object, such as a table, or a set of wide abstractions, such as a philosophy. For example, an examination of Ayn Rand's philosophy leads to an identification of an essential characteristic ("essence") of Objectivism as the concept of objectivity.

The process of essentializing is analogous to harvesting a carrot: Follow the many little green leaves to the single large root, and then extract it. The process of essentializing is a form of integration, that is, a form of finding the One from which the Many appear.[5] Consider an example. For students of philosophy of history, Leonard Peikoff has sketched a method of finding the philosophical roots (the fundamental ideas that cause it to be what it is) of a particular society, such as Germany in the 1920s.[6] Generalizing his comments further, I would suggest that the method of essentializing has four main steps:

1. Immerse yourself in identifying the many characteristics of the thing you are examining. The question to ask at this stage is Aristotle's basic question of all inquiry: "What is it?"[7] Whatever you are studying -- whether a new life-form in the jungle of the Amazon River Valley or a long paragraph in a philosophy textbook -- ask yourself particular questions whose answers will help you characterize the object. Examples for a physical object are: How much does it weigh? What color is it? Does it have parts? If so, how do they interconnect? At this stage, do not be concerned with the importance, breadth, or relationship of the characteristics. Simply collect them.

2. Classify the answers. For example, for a rare monkey, red hands and purple ears might fall under the heading of skin color, and skin color and shape of eyes fall under the heading of physical characteristics.

3. Sort the characteristics by fundamentality--that is, by cause and effect. Which of the characteristics are effects, and which are causes of other characteristics? An illustration: Philosophically speaking, man's ability to reason is a cause (an enabling cause) of man's ability to create music--not vice versa.

4. Look for the characteristic that explains most other characteristics. It is the essential characteristic. Sometimes, the thing being essentialized may have more than one essential characteristic. For example, an essential characteristic of Nazi philosophy was a set of three ideas--irrationalism (in epistemology), altruism (in ethics), and racial collectivism (in politics)--working together.[8]

CONCLUSION. What is the essential nature of the method of essentializing? Ask questions to find the "root," the characteristic of a thing that causes and thereby explains all, most, or many of the other characteristics of the thing.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

[1] For Ayn Rand's discussion of essential characteristics: Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Ch. 5 ("Definitions"), especially pp. 42, 45-46, and 52; also see pp. 230-231. Leonard Peikoff discusses essentializing in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, pp. 96-101. [2] For the meaning of "fundamental" and "essential," see: Ayn Rand, ITOE, p. 45. [3] For the distinctions between metaphysically fundamental as cause and epistemologically essential as explanation: Rand, ITOE, 2nd ed., p. 45. [4] For the quoted definition of "table," see: Rand, ITOE,, 2nd ed., p. 41. [5] For integration: Leonard Peikoff, OPAR, p. 77. [6] For the example of philosophical detection, a form of essentializing, in analyzing a culture: Leonard Peikoff, Ominous Parallels, pp. 143-144. [7] For the basic questions of inquiry: Aristotle, Analytica Posteriora, Bk. I, Ch. 1, lines 89b21-25. [8] For the essential philosophical characteristics ("the essence") of Nazism: Peikoff, Ominous Parallels, p. 97.

Apr 17, 2008

In Hebrews 11.1, what is "faith"?

Leonard Peikoff notes that Aquinas is "the greatest of all religious thinkers," one who openly champions reason--with faith as a supplement.[1] In this post, my purpose--as a layman, not as a specialist--is to suggest an interpretation of a Biblical passage that underlies Aquinas's view of faith.[2]

The passage is Chapter 11, Verse 1 of The Letter to the Hebrews, in the Christian New Testament. The anonymous author of the Letter probably lived c. 100 CE.[3]

Verse 1 is the theme statement for Hebrews Ch. 11. It says, "... faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Subsequent verses chronologically present examples of Old Testament men and women who had faith.

Now take a closer look at the two main parts of the Letter writer's definition.

1. The things hoped for are values. Judging from the context, the values are not merely any values, but a Christian's highest values, such as everlasting life in heaven. (Verse 16 says that for those who have faith, "God ... has prepared for them a city," presumably the City of God, as Augustine will later call it.)[4] Thus, half of faith is having confidence in receiving something of value--in the next world. In part, this is a matter of ethics, one branch of the Christian worldview.

2. In the second half of the writer's definition, the conviction of things not seen is belief in ideas which have no basis in sense-perception of this world. Earlier in the New Testament, in The Second Letter to the Corinthians, 5.7, the writer, the apostle Paul (Saul of Tarsus), encourages Christians to walk in this world by faith, not by sight. That is appropriate advice if this "world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear" (Hebrews 11.3). Such advice is a matter of epistemology and metaphysics (ontology), two more branches in the Christian worldview.

Conclusion: The anonymous writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is presumably competing with Judaism, Roman paganism, and other religions in his time. To a steadily growing, potentially Christian audience, he offers the essentials of an integrated worldview. The metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics of early Christianity are interlocked: An invisible God created this world from nothing; and He tells us, without offering evidence, to spend our miserable, sinful lives seeking values available only after we die and, even then, in another world.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

[1] Leonard Peikoff, "Religion versus America," The Objectivist Forum, June, 1986 (Vol. 7), New York, TOF Publications, 1993, pp. 3 and 7-8. The same essay appears in The Voice of Reason. [2] Mark D. Jordan, translator and editor of On Faith: Summa theologiae, Part 2-2, Questions 1-16 of St. Thomas Aquinas, Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press, 1990, p. 14, lists Hebrews 11 and First Corinthians 13.2 as two passages underlying Thomas's view of faith. [3] For discussion of the identity of the author of The Letter to the Hebrews: Pheme Perkins, Reading the New Testament: An Introduction, second ("revised") edition, New York, Paulist Press, 1988, Ch. 17 ("Hebrews"), pp. 270, 272 and 273. [4] The Biblical quotations come from The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Meridian Books, 1962.

Apr 4, 2008

Philosophical Ripples?

My purpose in these notes is to summarize my understanding of the general process of spreading a philosophy.

Philosophical transmission is the passage of a philosophy from one generation to the next or from one society to another. In the west, a long line of scholars transmitted Aristotle's philosophy from Greek society to Roman society; in the east, Greek writers transmitted it to Syriac and then Arabic society; and from these earlier cultures, scholars transmitted it to the world of Thomas Aquinas.

In contrast, philosophical dissemination is the passage of a philosophy down a socio-intellectual hierarchy from a philosopher to the man in the street, within one society. The philosophers of the Italian Renaissance disseminated Aristotle's philosophy into their society--as some philosophers are today disseminating Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism, into modern society.

A new philosophy enters a society like a stone dropping into a pond. The effects ripple through the society.[1] The ripples pass along a chain of individuals.

1. Primary philosophers create radically new philosophical systems. Each presents his philosophy to a few students. In the 2500-year history of philosophy, only four primary philosophers have emerged: Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Rand.[2]

2. In the generations following the introduction of each primary philosophy, secondary philosophers build their own philosophical systems. Whereas primary philosophers create radically new philosophical ideas and integrate them into a system, secondary philosophers start with some of the essential elements of a primary philosopher's system and then develop their own variation from those and other essential elements. Example secondary philosophers are Plotinus (600 years after Plato) and Kierkegaard (50 years after Kant).

Primary and secondary philosophers systematize their philosophical ideas in their thinking but not in their presentations of their own philosophies. Perhaps the reason for the lack of a single-volume presentation of the whole philosophy is that each primary and secondary philosopher is fascinated with (1) solving particular philosophical problems (such as the problem of universals) and (2) mentally integrating the solutions into a system, but he is bored with presenting the system as a whole to beginners.

3. Tertiary philosophers are individuals who immerse themselves in a primary or secondary philosophy but do not create systems of their own. Example tertiary philosophizers are academics who (1) think about and teach philosophy fulltime; (2) specialize in the study of a particular philosophical system; (3) adopt it as their own; (4) make its implicit elements explicit; and (5) systematically present it in their own lectures and books. A partial example is John Rawls (chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Harvard and author of Theory of Justice); he applied Kant's metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics to his own politics of egalitarianism.[3]

4. Philosophers of the sciences develop the basic principles (the foundation, the "philosophy") of each science. Example specialized sciences are physics, history, and psychology. Unlike primary, secondary, and tertiary philosophers, philosophers of science characteristically do not work directly with whole philosophical systems. Philosophers of science apply parts of a philosophy--especially its metaphysics and epistemology--to their particular field. For example, besides being a physicist, Galileo (1564-1642) was a philosopher of the emerging science of physics. He placed physics partly on a foundation of Aristotle's philosophical method--logic--and partly on elements of Aristotle's epistemology.[4]

5. Intellectuals apply philosophical principles (formulated by others) to their specialized studies in particular sciences and arts. Intellectuals continue the process of selecting pieces of a whole philosophy for narrower applications. Thus intellectuals develop and spread new specialized ideas as well as philosophical ideas. Example intellectuals are university professors who think about, write about, and lecture on specialized sciences. Today, in such fields as economics, biology, architecture, political science, art criticism, and history, intellectuals write and lecture outside universities too -- e.g., in "think-tanks" and specialized weblogs.

An intellectual activist is a person who (1) is intrigued by at least some philosophical principles and their application to his milieu, and (2) takes action to spread the applications and their underlying philosophical principles into his society. An intellectual activist, as distinct from a professional intellectual, need not be an originator of new ideas.

(The term "intellectual" can also be used very broadly to name anyone who is concerned about fundamental ideas and their application to society; in this sense, "intellectual" is not a matter of profession but of interest.)

6. Broadcasters further disseminate particular philosophical ideas (e.g., "Nobody can be certain of anything") and their applications ("Someone has to help the people who do not plan for their old-age"). Broadcasters do not develop new ideas, either philosophical or specialized. Example broadcasters can be teachers in lower schools, local newspaper columnists, and intellectually articulate politicians--but not all teachers, columnists, and politicians are broadcasters. Broadcasters spread philosophical ideas and their applications by talking directly to the "man in the street," for instance, to the truck driver whose actual philosophy ("Aw, hell, who knows--and who cares anyway?") determines whether he accelerates or brakes as he drives toward you when you walk across an intersection.[6]

Philosophically, the idea that underlies dissemination is the movement from the universal to the particular. Each disseminator applies a philosophy more narrowly (while implicitly retaining the whole). Socially, the process of dissemination affects more and more people. Thus, in dissemination from a primary philosopher to truck drivers, the philosophical and social hierarchies are parallel.[7]

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

[1] For innovative, general insight into the hierarchy of a philosophical army: Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, hardback, p. 25. To better meet my needs as a student of history, I have added stages in the hierarchy and I have used additional terminology.

[2] For the idea of primary philosophers: Dr. Andrew Bernstein's recorded lecture, "Four Giants of Philosophy"; and Dr. Gary Hull's recorded lecture, "The Two False Theories of Concepts." Both lectures are available from The Ayn Rand Bookstore.

[3] For an example of a primary philosopher's influence, 175 years later, on an academic philosophizer: indirectly, a discussion of work by John Rawls (a Harvard philosophy professor, author of *A Theory of Justice*) in Ayn Rand, "An Untitled Letter," Philosophy: Who Needs it, pp. 131-137 and 140-144. For the transmission and dissemination of Kantianism, from Kant to Rawls: Leonard Peikoff, Ominous Parallel, especially Chs. 2, 6, 14 and 15.

[4] For Galileo as philosopher of science and as scientist: "Preface," William A Wallace, Galileo Logic's of Discovery and Proof: The Background, Content, and Use of His Appropriated Treatises on Aristotle's Posterior Analytics, Vol. 137 (a philosophy of science series), Kluwer Academic Publishers, Boston, 1992. As elsewhere, I am offering this example tentatively. I am not a specialist in any of their philosophies.

[5] For philosophy's effect on the man in the street: Ayn Rand, Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 5 of the title essay.

[6] I have discussed dissemination here only as a process of spreading ideas down a social hierarchy. Dissemination also includes spreading ideas "laterally," for example, tertiary philosophers who have adopted Kant's philosophy may advocate that philosophy to their peers, inside or outside of academia.

[7] "Enablers" can play a role at each stage of dissemination, but without themselves being disseminators of the ideas. For example, a philosophically mute but wealthy businsessman might provide free lodging to a philosopher who is developing a book presenting a key element of his new philosophy; a scientist immersed in his own specialized work might donate part of his salary to an institution dedicated to spreading a particular philosophy; and a carpenter might donate a new philosopher's book to a local library.