Oct 6, 2010

Why construct a chronology?

UPDATED Oct. 9 through Jan. 30 in the seven postscripts.

INTRODUCTION. A chronology is a statement, usually in the form of a list, of the temporal order of a series of events. Ideally, a chronology identifies: a particular time, the nature of the event, and the place. A chronology ought also to identify the source of the information for each item, thus answering the question, "How do you know this person did this at this time and place?"

The value of a chronology is three-fold. Assembling a chronology helps a researcher discover what he knows and doesn't know. When fully documented, a chronology helps the researcher check the reliability of his information. Placing events in temporal order paves the way for identifying the causal relationships, if any, between the events.

EXAMPLE. Consider an example, the series of events happening around the publication of David Harriman's book, The Logical Leap. The following chronology is a work in progress. Two crucial pieces of information, as well as some details, are missing.

1985. Dr. Peikoff and others created The Ayn Rand Institute. After Ayn Rand's death in 1982, Dr. Peikoff became the executor of her estate and her intellectual heir. [Missing: a source describing Dr. Peikoff's responsibilities as executor and intellectual heir, as he understands them.] Dr. Peikoff became ARI's first chairman of the board of directors. (Source: "Announcements". The Objectivist Forum 5 (6): 13–15, December 1984.)

2001. Dr. John McCaskey founded the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship. Dr. McCaskey is a professor of history and philosophy of science at Stanford University. (Source: johnmccaskey.com/resignation.html.)

2004. Dr. McCaskey joined the ARI board of directors. (Source: johnmccaskey.com/resignation.html.)

200?-200?. ARI funded physicist David Harriman's writing of The Logical Leap. (Source: johnmccaskey.com/resignation.html.)

200?-200?. Dr. McCaskey discussed with David Harriman an early draft of Harriman's manuscript, "The Logical Leap". Dr. McClaskey told Harriman: "The historical accounts as presented are often inaccurate, and more accurate accounts would be difficult to reconcile with the philosophical point the author is claiming to make." That quotation is Dr. McClaskey's later summary of earlier conversations. (Source: johnmccaskey.com/resignation.html.)

June 14, 16, and 28, 2010. Dr. McCaskey sent an email on each of three days to David Harriman. Dr. McCaskey's emails, written as he read through The Logical Leap, challenged Harriman's statements in the published book. (Source: www.johnmccaskey.com/emails.html.) Apparently Dr. McCaskey received an advanced copy, weeks before the official date of publication listed on Amazon, as noted for July 6 below.)

July 6, 2010. David Harriman's book was officially published. Harriman, working through NAL Trade, published The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics. Dr. Peikoff was the author of the Introduction. (Source: "Product Details" section of the Amazon page, www.amazon.com/dp/0451230051, as of Oct. 4, 2010.)

July ??, 2010. Dr. McCaskey and eight other academics privately discussed David Harriman's book. [Missing information: Was the discussion via email or face-to-face? Did the discussion occur after the book was officially published? If so, what was the purpose of the discussion?] (Source: johnmccaskey.com/resignation.html.)

????, ??, 2010. Dr. Peikoff received a copy of emails apparently sent by one or more unknown persons, who apparently were involved in the July 2010 private discussions by nine academics, to another unknown person (who apparently shared them with Dr. Peikoff), apparently relating to Dr. McCaskey's private comments about the book. (Source: the email, from Dr. Peikoff to Arline Mann, at johnmccaskey.com/resignation.html. My repeated use of "apparently" reflects the partly conjectural nature of this particular account.)

August 30, 2010. Dr. Peikoff emailed Arline Mann. She is an attorney and member of the board of directors for ARI. In his email to Mann, Dr. Peikoff said, "By the way, from the emails I have seen, his [McCaskey's] disagreements are not limited to details, but often go to the heart of the philosophic principles at issue." [Missing: What are the principles to which Dr. Peikoff alludes? Do his actions follow from his responsibilities as executor and heir?] Dr. Peikoff said too that Dr. McCaskey must leave (the board of ARI, presumably) or he, Dr. Peikoff, would. [Not clear to me: What is Dr. Peikoff's current relationship to ARI and its board of directors? Was he saying that if Dr. McCaskey didn't leave, then he, Dr. Peikoff, would withdraw sanction of ARI?] (Source: johnmccaskey.com/resignation.html, which reproduces Dr. Peikoff's email, with Dr. Peikoff's permission, Dr. McCaskey says.)

September 3, 2010. Dr. McCaskey publicly announced his resignation from ARI's board. (Source: Dr. McCaskey's statement at johnmccaskey.com/resignation.html.)

September 4, 2010. Dr. McCaskey's comments on and rating of Harriman's book appeared in public. Dr. McCaskey wrote comments on the book in the review section of the book's Amazon page. The title of his comment is "Potentially seminal theory, but some unconventional history." He gave the book a "3" rating. (Source: the review section of the Amazon page www.amazon.com/dp/0451230051 for The Logical Leap.)

CRITIQUE. To critique a chronology, the writer himself as well as his reviewers might ask questions such as:
- Is the chronology accurate, as stated?
- What other relevant events occurred, if any?
- What other information is missing? (In the example above, I have noted two missing pieces: a description of Dr. Peikoff's responsibilities as executor and heir, as he sees them; and the nature of the philosophical principles mentioned by Dr. Peikoff as appearing in private emails. Some details, such as a few dates, are also missing.)
- On any point, has the writer misinterpreted the sources?
- Are "stronger" sources available?
- Do any of the sources need corroboration?

Suggestions about the construction of chronologies in general or about the example above in particular are welcome.

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

P. S. 1 (Oct. 12, 2010) -- An expanded chronology is available here: http://blog.dianahsieh.com/2010/10/resignation-of-john-mccaskey-facts.html

P. S. 2 (Oct. 29) -- Craig Biddle presents his argument here: http://www.craigbiddle.com/misc/mccaskey.htm

P. S. 3 (November 10) -- Leonard Peikoff makes a statement here: peikoff.com/peikoff-vs-an-ari-board-member

P. S. 4 (Nov. 11) -- The Ayn Rand Institute makes a statement here: aynrand.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=26109

P. S. 5 (Nov. 16) -- David Harriman, in "Is My Account of History 'Unconventional'?," discusses a criticism of his book at thelogicalleap.com/archives/102, which apparently is the first of a series of posts.

P. S. 6 (Nov. 20) -- Paul Hsieh (with Diana Hsieh) publishes a closing statement (including a comment from a critic, Yaron Brook) and adds elements for the chronology of events here: blog.dianahsieh.com/2010/11/closing-thoughts-on-ari-peikoff-and.html

P. S. 7 (Jan. 30, 2011) In an essay "Justice for Leonard Peikoff," Glenn Jorgensen defends Dr. Peikoff by supporting -- with an extended argument (plus citations) and an example (suggested by Jorgensen) -- Peikoff's position that the issue in the conflict with Dr. McCaskey was McCaskey's repudiation of a key element of Objectivist philosophy. Jorgensen's essay appears in Brian Phillips's weblog, Live Oaks, on Jan. 30, 2011, here: txpropertyrights.blogspot.com/2011/01/justice-for-leonard-peikoff.html (See also the comments by Sean Green, both here on Making Progress, below, and on Live Oaks.)


RohinRoarkedForGood said...

Thanks Burgess for consolidating facts and sharing ideas.
I have applied the concepts in the previous post "Best approach to disputes in a movement?", to the conflict mentioned in the example.

I plan to further broadcast these in coming days.If possible, please help me in improving the content of the blog, whether its facts, their interpretation, or presentation.

You can post the comment, or share your views privately at ronnie5o8@gmail.com.
Thanking in Anticipation,
- Rohin Gupta

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Burgess Laughlin said...

One person left the following message, but missed the requirement to name himself:


The link to Peikoff's statement:
is dead, he removed that page.

But it's archived at


Thanks for the correction!

Sean Green said...

Mr. Laughlin,

I recommend rewording your P.S. #7 about Glenn Jorgensen's article. Jorgensen's article, and your summary of it, misrepresents Peikoff's position, attributing to Peikoff an argument that he never made publicly and probably would not support, given what he said in his very clear statements. Peikoff's own words reveal that he demanded McCaskey's removal from the ARI Board because of McCaskey's denunciation of Harriman's book, not because of McCaskey's alleged inconsistency or repudiation of Objectivist epistemology. In fact, Jorgensen's view of McCaskey is largely based on a statement from the Amazon review, which obviously Peikoff did not use as a basis for his e-mail to Arline Mann or his prior contact with the ARI Board. While Jorgensen makes a compelling case against McCaskey, he unfortunately also does a disservice to Peikoff by disregarding Peikoff's own justification for his actions. You should at least clarify that Jorgensen's argument is not the one explicitly given by Peikoff.

Burgess Laughlin said...

Grateful for the suggestion to do so, I have revised the wording for PS-7, to make the situation clearer: Dr. Peikoff repudiated Dr. McClaskey at least in part because of philosophical differences; and Jorgensen's essay offers an example (though it was not cited by Dr. Peikoff).