Nov 18, 2007

Etiquette for Comments

(Last revised Nov. 21, '07) Making Progress is an experiment. I am trying to create a site strictly for discussion of ideas that intrigue me as a student of history -- a site free of interpersonal struggles.

Etiquette is an art. It applies principles and rules of individual behavior to social situations in order to facilitate trade. This Etiquette section has two purposes: (1) Facilitate the trade of ideas in this forum; and (2) Simplify moderation and thereby save time for me.

Post only serious, relevant comments. Posted comments can include, for example: (1) a disagreement, which means identifying a flaw and offering a superior alternative if possible; (2) a reformulation of particular points in your own words, for feedback; (3) a discussion about methods for approaching similar problems; or (4) a question. Post personal comments -- positive or negative -- privately to me, not in "public."

Address ideas not individuals. Do not address, name, cite, or quote me or another commenter. State your target idea in your own words, and support, refute, or question it. Formulating others' ideas in one's own words is hard but educational work.

Addressing ideas only is difficult for many individuals. Here is a model example: "The supposition that 'worldview' is the genus of both religion and philosophy is invalid because ... [and so forth]." Addressing ideas only means decoupling the ideas from their particular personal sources in this forum and dealing with the ideas not the sources. Do not say: "Burgess, your supposition that 'worldview' is the genus of both religion and philosophy is really stupid [or brilliant] because ...." Likewise, do not say: "Burgess's idea of making 'worldview' the genus of both religion and philosophy is intriguing because ...." Again, mentally decouple ideas from their particular personal source--and then in writing deal with the idea only. Of course, if you need to document a source (which always applies to citing Ayn Rand), do so, for example: "... as Kant said in Critique of Pure Reason, B234, ...."

If your screen name is not your full true name or does not link directly to a page on which your full true name appears, then sign your comment with your true name at least in some truncated form--e.g., J. Smith for John Quintius Smith III. Unless your first name is unusual (like "Burgess"), state at least an initial for your last name, to avoid confusion with the names of other commenters with the same first name. Make no anonymous or pseudonymous comments. Be sure to at least link to your homepage, unless you are using your full true name. Identify yourself. I want to know, to some extent, the individuals with whom I am communicating. If you prefer anonymity, post elsewhere. (However, see Post Script.)

Support the good. I value Ayn Rand, as well as Leonard Peikoff, Peter Schwartz, and others associated with ARI. I delete posts from writers--such as Kellyites, Brandonites, and libertarians--who attack those I value or who sanction such attackers, e.g., on home pages.

Follow the other usual rules of etiquette. For example: (1) Write grammatically. If for you English is a second language, please say so. I admire anyone newly trying to communicate in English, which is a very difficult language. (2) Capitalize properly, especially "Objectivism" (not "objectivism"). (3) Use a spell-checker unless you are normally an excellent speller. (4) Write with civility; use no vulgarities. (5) Be dignified.

Provide contact information. I am a novice weblog moderator trying to learn the system's capabilities. I have not found a way to communicate with commenters before publishing or rejecting their comments. (The software gives me only those two choices.) If you innocently violate the etiquette, but provide no email address allowing me to tell you what is wrong, I must therefore reject your comment without explanation. The burden rests on you to comply with the etiquette and to provide a channel of private communication (e.g., through your blogger profile or homepage).

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

P. S. -- Nov. 20, '07: Edits of comments that mistakenly violate etiquette. My standards of etiquette are unusual; and, for some individuals, they are difficult to follow. Some individuals who have inadvertently violated etiquette have, nevertheless, offered pertinent comments. Unfortunately some of these individuals have given me no way to communicate with them about the etiquette problems. Rather than reject their comments, I have decided to edit them, when I have the time and interest, and post them myself, but still credit the source, where warranted.

Nov 16, 2007

What is Western Civilization?

"Western Civilization" is a term used often in Objectivist writings as well as elsewhere, both by professional historians and laymen. What is Western Civilization? What idea does the term symbolize; and to what facts of reality does the idea refer?

TERMS AND IDEAS. Anyone is free to employ any term for a given idea, and anyone is free to form and then define an idea in any way he wants. For efficiency and effectiveness in thinking and communicating, the policy I follow is to try to use conventional terms to name ideas as they are already used if those ideas have been logically formed. Sometimes one needs to reconstruct an idea to make it valid--while keeping the term, rather than creating a neologism.

MY USAGE. As I use the term, Western Civilization does not refer to a culture defined by geography, ethnicity, language, or other non-essential characteristics. Instead, "Western Civilization" refers to a set of principles, values, and their products. The elements of the set are related cognitively and historically. In hierarchical order, the elements are:
- A view of the world as operating by natural law (in metaphysics).
- A method of reason (in epistemology).
- A morality of long-term rational self-interest (in ethics).
- A system of rights (in politics).
- An art of inspiration for life on earth (in esthetics).

These ideas and values are all elements of rational culture, but Western Civilization is not synonymous with an ideal Rational Culture independent of time and place. Instead, Western Civilization is a particular stream of culture, sometimes advancing rapidly and sometimes regressing, but only existing at particular times, in particular places, and in particular degrees of achievement. Likewise, other cultures--in other times and places--have had rational elements too. But no other culture has had so many rational elements, in such an influential degree, over such a long time. Likewise, none have had a philosophy of reason at its base. That philosophy was implicit before Aristotle, and explicit with and after him.

BENEFITS. Two examples of con games I have heard are: (1) "The Bible is the most important book in the history of Western Civilization," says the religionist; and (2) "Racism, poverty, and oppression are the products of Western Civilization," says the multiculturalist. The authors of these statements implicitly define Western Civilization by non-essentials and ignore its essential distinguishing characteristic, an underlying, though often implicit, philosophy of reason. Having an essentialized idea of Western Civilization simplifies the study of history and exposes intellectual con games.

SUMMARY. Western Civilization is a complex of cultural elements based on a philosophy of reason, a cultural complex that has flowed brightly or dimly through time and space from the era of the Greeks to West Europeans to America and now, diffusely, throughout the world.

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

Notes: [1] For the hierarchical list of elements of W. Civilization: Thomas A. Bowden, The Enemies of Christopher Columbus: Answers to Critical Questions About the European Discovery of America, Second Renaissance Books (now The Ayn Rand Bookstore), 1995, pp. 7-8. [2] For the meaning of "essential" and the method of essentializing: Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 2nd ed., pp. 45-46. [3] The term "Western Civilization" is not the name of a concept, but the proper name of an entity. (I have also heard it called an "abstract particular.") It is a secondary entity, which is a set of primary entities (in this case, individual men and women) who interact, produce things (such as books and buildings), and are interrelated in various ways. This interconnected set of real things is properly considered an entity for the purpose of study. See Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 2nd ed., pp. 264-276 (especially pp. 270-271) for discussion of secondary entities and for a society as an example. I am grateful to Stuart Johns for explaining this to me when I asked about The Roman Empire Problem--that is, what kind of thing is the Roman Empire? [4] In "Philosophical Detection," Ayn Rand analyzes five catch phrases, and then she describes the first step of her method: "You must attach clear, specific meanings to words, i. e., be able to identify their referents in reality. This is a precondition, without which neither critical judgment nor thinking of any kind is possible. All philosophical con games count on your using words as vague approximations." ("Philosophical Detection," Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 18.) This approach has been my guide in trying to understand and explain key terms/ideas used vaguely by professionals in my field of interest, history.