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.)

Oct 4, 2010

Best approach to disputes in a movement?

If I had another lifetime to live, I would like to study social movements -- for example, how they form, how they expand without losing their original purpose, and how individuals respond to the inevitable disputes among members. Intriguing movements of the past were the anti-slavery movement in the 1700-1800s, the movement to break down trade barriers in the 1800s, the movement to abolish the draft in the 1960-1970s, and the movement to abolish prohibitions against abortion, also in the 1960-1970s.

I have been a student of Objectivism and a member of the Objectivist movement for almost fifty years. I have seen conflicts arise and fade away. I am learning that there is a proper procedure for outside individuals -- those who are not directly involved -- to approach these conflicts. Part of that procedure consists of asking and answering these questions:

(1) Does the dispute deserve my attention, that is, is there justification for taking time away from pursuing my highest personal values -- my central purpose in life, my friendships, and my favorite and much needed recreational activities?

(2) Exactly what is the conflict? Is it philosophical, personal, something else, or a combination?

(3) Exactly what is the issue in dispute? If there are several issues, in what order should I resolve them?

(4) Is all the evidence available that I need in order to make a decision about which side, if any, to support? Have I waited long enough -- usually months or even years -- for all the relevant facts to emerge? Do I have the facts straight about who did what? Are my sources -- primary and secondary -- reliable?

(5) Do I need to make a decision now or at any time? If so, why?

(6) If I do decide to investigate a dispute and if I uncover enough information to form a judgment, should I take a stand (which entails time and effort to formulate, present and defend), either in private or in public?

The main lesson I have learned is to wait until I can answer such questions with confidence. A secondary lesson is that Objectivism (which is a fixed set of ideas) remains unchanged no matter what happens between individuals in the Objectivist movement.

What other approach would you suggest?

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