Rand Unbound, Part 5

Neera Badhwar’s response to Doug Rasmussen’s Cato Unbound essay is online. Doug will post a response to all three of us later this week, and then there’ll be some back-and-forth discussion.

Alexander of Aphrodisias and Aristotle

Alexander of Aphrodisias and Aristotle

I’ll save detailed comments on Neera’s piece for the discussion – and I agree with most of it anyway – but just one quick point: if by the unity of virtue Neera means the thesis that one can’t have any one virtue to a significant degree without having them all, then I agree with her that that’s false (and I also agree that Rand seems, at least sometimes, to have held it). But if she means the thesis that one can’t have any one virtue completely without having them all, then I’d be willing to defend that thesis. In the words of Alexander of Aphrodisias (the leading Aristotelean of the 2nd century CE):

That the virtues are implied by one another might also be shown in the following way, in that it is impossible to have some one of them in its entirety if one does not have the others too. For it is not possible to have justice in isolation, if it belongs to the just person to act justly in all things that require virtue, but the licentious person will not act justly when something from the class of pleasant things leads him astray, nor the coward when something frightening is threatened against him if he does what is just, nor the lover of money where there is hope of gain; and in general every vice by the activity associated with it harms some aspect of justice. (“That the Virtues Are Implied By One Another,” On the Soul II. 18; trans. R. W. Sharples)

(See also section 9 of this piece.)

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12 Responses to Rand Unbound, Part 5

  1. MBH January 25, 2010 at 7:24 pm #

    So praxeology is to analytic perception as thymology is to synthetic perception? And the reason that they can’t be separated is the same reason that it doesn’t count as understanding a concept unless you can use it analytically and synthetically?

    • MBH January 31, 2010 at 9:28 pm #

      Oops. That’s backwards.

      Thymology is to analytic perception — since it’s concerned with of the world ideas — as praxeology is to synthetic perception — since it’s concerned with in the world action.

  2. MBH January 25, 2010 at 7:38 pm #

    Mises says, The terms “reasoning” and “rationality” always refer only to the suitability of means chosen for attaining ultimate ends. The choice of ultimate ends is in this sense always irrational.

    Is it fair to say this is an example of separating praxeology from thymology?

  3. Neera Badhwar January 26, 2010 at 1:02 pm #

    I respond to this argument in my “Limited Unity of Virtue” in 2 ways:
    1. the virtues exist only within domains, they don’t exist globally, and i accept that one virtue implies all within a domain. (But see below.)
    2. suppose i’m just in matters of money, but also a coward in the face of physical danger. Then, when being just w. money requires courage, it’s not necessary that my cowardice prevail; my justice might trump my cowardice and, over time, spread into the domain of confronting physical dangers.
    Actually, i’ve changed my mind about unity even within domains. All that justice in a domain requires is right understanding and strength w. respect to the other qualities, not virtue.

  4. Anon73 January 29, 2010 at 2:39 pm #

    Slightly off-topic: Rand praised capitalism, yet in her books people like Peter Keating who stop at nothing to please the “whims” of consumers are depicted as sub-human. Odd, no?

    • MBH January 29, 2010 at 5:23 pm #

      I actually think Rand can be defended here. You might distinguish between consumers’ superficial interests and consumers’ deep interests. Rand presents Roark as a character who creates in a way that coincides with consumers’ deep interests. And the nature of consumerism is that not everyone can access their deep interests. The reason is that most consumers are caught-up in superficial interests.

      So, I think Rand is presenting Keating as someone who wants to connect to superficial interests. Roark wants to connect to deep interests.

      For her, capitalism is supposed to be a system which encourages the deep interests to be met.

      • Aster January 29, 2010 at 6:02 pm #

        That was her ideal, yes. Then why do the Roarks of reality languish in quarries until their body or their spirit breaks, while the right-capitalists who read Ayn Rand are their smugly pitiless taskmasters?

        • MBH January 29, 2010 at 7:54 pm #

          The Roarks and Dagnies believe that if they could just produce enough goods and services which appeal to the deep-interests of consumers, then the currency will follow. I think the taskmasters — consciously or unconsciously — position themselves to capitalize off the Roarks and Dagnies. What Rand failed to recognize was that money, or gold, or whatever — as a singular form of exchange — allows the parasites to hold-tight to taskmaster positions.

          Roderick would suggest: a singular form of currency is the tool by which parasitism is reinforced. So the product of the mind isn’t valued properly, not because we’re off the gold standard, but because we aren’t allowed to select the standard by which we think valuations are best made.

        • MBH January 30, 2010 at 1:01 pm #

          I shouldn’t say that monopolized currency “allows the parasites to hold-tight to taskmaster positions.” That’s ad hominem. It allows the pattern of parasitism to reproduce itself.

  5. Aster January 29, 2010 at 5:18 pm #

    Word. And it a very sad commentary on Rand or upon the human species that her followers have faced this choice and nearly unanimously chosen Keating over Roark. The familiar Randian is a man who has seen la Boheme for the class points yet shows no evidence of having been touched by either the music or the libretto. If you go to the video lectures at the Ayn Rand Institute’s website you will see speakers who approach complete conventionalism in habit, manner, and mind. The reality of mainstream business life where everything is about presentation, connexions, and pleasing others is swept under the table, denied and externalised so that corporate climbers can be presented as individualist icons.

    I’ve given copies of the Fountainhead to a few left-wing artists over the years. They responded with passion, it not uncritically. Meanwhile those who followed Rand’s letter tolerate only fine artists who make exaggerated efforts to think like Republicans.

    Some of the trouble comes from Rand’s selective perception of capitalism. I wonder how much of it points to capitalist reality. My mom’s social-democratic convictions largely derive from her experience working as a scientist in both commercial and state-patronage settings; she tells me that watching the market and truth and freedom have a very iffy relation to each other. Everything I’ve ever seen has said the same, altho’ I still think the problem is less with markets than with heirarchical organisations.

    That said, I’ve found the kind of romantic-socialists who believe that their emotions entitle them to your free lunches to at least as frustrating as the capitalist power addicts, even if they’re well-intentioned. Both expect you to be giving trees, but with at least with the latter there are rules to hold on to, and you know where you stand.

    I don’t think that John Galt exists. Ragnar Danneskjöld exists. He’s unjust, in real life. But I don’t care. I’ve never seen passionate and worldly justice, and would rather be evil and alive than virtuous and unhappy.

    And now, I cease existing for what may be the most intense week of my life. Goodbye for now.

    • MBH January 29, 2010 at 10:09 pm #

      I think John Galt is a mindset. And in that way, he does exist ({cough}, Roderick, {cough}, Charles, {cough} etc.).

      Conceptually, evilness and unhappiness are intertwined in implementation. Virtuousness and aliveness are inseparable in application.

      I really like the point that Randians usually choose Keating over Roark. That is strange. It’s as if Rand is to the reader as Roark is to Keating. She indirectly offers an already-digested world-view that the reader adapts as their own.

      I think that’s where hard-nosed philosophy becomes indispensable for Randians. It might be better to say that A=A is not the case everywhere in this world, but that A=A is merely the rule by which all possible worlds can hold form.

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