Sunday, January 30, 2011

Justice for Leonard Peikoff

The following article was written by Glenn Jorgensen, a friend and fellow member of the Houston Objectivism Society. I agree with, and endorse, the contents.

Many Objectivists are aware of the fact that John McCaskey has resigned from the board of the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI). This article assumes familiarity with the events that have occurred in this controversy.

Briefly, McCaskey criticized a major ARI project - David Harriman’s book The Logical Leap. Leonard Peikoff issued an ultimatum to ARI demanding McCaskey’s removal from the board, or Peikoff would end his support for ARI. A flurry of internet activity ensued on various blogs (such as a site run by Paul and Diana Hsieh), 1 podcasts, and by newsletter editors, including Craig Biddle (editor of The Objective Standard).2

Leonard Peikoff has been denounced as unjust for publicly condemning McCaskey and non-objective for offering no evidence to support that condemnation, yet those making these accusations have ignored the fundamental issue in this controversy, focused on non-essentials, and failed to consider all of the available evidence.

In an email to ARI Peikoff stated that McCaskey’s “disagreements … often go the heart of the philosophic principles at issue.”3 An enquiring Objectivist might ask “what are these philosophic principles, and are they identifiable from the evidence available?” This is the fundamental issue in this controversy and there is very clear evidence that Leonard Peikoff is right. Yet virtually all of the commentary has focused on non-essentials such as Peikoff’s phrase “…I hope you still know who I am?”, or his comment about a “higher rung of Hell,” or the fact that Peikoff did not give details of the reason for his position and therefore was being non-objective and unjust.

For evidence of the philosophic principles Leonard Peikoff is referring to, one need only go to McCaskey’s review on,4 and to a series of emails he sent to David Harriman (which are posted on McCaskey’s website).5 The salient statement in his review is:

Galileo’s concept of resistance is not the same as our concept of friction but an immature concept that one would expect Harriman to call a “red light” to scientific progress. The remarkable thing is how much progress Galileo actually made using a concept that conflated two (or three) very different things.

(Harriman calls the development of a needed concept a “green light” to induction, and the lack of a needed concept a “red light” to induction. In other words, a valid concept is required for the inductive process to proceed.)

However, Galileo was not conflating “two (or three) very different things.” His experiments of dropping different objects through various media enabled him to abstract away the drag (or resistance) imposed on the objects by the media. He then omitted the measurements of the drag to form the concept “friction.” As Harriman states in The Logical Leap, this led to Galileo’s discovery that all free bodies fall to earth at the same rate, regardless of material and weight. (“Free” in this context means not impeded by friction.)

But McCaskey insists that inductive generalizations can proceed without the requisite concepts in place. More evidence of this is provided in a quote from McCaskey’s website when he discusses his emails to David Harriman:

I express reservations about the principle that an inchoate concept provides a “red light” to induction and sympathize with William Whewell’s view that a concept’s final formation completes rather than begins an induction.

David Harriman sums up McCaskey’s position very succinctly in a letter to Diana Hsieh (this can be found on the Hsieh’s website):

In effect, scientists stumble around in the dark and somehow discover laws of nature before they grasp the constituent concepts.

Is McCaskey’s viewpoint consistent with the Objectivist theory of concepts, or as Peikoff puts it, “the heart of the philosophical principles at issue”? As Ayn Rand states, “The process of observing the facts of reality and of integrating them into concepts is, in essence, a process of induction.”6 Briefly, concept formation begins with perception of concretes in reality. We mentally isolate essential similarities among these concretes, omit the measurements, and group similar concretes into a single mental unit – a concept. First level concepts are those where the similarities among referents are directly perceivable (e.g. “table”, “chair”, etc.), and higher level concepts are then formed by observing essential similarities among the lower level concepts (e.g. “furniture” is formed from “table”, “chair”, etc.). The first level concepts have similarities that allow integration into the next higher level concepts, and so on up the conceptual ladder. Thus concepts are developed in a hierarchy, with higher level concepts based on the earlier formed lower level concepts.

Notice that one cannot perceive “furniture” directly; one perceives “tables,” “chairs,” etc. For a higher level concept to be valid it must be reducible down through the hierarchy to the directly observable first level concepts. And to understand a concept one must be able to perform this reduction. As Ayn Rand states, “The meaning of furniture cannot be grasped unless one has first grasped the meaning of its constituent concepts; these are its link to reality.”7 One must be able to trace the link from the concept “furniture” down to the observable concretes of “tables” and “chairs”. Reduction is the means of connecting concepts to the perceptual level – i.e. reality.

Once concepts are formed they are used to acquire knowledge. Quoting Harriman:

Concepts are tools of knowledge … but are not by themselves claims to knowledge (although they presuppose knowledge)… If we are to gain knowledge with these tools, they must be used to create a cognitive product, such as a generalization which either does or does not correspond to reality.8

He then goes on to explain that generalizations are hierarchical, just as concepts are. The generalizations discovered by scientists rest on a large number of preceding generalizations. And throughout the entire process of observation and experiment, new concepts are formed that aid scientists in discovering further knowledge. Galileo’s discovery of the law of free fall, after forming the concept friction is an example of this.

How does one know that this advanced scientific knowledge corresponds to reality? By the same process that higher level concepts are validated – reduction. Again, reduction is the means of connecting higher level generalizations to reality.

Now consider McCaskey’s viewpoint that progress can be made using “a concept that conflate[s] two (or three) very different things.” How could a valid concept be formed if it tried to integrate concretes that are essentially different? A “concept” like this could not be reduced to the perceptual level. And how valid would an inductive generalization be if it used a “concept” that was not tied to reality? Just like the “concept that conflated two (or three) very different things,” this generalization also could not be reduced to the perceptual level. McCaskey provides more evidence for this same viewpoint when he states “a concept’s final formation completes rather than begins an induction.”

McCaskey denies the Objectivist view of what a concept is: he claims that a concept can be formed that “conflates[s]… very different things.” In other words, concepts are formed on the basis of loose similarities – a matter of convenience –rather than on the basis of the essential characteristics of the constituent concretes. This amounts to the subjectivist view of concepts that says “anything goes” when it comes to forming a concept, and therefore denies the objectivity of concepts that is the essence of the Objectivist theory of concepts.

And what of McCaskey’s view that Galileo could discover the law of free fall while simultaneously claiming “friction” was an “immature” concept at the time? This denies the hierarchical nature of knowledge. It ignores the requirement that higher level generalizations of reality be reducible to the perceptual level. In effect, he claims knowledge of reality is possible without reference to reality. And, while it is outside the scope of this article to discuss the details of scientific history, analyzing McCaskey’s own discussion of Galileo’s concept of friction (on his website) demonstrates that Galileo did have the proper concept, which supports Harriman’s viewpoint in The Logical Leap, not McCaskey’s non-Objectivist view of concepts.

Whether one is talking of Newton’s identification that force is the product of mass and acceleration, or a first level generalization like “pushing a ball causes it to roll,” the constituent concepts must be understood to draw a valid conclusion. Can you imagine a child understanding that a ball will roll when pushed, without understanding “ball” or “roll” or “push”? The principle is the same regardless of the level of knowledge.

So, how should we evaluate John McCaskey? Should he be evaluated based on Craig Biddle’s claim that he was always “thoughtful, professional, and polite”? Should we take the stance, as Biddle has done, that “… even if McCaskey did issue criticisms amounting to such claims [that Peikoff and Harriman are misguided or that Objectivism is inadequate on this issue], unless he did so in a dishonest, unjust, or baseless manner, such criticisms would not warrant moral condemnation”?  Should he be evaluated based on his “…remarkable achievements with the Anthem Foundation” or that “In every interaction, Dr. McCaskey has always been the consummate gentleman -- unfailingly polite and even-keeled. He's a scholar in the best sense -- concerned to draw the proper conclusions…” as the Hsieh’s state on their website? Some of these statements may be true, but they are irrelevant to the issue raised by Peikoff – an issue that has been ignored by his detractors. It should be noted that the Hsieh’s softened their stance somewhat in a later post, though their view of McCaskey apparently has not changed.

For the answer to how McCaskey should be evaluated, I suggest reviewing Leonard Peikoff’s excellent article “Fact and Value”, which is available for viewing on the ARI website.9 Discussing Ayn Rand’s evaluation of Kant in that article, Leonard Peikoff states:

In the final issue of The Objectivist, Ayn Rand described Kant as “the most evil man in mankind’s history.” She said it knowing full well that, apart from his ideas, Kant’s actions were unexceptionable, even exemplary. Like Ellsworth Toohey, he was a peaceful citizen, a witty lecturer, a popular dinner guest, a prolific writer. She said it because of what Kant wrote—and why—and what it would have to do to mankind. [bold added]

In summary, ideas require an evaluation with man’s life as the standard of value. McCaskey should be evaluated for what he said about scientific induction, and what it would mean for science. He should be evaluated for a viewpoint that denies the fundamental principles of Objectivist epistemology, and for the consequences of what that viewpoint would lead to. The results of such a viewpoint can be seen today with notions such as “the big bang theory” and “string theory.”  These theories float with no connection to reality (see The Logical Leap for details). Science cannot advance with a method that severs concepts from reality because the generalizations that are based on such “concepts” are equally severed from reality.  How could science aid man’s life, if it does not deal with reality? And wider, what are the implications if one were to try to defend egoism, individual rights, or capitalism using this epistemological method? How could you defend a statement such as “Capitalism is the only moral social system” with the epistemological method underlying McCaskey’s view? This is precisely what conservatives do when they argue capitalism “works” while advocating altruism; it is what Libertarians do when they advocate “freedom” divorced from ethics.

The Logical Leap is a great book. David Harriman and Leonard Peikoff should be commended for the work they have done to produce this ground breaking theory on induction. McCaskey has done more than just question the validity of that theory.  He has attacked its epistemological foundation – the Objectivist theory of concepts.

Should McCaskey be excused for condemning the book? Should he be a board member of ARI, which is dedicated to spreading Objectivism, when he denies the foundation of Objectivism? I think the answers are obvious. Contrary to the claims of many, this controversy is not about McCaskey’s accusation of historical inaccuracy. This is, to quote Leonard Peikoff, a disagreement that goes “to the heart of the philosophic principles at issue.”

Leonard Peikoff was not being “authoritarian” in issuing an ultimatum, nor was he unjust in his evaluation of McCaskey. It should also be pointed out that he never intended his condemnation of McCaskey to be made public. The condemnation was made public by McCaskey himself, when he posted Leonard Peikoff’s private email to ARI on his website (with the permission of Peikoff and ARI).

The sign of a great philosopher is his or her ability to get to the essence of an issue and understand its implications. Ayn Rand was the pre-eminent expert at this – for example, see her reviews of Kant and Aristotle. When the essence of an issue is not identified, however, volumes of words are written on irrelevancies, non-essentials, and minutiae that cloud the intellectual horizon and distract people from the truth. And in the process the people who do not see the essence of a given issue level non-objective accusations against those who do. This is what has occurred in this controversy.

Leonard Peikoff was able to identify the essence of McCaskey’s viewpoint and properly condemned him as being inconsistent with Objectivism. Peikoff should be commended and admired for having the courage to take a firm stance towards ARI. He should be given the justice he deserves.

Glenn Jorgensen
Houston, Texas

(Thanks to Brian Phillips for many valuable suggestions in writing this article.)

6) Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, page 28
7) Ibid, page 22
8) The Logical Leap, page 14


Burgess Laughlin said...

Glenn and Brian, thank you for a well written and well edited contribution to this long debate. I especially admire the essay's tone of respect for rational minds who are reading it, a tone that stands on the power of straight-forward statements and even understatements, not hyperbole and personal attack.

This is the first essay I have read that presents a full argument identifying the philosophical conflict and its implications.

John P. McCaskey said...

Maybe this is a good place to ask this question.

Dr. Peikoff's public statement is no longer available at www.­peikoff.­com/­peikoff-­vs-­an-­ari-­board-­member.

That's too bad. That should get preserved.

Dr. Peikoff's considered position is much more valuable than his off-the-cuff email.

If you have a hardcopy or screen capture, could you post it somewhere or send it to me? It's not in Google's cache. The text is around at various websites, but it would be better to preserve an original.

Brian Phillips said...

I do have Dr. Peikoff's statement. However, since he has removed it from his site I don't think that it is proper to share it without his permission. It is, after all, his property.

Adam Reed said...

The concept of resistance to movement (as ascribed by McCaskey to Galileo,) while not as exact as the modern concept of friction, nevertheless could have been a valid concept in its historical context: an integration of observed facts of reality by measurement omission. Since the claim, that the concept ascribed to Galileo by McCaskey contravenes a foundation of Objectivist Epistemology, is false, the argument fails.

John P. McCaskey said...

Hmmm. Now you have me wondering.

Do you think its disappearance was more than a website snafu?

I always took the posting as his public statement. Certainly the text has been copied widely, and I hadn't heard of any attempt to stop that.

Do you think he meant to rescind that statement? It would be a shame if we are back to where his email to Arline Mann stands as his only statement.

Brian Phillips said...

Adam--You write "Since the claim, that the concept ascribed to Galileo by McCaskey contravenes a foundation of Objectivist Epistemology, is false, the argument fails." I suggest that you read the article again, as no such claim is made.

Dr. McCaskey--I am not going to speculate as to the meaning or motivation behind removing the statement.

Anonymous said...

"When the essence of an issue is not identified, however, volumes of words are written on irrelevancies, non-essentials, and minutiae that cloud the intellectual horizon and distract people from the truth..."

Thank you so much for doing the work and making the effort that was required to be made to get to the _essential_ of this controversy...and thanks for putting it in a such a simple, clear, concise manner.

Glenn Jorgensen said...

To Burgess Laughlin and "Anonymous" - thanks for the kind words.

To John McCaskey - I don't see what Dr. Peikoff's public statement that followed up his private email has to do with this discussion. He just elaborated on what he said in the original email. He also said Ayn Rand would not have bothered to respond to an attack of this nature.

John P. McCaskey said...

I do think Dr. Peikoff's considered statement is more authoritative than his extemporaneous email.

But you are right. It doesn't directly address the argument in your essay. (That it doesn't is a little interesting.)

I'll ask around for a copy elsewhere.

(I'll keep watching the blog. It's great to see people working on this. I hope the moderator moderates liberally.)


Brian Phillips said...

I will moderate liberally--in the proper sense of the word. I won't allow personal attacks or anything of that sort. So long as disagreements focus on the facts there will be no hesitation to allow them. And as should be evident, I will even allow some that don't focus on the facts.

I think that this is an important issue. I also think that Glenn is to first address the essential issue raised by Dr. Peikoff. That is why I posted Glenn's article.

Mike N said...

Great essay. I really like the way it focuses on the essentials.

Adam Reed said...

Brian: The article cites McCaskey ("I express reservations about the principle that an inchoate concept provides a “red light” to induction and sympathize with William Whewell’s view that a concept’s final formation completes rather than begins an induction") and Harriman' take on McCaskey's view ("In effect, scientists stumble around in the dark and somehow discover laws of nature before they grasp the constituent concepts") as grounding the article's key claim that McCaskey's view contravenes Objectivist Epistemology. But Harriman assumes that a concept sheds no light at all ("in the dark") on the observations until that concept is in its final form. And the historical fact that Galileo used the more primitive form of the concept ("resistance") rather than the final form ("friction") shows that Harriman's assumption, and therefore the argument that depends on this assumption, are incorrect.

Glenn Jorgensen said...

Adam: You need to read "The Logical Leap" (pages 42-44) very carefully. Harriman explains how Galileo discovered friction and also how da Vinci came to the wrong conclusions about pendulum motion because he did not understand friction. As to "resistance" vs "friction" - friction is simply resistance to motion when bodies are in contact - the two are very closely linked. So I see this as quibbling over words.

I'll repeat what I stated in the article: McCaskey's argument amounts to saying Galileo did not understand friction yet he was still able to discover the law of free fall. McCaskey also claims a concept can be formed (conflated) from "very different things". Hence he is denying hierarchy and valid concept formation from similarities as defined by Objectivist epistemology. I have not seen any direct rebuttal to these facts.

Adam Reed said...

Glenn: You have re-stated Harriman's position (which I have read with some care) that if Galileo's concept of what he called "resistance," and we call "friction," had not been given in his mind the final form that we use today, Galileo would not have been able to "subtract away" its effects and get to the idea of a uniform force that would result in uniform falling-in-a-vacuum. McCaskey's position (as I understand it) is that a concept may already be useful at stages of refinement intermediate between its first form (possibly abstracted from observations that overlooked some aspect later identified as essential) and its final form; and that Galileo found the concept of resistance/friction, which in his time was still in the process of refinement, already useful. I don't see this assumption of Harriman's as required by OE. And without this assumption, I see no contradiction between OE and McCaskey's position.

Glenn Jorgensen said...

Adam: What would friction or resistance be in an "unrefined" form? In other words, what specifically was abstracted from observations that overlooked some aspect that was essential? If McCaskey wants to assert this he should state this intermediate non-essential aspect and then state how the law of free fall can be discovered using it.

Adam Reed said...

Causal mechanisms are essential in scientific conceptualization, and a concept of action is not complete until the causal mechanisms have been identified. The causal mechanisms in air, in a liquid, and on a solid surface are all different - which is why Galileo's concept of resistance to motion was subsequently refined into separate concepts of aerodynamic drag in gasses, viscosity in liquids, and friction between solid objects. McCaskey, as I understand, pointed out that Galileo successfully used a concept (of resistance to motion) that was still incomplete because an essential aspect of this concept, its causal mechanism(s,) was (were) yet to be identified. I still don't see how this can conflict with anything (much less with a fundamental principle) in OE.

John P. McCaskey said...

Do be careful with the phrase "the law of free fall."

First "free fall" is a post-Newtonian rendering. From Aristotle until Galileo, the topic was "natural motion in a void". Natural motion: down for heavy things, up for light things. In a void: when there was no medium (oil, water, wine, air, whatever).

A big advance Galileo made was to say there isn't really such a thing as natural lightness. Motion upward is just a less heavy material rising in a heavier medium. (Archimedes had recently been rediscovered and Galileo was a big, big fan.)

So then take out "up for light things," leaving just "down for heavy things," and you get Galileo's way of conceiving what we call "free fall," which was "natural motion in a void."

But more importantly, be careful with "the law". There are several laws of free fall (of natural motion in a void) and Galileo came to the different ones at much different times working with much different conceptual frameworks.

One is the law that different-sized objects of the same material hit the ground at the same time. This was what the Leaning Tower Experiment was reportedly about. Galileo had this law when he left Pisa, but at that time was still insisting that heavier materials would fall faster in a vacuum.

Another law of free fall is that objects of different materials would hit the ground at the same time. This is conceptually much more advanced. He seems to have figured this out in Padua, in his late 30s/early 40s. In publishing it later, when he was in his 70s (!), he argues for it using "resistance" which may be a totally fine concept (a concept that went back to Aristotle), but it's not the modern concept of friction. For Galileo and his readers, a body floats because of the "resistance" of the medium. We'd say buoyancy, not friction.

A third law of free fall and the one historians of sciences usually mean by the phrase is the law that speed increases with time (at first Galileo thought it increased with distance).

Yet another law of free fall ties all that together in the concept of terminal velocity. Conceptually this is very advanced. Very early, back in his 20s in Pisa, he had the idea that all objects speed up through a medium and then reach a constant speed, but you can get to this (and he probably did and many of his predecessors surely did) without the whole conceptual framework necessary to get to our concept of terminal velocity.

Anyway, be careful when referring to THE law of free fall. There are several and the conceptual frameworks needed to reach each is different.

John P. McCaskey said...

May I solicit another caution, one regarding phrases such as "Leonard Peikoff was able to . . ."?

Mr. Jorgensen has presented a considered and extended argument for what justifies actions Dr. Peikoff took. This is not, however, a justification Dr. Peikoff has given.

I have had to ask a few of my enthusiastic sympathizers to refrain from appearing to speak for me, from saying that such-and-such would have been good reasons for McCaskey to do something and then concluding that those were McCaskey's reasons. I'm sure Dr. Peikoff would like the same courtesy extended to him.

Unless Dr. Peikoff has seen and endorsed the essay, credit or criticism for the argument must be granted to Mr. Jorgensen.

Glenn Jorgensen said...

To Adam: The essence of friction can be understood without understanding the cause down to the molecular level. I suggest you read David Harriman's latest post on his website (

McCaskey claims this was an "immature" concept that "conflated ...very different things". Objectivism says a concept is formed by integrating similar characteristics, not "very different things". It also says a concept must be reducible to the perceptual level-how could one reduce the "conflated" concept described above? Which of the "very different things" in reality would it point to? These are the two reasons why I say this statement is inconsistent with Objectivism. I will not respond to any more of your posts unless you address the "concept that conflates ... very different things". You have not done that yet.

Glenn Jorgensen said...

To John McCaskey: Your tangent into the nuances of the law of free fall is irrelevant. David Harriman rose above all that, essentiallized the work of Galileo (and others) and moved on. I suggest you do the same.

Your comment about my phrase "Leonard Peikoff was able ..." has some validity. It would have been better to say "I think McCaskey's viewpoint is inconsistent with Objectivism, and I believe Dr. Peikoff was right in taking the actions he did." Hopefully, most readers will understand that is what I meant.

That said, it does not change the central issue in my article and I will not respond to any more posts that don't deal with the central issue. I'm tired of discussing this with people who focus only on inessentials.

Adam Reed said...

Glenn: Galileo's concept of resistance to motion conflated what were subsequently identified as very different things: aerodynamic drag, fluid viscosity, and solid-on-solid friction. These were not known to be different from the superficial observations available to Galileo, but were identified as different on the basis of observations and measurements performed by later scientists in the course of subsequent cycles of induction (per my reading of McCaskey's reference to the Rand/Peikoff "spiral theory.") Galileo's immature concept was reducible to the perceptual observations available to him at the time. Our current three separate, de-conflated concepts are reducible to the perceptual evidence of the more refined measurements and observations of later scientists. I still don't see how McCaskey's position can contradict OE.

Anonymous said...

I would like to congratulate Glenn for an excellently reasoned and essentialized article. I've read the comments here, and some of them are also well reasoned, but I, for one, couldn't agree more that some are superficial and nonessentialized. What, for example, do repeated pleadings for a posting of Leonard Peikoff's "considered position" have to do with anything in Glenn's article? I'm glad Glenn put an end to that thread, after explaining (several times) painstakingly that it was in fact nonessential. I would suggest that the comments made here are more revealing of certain persons' psycho-epistemology than they would care to identify.

Glenn Jorgensen said...

Adam: Details of aero drag, fluid viscosity and solid on solid friction that may have been discovered later would not change the essence of "friction" which is resistance to motion when two materials are in contact. So Galileo was not conflating different things, he was abstracting the similarity of resistance from each of these instances to form the concept "friction". He could then proceed to the law of free fall.

McCaskey's claim is that Galileo integrated "different things" - which means it would not be a valid concept. This denies the proper method of forming a concept.
Then McCaskey claims Galileo was still able to induce the law of free fall. This denies the hierarchical nature of knowledge since "free fall" could not be understood without the valid concept of friction.

All of this is evident from McCaskey's statement that "a concept's final formation completes rather than begins and induction".

Adam Reed said...

Glenn: Similar-Different is a scale, not a Boolean. The fact that the different forms of resistance to motion that Galileo conflated were similar enough to form a valid concept (which I don't think McCaskey disputes,) and that this concept was adequate for Galileo's purpose, does not contradict the fact that they were subsequently shown to differ in the single most essential aspect of a scientific concept of action, the causal mechanisms responsible for the actions to which the previously conflated concepts refer. Harriman himself (in my understanding of this article: href=" does not see a contradiction, but rather a matter of "emphasis (that) depends on the depth at which we describe the discovery process." (Much controversy could have been avoided, if Harriman had explicitly included in LL some of the discussion of the contextual considerations that he now writes about in his post-hoc articles.) I still don't see any evidence for the claim that something in McCaskey's take on LL contradicts a basic principle of OE.

John P. McCaskey said...

Glenn, could you clarify -- which word of Galileo's are you referring to when you say "friction"?

He had a word "resistance" and he used that when writing about the different laws of fall, but whether the concept was good or bad it had been around since antiquity.

Which new concept are you referring to?

Glenn Jorgensen said...

Adam: An astute HOS member has pointed out (in a private email) that you think future discoveries should be the standard to determine what is essential in past discoveries. This ignores the contextual nature of concepts and of knowledge, which is crucial in Objectivist epistemology. And, even in today's context, the three examples of friction noted earlier are not "very different things". The essence of each is still friction, as it was in Galileo's time. McCaskey's statement that he "conflated ...two or three very different things" to form an "immature" concept cannot be supported. As to why I think this statement is inconsistent with OE, read the article again. I'm tired of trying to explain it to you. If you can't see it, we are just going to have to agree to disagree.

John P. McCaskey said...

I'm OK with the concept resistance, which later got divided into friction, buoyancy, etc. If I said that the concept of resistance was invalid, then that was wrong.

It's just that the concept of resistance wasn't new.

Adam Reed said...

Glenn: I have repeatedly written that Galileo's concept of resistance to motion was valid - i.e., it correctly identified its essentials in the context of knowledge available to Galileo at that time. So that "HOS member's" ascription to me of a viewpoint contrary to what I have been writing is not particularly "astute." It is, rather, objectively false. Using the term "friction" to label the concept that Galileo, in translations by scientists, called "resistance to motion" or simply "resistance," can only lead to confusion with our modern concept of "friction." And it has - when you write "friction," I sometimes cannot tell whether you are writing about Galileo's concept of resistance to motion, or the modern concept of friction. Not having gotten any evidence for the claim that McCaskey's position contradicts anything in OE, I too will happily leave this clearly unproductive discussion to others.

Sean Green said...

I find your criticism of McCaskey's position compelling. However, I believe you simultaneously do a serious disservice to Peikoff by alleging a justification for his actions which he himself did not provide. At best, you are providing supplemental evidence against McCaskey. At worst, you are being unjust toward Peikoff.

I don't think that I am focusing on an inessential when I point out that the title and theme of your article suggests a justification for Peikoff's actions, yet you completely disregard Peikoff's own justification for his own actions.

Moreover, I suspect that Peikoff would probably reject your argument as a basis for what he did. Peikoff didn't demand McCaskey's resignation until after McCaskey started denouncing "The Logical Leap" to other Objectivists and scholars at a mini-conference. Also consider that the revealing, "salient" McCaskey statement which you quote is from the Amazon review, which was published after McCaskey's resignation. So how could McCaskey's inconsistency with Objectivism be the justification for demanding his removal from the ARI Board? It can't.

Even if Peikoff understood what you understand about McCaskey, he didn't do anything about it until McCaskey started spreading around his negative view of Harriman's book. McCaskey's inconsistency with Objectivism could help explain why he denounced TLL, but it's not why Peikoff demanded McCaskey's removal from the ARI Board. Thus, your argument against McCaskey, while very enlightening, is nevertheless irrelevant to any real "justice for Leonard Peikoff."

You are making the same mistake that many of Peikoff's critics make by not respecting Peikoff's own statements. You are taking Peikoff's words out of context and suggesting motives for his actions which you have invented to suit your own conclusions. And it is somewhat ironic that McCaskey, in this thread, had to be the first one to point some of that out to you--advice which you basically dismissed as irrelevant to the heart of your article, when in fact the heart of your article is fatally flawed.

I suggest granting a bit more respect to both Peikoff and McCaskey. They are both very intelligent and articulate people and have provided clear statements regarding their own behavior.

Glenn Jorgensen said...

Sean: You raise an interesting argument. When I looked at this incident, the first question I asked myself was - "are McCaskey's criticism's of TLL valid?". I read the book and the criticism's and concluded they were not valid. I then read Dr. Peikoff's email and I wanted to see if I could detect in McCaskey's viewpoint any "disagreements" with Objectivism that "go to the heart of the philosophic principles at issue." It bothered me that no one (that I could see) was focusing on that statement. I want to stress that this analysis of McCaskey's viewpoint was my own - I was not trying to ascribe that analysis to Peikoff. I hope that's clear. I realize some people have interpreted it that way and McCaskey pointed that out in an earlier post - something I acknowledged as a potential misinterpretation when I responded to McCaskey. Peikoff's reasons for saying that McCaskey's viewpoint is inconsistent with Objectivism might very well be different than my analysis.

You state:
"Even if Peikoff understood what you understand about McCaskey, he didn't do anything about it until McCaskey started spreading around his negative view of Harriman's book."
I don't think you can claim the timing was this way. For all we know it may have been the expression of the negative view (in the forum last summer)and the emails Peikoff refers to that alerted him to McCaskey's position, and then take the action he did.

As to this claim:
"Also consider that the revealing, "salient" McCaskey statement which you quote is from the Amazon review, which was published after McCaskey's resignation. So how could McCaskey's inconsistency with Objectivism be the justification for demanding his removal from the ARI Board? It can't."
I don't buy this argument at all. The fact that McCaskey reiterated his objections to the book in his amazon review doesn't mean they weren't known prior to the review. Peikoff had to know McCaskey's viewpoint was inconsistent with Objectivism, otherwise why would he say so in his email to Arl1ne Mann, an email that was sent before the amazon review.

You appear to be claiming that Peikoff wanted McCaskey removed simply because McCaskey criticized TLL, with no acknowledgment of the essence of the criticisms. Peikoff's email says otherwise when he refers to the philosophic issues.

I believe the statement Peikoff made about McCaskey's disagreements going "to the heart of the philosophic principles" is relevant to "justice for Leonard Peikoff" and in fact central to this whole issue. So I am respecting Peikoff's own statements - specifically the one statement that in my opinion is most important.

Brian Phillips said...

Sean--You state that Glenn is "taking Peikoff's words out of context and suggesting motives for his actions which you have invented to suit your own conclusions." I disagree.

Peikoff stated that McCaskey's criticisms "often go the heart of the philosophic principles at issue." Glenn addressed that statement and proved it to be true. How is that taking Peikoff's words out of context or inventing motives?

Whether the specific principles identified by Glenn are the same principles identified by Peikoff is a tangential issue. Glenn showed that McCaskey disagrees with the fundamentals of Objectivism, which is precisely what Peikoff claimed.

As a secondary issue, you find Glenn's "criticism of McCaskey's position compelling" yet later state that "the heart of your article is fatally flawed." How can the article be compelling when it is fatally flawed?

Sean Green said...


Thanks for the response. I hope I'm not nitpicking here, but this is obviously an important issue for me, and I still have a problem with a couple points that you made. First, you say that:

"Peikoff's reasons for saying that McCaskey's viewpoint is inconsistent with Objectivism might very well be different than my analysis."

I appreciate the attempt to distance your view from Peikoff's, but it appears to me that you have still injected your view into his. Where does Peikoff use phrasing such as "inconsistent with Objectivism"? I don't see it. Even in the email to Arline Mann, Peikoff appears to be crafting his words carefully, in order not to make such a claim as yours. Let's look at the quote that you used in your article:

"[McCaskey's] disagreements are not limited to details, but often go to the heart of the philosophic principles at issue."

Pointing out the bald fact that McCaskey disagrees with the philosophy presented in TLL is quite different than saying he is inconsistent with or repudiating a part of Objectivism.

Another example from the email:

"In essence, [McCaskey's] behavior amounts to: Peikoff is misguided, Harriman is misguided, M knows Objectivism better than either. Or else: Objectivism on these issues is inadequate, and M is the one pointing the flaws out."

Again, Peikoff is careful how he words this accusation. He gives an either-or scenario, and in neither case is McCaskey necessarily being inconsistent with Objectivism. Peikoff is merely trying to understand the implications of McCaskey denouncing TLL. On one hand, perhaps McCaskey thinks he knows Objectivism better than Peikoff and Harriman. Or on the other hand, maybe he thinks that Objectivism is "inadequate" in some way. I think this either-or scenario is clear evidence that Peikoff was not prepared to firmly and publicly condemn McCaskey's understanding of Objectivism. And I think he made that even clearer in his follow-up statement, which I quoted on the other "Addendum" thread.

Glenn, you have reiterated your position that: "Peikoff had to know McCaskey's viewpoint was inconsistent with Objectivism, otherwise why would he say so in his email to Arline Mann." But I don't think the evidence is on your side. Peikoff did not say that to Arline Mann. I think it is an assumption that you made from the "disagreements with philosophic principles" statement. But McCaskey was disagreeing with TLL, and TLL is Peikoff and Harriman's work, not Ayn Rand's. We must be careful not to conflate the two. If McCaskey disagrees with the philosophy presented in TLL, he is not necessarily disagreeing with Objectivism. To prove that would require some comparison between McCaskey's statements and Rand's. Which is something you have done, Glenn, not Peikoff.

Glenn Jorgensen said...

Sean: I disagree totally with your claim that the philosophy at the base of TLL is different than Objectivism, and that Peikoff was referring to a philosophy other than Objectivism when he made the statement about going to the heart of the philosophic principles. Are you suggesting that Peikoff accepts philosophic principles other than Objectivism??

Sean Green said...


You ask: "Are you suggesting that Peikoff accepts philosophic principles other than Objectivism?"

I'm not only suggesting it, I'm stating it as a fact. Quoting Peikoff from "Fact and Value":

"'Objectivism' is the name of Ayn Rand's achievement. Anyone else's interpretation or development of her ideas, my own work emphatically included, is precisely that: an interpretation or development, which may or may not be logically consistent with what she wrote."

Now consider the fact that TLL presents an interpretation of Ayn Rand's theory of concepts, a new theory of induction originated by Leonard Peikoff, and an application of these philosophic principles to the field of physics by Mr. Harriman.

Furthermore, consider a statement from the preface to TLL:

"It should not be difficult to identify which parts of the book came from which brain. In essence, the original philosophic ideas belong to Dr. Peikoff, while I provided their illustration in the history of science. In particular, the philosophic foundation presented in Chapter 1 is taken nearly verbatim from Dr. Peikoff's lectures. Also, I have incorporated into Chapter 2 his discussion of concepts as 'green lights to induction.' Finally, many of the essential points in Chapter 7, including the explanation for the role of mathematics in physical science, are taken from his lectures."

Now, unless Peikoff rejects his statements from "Fact and Value" and disowns his original theory of induction, I'd say it is a hard fact that he accepts some philosophic principles other than Objectivism. Ayn Rand never originated such a theory of induction to my knowledge, and apparently also to Peikoff and Harriman's knowledge. And since TLL is not Rand's work, it certainly cannot be considered a part of her philosophy.

Glenn, if indeed you believe that Peikoff only accepts the principles laid down by Ayn Rand in her philosophy of Objectivism, or that anything Peikoff originates is also part of Objectivism, then you are clearly contradicted by Peikoff's own statements. He has his own contributions to the field of philosophy, and it was those contributions that McCaskey criticized.

I wonder if we can agree at least on Objectivism being a closed system?

Sean Green said...


I hope your first question was answered in my reply to Glenn a couple days ago.

To answer your secondary issue, by "fatally flawed" I meant that the article's theme of justice for Peikoff was fundamentally undermined by a lack of appreciation for and recognition of Peikoff's own justification for his actions. To provide justice for Peikoff, at minimum, requires a thorough analysis of the reason Peikoff himself gave for demanding McCaskey's removal from the ARI Board. Instead, Mr. Jorgensen presented us with a reason that I have argued would probably be rejected by Peikoff as a basis for his actions.

On the other hand, I find Mr. Jorgensen's specific case against McCaskey's understanding of Objectivist epistemology to be very compelling. That case, however, is not the entire article, nor would I consider it the primary theme of the article, which, according to the title, is: justice for Peikoff. If Mr. Jorgensen was aiming at justice for Peikoff, I don't think he succeeded at that.

I'm not trying to have my cake and eat it, too. I'm merely pointing out that one half of the article makes sense to me, while the other half does not.

Glenn Jorgensen said...

Sean: In my estimation you are completely misinterpreting the quote from "Fact and Value".

Here is a different quote from "Fact and Value":
"New implications, applications, integrations can always be discovered; but the essence of the system—its fundamental principles and their consequences in every branch—is laid down once and for all by the philosophy’s author."

That is what TLL is. A development of Objectivism into scientific induction; it is not based on philosophic principles other than Objectivism and Peikoff never intended it to be. Quoting from TLL page 9 "The philosophic foundation of the theory presented here can be found in Chapters 1 to 5 of Leonard Peikoff's 'Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand'".

The fact that TLL is Peikoff's and Harriman's work does not mean it is not based on Objectivism. If you are going to argue that, then you have to show that it is with appropriate quotes and logical deduction. If you could show that successfully (which I don't think you can) I would say that their theory is wrong. I would also say that any knowledge in any other field, if it is valid, can be shown to be consistent with Objectivism.

Of course, it is incumbent on each reader to decide for himself if Peikoff's, Harriman's or anyone elses work is consistent with Ayn Rand. And yes, I do agree that Objectisim is a closed system.

One final polemic -earlier, you said I injected my view into Peikoff's view (which I already addressed). What is that compared to your claim that Peikoff is advocating different philosophic principles than Objectivism???

Sean Green said...


You ask:

"One final polemic -earlier, you said I injected my view into Peikoff's view (which I already addressed). What is that compared to your claim that Peikoff is advocating different philosophic principles than Objectivism???"

My claim is that Peikoff accepts both Objectivism and also his own original philosophic ideas such as his theory of induction. Peikoff's theory of induction is an important philosophic discovery, but it was not Ayn Rand's discovery, and therefore cannot be considered a principle of Objectivism, if you subscribe to the closed system view. Rather, the theory of induction is Peikoff's *development* of Objectivism, a development which "may or may not be logically consistent with what Ayn Rand wrote."

Your "salient" McCaskey quote is a direct criticism of an aspect of Peikoff's theory of induction, not Rand's theory of concepts or anything else she wrote. McCaskey apparently disagrees that an invalid concept is a red light to induction. And I believe it is this sort of criticism against the theory of induction that Peikoff refers to as "disagreements" that "go to the heart of the philosophic principles at issue."

You have argued, however, that Peikoff's statement was referring to Objectivism. I don't think you have proven that. I think the most logical referent is Peikoff's theory of induction. Isn't that what is "at issue"? And isn't that what McCaskey is directly criticizing in his comments?

Also, getting back to the reason why Peikoff demanded McCaskey's removal from the ARI Board, I hope you will keep in mind ARI's public statement on the matter:

"The substantive issue that Dr. Peikoff raised—whether a person who does not support a central ARI project should sit on the Board—was itself a very serious one."

ARI says that Peikoff had a problem with an ARI Board member not supporting a major ARI project, and that that was the "substantive issue." However, you seem to be arguing that it wasn't the substantive issue--that the important issue was actually McCaskey's "inconsistency with Objectivism." But no such language appears in the ARI statement. So is ARI deceiving us? And, if so, is Peikoff going along with the lie by remaining silent? Is there a conspiracy afoot?

Glenn Jorgensen said...

Sean: I provided a quote in my previous post that stated explicitly that the theory of induction in TLL is based on the principles of Objectivism. I am not going to debate that point with you anymore.

The salient quote I refer to in the article states that a concept can "conflate...very different things". This is a blatant rejection of Ayn Rand's theory of concepts that says concepts are integrations of similarities among concretes.

I showed in my article that McCaskey was inconsistent with Objectivism; as to why ARI's statement did not address this - ask them, not me.

I'm tired of repeating myself and fed up debating you on this issue. I don't see myself responding to anymore of your posts unless you come up with arguments that don't misinterpret statements made by Peikoff in his email to ARI and in his article "Fact and Value".

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that McCaskey is an opportunist.

There are times when it is best to say nothing; but McCaskey chose to speak out. Bravely?

He got his Amazon review up - in the most prominent place on the internet and in a store. That was bold.

Was McCaskey first to post a review at Amazon?

Did he rely on prepublication drafts of the book, ie courtesy copies?

Was the ink dry in the copies printed before he critiqued Harriman's book?

Sometimes critics are driven to draw first blood.

McCaskey could have withdrawn/repudiated his review at Amazon and withdrawn/repudiated his later remarks.

He can still withdraw his remarks publicly and privately apologize to LP and H.

I think I will buy the book, read it and keep my big mouth shut.

Anonymous said...

Geeeessshhhh!!!! An excellent essay followed by... oh I don't know, a bunch of noise...really...interesting - Dr. McCaskey couldn't defend the basis of the fact that his critique revealed his own immature grasp of Objectivism, and this was not debated at all (as it should have been because that is the heart of the matter), but rather this whole line of dialogue was taking little bits and pieces of information and trying to piece them together "somehow" to argue the higher, greater, more whole subject of "philosphic principles"
Hmmmmmm - isn't this proof enough that Dr. McCaskey's claims are wrong, untrue, and simply don't work?