Posts

Ayn Rand Explained: From Tyranny to Tea Party

Written by Ronald Merrill and Marsha Familaro Enright, and edited by Enright, Ayn Rand Explained is now available at Open Court Books, Amazon, on Kindle, and in bookstores everywhere.

Ayn Rand and her ideas are in the news more than ever – 50+ years after her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, was published. What’s driving this rising interest and influence – even politicians like Paul Ryan and Barack Obama talk about her?

Who was this Russian fireball? Why do her ideas speak to the hearts of Americans generation after generation? How are her ideas giving courage to people of all walks of life, from business to art?

Ayn Rand Explained is an engrossing account of the life, work, and influence of Ayn Rand: her career, from youth in Soviet Russia to Hollywood screenwriter and then to ideological guru; her novels and other fiction writings, including the perennial best-sellers, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged; her work in ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics; her influence on—and personal animosity toward—both conservatism and libertarianism.

Merrill and Enright describe Rand’s early infatuation with Nietzsche, her first fiction writings, the developments behind her record-breaking blockbuster novels of 1943 and 1957, her increasing involvement in politics in the 1950s and 1960s, including her support for the presidential candidacy of Barry Goldwater.

Rand’s Objectivist movement was first promoted through the Nathaniel Branden Institute, headed by her young protégé and designated heir. The Institute advocated a complete worldview on politics, economics, religion, art, music, epistemology, ethics (“The Virtue of Selfishness”), and sexual relationships. For several years the Institute grew rapidly, though there were ominous signs as some leading members were ‘put on trial’ for their heretical ideas, and ignominiously drummed out of the movement.

In 1969, Branden himself was expelled by Rand, the Institute was shut down, and all members who questioned this ruling were themselves excommunicated and shunned by Rand and her disciples. Branden became a best-selling author of psychotherapy books, with a following of Objectivists who had dissociated from the official organization headed by Rand, and after her death in 1982, by Leonard Peikoff. One of Rand’s inner circle, Alan Greenspan, later went on to get his hands on the steering wheel of the American economy.

Objectivism offers a comprehensive package of beliefs encompassing the ethics of rational egoism and dedication to a consistently rational method of thinking and acting. This includes a rejection of all religion and outright atheism and a view of the arts as expressions of deeply held, mostly subconscious, philosophical views of the world. It also advocates personal freedom from political interference, a moral defense of laissez-faire capitalism, and radically limited government as a protection of the individual, positions deeply aligned with the project of the American Founders.

The last few years have witnessed a resurgence of Objectivism, with a jump in sales of Rand’s novels and the influence of Rand’s ideas in the Tea Party movement and the Republican party. While gaining membership, the Objectivist movement continues to be divided into warring factions, the two major groupings led by the Ayn Rand Institute (Yaron Brook) and the Atlas Society (David Kelley).

Ayn Rand Explained is a completely revised and updated edition of The Ideas of Ayn Rand, by the late Ronald E. Merrill, first published by Open Court in 1991. It includes not only new information about Rand’s rocketing influence, but new stories about her personal relationships, and new analysis of her life and ideas.

Here’s what people are saying about it:

“Ayn Rand is in the news now more than ever—but the media consistently misunderstands her. Read Ayn Rand Explained for a thorough and clear introduction to her ideas!”—JIMMY WALES, founder of Wikipedia

Ayn Rand Explained takes us on an exciting exploration of Rand’s provocative worldview and expertly traces its huge contemporary impact on politics, economics, art, and culture. Marsha Familaro Enright provides much new information and probing, in-depth analysis. A surprising, intriguing take on a controversial writer.”—CHRIS MATTHEW SCIABARRA, author of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical

“I immensely enjoyed reading Ayn Rand Explained. Packed with fascinating information, much of it new, the book is a real page turner—and a reminder of why Rand’s novels are continuously making their way onto best-seller lists.”—VERONIQUE DE RUGY, Senior Research Fellow, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University

“Co-authored by two thoughtful admirers of Rand’s, Ronald Merrill and Marsha Familaro Enright, this modest volume is full of new tidbits about her life, the evolution of her thought, under-recognized aspects of her ideas, the ongoing development of the Objectivist movement, and Rand’s influence on society. An updated revision of late entrepreneur Merrill’s “The Ideas of Ayn Rand”, educator-author Enright adds biographical details, sociological updating, and thoughtful summaries of Rand’s ideas to this little gem.

“Ayn Rand has penetrated our societal conscience. Deceased since 1982, her books continue to be best-sellers, decades after their original appearance. She is known to have inspired VP candidate Paul Ryan; a second movie based on her 1,000+ page magnum opus is currently in theaters; and she is even discussed in a current Rolling Stone magazine interview with the President. Her cultural presence is remarkably polarizing – she seems to inspire either deep-seated admiration or equally passionate resentment. The opinion-less commentator is as rare as the proverbial black swan or an independent voter. Love her or hate her, Rand continues to draw widespread attention for her passionate defense of rationality, self-interest, capitalism and atheism.

“For those interested in what “all the fuss is” about Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism — especially those afraid to commit to her ultralong novels — will find this concise summary of her life, ideas, and influence a godsend. Those who are already familiar with her life and work, but who are looking for a fresh perspective, will find that here, too.

“Enright is responsible for bringing novel material with the brand new first three chapters. They add excellent material on Rand’s life, her thought, and her impact on our society. This is especially helpful given that Merrill’s original book was published in 1991, so updating is welcomed. Also, Enright’s own experiences with the Objectivist movement from the beginning, including personal interactions with Rand herself, add intriguing material, interweaving these up-close observations with the development of the wider movement. The remainder of the book is a thoughtfully edited version of Merrill’s thoughts, intertwined clearly with Enright’s own insights, especially at points of disagreement, which are clearly delineated. It is a model of even-handedness.

“One welcomed aspect of this book, given the subject matter, is its consistent tone of critical admiration of Rand, her life, and her ideas. Too many books are either fawning, sycophantic cheerleading for Rand or harsh, condemning diatribes against her. This supportive volume, with a critical, independent touch where needed, is a welcome addition to the growing literature surrounding this unique Russian immigrant to America.” — William Dale, M.D., Ph.D.

http://www.amazon.com/Ayn-Rand-Explained-Tyranny-Party/dp/0812697987

Defending Western Civilization

As September 11th approaches, Americans remember the morning in 2001 when the World Trade Center turned to rubble. It is a fitting time to consider the nature of the civilizations that collided that day—and how to defend ours.

In their quest to establish a worldwide caliphate, radical Islamists invoke morality, claiming they have God’s sanction for performing their barbarous acts.

To defend Western civilization, we, also, need to invoke morality. But although the world envies the wealth we’ve achieved, it is widely seen as the product of soulless materialism, of unbridled “greed,” of unscrupulous self-indulgence.

What moral claim, then, can we make for our way of life?

To understand the moral values of the West, let’s turn to its beginning. In her prescient 1943 work of political philosophy, “The God of the Machine,” Isabel Paterson chose as the symbol of Western man a figure from Ancient Greece: Pytheas. This enterprising merchant left his homeland to explore Britain and beyond, seeking tin to make bronze. Insatiably curious, Pytheas also discovered the relationship between the moon’s phases and the tides, and was the first to describe the aurora and other phenomena.

Pytheas epitomizes the Western spirit: a self-directed man whose free will determines his life’s course, a thinker who employs reason and science to understand the world around him, and a producer who seeks to sell goods in peaceful trade.

From its founding, America was intended to be the country where Pytheas could flourish—the first nation established to protect the life, liberty, and property of the individual. It did so by curbing government power over the peaceful activities of its citizens.

In this, the contrast between America and radical Islam could not be greater.

Whereas Thomas Jefferson exhorts us to “Question with boldness even the existence of a God,” militant Islam kills people for apostasy.

Whereas James Madison proclaims a man has “a right to his property” and equally “a property in [all of] his rights,” Palestinian Islamists strap suicide belts on five year-olds, seizing their young lives to fight ancient vendettas.

Whereas the Declaration of Independence affirms America’s devotion to life, Osama bin Laden declares: We love death. The U.S. loves life. That is the difference between us two.

“The excellence of the West” lies in its “respect for the human being, the recognition of his individuality, the liberty it has granted him,” observes Saudi Shura Council member and Muslim reformist Ibrahim Al-Buleihi.

“Humans are originally individuals,” he continues, “but cultures (including Arab culture) have dissolved the individual in the tribe, sect, or state.” It is only “with the diffusion of philosophical ideas from [Ancient] Greece” that “the human being became an individual of value for himself . . . and not merely a means for others.” (Profile of Al-Buleihi, The Aafaq Foundation, July 6, 2010)

Thus, in our civilization, a person is born free to live for his own sake and to pursue happiness. In radical Islam, a person must obey a central authority and sacrifice his life to its aims. Which society is better?

Granted the West’s superiority, why is radical Islam advancing? Author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim, cites “an active propaganda campaign” in which “the Saudis invested at least $2 billion a year over a 30-year period to spread their brand of fundamentalist Islam.” (Wall Street Journal, August 18, 2010)

Why aren’t we passionately defending our civilization? Certainly, money isn’t the obstacle. Is it because we don’t understand the nobility of our individualist foundation, including the virtue of private advancement and profit?

We must never forget that we’re the country of Pytheas: a people of free will, free minds, and free enterprise. Our spectacular prosperity is not our dishonor, but the glory of our liberty.

It is said that Ground Zero is “sacred ground.” In truth, all of America is sacred ground—because the individual is sacred here.

We must assert the moral superiority of our civilization—or lose it to our enemies.

Marsha Familaro Enright is president of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, the Foundation for the College of the United States. Gen LaGreca is author of Noble Vision, an award-winning novel about the struggle for liberty in health care today.

Originally published at The Daily Caller, 9/8/2010.

A Sad Birthday for Jefferson by Gen LaGreca and Marsha Familaro Enright

On a spring day in 1743, a towering figure in our country’s founding was born: Thomas Jefferson. His skillful hand carved much of the character of America.

Today, however, what Jefferson so painstakingly crafted lies pulverized almost to stone dust. Were he alive to celebrate his birthday this April 13, instead of sipping champagne, he might want to drown his sorrow in whiskey.

What has happened to the revolutionary ideas he penned on the parchment that is the soul of America, the Declaration of Independence? How many of today’s citizens—and elected officials—understand the stirring proclamation that every person possesses certain “unalienable rights,” among which are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”?

Today, most Americans don’t understand their rights; the entire concept has been hopelessly muddied. Many now believe that if they want or need anything—from health care, to a “decent” salary, to help paying their mortgage—that they have a “right,” through government taxation and regulation, to compel others to provide it for them. As a result, our actual rights have been eroded at an ever-increasing pace.

So, in homage to Thomas Jefferson, and with his guidance, let’s examine some features of our real rights, to set the record straight.

According to Jefferson, our rights are unalienable. This means that individuals possess rights in virtue of being human. They are neither granted nor invalidated by any person, king, congress, or group. Might does not make right; individual rights are a sacred temple that even the will of the people must respect. “[T]he majority, oppressing an individual,” says Jefferson, “is guilty of a crime . . . and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society.”[i] Further, because they stem from universals of human nature, these rights are legitimate in all societies and all eras. As such and properly understood, they form the rock-solid foundation of our freedom.

Contrary to modern misinterpretations, our real rights—to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness—are rights to take action; they are not entitlements to goods and services. Jefferson defined liberty as “unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.”[ii] This means we may act in our own behalf, for example, to earn money and buy health care, but we may not expect the government to tax and regulate others to provide us with health care for free.

Rights belong to us as individuals, with each of us possessing exactly the same ones. There are no “rights” of groups—be they farmers, seniors, students, workers, homeowners, or the like—to any special privileges at the expense of others. According to Jefferson, “Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare but only those specifically enumerated [in the Constitution].”[iii] What, then, would he have thought of our current government’s using taxpayers’ money to provide privileges to countless special-interest groups—through bank bailouts, government-backed mortgages, programs for the arts, government housing, car-company loans, etc.?

As understood by Jefferson and his contemporaries, our rights include the right to property, which entitles us to keep the things that we legitimately acquire. Does a rich person have less of a right to property than a poor person? According to Jefferson: “To take from one because it is thought his own industry . . . has acquired too much, in order to spare others who . . . have not exercised equal industry and skill is to violate the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.”[iv] What, then, would he have thought of the recent referendum passed in Oregon—typifying the practice of many states, as well as the federal government—in which a majority levied substantial additional taxes on businesses and the wealthy? Wouldn’t that seem like a few sheep and a pack of wolves deciding what to have for lunch?

Jefferson valued productive work as a noble part of the American character. When his Monticello farm fell on hard times, he began producing nails, and did so proudly because “every honest employment is deemed honorable [in America]. . . . My new trade of nail-making is to me in this country what an additional title of nobility . . . [is] in Europe.”[v] He scorned the “idleness”[vi] of the European aristocracy, calling their courts “the weakest and worst part of mankind.”[vii] He expected people to use their minds to judge conflicting ideas, overcome obstacles, and achieve goals, extolling reason as the autonomous person’s tool for successful living: “Fix reason firmly to her seat and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion.”[viii]

When his 15-year-old daughter had difficulty reading an ancient text, he admonished: “If you always lean on your master, you will never be able to proceed without him. It is part of the American character to consider nothing as desperate—to surmount every difficulty . . .” Americans, he continued, “are obliged to invent and to execute; to find the means within ourselves, and not to lean on others.”[ix] What, then, would he have thought of today’s government “entitlements,” which encourage idleness while discouraging people from making their own decisions?

Jefferson swore “eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man,”[x] ardently defending the spiritual and intellectual freedom of the individual. He held that a person’s beliefs and values were an entirely private matter and that “the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions.”[xi] What, then, would this champion of freedom of religion, speech, the press, and conscience have thought of recent threats and insinuations by public officials to influence the content of radio programs? What would Jefferson have thought of a president, able to wield the full coercive powers of the state, discouraging people from listening to the opposing viewpoints of private individuals?

As individuals possessing the right—and glory—of self-sovereignty, what, then, is the proper role of government in our lives? The Declaration explains “that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.” Wise government, Jefferson elaborated, “shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”[xii] Government’s exclusive purpose is to protect us from acts of force or fraud, which violate our rights—e.g., to apprehend and punish aggressors who would pick our pockets or break our legs—but otherwise, to refrain from regulating or controlling our lives.

Jefferson’s vision provides “for a government rigorously frugal and simple . . . and not for a multiplication of officers and salaries merely to make partisans . . .”[xiii] What, then, would he have thought of today’s ever-growing swarms of agencies, commissions, and departments that, following King George III, “harass our people, and eat out their substance”?[xiv] What would he have thought of the 2,700-page health-care reform bill passed in the dead of night, with backroom bribes used to obtain the votes of congressmen unclear about its massive contents and implications? Do we have any doubt that Jefferson would be horrified by such corruption and by the dangerous, unprecedented powers this legislation has granted to the state?

Thomas Jefferson fought for a country in which the government had no power to encroach on the mind, the life, the liberty, or the property of the individual. He fought for a country in which the individual, for the first time in history, could live for the pursuit of his own happiness instead of being a pawn in the hands of the state.

Within a mere page of the calendar of history, the world-shaking recognition that freedom is every person’s natural state and sacred right led to the abolition of slavery, the suffrage of women, and the spread of human freedoms in nations around the globe. The dawn of liberty upon the modern world began with the founding principles of America, which the author of the Declaration of Independence so ably articulated.

On Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, we must grasp again and hold dear the fragile gem of freedom that he so carefully carved. We must protest the hammering away at our individual rights by the ignorant, the deceived, and the unscrupulous. And we must polish the ideals for which Jefferson pledged his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor.

***

Gen LaGreca is author of Noble Vision, an award-winning novel about the struggle for liberty in health care today. Marsha Familaro Enright is president of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, the Foundation for the College of the United States


[i] Letter to P. S. Dupont de Nemours, 1816

[ii] Letter to Isaac H. Tiffany, 1819

[iii] Letter to Albert Gallatin, 1817

[iv] Letter to Joseph Milligan, 1816

[v] Letter to Jean Nicolas Démeunier, 1795

[vi] Letter to Peter Carr, 1787

[vii] Travelling Notes for Mr. Rutledge and Mr. Shippen, 1788

[viii] Letter to Peter Carr, 1787

[ix] Letter to Martha Jefferson, 1787

[x] Letter to Benjamin Rush, 1800

[xi] Address to Danbury Baptist Association, 1802

[xii] Inauguration Address, 1801

[xiii] Letter to Elbridge Gerry, 1799

[xiv] Declaration of Independence, 1776

Copyright © 2010 by Marsha Familaro Enright and Gen LaGreca. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to the authors and inclusion of their byline.

Permanent Link: http://fountainheadinstitute.com/a-sad-birthday-for-jefferson/

Originally published at: http://dailycaller.com/2010/04/09/a-sad-birthday-for-jefferson/

Published April 9, 2010 at The Daily Caller

A lesson in profit by Gen LaGreca and Marsha Familaro Enright

Addressing a joint session of Congress on health care, President Barack Obama reiterated his often-expressed aversion to the profit motive:

“[B]y avoiding some of the overhead that gets eaten up at private [health insurance] companies by profits and excessive costs and executive salaries, [the public insurance option] could provide a good deal for consumers, and would also keep pressure on private insurers to keep their policies affordable and treat their customers better . . .”

Is this true? Is profit wasteful, as Obama implies? Does it lead to higher prices and lower value to consumers? Can the government, unburdened by profit, do the same job as a private company, only cheaper and better?

To answer, let’s consider one business, one product, and one profit-seeking man who lived at a time when the market operated largely free of government subsidies, bailouts, regulations, taxation, and other “progressive” intrusions.

Henry Ford, at age 13, saw a steam-driven land vehicle, a “road locomotive,” which filled his imagination with the vision of a horseless carriage and fueled a passion to create one. As a young man, he worked day jobs, while trying to build a car in his free time. Realizing a viable car could not run on steam, he sought to develop a new kind of engine.

On Christmas Eve 1893, the 30-year-old inventor clamped his first gasoline engine to his wife Clara’s kitchen sink. With the home’s electricity providing ignition, the motor roared into action, sending the sink vibrating and exhaust flames flying while Clara prepared the holiday dinner.

In pursuit of his dream, Ford and Clara moved eight times in their first nine years of marriage. He quit a secure job at the Edison Illuminating Company, banking everything on his vision. He co-founded the Detroit Automobile Company—a venture that failed. Jobless, Ford moved his wife and child into his father’s home. But he kept working on his car. “It is always too soon to quit,” he said.

Ten years passed from the roar of the little engine on Clara’s sink to the launch of the Ford Motor Company. It took five more years to produce his big success, the Model T, and additional years to master its mass production.

Why did Ford persist through years of hardship and uncertainty? How much would his love for the work have sustained him without the hope of eventual profit? Imagine if he had lived in a system where politicians could, at the stroke of a pen, seize his profits or decide how much he could keep. Would he have risked so much or worked so ferociously to bring a world-changing invention to market?

Would an Amtrak employee devote a decade of free time inventing a new train, only to rise a notch on a civil-servant’s pay scale? Dream big, work hard, create something earth shaking, but be paid small is the antithesis of the American dream.

The pursuit of profit not only motivated Ford, but also his bold investors who had the foresight to realize the horse was doomed.

In 1903, a school teacher invested $100—half her life savings—in the Ford Motor Company. Sixteen years later, she sold her stock for a total gain of $355,000. Why would she and others place their money on a highly experimental venture, were it not for the hope of tremendous gain should the enterprise succeed? What kind of person would deny her the reward for recognizing Ford’s vision and risking her own money?

The pursuit of profit also impacted every aspect of Ford’s business operations.

Ford didn’t need a politician’s scolding to lower prices—only the desire to make huge profits by reaching mass markets. Because early cars were expensive, people viewed them as mere playthings of the rich. But Ford sought to “build a motor car for the multitude.” This led him to develop his moving assembly line, significantly reducing manufacturing costs and, consequently, prices. The original $825 price of the Model T finally bottomed at $260. That price-lowering strategy brought him the millions of customers that made him rich.

Similarly, Ford’s pursuit of profit didn’t result in bare-subsistence wages for employees, but in phenomenal pay increases. He shocked the world by introducing the $5 workday, more than doubling the era’s prevailing wage. Why? To attract the best workers, whose talents increased product quality and company efficiency. High pay also decreased employee turnover and training costs, again increasing Ford’s profits.

Ford typifies the successful capitalist, whose profit-driven innovations lower prices, while raising wages and living standards for all.

Even today’s Ford Motor Company, a much-fettered child of our mixed economy, demonstrates the superiority of private- over government-run companies. Ford refused TARP bailout money, choosing to operate without government strings. The result? Ford’s profits are up 43 percent, while bailed-out GM and Chrysler lag behind.

In Henry Ford—a thin man who was the fattest of fat cats—we see an embodied refutation of President Obama’s worldview. Ford developed a new form of transportation vastly cheaper, faster, more convenient, and superior to the old mode. He continually lowered prices so that everyone, rich and poor, would have access to his product. He created thousands of jobs. He raised employee wages. He did all this good without government grants, bailouts, stimuli, subsidies, or coercion, but simply as a result of the honest pursuit of personal gain.

This achievement was possible only because a private individual had the freedom to pursue his own self-interest, in cooperation with others who supported his vision and shared in the rewards, unencumbered by government.

By eliminating profit, Obama implies that everything else about an enterprise would remain the same, only the product would be cheaper and better. Actually, by removing profit, nothing at all would remain the same.

Contrary to Obama’s notions, profit is not an overhead cost, but a vital gain sought over and above costs in order to reward a company’s risk-takers. According to economist Ludwig von Mises, “Profit is the pay-off of successful action.” And “The elimination of profit . . . would create poverty for all.”

Eliminate the hope of profit, and you extinguish that spark which ignites the human engine and powers it to explore uncharted roads: the creative mind. Profit is the proud product of the creative mind, and the creative mind is an attribute of the individual. Obama’s attack on profit is an attack on human creativity and innovation, which is an attack on the individual.

Obama’s antipathy for the self-interested individual is explicit. “In America, we have this strong bias toward individual action,” he said in an interview in the Chicago Reader. “But individual actions, individual dreams, are not sufficient. We must unite in collective action, build collective institutions and organizations.”

It was Henry Ford’s individual actions and individual dreams that brought motorized, personal transportation within reach of everyone in the world.

America is rooted in the “pursuit of happiness”—which means the right of each of us to create, to produce, to rise, to succeed, and to profit from the fruits of our labor. Contrast this worldview with that of a president who disparages the individual and seeks to limit or expropriate his profits on behalf of a faceless “collective.” Obama’s war on profit is a war against the individualist heart and soul of America.

Profits are a badge of honor earned by someone who offers others something they value enough to buy. The first buyer of the first car of the Ford Motor Company was a doctor. He was tired of hitching up his horse and buggy for nighttime emergencies. Ford’s product enhanced his life, as it later enhanced the lives of millions. Profit is the medal Ford received from his customers for a job well done.

If our nation is to cultivate productive geniuses like Henry Ford, it must proclaim that the quest for profit is moral and noble.

POSTSCRIPT: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently announced “the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.” This means that the federal government, with its vast powers to fund highway projects, “liveability” initiatives, and other aid programs, as well as to tax gasoline, now intends, in LaHood’s stunningly brazen words, “to coerce people out of their cars,” in favor of walking or cycling. A century ago, Henry Ford, through capitalism and the profit motive, brought motorized transportation to the world. Now, an alarmingly anti-capitalist government is reversing that historic achievement and pulling us back to the pre-industrial age.

Gen LaGreca is author of “Noble Vision,” an award-winning novel about the struggle for liberty in health care today. Marsha Familaro Enright is president of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, the Foundation for the College of the United States. Incidents from the book “Young Henry Ford,” by Sidney Olson appear in this article.

Copyright © 2010 by Marsha Familaro Enright and Gen LaGreca. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to the authors and inclusion of their byline.

Permanent Link:  http://fountainheadinstitute.com/a-lesson-in-profit/

Originally published at: http://dailycaller.com/2010/03/31/a-lesson-in-profit/

The Biological Basis of Teleological Causation, Chapter 6 Goal-Causation, Harry Binswanger – by Marsha Enright

In the following, I plan to summarize the essence of Binswanger’s argument on goal-causation, and then expand on the issues he brings up and discuss any problems or objections I have with his arguments. Time has not permitted me to be as complete and persuasive in my objections as I might like – I only hope to stimulate discussion of the issues.

In this chapter, Binswanger outlines his theory of how non- conscious actions can be teleologically caused. He defines an action as teleological when the goal causes the action for the sake of achieving the goal. This is what he calls “goal- causation.”

The fundamental question is: how can non-conscious action, i.e. vegetative action, occur for the sake of a condition – the goal – which exists later in time than the action?; without consciousness, by what means does the action move toward the goal?

Purposeful action of conscious beings is Binswanger’s paradigm case for teleological action. Binswanger thinks that, ontologically, our idea of teleological action derives from our direct introspective experience. We know that we can imagine an end or value, desire it and put in motion the actions to obtain it. In purposeful action, the awareness of a desire or value causes the agent to undertake the action towards the goal. This is how a future condition can motivate a present action.

Vegetative action has no awareness of values by which to cause it, therefore, how is the benefit of the goal a cause of the action, by what means is the value of a future state causing present action?

Once again, Binswanger looks to purposeful action to get his cue in regard to the vegetative: he claims that all purposeful action is based on past experience, whether it be memories or perceptions, ideas, imaginings or associations. Men imagine the future by recalling past experiences, valuable objects and conditions achieved, and projecting them as occurring again, although perhaps rearranged somewhat.

Likewise, he claims that current vegetative action is entirely dependent on the forms and organization of the organism already in place, as a result of previous value- seeking activity of the organism or its ancestors. Binswanger claims there are three elements, or proximate causes, to any vegetative action: the fuel which allows the action to be self-generated; the “directive mechanism” which controls the utilization of that fuel; and the triggering stimulus which initiates the use of the fuel.

“On the vegetative level, the stimulus is able to trigger the action because of the way the mechanism for the action is organized. The mechanism has certain _terms of operation_ dictated by the nature of its directive mechanism(s). The way in which the mechanism is organized determines what will or will not trigger its behavior.” (p. 81)

According to Binswanger, the _ultimate_ cause of vegetative action is that which causes the fuel and the directive mechanism to exist, thereby enabling the organism to take the action. The ultimate cause is the explanation for the proximate causes. In Binswanger’s view, there is no means and therefore no possibility for a traditionally conceived final cause to draw the organism’s action to the future in vegetative action; in reality, the final cause must be a different kind of efficient cause.

He proposes that, for any vegetative action, the value- significance of _past_ goals, which has shaped and determined the nature of the fuel used, the directive mechanisms and the response to triggers, is the goal towards which present action is aimed. Just as past conscious experience serves to motivate the goal-seeking behavior of humans, so past vegetative experience determines the goal-seeking activity of vegetative action.

“Putting all these points together, we can say that a vegetative action will qualify as telelogical if it can be shown to be a self-generated action caused by a mechanism whose existence, organization, fuel, and terms of operation result from the survival benefit that past instances of the goal have provided the organism in similar previous circumstances.” (p. 88).

Put in simpler terms, Binswanger’s argument becomes: organisms act like they do because that’s what they did before. In his view, organisms are not pursuing current goals for their own sake, but because they are similar to past goals, and because pursuing such goals has worked in the past.

I don’t think so.

According to Binswanger, a current vegetative action is goal- directed because the organism took this action before – _somehow_ – and the action resulted in a value for the organism. Once taken, the action became an individual or evolutionary habit, and we can call the organism’s actions _goal-directed_ because it is aimed at the past goal.

The organism and its descendents may have been “smart” enough to learn from their actions – but how did the first organism manage to take those actions the first time? Was it completely random, an accident, or what? Does he mean to imply that the whole history of life is one long series of felicitous accidents?

While I appreciate the problem which Binswanger is addressing, viz., how can a non-conscious organism be moved by the future, I find that his theory does not sit well with my knowledge of the nature of living things. What is distinctive about life as opposed to the actions of inanimate matter? It’s _goal-directedness_ – “a process of self- maintained and self-generated action” – it acts to maintain its existence – the goal of its actions is the perpetuation of life. And the essence of my difficulty lies in what I know to be the enormous creative power of life to fulfill that goal. His theory gives no explanation, other than the usual suggestions of accident or chance, as to how _new_ adaptive actions arise. Without the answer to that question, I don’t think Binswanger has solved the “problem” of vegetative action.

The history of life is the history of ever-changing forms, new ways of fulfilling life’s goal of self-perpetuation. Its history is replete with the coming into existence of new forms, new characteristics, new abilities. Certainly, like the knowledge of a conscious being, these are not created _ex nihilo_, i.e. there must be some relationship between the new forms and abilities and the old ones. But, the mere repetition of old forms of action is _not_ an adequate description of living action.

Ultimately, I believe Binswanger takes a too-reductionistic approach to biology, as he takes a too-behavioristic view of psychology. For example, he says “A dog’s desire for an affectionate pat from its master is a consequence of its memory of similar past instances of affection.” (p. 77)

These statements imply an associationist view of dog action. Surely, once the dog has received and enjoyed pats, the memory serves as motivation. But, for one thing, his explanation gives no consideration as to why the dog sought pats _in the first place_. And yet, anyone who has observed animals knows that they initiate all kinds of actions – they seek, they explore, they try things out long before they know what the consequences will be. Purposeful behavior can be self-initiated in a way that doesn’t necessarily depend _solely_ on past experience, either personal or evolutionary.

And in his discussion of proximate causes, he frequently uses the word “mechanism” to describe living action. I think this use, and in general the mechanist approach to living action, is unfortunate. Machines operate automatically to achieve ends set by men. Generally, they act in a straight line to their ends, very unlike the behavior of life.

Organic behavior is characterized by its variability in the face of obstacles, in order to reach its goals. A plant will grow in one direction, and then another and another in its attempts to go around a rock and reach the sun. Ludwig Von Bertalaanfy, who wrote extensively on general systems theory, called this characteristic the “equifinality” of living action: the means vary, the end remains the same.

In fact, exploration of conscious beings is like the multiple attempts of vegetative organisms to reach goals. The constant in the actions is the attempt on the part of the organism to fulfill its needs; its pursuit of values.

Binswanger only touches on the issue of creativity in his comments on purposeful behaviour: “In the case of novel goals conceived by human beings, the cause of the goal-idea is to be found in the psychological effects of the previously perceived constituents of the novel goal.” (p. 79) Note how, in this explanation, he avoids the problem of the generation of the new, by his hand-waving phrase “psychological effects,” and how he attributes the creation of the novel to previous perception alone. While creative thinking is certainly _dependent_ on previous experience, that alone does not account for it. Internally generated needs and values play just as important a role in the existence of creative ideas.

Let’s look back at the nature of conscious action to see if we can understand how vegetative action operates. When an animal is born, it has an internally generated set of needs, and of actions it can take to fulfill those needs. It moves and acts in attempts to fulfill its needs. Often, the more intelligent animals try all kinds of things without apparent ends in mind, but with, apparently, the need to find out about the world in order to learn how to live in it – they explore. During their explorations, they discover that certain actions cause certain desirable, need-fulfilling results – like getting a pat on the head from their master. Consequently, they repeat these actions because they now know that they will have valuable results.

In my analysis of this sequence, the animal’s original actions were _not_ random or accidental in origin or _intent_ – they were taken for the purpose of finding out how some need could be fulfilled. The exploratory actions were quite goal-oriented, that is, to the _internal_ goal of fulfilling a need of the organism. Once the animal discovered by what means it could fulfill that need, it learned to take that series of actions again – it’s apparent goal became the pat on the head. But, ultimately, it’s goal still remains the fulfillment of its needs – in the process of self-maintenance and self-generation.

This applies in a parallel manner to vegetative action. The organism (whether it be a plant or the vegetative levels of an animal’s being) has a set of internally generated needs to fulfill, and of abilities or actions it can take to fulfill those needs. It moves and acts to fulfill those needs, it grows one direction to reach the sun, then another, then another, until it finds the direction of sunlight and gets around that rock. The fulfillment of its internal needs are the goal towards which it is acting, until it achieves the values which fulfill those needs. That is the nature of life.

Thus, the problem of the means by which vegetative action is directed to a future goal evaporates – because the goal of vegetative action is always the fulfillment of the present needs of the organism.

As far as the creation of new modes of action, just as organisms continuously rearrange the sequences of actions which they take to reach external goals, so I think they rearrange their internal sets of abilities to create new modes of action and new values. This is certainly the case in the development of creative thinking. And on the biological level, the origin of such complex systems as the eye are too unlikely to happen by a long series of chance mutations, and are too obviously functional _as a whole system_ in promoting the well-being of the organism, to have been caused by accident.

Binswanger began his argument by saying that purposeful action was the paradigm case from which we get our idea of teleology. In his discussion of vegetative action, he even tended to use concepts of consciousness, such as “value_significance_” and “_terms_ of operation.” Ironically, I think that, in fact, purposeful action is just another expression of life’s basic nature – its ability to act towards goals. It may be that in the ontology of concepts, teleology comes from purpose, but in the ontology of being, purpose comes from teleology.

Interestingly, in the arguments in which he attempts to _explain_ the goal-directedness of vegetative action, his very description of the proximate causes _assumes_ the existence of goal-directedness. On page 39, Binswanger says “Likewise, on the vegetative level, teleological explanation, I will argue, is not an irreducibly separate kind of explanation, but is rather a less detailed form of ordinary mechanical explanation in terms of efficient causes.” And on page 86, he says “The view I am defending, on the other hand, _assigns causal efficacy only to efficient causes_, but distinguishes between two kinds of efficient cause: proximate and ultimate.”

But he then describes the proximate causes as:

1. the fuel and

2. the _directive_ mechanism “whose existence, organization, fuel, and terms of operation result from the survival benefit that past instances of the goal have provided the organism in similar previous circumstances.” (p. 88). And Binswanger quotes Simpson as saying “To understand organisms, one must explain their organization.” (p. 82)

_How_ is the mechanism directive? What does “organization” mean? The Oxford English Dictionary defines “organization” as “The action of organizing or condition of being organized as a living being; connection or coordination of parts for vital functioning…” What do the terms “directive” and “organization” imply but goal-oriented functioning? This makes the proximate causes _already_ goal-directed in themselves, apart from any consideration of any ultimate goals towards which they may be directed. It seems as if final causation, “ultimate” causation, is included in his very concept of proximate cause. And that is not surprising, because I don’t think that one can, in fact, reduce the proximate causes to mere mechanical causation. Life isn’t like that.

Copyright © 1995 by Marsha Familaro Enright. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to the author and inclusion of her byline.