O.P.A.R. – Chapter 2: Preliminaries for Knowledge

“No type of sense perception can register everything. ‘A is A’ — and any perceptual apparatus is limited. By virtue of being able directly to discriminate one aspect of reality, a consciousness cannot discriminate some other aspect that would require a different kind of sense organs. Whatever facts the senses do register, however, are facts. And these facts are what lead a mind eventually to the rest of its knowledge.”
Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, pages 43-44.
(A pencil or a stick appears bent in water. The ancient assumed, therefore, that the senses are invalid. The problem is when the modern keep repeating the same thing.)

Epistemology is the science that tells a fallible, conceptual consciousness how to gain knowledge of an independent reality. This implies a volitional process operating on valid data. Therefore, before studying epistemology per se, Objectivism must establish two facts: that the senses are valid, and that man is free to think or not.

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Order, Duality and Darkness

“If I am the chief of sinners, I am the chief of sufferers also.”
— Dr. Jeckyll, in Robert Louis Stevenson’s, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde”, page 23.
(Dr. Jeckyll’s two friends chat with him from the street below, only to see him suddenly lose control and slam the window in their faces. Who does not have a Mr. Hyde looming in the darkness within?)

How amazing the power of order! The right order, of course; that which only a great writer achieves. For what is writing but finding the correct sequence of words amidst the chaos of possibilities? If you give a typewriter to a monkey, they say, and let him pound the keys for the whole of infinity, he will almost surely compose the “Iliad“. Yet man-the-thinking-ape needs only a handful of years to create his masterpieces. It’s not just about words or sentences or characters or plots. It’s almost like some premeditated crime, with all its malign machinations embedded into words, anticipating its consummation in an awe-inspiring passage. It was writing about darkness — and thinking about the darkness within — that I remembered “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and one of the best scenes I have ever encountered.

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The Story of Civilization: The Conditions of Civilization

Or the demon of earthquake, by whose leave we build our cities, may shrug his shoulders and consume us indifferently.
Will Durant, “Our Oriental Heritage“, page 1.
(Port-au-Prince, Haiti, soon after the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 160,000 people.)

SUMMARY: Every civilization has economic, political, moral and social elements, and depends on geological and geographical conditions for its existence. But what preserves civilization is its transmission to our children — and the technique of such transmission is education.

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The Story of Civilization: The Project

…that these volumes may help some of our children to understand and enjoy the infinite riches of their inheritance.
Will and Ariel Durant, ”The Story of Civilization – Volume 1“, Preface, page X.

I “met” Will Durant when looking for a book that presented the history of philosophy in a concise and not-too-complex way. His first book (and big bestseller), “The Story of Philosophy“, gave me just that. “Reading” it from a masterfully narrated audiobook by Grover Gardner greatly boosted my enthusiasm. So much so that it was looking for other narrations by Grover – not books by Durant – that I came across his “The Story of Civilization“, and I was simply flabbergasted.

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A Brief History of History

To use a ridiculously simplified metaphor: It’s as though both writers are painting a portrait of a woman sitting at a table. But while the novelist is painting from imagination and can give the woman any features, any race, any age, any dress, the historian is looking at an actual young, white woman sitting at a sidewalk table outside a St. Louis eatery…
Susan Wise Bauer, “The Well-Educated Mind”, page 164.
(Self-portrait by Aert de Gelder painting an ugly old woman, 1685. Just like this painter, the historian cannot paint history as he pleases.)

SUMMARY: What follows is a summary of Chapter 7 of “The Well-Educated Mind“, by Susan Wise Bauer, entitled “The Story of the Past: The Tales of Historians (and Politicians)”. All the content (but my final comment) is hers. The interested reader is well advised to buy her book for a full treatment on the liberal education we should all have.
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History of Philosophy – Lesson 3: Heraclitus and the World of Contradiction

A great many children live in that kind of world thanks to the wanton irrationality of their parents, whose behavior is characterized by constant switching and swimming so that nothing ever holds true from one moment to the next, and by constant contradictions. That is the perfect recipe for the Heraclitean world.
— Leonard Peikoff, “History of Philosophy” course, ARI, Lesson 3.
(Since very early in the history of philosophy, Heraclitus disregarded the senses as invalid and accepted contradiction in reality. Two and a half thousands years later, we still see the effects of such errors.)

Thales gave rise to philosophy by relying on sensory experience and reason. The next philosopher in line [1]Heraclitus — not only trailed a different path, but ignited a chain-reaction that ran through history toppling like dominos all that man tried to erect with his reason. It all began with the problem of change and multiplicity; it all ended with my thirteen-year-old niece asking petulantly: “Why can’t I simply decide I am a boy?”

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Approaching Darkness

Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.
— Carl Gustav Jung

I am at my desk, very early in the morning, a cup of coffee in my hand and a blank page on the computer screen. The humidity in the air combines with the crusting in my eyes to make the view hazy, dream-like. In contrast, the dream itself is crystal clear in my memory, so fresh I can almost smell sulfur. It is not the prettiest of mornings, and it will be hot. I feel cold.

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O.P.A.R. – Commentary: Metaphysical Evasion

Realism […] becomes a synonym for mindless conformity. In this view, it is ‘unrealistic’ to […] reject racism when Hitler is in power… This approach leads to the sanctioning of the status quo, however debased, and thus turns its advocates into pawns and accessories of evil.
Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 26.
(German women in Czechoslovak Sudetenland joyfully greeting Hitler after the first of a series of absurd invasions that led to World War II. They had submitted their own individual’s perception of reality to that of the group, and, by doing so, willingly blinded themselves. As Pascal warns in Pensées : “We run heedlessly into the abyss after putting something in front of us to stop us seeing it.”)

Almost every protagonist in a story has an antagonist, something or someone who will try to prevent her from achieving her goals. It is normal to imagine some kind of “bad guy”, and Ayn Rand actually seems at times to see the world’s problems as the fruit of machiavellian machinations of Kant and his successors. But in her saner moments, she exactly pinpoints the true evil, an impersonal force that plagues humanity, the arch-enemy of Objectivism: evasion.

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O.P.A.R. – Chapter 1: Reality

The unwritten book of Ayn Rand.

SUMMARY[1]: This is a series of posts that summarize and comment each chapter of the book “Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand” (O.P.A.R., for short). This book was written by Leonard Peikoff, heir and greatest disciple of Ayn Rand, and may be regarded as the book she would have written had she not been so attached to fiction. As we have “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead,” we forgive her.

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