Thursday, September 30, 2004

Limitations of Restraint

Liberals seem to have literally childish views on war and peace. Apparently many of them seem to believe that if we just close our eyes and bury our head in the sand the Islamic terrorism will go away. Their view are so absurd as not really worth discussing. However, despite a reputation for toughness, most Conservatives do not seem to fully understand the necessity of fighting a total war either. They insist that carefully limited engagement that selectively target isolated individuals or groups, while giving maximum protection to so-called innocent civilians is the road to long-term victory. This means, among other things, that we place the values of our own soldiers below the value of any enemy civilians. I think this is neither moral, nor will it work in the long run. Neither in Iraq nor in Israel.

With respect to Iraq, Andrew Sullivan has this important commentary today on Iraq:

The inability or unwillingness of the U.S. to seal the borders or effectively counter the terror contributes to the general view that the insurgents are going to win, and therefore the notion that the U.S.-led liberation may make matters even worse than they were before...
The key moment was probably when George W. Bush blinked in Fallujah. That was when the general population inferred that we were not prepared to win. It's amazing, really. This president has a reputation for toughness and resolution. Yet at arguably the most critical moment in this war, he gave in. He was for taking Fallujah before he was against it.

With respect to Israel, DEBKA, has this insightful commentary:
Clearly, the Sharon government by locking itself into a preconceived plan is being thrown back on bad defense measures instead of pursuing effective offensive action that would offer Israel a true escape from harsh reality.

It would appear that in both places means short of what's necessary are employed. Certainly, it is easy for me to sit in the comfort of home and criticise. But that does not change the fact the current approach is not working. Both the US and Israel need to put the needs of their own populations and soldiers first and need to be a lot more ruthless than they have been. The moral ideas that the leaderships of both countries use must change. For some suggestions see here.


Monday, September 20, 2004

Abortion

Even though I got bored with my analysis of the Prager-Harris interview, I thought it important to address one last issue in it, namely the issue of abortion. During the interview Prager issues the following challenge:

DP: Well, then, that may be a result of your secularism and my religiosity. For example, where does your secular reason lead you to on abortion? A woman wants an abortion for no other reason, no health reason, as in ninety-five percent of the cases, because she did not use birth control and she does not want to come to term. What is your rational, secular view of that abortion? Is it moral, immoral, amoral? I’m not talking legality, I’m talking morality.

Since Prager is not interested in the legality of it, I'll address the morality of it only. In general I would say it is moral, though in specific cases it may be immoral. I hope I will be allowed to specify context here as in some ways this is analogous to the morality of "killing." The morality of any given "killing" depends on who you are killing and why -- is it self-defense or murder? Now, admittedly in the case of abortion many of these questions are eliminated but not all. The morality of an abortion depends on two factors. First, it depends only in a limited way on the status of fetus. From an Objectivist viewpoint, following Aristotelian terminology, the fetus is a potential human being, not an actual one. Thus, rights do not apply to it until it is born. However, there is a further issue which has to do with the development of the fetus from a zygote to an embryo and fetus, all the way to what amounts to a baby.

Therefore I would say that at the beginning of the pregnancy, in what is usually termed the first trimester, since one is dealing with a rather undeveloped growth, abortions for almost any reason are moral. So in the case of Prager's question of "an abortion for no other reason, no health reason...because she did not use birth control and she does not want to come to term" I think the answer in the first trimester is clear. It is moral. I think it would in fact be immoral if she were forced to carry the child to term. The woman should however be condemned for not using birth-control, on egoistic grounds. It is not in the woman's rational self interest to prefer abortions to birth-control.

Further along in the pregnancy, the onus of moral justification falls more heavily on the woman than before both in terms of the rationality of the decision and in terms of the moral status of the fetus. A morality that upholds life as the standard value does not encourage life-destroying actions if they could have been prevented. As the fetus enters its second trimester and beyond, it becomes more and more like a baby, a fact that cannot be ignored by women. However, there are still cases even late when abortion can be moral. Clearly, the mother's life always trumps the fetus, as the born take moral precendence over the not-yet born, the actual over the potential. Additionally, there may be cases when substantial genetic defects are discovered late in the pregnancy. But barring those cases, in a case of a late term abortion "for no other reason, no health reason...because she did not use birth control and she does not want to come to term" the woman would be immoral and she should be condemned, both because she waited too long putting her own life at greater risk and now requiring a major operation and because the fetus is almost indistinguishable from a baby at this point and she had an opportunity to eliminate it before it reached this stage.

As an aside, the specific procedure used to abort the fetus seems completely irrelevant to the morality of the operation. Here, once the abortion has been evaluated as moral, the only question should be which procedure will be best for the woman in preserving her health.

For further information on abortion see this site.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Interview Analysis: Part V

Skipping some of the small-talk, the next important exchange in the Prager-Harris interview proceeds as follows:

DP: I think the university is a moral failure because it is radically secular. You think it’s a failure because they’re just weak-willed and politically correct. So that’s one difference between us. But let’s go to your basic argument; there are two of them. One, reason will lead us to a better world, and [two], that religion is a real problem.

Let me begin with the religion part, which is your favorite part in the bulk of your book. Why can’t you say, “Some religion is terrific, and some religion leads to evil?” Why the blanket dismissal? I am guided by religion, and I bet I have very similar values in many areas to you.

SH: Right. Right. Well, the first thing to say is that most of our religious texts have in them propositions that are entirely noble and wise and blameless and brilliant, and of course there is no issue to take with them. You can’t argue, really, in any deep way, against the Golden Rule. It’s a beautiful distillation of our ethical intuitions. But first of all, there are beautiful statements of equal usefulness in many other books.

Mr. Harris preliminary remark here is largely true, even if I would disagree with his example of the Golden Rule ("do to others as you would have them do to you", Luke, 6-31). But in fact, if one takes some of the pronouncements in Bible and places them within a rational context they can be interpreted rationally and certainly not all are wrong. But that hardly justifies using the Bible as a basis for a moral code.

DP: Like what? I use my Bible as the basis of my values. What book can I look in to learn Sam Harris’s values?

SH: Well, it’s certainly distributed over many books.

DP: Well, give me five. See, if you don’t have a text, that means Sam Harris is the author of his values. And I don’t trust that.

SH: No, no, I would certainly never claim that.


The above exchange represents the crux of the problem for religious people. This goes beyond books. What Prager is really hinting at here is that for him, all moral values ultimately derive from authorities. Thus Prager thinks he is in the best possible position, as he is relying on the Ultimate authority, namely God. The most revealing statement is Prager's "if you don't have a text, that means Sam Harris is the author of his values... [a]nd I don't trust that." An author, at least in fiction, is someone who makes up a world of his own and puts it on paper. The possibility that Prager fails to acknowledge is that values and virtues, as principles, could be discovered, rather than authored, just as scientific principles in other fields are discovered. That is part of what would make them objective, despite being discovered by a specific person. This is of course only the tip of the iceberg and much more would need to be discussed to prove this but Prager is wrong to dismiss the possibility. Ideally, Mr. Harris should have challenged Prager along those lines.

Let's continue with the interview analysis.

DP: OK, then, tell me. I tell you the author of my values is my religion, Judaism, or broadly speaking, Judeo-Christian values. Where can I look for your values?

SH: Well, honestly, it’s distributed. You can certainly find many of them in the Bible, in your own book. You can find many of them in Ecclesiastes, say. Or you can find them in the New Testament. I think the Sermon on the Mount is a brilliant and quite a wonderful document, and an ideal that many of us should try to live for, or live toward. But where I want to locate the source of our values is in our free inquiry of the world, in the present moment, and in dialogue with human beings in the present moment, in this generation, in the midst of our problems.

DP: Why does one preclude the other? I believe in the text, I believe it’s divine, and I believe that we have to look at the moment to figure out how to apply the text to the moment.

I understand what Mr. Harris is trying to say but given his premises, Prager clearly has the upper hand. If Mr. Harris insists on relying on traditional texts as source for moral values, he can't then claim that "free inquiry of the world" is the source. It really is one or the other. Free inquiry, if by that he means reason, if consistently applied will lead to the rejection of reliance on any texts. But if texts are the ultimate source, if the starting point is necessarily what's written in some text then what is wrong with Prager's approach? Mr. Harris needs to clearly distinguish the fact that he may have some values in common with religious people from relying on religious sources for the justification of his values. That said, his praise of the Sermon on the Mount puts him in the category of people who have secularized the religious ethics without any attempt at rational analysis.

I think for now I'm going to cut my analysis short, as I am getting somewhat bored with it. There are so many errors on both sides that it is too depressing to continue. Nevertheless, I'm sure I'll address much of the same issues in the future.



Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Interview Analysis: Part IV

The interview continues:

DP: I will defend the religious books, but you need to defend the alternative. Why is it that religious folks whom you fear turn out to be more morally accurate today than the secular folks at the university?

SH: Well, actually, I didn’t concede that first point. I think you would find that healthy people are going to be more or less the same across the board. But I agree with you that our discourse about any number of a variety of things right now in academia has really become unhitched from morality, as you and I know it.


I'm not entirely sure why Mr. Harris insists on substituting medical for moral terminology here. Healthy people and immoral people are not mutually exclusive categories. This seems to be part of the general trend on the part of Liberals to define evil as some kind of psychological disease. Also, Mr Harris should be careful here in his assumption that the morality he talks about and the morality Prager talks about amount to the same thing.

DP: I was going to say, “God bless you for saying it,” but ‘Spirituality’ bless you for saying it. And I’m not being sarcastic. I admire the fact that you, who are in academia, would say that. But don’t you ask what the root cause might be? To me it is clear: secularism.

As I have already discussed to some extent in Part II of this analysis it is not the secular nature of the universities that is to blame, but their irrationalism. Also, it is not at all clear to me that the original claim by Prager, that a thousand evangelical ministers would have greater moral acuity than a thousand liberal arts professors, would in fact be so obviously true. I'll concede that due to the irrationality of the universities it is more likely than not to be true in most cases (and certainly in the case of the war). However, religion comes with its own inherent irrationalities and it very much depends on the specific issue whether the ministers or the professors would be more irrational.

SH: Actually, no, I think the root cause in academia, certainly liberal academia now, is what we call “political correctness.” There are so many taboos in academia and in our culture at large, the one of which that I’m going up against most directly in my book is the taboo around criticizing faith itself, which is something you and I are going to differ on. But, there again…

Once again I have to bemoan the superficiality of Mr. Harris's analysis of the universities. "Political Correctness" is at best a description of a symptomatic trend. It is not an explanation of why institutions supposedly concerned with reason have turned against it. For a deeper analysis from a Conservative source I again suggest Lynne Cheney's Telling the Truth and, even better, from an Objectivist source, Dr. Peikoff's The Ominous Parallels. Fundamentally the answer comes from philosophy. Perhaps I will attempt to sketch a detailed answer at some point.

DP: Oh, no, there’s no taboo on criticizing Judaism or Christianity. There’s only a taboo in the university on criticizing Islam. It’s just… I differ with your read.

SH: Right. Well, I actually find that people are very reluctant to criticize faith itself, even when they don’t have it. I mean, in the privacy of their own salon, they’re going to speak wildly about anybody.

DP: Christianity? I mean, everyone who goes to university learns that Christianity is an impediment to progress. I mean, it is part of the
liberal arts curriculum.

I think I agree with Prager here. Universities these days feel very comfortable in criticising Christianity and even Judaism to some extent. Of course, there would be plenty to criticise. However, since they are criticising it from an multicultural, post-modernist standpoint, they are not much better than what they are criticising. The interview continues:

SH: Right. Well, you know, I don’t think this is at the core of either our agreement or our differences on this subject. I think that the problem we have to face now is, people are flying planes into our buildings because they believe their book was written by God. And it doesn’t seem to me that our proper response to that predicament is to say, “No, no, you have it wrong; OUR book was written by God.” That’s not a basis for dialogue; that’s not a basis for sorting out the excesses of human irrationality.

This is arguably Mr. Harris' most intelligent statement in this interview so far but he still gets something important wrong. He says "that's not a basis for dialogues; that not a basis for sorting out the excesses of human irrationality." Why on earth would anyone want to have a dialogue with people who fly airplanes into buildings? The response needs to be to locate the source of the problem and destroy it. A dialogue is no longer possible.

DP: Yet, ironically, it is really only very strongly religious Christians, by and large – and I’m not a Christian, I’m a Jew – who have been at the forefront of criticizing Islam today. And they are called, by your whole secular liberal world, racists and bigots for doing so.

SH: Right, right. I agree with you totally. I think it’s profoundly ironic that the most sensible statements about Islam to appear in our culture have come from our own religious dogmatists.

DP: It’s not ironic! Sam Harris, that’s where you and I differ, and let me just say, I appreciate your honesty, I really do. You are very rare, and I am happy to know you. But to me it is not ironic! It is their faith that gives them their [values and their] strength to say it.

SH: Well, then, I think we’re seeing it slightly differently. You take someone like Falwell, or Pat Robertson, who very clearly appreciate the danger posed to us by Islam. It seems to me they’re uniquely in a position to appreciate it, because they understand that people really do believe the letter of their holy books. And they’ve read the Koran, and they’ve perhaps read the Hadith, the commentarial tradition around it, and they know that the contents of these documents are antithetical to living in tolerance in a pluralistic world. And what has really hampered liberal discourse, intellectual discourse, ivory tower discourse on this subject is that secular people really cannot get it into their heads that when the guy looks into the video camera and says, “We love death more than the infidels love life,” and blows himself up, he really means it. He didn’t blow himself up for economic reasons.

DP: That’s right! You’re right. I agree with your critique perfectly. So then, where do we differ?

What the above exchange proves is not the superiority of a religious point of view over a secular one but rather the superiority of moral judgement, even coming from a religiuos point of view, to moral agnosticism. There are specific historical reasons why the current intellectual landscape is what it is. But it's quite clear that proper moral judgment is not inherent in religion (as can be seen in the current religious left for example or even in some of the less pleasant moral conclusions of the right), nor necessarily absent from the secular as can certainly seen in the Ayn Rand Institute. Moral judgement questions ultimately reduce to questions in the subject of epistemology -- the theory of knowledge. In order to establish moral conclusions we must first know how to establish any conclusions. It is as a result of the disintegration of epistemology on the secular side over the last few centuries that the average secular university professor is no longer able to judge right from wrong. The religious side has been subject to much the same influence though not to the same degree, which is why it frequently appears more rational than the the secular side.


Sunday, September 12, 2004

Interview Analysis: Part III

Continuing with the exchange, Sam Harris answers:

SH: Well, you bring up a very interesting point, and there are many different forces in our discourse intersecting here. First, let me just agree with you that liberal, ivory-tower discourse right now is certainly in many sectors bereft of real moral acuity, and the kind of discourse you have about Israel in particular vis a vis the conflict with the Palestinians – all of that is deplorable, and we might want to get into that.

Now, I'll give Mr. Harris some credit here. He seems to understand implicitly that the universities have issues (strange as it sounds, some people actually do believe that they are seats of "secular reason") but his understanding appears superficial. He does not zoom in on the source of the problem but merely mentions one of the most obvious manifestations -- the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nevertheless, he appears willing to condemn the universities in that respect which is certainly a positive thing. Harris concludes his answer by asking Prager to define morality.

SH: But your first question, really, it all turns on what you mean by morality.

DP: I’m very precise: Good and evil.

SH: Right. Take something even more precise than that. Just our aversion to human cruelty.
DP: OK. That’s great. I’m with you. Go ahead.

As usual in the above exchange both sides have problems. Harris's attempt to have Prager clarify what he means by morality is very appropriate. Prager's response is quite insufficient. However, Harris's attempt to be more precise is arguably even worse. Let's start with Prager.

Prager, due to his focus on the amoralism of what he terms the "secular left," clearly assumes that the terms "good and evil" are not controversial, or more accurately, that if they are accepted, there is no discussion about their application, that is, one either accepts good and evil or one does not, but if one does, there is no disagreement. This is clearly nonsense. It is true that there are now large segments in academia that do not think that morality and moral terms are relevant or useful. However, it is also true that there are other sections of academia and the left that have not abandoned those terms but insist on applying them and justifiying them in quite different ways than Prager and his religious friends would. Peter Singer, for example, certainly accepts good and evil and bases his defense of good and evil on utilitarian grounds. Prager and Singer have very little in common. Among other horrendous views, Peter Singer is a defender of animal rights. So Prager evades the existence of other moral views. What Prager should have said, if he wanted to be somewhat more specific, would be something along the lines of: "Good and Evil as established by traditional Judeo-Christian ethics." That is certainly what Prager believes and this moral view can be distinguished from other moral views by looking at what traditional Judaism and Christianity have held to be moral.

Mr. Harris apparently thinks that "our aversion to human cruelty" is more precise a view of morality than merely stating "good and evil." I am frankly baffled by what Mr. Harris means here but he elaborates as follows.

SH: I think that all of us who are well wired neurologically, and do not come into this world with whatever causes, you know, sociopathy – all of us have a predisposition to recoil at cruelty such as torturing other people certainly, and animals, and so forth. And we can all agree on that. I would argue that we don’t get that out of our religious books. In fact, our religious books offer rather equivocal testimony on the moral status of cruelty. There’s a lot of cruelty in them.

Whenever moderns start bringing in neurological explanations, I get highly suspicious. This is the same kind of thinking that leads to the denial of consciousness and free will. Here, Harris appears to be arguing that we are born with some form of empathy. I am not certain of this at all. I wonder what his evidence is. It seems to me that there is, for example, plenty of anecdotal evidence of cruelty in even young children. I still fail to see the relevance of this to moral questions. Whether or not we are born with a certain level of built-in empathy is clearly overshadowed but the vast amounts of lack of empathy throughout history. Certainly, religious books have plenty of cruelty, though particularly in the last century and until just recently, cruelty has not been limited to, nor primarily derived from religious sources. And I still fail to see how any of this is making morality more precise. It seems to be getting us off the subject completely. The most generous interpretation one could put on what Harris is saying is that cruelty, and thus evil, is learned, not inborn.

This is true but does not clarify very much what good and evil actually consists of. Again cruelty means different things in different moral views, whether religious or secular. And I could think of some cases where cruelty would be morally justified. But let's leave that aside for now and proceed with the analysis.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Interview Analysis: Part II

I'll proceed with the analysis of the Dennis Prager interview with Sam Harris. Let us look at the exchange immediately following the intial challenge. There are numerous things to criticise on both sides of this exchange. To begin with there are a number of incorrect assumptions evident in Prager's question:

DP: So, let me ask you this: I believe that if I took a thousand evangelical ministers – the folks that I think you have a certain fear of following their values – and I took a thousand professors in the liberal arts, I am convinced to the point that I would bet every penny I have made, that the moral acuity of the thousand evangelical ministers would dwarf the moral acuity of a thousand liberal arts professors. For which reason Lawrence Summers, for example, the president of Harvard, announced two years ago that the seat – the seat – of antisemitism in America had shifted to the university. The university had been the seat of support for Stalin. The university in Germany was the seat of the place to get Nazi philosophers. Where you get your faith in secular reason is to me unbelievable, given the record of the secular rationalists.

Note that Prager concludes by denigrating Harris's "faith in secular reason" -- a contradiction in terms, strictly speaking, though unfortunately in Mr. Harris's case probably correct. But the problem is that neither Prager's comparison of evangelical ministers with liberal arts professors, nor his other examples from history are in fact proper examples of "secular rationalists." (As an aside I reject the adjective "secular" as applied to reason -- in actuality anything else is not reason, even if similar in form).

Let's start with the liberal arts professors. To claim that they are representatives or advocates of reason betrays ignorance of either reason or the professors' views. Ironically, numerous illustrations of the irrationality of professors have been written by Conservatives. For example, in Lynne Cheney's (1995) excellent book Telling the Truth she notes that:

In fields ranging from education to art to law, the attack on truth has been accompanied by an assault on standards. The connection is seldom made clear. Indeed, one of the characteristics of postmodern thought is that it is usually asserted rather than argued, reasoned argument having been rejected as one of the tools of the white male elite. But the thinking seems to be roughly that absent external reality, distinctions of any kind are meaningless. (p. 18, italics added)

So yes, liberal arts professors may indeed be secular, in the sense of not religious, particularly when it comes of Christianity and Judaism (they frequently have no such hang-ups with respect to other mystical systems), but they are not rational and it is therein that the explanation for their lack of standards as well as values lies. As Cheney writes:

No accomplishment can be judged superior to any other--except as it promotes the interests of desired groups. Without the objective measures that an external reality would provide, who can really say, for example, that the work of some students is better than others? (p. 18)

Who indeed? But the rejection of reality is fundamentally irrational and thus cannot be used to impugn reason. It is therefore no surprise that the university is now "the seat of antisemitism in America." Antisemitism frequently goes hand in hand with irrationalism as was detailed in Dr. Peikoff's book The Ominous Parallels.

Let's proceed to the historical example that Prager gives. I admit I was initially confused by Prager's statement that "the university had been the seat of support for Stalin" -- I thought he meant Russian Universities, which were of course state controlled and would not have any choice in the matter, but obviously he means American and more generally European Universities. This is true, but again, what makes Prager think that American and European communists and communist sympathizers in the Universities are "secular rationalists?" Again, certainly communists are materialists and thus secular. But Prager, as someone who has studied about communism at the universities surely knows that Marxism is anything but rational, explicitly rejecting Aristotelian logic for dialectical materialism that allows for contradictions, as well as accepting polylogic, since there is bourgois logic and proletarian logic. This is not to mention some of the other even more irrational post-Marxist doctrines that the later supporters of the Soviet Union adopted. So again we come to the conclusions that, certainly, there has been secular support for evil but it isn't actually rational.

Finally, Prager's mentions that "the university in Germany was the seat of the place to get Nazi philosophers." As it happens a whole book, already mentioned above, has been written on precisely this subject. In The Ominous Parallels, Dr. Peikoff describes in some detail that "that German Nazism was the inevitable climax of a centuries-long philosophic development, preaching three fundamental ideas: the worship of unreason, the demand for self-sacrifice and the elevation of society or the state above the individual." Again, I would hardly consider the "worship of unreason" to be representative of the views of the "secular rationalists." Therefore, while it is true much of Nazism support came from the German universities, that support cannot be used to attack "secular rationalists" because the professors were in fact not rational and not even entirely secular, as the presence of various mystical movements at the time indicates. Nazism, though frequently (and correctly) termed a "secular ideology" was in many ways far more compatible with various modes of mysticism than Marxism, which was explicitly materialist.
Interview Analysis: Part I

I'm going to leave the DIM Hypothesis for now because I feel a great desire to comment on the August 16, 2004 Dennis Prager interview with author Sam Harris (transcript available here). It is not so much that I have great sympathy for Mr. Harris, nor do I harbor any hatred for Mr. Prager. Mr. Harris is author of the book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and Future of Reason. The book's description, available on Mr. Harris's website, is instructive in this regard:

This important and timely book delivers a startling analysis of the clash of faith and reason in the modern world. The End of Faith provides a harrowing glimpse of mankind’s willingness to suspend reason in favor of religious beliefs, even when these beliefs inspire the worst of human atrocities. Harris argues that in the presence of weapons of mass destruction, we can no longer expect to survive our religious differences indefinitely. Most controversially, he maintains that “moderation” in religion poses considerable dangers of its own: as the accommodation we have made to religious faith in our society now blinds us to the role that faith plays in perpetuating human conflict. While warning against the encroachment of organized religion into world politics, Harris draws on insights from neuroscience, philosophy, and Eastern mysticism in an attempt to provide a truly modern foundation for our ethics and our search for spiritual experience.

One wonders in vain how Mr. Harris can warn us against the suspension "of reason in favor of religious beliefs," as well as that "'moderation' in religion poses considerable dangers of its own" and then a few sentences later admit that he himself "draws on insights from...Eastern mysticism." My viewpoint in all this is probably no secret but will become clear as I proceed with an analysis of the relevant parts of the interview.

After brief smalltalk Prager offers a challenge:

DP: How ironic. You could have come into the studio.

The book is “The End of Faith.” Let me begin with this challenge, because you make a strong indictment against using ancient texts, which I believe in, as a source of values. First, why do you believe, since you do believe, obviously, that in secularism and in reason lie the answers to the moral problems of humanity? Is that a fair summary of your views?


SH: Yes, up to a point. I’m actually not discounting the range of human experience we might want to call “spiritual” or “mystical.” In fact, I just think that we can explore that domain well within the bounds of rationality, which is to say there’s never a reason to make claims about the universe that can’t be substantiated, either by empirical evidence in a scientific sense, or by first person, introspective evidence. So, basically what I’m arguing for is intellectual honestly.

DP: OK. So am I. That’s one thing we both are arguing for, so that’s why I was so anxious to have you on – I suspect that does motivate you because, after all, any guy who takes your views and attacks Noam Chomsky at all is OK in my book.

SH: OK.

What is one to say in response? Frankly, already at this point I knew that Mr. Harris would ultimately get nowhere with Prager. Why? Because he is already conceding the whole case in his first substantive response. Of course, we already know from the description of his book noted above the Mr. Harris is not a big believer in consistency, or to put it more bluntly he thinks contradictions are in fact okay as long we don't go to extremes (So much for a so-called advocate of reason!). So apparently we don't need to dismiss the spiritual or mystical. Everything's on the table. The entire history of philosophy in which the mystical was examined in great detail and rejected is simply swept aside. Like a true modern, when confronted by a confident religionist, Mr. Harris clearly believes we need to keep an open mind with respect to such things. Pathetic! We'll discover more on how Mr. Harris actually thinks we arrive at moral conclusions later in this interview.

If I were to try to answer Prager's question in brief, I would say the following.

DP: First, why do you believe, since you do believe, obviously, that in secularism and in reason lie the answers to the moral problems of humanity? Is that a fair summary of your views?

GR: Morality is, as Ayn Rand correctly stated, "a code of values to guide man's choices and actions." The Oxford English Dictionary defines "secular" as "Of or pertaining to the world." There is only one world -- the one in which man lives. Reason, is man's only means of knowledge, including knowledge of what he should do and why, i.e., his virtues and values. Therefore objective values are necessarily dependent on a secular context and derived by reason. Any attempt to derive such values on an "otherworldly" or religious basis are literally absurd. So yes, as it happens, that is in fact a fair summary of my views.

Needless to say, in order to be fully convincing to anybody, this would require much elaboration but in brief that is the answer to Prager's challenge. I will proceed with the analysis of the interview in the next post.


Needless to say, from an Objectivist perspective, Integration represents the good, while the various forms of Misintegration and Disintegration are bad to varying degrees. In fact, as the DIM course proceeded, Dr. Peikoff further subdivided the Ms and the Ds into two types each.

M1 -- this represents mild misintegration. Mild in its effects. This view is still fundamentally relying on unreal elements as the foundation of its views but manages to somehow allow for large segments of rational, fundamentally reality based conclusions.

M2 -- this represents complete mintegration. In such a case there are no significant rational elements left.

D1 -- a mild form of disintegration. Argues for disintegration as the fundamental approach but retains a certain respect for some aspects of a more rational integrated approach.

D2 -- Complete disintegration. Is "consistent" in its complete rejection of any rational, reality based principles.
I'll begin by attempting to convey my understanding of Peikoff's DIM Hypothesis. To begin with DIM is an acronym made up of the three fundamental concepts in Dr. Peikoff's hypothesis. D stands for Disintegration, I for Integration, and M for Misintegration. From the description of the recent course:

The course is based on Dr. Peikoff's book-in-progress, The DIM Hypothesis, in which he looks at the role of integration in the culture and in practical life. As Dr. Peikoff recently explained: "my thesis is that the dominant trends in every key area can be defined by their leaders' policy toward integration: they are against it (Disintegration, D); they are for it, if it conforms to reality (Integration, I); they are for it, regardless of its relation to reality (Misintegration, M)."

A further word on the term "Integration" as used in the context of Objectivism. In her book Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology Ayn Rand discusses the fundamental processes of consciousness thus:

Consciousness, as a state of awareness, is not a passive state, but an active process that consists of two essentials: differentiation and integration.

Specifically, in terms of concepts:

A concept is a mental integration of two or more units which are isolated according to a specific characteristic(s) and united by a specific definition. [italics added]

Thus integration is fundamental to the nature of concepts. Dr. Peikoff argues that integration is not only fundamental to the nature of concepts but in fact a given intellectual sphere's attitude toward integration allows for a deeper understanding of that intellectual sphere's views on any number of issues. It turns out that regardless of the intellectual area, if its atttitude to integration is similar to another movement's then certain things will be the same about the two movements.

Integration is taken to mean that in a given intellectual area, the leaders of an intellectual movement identify the relevant factors in reality and relate and thus integrate them via a logical method. This method yields principles of understanding and action as appropriate and the movement is thus a systematic, integrated, reality-based approach.

One alternative to this is termed by Dr. Peikoff Misintegration. Misintegration amounts to attempting to do integration but doing it wrong. Here the leaders of an intellectual movement rely on unreal elements as the foundations of their views and attempt to combine them into a systematic view of the world. This approach also yields certain principles of understanding and action.

Finally, there is Disintegration. Here practitioners explicitly reject attempts at integration as misguided and wrong. The foundation of their views tends be reality based but is not limited to such elements since no attempt is made to systematize the views. This view is opposed to any principles of understanding or action.