Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Looking Forward to Part 3

Atlas Shrugged Part 2 earned a wretched $91,000 in its third weekend, compared to the $468,000 even its turkey predecessor was bringing in at the same point in its run.

Incidentally, Box Office Mojo estimates that Sandy may have affected sales by "at worst 10%".

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Atlas 2: An Even Bigger Bomb?

No surprises there.

Despite opening far wider than its predecessor, it's currently falling even faster and harder. Box Office Mojo has the brutal numbers.

Producer Harmon Kaslow claims that his movie is "not for everyone". Clearly he is a master of understatement.

And don't forget the unintentionally ironic merchandising.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ayn Rand & Epistemology 20

Definitions 5: Doctrine of Essence. Rand introduces essences in the chapter on definitions.

It is Aristotle who first formulated the principles of correct definition. It is Aristotle who identified the fact that only concretes exist. But Aristotle held that definitions refer to metaphysical essences, which exist in concretes as a special element or formative power, and he held that the process of concept-formation depends on a kind of direct intuition by which man’s mind grasps these essences and forms concepts accordingly. 
Aristotle regarded “essence” as metaphysical; Objectivism regards it as epistemological. 
Objectivism holds that the essence of a concept is that fundamental characteristic(s) of its units on which the greatest number of other characteristics depend, and which distinguishes these units from all other existents within the field of a man’s knowledge. Thus the essence of a concept is determined contextually and may be altered with the growth of man’s knowledge. The metaphysical referent of man’s concepts is not a special, separate metaphysical essence, but the total of the facts of reality he has observed, and this total determines which characteristics of a given group of existents he designates as essential. An essential characteristic is factual, in the sense that it does exist, does determine other characteristics and does distinguish a group of existents from all others; it is epistemological in the sense that the classification of “essential characteristic” is a device of man’s method of cognition—a means of classifying, condensing and integrating an ever-growing body of knowledge.

It is important to note the various connections that Rand maintains between essence, concepts, and definitions. She begins by introducing the Aristotle's view of essence. For Aristotle, essences are "metaphysical." They exist "in" concretes as a special element or "formative power." Rand, however, regards these essences as "epistemological." I've attempted to unpack the meaning of this phrase in another post; I will focus in this post on another side of the issue.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Part II Commences

So far seems to be tracking only slightly ahead of the former, despite being in 3x the number of cinemas this time around. Reviews say it still sucks.
Opening weekend stats.
Rotten Tomatoes.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Ayn Rand & Epistemology 19

Definitions 4: Doctrine of Definitions as Platonic Ideas. While Rand did not explicitly believe that definitions were analogous to platonic Ideas, her contention that definitions can be true or false implies that definitions are thoroughly platonic and exist as a kind of disembodied reality.

Definitions can either be regarded as defining the "true" meaning of words (as Rand regards them) or as defining what people mean by the words they use (which is how dictionaries regard them). Now for Rand's view of definitions to be true, words must have meanings independent of the meanings people intend to convey when using them. An individual may be trying to convey meaning X by using word A. But if the "true" definition of X is B rather than A, then the individual actually means B rather than A, irrespective of his intentions. This doctrine is, of course, absurd, yet it is one that Rand appears to have embraced. Consider the most notorious example, from the introduction to The Virtue of Selfishness:
The meaning ascribed in popular usage to the word “selfishness” is not merely wrong: it represents a devastating intellectual “package-deal,” which is responsible, more than any other single factor, for the arrested moral development of mankind.
In popular usage, the word “selfishness” is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.
Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word “selfishness” is: concern with one’s own interests.
This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Ayn Rand & Epistemology 18

Definitions 3: Doctrine of Anti-Concept and Invalid Concept. In Rand's infamous chapter on definitions in Introduction to the Objectivist Epistemology, we find the following bewildering assertion:
There are such things as invalid concepts, i. e. words that represent attempts to integrate errors, contradictions, or false propositions, such as concepts originating in mysticism -- or word without specific definitions, without referents, which can mean anything to anyone, such as modern "anti-concepts." Invalid concepts appear occasionally in men's languages, but are usually - though not necessarily - short-lived, since they lead to cognitive dead-ends. An invalid concept invalidates every proposition or process of thought in which it is used as a cognitive assertion. [IOTE, 49]

The most astonishing claim in this paragraph is the final sentence. Invalid concepts spread a kind of curse of invalidity upon everything which uses them as a "cognitive assertion." I'll assume that by "cognitive assertion," Rand means, an assertion about reality. If interpreted in this manner, is the statement true? Hardly. I've already, in previous posts, refuted it. Merely because a concept refers to extra-empirical entitites, or to contradictory beliefs, or to the unreal does not invalidate the concept! Nor does using those so-called "invalid" concepts, even in assertions about reality, invalidate those assertions. The concept bandersnatch can be used in "valid" (i.e., "true," "real") assertions about reality, namely: The bandersnatch is a swift moving creature with a long neck invented by Lewis Carroll. Or: The banderstatch does not exist.

Without realizing it, Rand's decision to regard some concepts as "invalid" not only places concepts referring to mythological creatures beyond the cognitive pale, it also casts a shadow of invalidity over concepts that refer to erroneous ideas. After all, should Marxism be regarded as an invalid concept? After all, Marxism integrates errors, contradictions, and false propositions. But if Marxism is an invalid concept, how are we supposed to refer to that body of thought that Karl Marx inflicted upon the world?