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Peikoff on Copyright, Michael Jackson

On episode 70 of Objectivist Leonard Peikoff’s podcast (which I listen to from time to time and often enjoy), he informs us that it’s rational to mourn the death of a celebrity like Michael Jackson, even though (or even if) he also did terrible things, if he was a musical genius and if that matters to you. Whew.

He also responds to a question about someone filming an interview where there is a painting hanging over a mantle in the background. The questioner, an anarchist, asks if this is right; and if so, why shouldn’t the director also have to pay royalties to the person who painted the wall itself over the mantle.

In Peikoff’s reply he denigrates anarchists as those who don’t believe in rights (see his weak Anarchism is evil, claiming that anarchism is a form of “subjectivism”); he cavalierly dismisses the “ridiculous” notion that the painter of the wall deserves royalties–after all, he does nothing original; he just uses methods and paint invented “by others” (one wonders why he is entitled to paint the wall at all, according to Objectivist notions on IP). But he never answers the question of why, or even whether, the documentary maker should have to pay royalties to the artist who painted the painting. And he sets out a typically confused justification of IP as having to do with people who invent something “original” that “has” “marketable value.” Whatever. Here are some other notes on earlier shows, adapted from emails to friends about this.

On Attending Church and Being a Bridesmaid, Tenure, and Drugs for Grief; and the Morality of Show Notes

On the podcast around May 20, 2009–although he previously said it’s okay to be a bridesmaid at a religious wedding, he now says it’s immoral to play an instrument for money at a wedding–you are aiding and abetting immorality!  Harumph. Also: he claims tenure to be “immoral.” He said in another one around this time that it’s moral to take psychotropic drugs to help you deal with extreme grief. A listener wrote in to ask if he could add show notes on his site, but Peikoff said he’s doing the show for free and has no time; and doesn’t trust anyone else, since they might make a mistake.

Is it Irrational to be Fat? Masturbation; Attending Church

On episode 51 or 52, I think, he answers the question of whether you can be an Objectivist if you are very fat; and then he answers another one about masturbation, opining on its philosophical benefits.

Peikoff also says that it’s okay for an Objectivist to go to a religious ceremony, even do the kneeling, following along in saying prayers, etc.

They have an answer for everything!

Abortion

On another podcast, he or his participants discuss abortion–and make the standard offhand Randroid comment that you can never outlaw abortion even at late stage, even if fetus is viable, because it’s inside the woman–and “dependent” on her. Note that they also think it’s okay to kill civilians in bombing their enemy government, and presumably to kill a hostage held by a bad guy, to save yourself. But it seems to me this is inconsistent. If we assume the baby is late-stage enough to clearly have rights, then what is the relevance that it “is” “dependent” on the mom? So what. It seems to me the mom is analogous to the hostage: you have to kill the hostage to save yourself (or some loved one).  Likewise, what if you have to kill the mom (actualy, do less: just restrain her actions, prevent her from aborting) to save the baby?

Update: see Objectivist Hate Fest

Objectivism hates God more than gays; prostitution and sex

Around Nov. 2008, Peikoff pontificates on the gay marriage vote in California. He says both sides are wrong, but if forced to choose he would choose the pro-gay-marriage side, since letting gays marry is trivial, but the religious types are a serious threat, blah blah blah.

He also repeated his bizarre claim that there is no purpose to prostitution since (a) the purpose of sex is some intimate sexual union; and (b) if all you want is physical pleasure, you can just “take care of that yourself”.

What is bizarre IMO is his repeated insistence in several podcasts that the purely physical pleasure derived from masturbation is “as good as” that derived from, say, sex with a call girl. “The orgasmic climax is the same.” Uhh, okay.

Peikoff on Circumcision (whim-worshipping!), Down’s Children (Immoral!), and dualism (ehhh, depends); Lying

On the 10/27 podcast Peikoff comments about circumcision that he’s against it, it’s mutilation, (see around 5:19-).  There is no legitimate reason–it’s either “primitive religion, abject conformity, or the evil of destructiveness.” Uh, the evil of destructiveness…??

At 11:25 he addresses free will and dualism. He says that he rejects dualism in the Platonic sense of “opposing” realms. But he also rejects monism if it’s the type that makes you choose–either the material world is real (materialism) and the conscience is just an illusion; or the idea that only consciousness is real (idealism). rather, they are “dualists” in the sense of agreeing that there are two things (matter, causal things; and consciousness, or the will, teleology), but they are integrated, and not opposed to each other, and have “different characteristics–gravity will make your body drop, but not your “mind”. Now note that this is eerily similar to Hoppe’s own dualistic approach and his realistic reformation of MIsesian epistemolgoy–basically the same thing. Of course Hoppe would not say the teleological and causal realms are “opposed” to each other.

Note also then Peikoff, after saying that the faculty of perception is a different “kind of thing” than “matter,” and has “different characteristics” (it doesn’t fall due to gravity like a ball would), he says that “and ONE of the attributed of consciousness is that it has free will”.  Wow, how easy! This is very similar to Machan’s “ontological” argument regarding this issue (and Kelley too), when they just assert downward causation; and also Machan’s approach to IP. After all, there are “ontologically” different types of “entities,” each having different “attributes.” We “create” some of these “things,” and “therefore” “own” them, just as you own material things you appropriate. Why not just let there be ownership rights in all “kinds” of ontological “things”? What’s it harm? (In my view, this is similar to liberals’ rights-inflation–how inventing new, positive rights is not free; it comes at the expense of negative, natural rights.)  It’s a way of brushing the problem under the table.

BTW in the 11/3 podcast, Peikoff (at about 6:25) declaims it to be immoral to carry a Down’s Syndrome baby to term–based in part on the idea that it is not self-supporting (productive).  He thus adopts the Provenzo-Hsieh horrible quasi-euthenestic approach they share.

At 4:58: Peikoff justifies his view that lying is okay to protect your privacy–the reason being that if you just refuse to answer or say “none of your business” in some contexts, that is tantamount to an admission. This reminds me of Randy Barnett’s view that it’s not fraudulent or vitiates an agreement if one party lies about some aspect of the purchase–in his Rational Bargaining Theory and Contract: Default Rules, Hypothetical Consent, the Duty to Disclose, and Fraud:

Once again the issue involves the meaning of silence. To fail to disclose some fact is to remain silent about it. Those who favor a duty to disclose contend that sometimes such silence can constitute a fraudulent misrepresentation. This implication of silence is graphically highlighted in the Laidlaw case by the buyer’s silence in the face of the seller’s direct question concerning whether the buyer had any information that would affect the price of tobacco. The buyer’s silence conveyed a false representation that the buyer had no such information. Was this intentional misrepresentation fraudulent? I say no.

On the Patriot Act:

In the podcast around Sept. 13, 2008 he seems to oppose the PATRIOT act and spying on civilians… and offhandedly criticizes Bush for the way he’s fighting the war on terror, in part because Bush he hasn’t “declared” the war. If he had, that woul be different, … but “you have to do that”… a bizarre legalistic viewpoint I’ve heard other Randians make.

On Masturbation (around Sept. 3, 2008):

On this one, asked him about going to a prostitute for pure physical pleasure, or for conversation. Peikoff says that you can’t have real conversation with her, so that’s not the reason. And he says, as for pure pleasure, self-pleasure should suffice. Well, okay then! He had some dismissive comment that masturbation is as good as “rubbing on someone else” if you just want “mere” physical pleasure. Incredible.

On Ethics for Terminal People (Aug. 18, 2008):

In this one, he has some bizarre comments about ethics for dying people. Someone asked him about someone, say, with a tumor and months to live–why shoudln’t he take a huge loan out that he can’t repay, or kill an enemy. (Peikoff also does a decent job criticizing Aristotle’s idea of the “mean.”) Peikoff says that ethics is not for the dying. It’s for the living who have long-range projects. Then he tries to weasel out of it by saying why would the guy want the money anyway. Well, okay, maybe he wants it for a kid. And maybe he wants to kill some scoundrel who is dating his daughter and sure to ruin her life. He also says that society itself would still have a justification in stopping the a-moral ethics-less terminal guy from committing crimes.

Peikoff says that most of the time since you led a moral life, being moral is ingrained so you would not wan to do it. But then he says, bizarrely, that in some cases, e.g. where you could kill some bad person–no time to wait for the justice system to operate, or someone you really want to help–then you “should take advantage of the inapplicability of morality, he can get away with it”. !!! You “should” “take advantage of the inapplicability of moraltiy” ?! To “get away with it” to achieve what you want? This is just so screwed up on so many levels.

On Bridge and Philosophy (around Aug. 13, 2008):

Peikoff says bridge is a lot more difficult mentally than philosophy.

Other

Other Peikoffiana: I recall that one of his audiotaped debates or lectures from years back, he stammered for a term to use for some vile person, and said “these …. these …. entities.”; and see my posts Rand on Collateral Damage; Objectivism Schism Form Letter; The Ignoramus Division of Randianism; Centralist, Pro-War Objectvists on Paul; Trouble in Paradise: Objectivists on Voting for Democrats; see also Diana Hsieh’s post Leonard Peikoff’s Podcasts.

Not all bad

Peikoff is good on some things too, such as the rise of the Nazis and Hitler, e.g. see p. 15 et pass of The Ominous Parallels; also excerpted here; on axioms etc., pp. 11-12 of OPAR. And I think he said once in response to a quesiton about when we were gonna respect the rights of mosquitos–“when they ask for them”!

He also tells a funny joke in one episode:

Q: What do you get when you drop a piano down a mine shaft?
A: “A Flat Minor.”

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{ 12 comments… add one }

  • Martin July 14, 2009, 10:55 am

    What I find most odd is that it was Rand’s writing that brought me to libertarianism at all; but now, looking back, I can’t stand much of Objectivism’s ideas, its IP stance amongst them.

  • JT July 14, 2009, 12:02 pm

    I listen to LP’s podcasts every week. Part of each podcast is boring to me, but most parts I do find interesting.

    Regarding the painting question, I don’t understand your comment. In essence, LP said that IP law only applies to original artistic and scientific creations. A painting is an original artistic composition, the result of individual mental work applied to physical action. So that’s protected under the law. A painted wall consists of physical action, no original mental effort. So that’s not protected. Seemed pretty clear to me, even if you disagree.

    I also don’t understand your comment regarding the abortion question. You say, “If we assume the baby is late-stage enough to clearly have rights…” Obviously, that’s not an assumption that Objectivists share. Oists say the concept of rights is applicable only to those entities that have a conceptual faculty and are biologically separate (i.e., have already been born). So I don’t understand your confusion about his position there either.

    Also, why do you use the term Randian instead of Objectivist? Is that meant to be a snide jab or something? If so, why?

  • Stephan Kinsella July 14, 2009, 1:04 pm

    JT:

    “Regarding the painting question, I don’t understand your comment. In essence, LP said that IP law only applies to original artistic and scientific creations. A painting is an original artistic composition, the result of individual mental work applied to physical action. So that’s protected under the law. A painted wall consists of physical action, no original mental effort. So that’s not protected. Seemed pretty clear to me, even if you disagree.”

    He wasn’t axed a legal question. He was asked about the way the law should be. He did hand-waving to justify the way the law is and then ignored the main question.

    “I also don’t understand your comment regarding the abortion question. You say, “If we assume the baby is late-stage enough to clearly have rights…” Obviously, that’s not an assumption that Objectivists share.”

    I don’t agree. They simply think it’s irrelevant since the baby is dependent.

    “Oists say the concept of rights is applicable only to those entities that have a conceptual faculty and are biologically separate (i.e., have already been born).”

    Which is a stupid position to take.

    “Also, why do you use the term Randian instead of Objectivist? Is that meant to be a snide jab or something? If so, why?”

    Yes, because they deserve it.

    • Nilakshi December 14, 2012, 6:19 pm

      Post-modernism!That’s hilarious!Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite down on post-modernism. I droeppd out of my PhD in Philosophy because my chosen area of expertise (Logic) was desperately unfashionable internationally (and, hence, very hard to get a job in). That’s because the ‘in’ fashion at the time was ‘continental’ philosophy and post-modernism, and its attacks on logicism were being taken a bit seriously. But Hegel and Heidegger are a passing fad. But:a) Post-modernism is, like, so last decade. It’ll hang around for years as aging academics reflexively teach what was in when they wrote their thesis to generations of undergrads, but so did other silly meta-theories like positivism and they didn’t do much long-term harm. English depts are a lost cause, of course, but who cares about them really. b) Academic views on what makes an argument good have very little effect on real-world argument or debate. Engineers are not about to give up on logic. Nor are policy wonks. c) You’re a bloody social-constructivist about science. So where the hell do YOU get off attacking post-modernists? Hadn’t you noticed they are your comrades?

  • JT July 14, 2009, 1:36 pm

    “He wasn’t axed a legal question. He was asked about the way the law should be. ”

    The questioner said someone essentially asked him what the diff. was between a painting and wall paint in the context of IP. LP then essentially answered that one is an artistic product that required creative mental effort, which IP law should and does cover, while the other one isn’t. I don’t recall the questioner asking him to present a comprehensive argument on the philosophic justification for IP.

    “I don’t agree. They simply think it’s irrelevant since the baby is dependent.”

    No, they don’t think it’s “irrelevant.” They say the concept doesn’t *apply* to a fetus in utero because it’s not a biologically separate entity with a conceptual faculty, which is the fact of reality that gives rise to individual rights.

    “Which is a stupid position to take.”

    Well, there ya go. So sayeth Stephan. Case closed.

    “Yes, because they deserve it.”

    Paint with broad brushes much? Some anarchist libertarians might deserve to be called Rothy-suckers, but I’d rather not.

  • Stephan Kinsella July 14, 2009, 1:45 pm

    JT:

    “The questioner said someone essentially asked him what the diff. was between a painting and wall paint in the context of IP. LP then essentially answered that one is an artistic product that required creative mental effort, which IP law should and does cover, while the other one isn’t. I don’t recall the questioner asking him to present a comprehensive argument on the philosophic justification for IP.”

    The main question was basically: the producer has to pay royalties to the artist, or take the painting down so it doesn’t show in the video–“isn’t that ridiculous?” or “is that really justifiable that he’d have to do this?” That kind of question–testing the absurdities of copyright. Peikoff simply didn’t answer the question.

    “No, they don’t think it’s “irrelevant.” They say the concept doesn’t *apply* to a fetus in utero because it’s not a biologically separate entity with a conceptual faculty, which is the fact of reality that gives rise to individual rights.”

    How does a “concept” “apply” or “not apply”?

    Look, dude, even Rand herself said, of late-term abortion–of fetuses who were about to be born and biologically similar to a newborn baby–that that “was another matter”–she implied that the pro-choice arguments that apply earlier do not apply to late-term. That implies even she believed the foetus has rights, at a certain point, even though it’s “dependent” (in fact a baby is dependent; so this argument is ridiculous; and the dependency of the baby and fetus is a dependency caused by the mom, in any event; see my How We Come To Own Ourselves).

  • JT July 14, 2009, 2:44 pm

    I went back and listened to the last podcast. The question to LP was specifically this: What about the paint on the wall behind the painting? Should it too be removed or should the painter also get royalties? What’s the difference?

    “How does a “concept” “apply” or “not apply”?”

    Apply: The concept relates to specific aspect in a context given the fact(s) of reality from which it’s derived. Not apply: The negative.

    “Look, dude, even Rand herself said, of late-term abortion–of fetuses who were about to be born and biologically similar to a newborn baby–that that “was another matter”–she implied that the pro-choice arguments that apply earlier do not apply to late-term.”

    Dude, check this out:
    http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/abortion.html

    “…in fact a baby is dependent; so this argument is ridiculous…”

    You’re equivocating on the concept of dependence. Dependent in the abortion context means the fetus isn’t a physically separate entity that functions as an individual unit. A baby is one, though it depends on someone to clothe it, feed it, etc.

    I’ll give you this much: I don’t get why LP would say that a man gets the same pleasurable physical sensation from masturbation as from having sex with prostitutes, if he said that (I don’t remember it offhand). I do think the latter is immoral in almost all contexts though.

  • Stephan Kinsella July 14, 2009, 7:44 pm

    JT–check this out:
    From the Ayn Rand Q&A book:

    I’d like to express my indignation at the idea of confusing a living human being with an embryo, which is only some undeveloped cells. (Abortion at the last minute–when a baby is formed–is a different issue.)

    –Page 17 – Ford Hall Forum 1974, “Egalitarianism and Inflation”

    A human being is a living entity; life starts at birth. An embryo is a potential human being. You might argue that medically an embryo is alive at six to eight months. I don’t know. But no woman in her right mind would have an abortion that late; it’s very dangerous for her. So nature is consistent with the interests of both.

    –Page 125, – Ford Hall Forum 1971, “The Moratorium on Brains”

    Until the moment of birth, the child is physically the property of the mother. It is debated that at some time before birth the child becomes conscious. I don’t know; this is for science to determine.

    –Page 126 – Ford Hall Forum 1967, “The Wreckage of the Consensus”

  • JT July 15, 2009, 1:38 pm

    AR says that it’s generally dangerous for a mother to have an abortion in late-term pregnancy, which is true. She also says that she doesn’t know scientifically when a human organism gains some degree of awareness. Do any of those quotes say that a fetus has “rights” that must not be violated? No. And that’s what you claimed Objectivists would concede. In fact, she specifically says that until birth, it’s physically the property of the mother. And as libertarian, you know that you can do whatever you want with your own property.

  • Stephan Kinsella July 16, 2009, 11:00 am

    JT: you are overlooking the most salient quote: “I’d like to express my indignation at the idea of confusing a living human being with an embryo, which is only some undeveloped cells. (Abortion at the last minute–when a baby is formed–is a different issue.)”

    Now how can abortion at the last minute, when the “baby” is formed, be a “different issue”? After all, it’s still dependent. So clearly at least here she was thinking its dependecy status is not dispositive; and for it to be a “different matter” implies that the baby has rights. It has rights despite the fact that it is dependent; it has rights based on some criteria other than “non-dependence,” but perhaps something like “full formation despite dependence” etc. And if so this opens the door to fetuses at earlier stages having rights. In the end Rand simply thinks that even though (if?) foetuses have rights, these are outweighed by the mom’s, or somehow “inapplicable.”

  • Stephan Kinsella July 16, 2009, 9:16 pm

    Here’s another pertinent Rand quote (hat tip Doris Gordon, of Libertarians For Life):

    Never mind the vicious nonsense of claiming that an embryo has a “right to life.” A piece of protoplasm has no rights—and no life in the human sense of the term. One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months. To equate a potential with an actual, is vicious; to advocate the sacrifice of the latter to the former, is unspeakable . . . . Observe that by ascribing rights to the unborn, i.e., the nonliving, the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living: the right of young people to set the course of their own lives. The task of raising a child is a tremendous, lifelong responsibility, which no one should undertake unwittingly or unwillingly. Procreation is not a duty: human beings are not stock-farm animals. For conscientious persons, an unwanted pregnancy is a disaster; to oppose its termination is to advocate sacrifice, not for the sake of anyone’s benefit, but for the sake of misery qua misery, for the sake of forbidding happiness and fulfillment to living human beings.

    Note here how unhinged and unfair this argument is. First, suppose you argue that a 9-month old fetus is virtually the same as a newborn baby, so that killing the former is as bad as killing the latter. Rand seems to grant this is an arguable position. Well does holding this position imply people are stock-farm animals, or that procreation is a duty? No. It just means if you get pregnant, and if you decide not to terminate early, choices have consequences. Would a rule prohibiting late-term abortion obliterate “the right of young people to set the course of their own lives”? No–if a girl waits to the 8th month to decide to terminate and is prevented from doing this, she can wait one more month, have the baby, and give it up for adoption, then go about living her life.

    Rand writes, “The task of raising a child is a tremendous, lifelong responsibility, which no one should undertake unwittingly or unwillingly.”

    True. So decide in the first 3 or even 5 months. And if you don’t, and it’s too late to abort–then give it up for adoption.

    Rand says that “to oppose its termination is to advocate sacrifice, not for the sake of anyone’s benefit, but for the sake of misery qua misery, for the sake of forbidding happiness and fulfillment to living human beings.” This is so unfair, overwrought, melodramatic and unbalanced. Obviously most people oppose late term abortion because they shudder at the thought of ripping apart the body of a nearly-born baby, and they are concerned for its welfare as a human. I’ve yet to see a pro-lifer oppose abortion. So to suggest they want to heap a lifetime of misery or child-care on an unwilling parent is ridiculous hyperbole: they at most want you to carry it to term, and then give it up.

  • PirateRothbard November 1, 2009, 10:23 pm

    Stephen, sometimes I think it would be cool if you wrote a whole article on abortion.

    I see one problem with the pro-life position is that once you saying a fetus has a right to live, that kind of makes sense, but then you wonder: maybe a child has a right to not be abused. But what is abuse? Where do you draw the line? Putting your 4 year old kid in front of a TV for an hour could be called abouse.(It’s stunting their mind, etc).

    And what about animals? Don’t they have a right to life too? How do you sort all this out.

    I see something intuitive about the pro-choice position: essentially, women who get abortions won’t see their genes(which presumably have a personality statistically higher in being predisposed toward getting an abortion) passed on to the next generation. So the problem regulates itself.

    Yeah its sick but there is no easy answer to all of this. Or at least I’ve never heard any, maybe you could persuade me.

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