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For example, listening to some of Rothbards speeches, I've found that he sometimes engaged in ad-hominem attacks against figures such as Keynes, claiming for example, that Keynes openly favored fascism. These claims appear to have later been proven incorrect.

Ayn Rand, while critiquing Keynes, didn't make such claims, and seemed to focus on his ideas more than his character.

Does it not do the cause of spreading reason more damage than good to engage in such attacks, since these will then serve as ammunition for certain opponents of reason?

Would it then be immoral for an intellectual to engage in such attacks?

asked Aug 28 '11 at 07:35

Jonathan%20Conway's gravatar image

Jonathan Conway

edited Aug 28 '11 at 07:41

If, in order to convince an audience, you lie, or make use of a logical fallacy (such as ad hominem) in the presentation of your viewpoint, it means you believe your viewpoint cannot be rationally defended, or you believe people must be deceived in order to agree with you.

It's dishonest.

So, the question reduces to: "Is dishonesty practical in the promotion of reason?"

Dishonesty subverts reason, so in one's supposed act of promoting reason, one would be destroying it. This is hardly rational.

In the process, one would be supporting reason in name only, deluding people into thinking they are rational when they are indulging in logical fallacy.

Later on, any vicious yet skilled intellectual could show these people their error, and blame the problem on reason itself.

Lying in order to convince people is like a general giving his soldiers fake ammunition. In their first confrontation, they will be mowed down, or they will defect and come back to hunt him down.

The false can never be a part of the truth.

answered Aug 29 '11 at 12:27

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦

edited Aug 30 '11 at 11:21

Although the question explicitly pertains to intellectual honesty, there are two additional aspects of the question that implicitly raise further issues:

  • The choice of Murray Rothbard (1926-1995) as an example of intellectual sloppiness and/or dishonesty.

  • References to "the cause of spreading reason," not merely being rational oneself or not.

    The question asks if intellectuals such as Murray Rothbard should be regarded as immoral because they misrepresent (apparently deliberately) the views of opponents and thereby damage "the cause of reason."

    If one wants a far more direct and strongly negative Objectivist appraisal of Murray Rothbard, refer to the brief 1974 letter by Ayn Rand to a fan in Letters of Ayn Rand, p. 664. She explains:
    I am profoundly opposed to today's so-called libertarian movement and to the theories of Dr. Murray Rothbard. So-called libertarians are my avowed enemies, yet I've heard many reports on their attempts to cash in on my name and mislead my readers into the exact opposite of my views.
    Ayn Rand's letter concludes with a reference to her article, "The Nature of Government," published in both VOS and CUI, which includes four paragraphs on anarchy and "competing governments."

    Rothbard, in particular, is generally credited with being the originator of "anarcho-capitalism," also known as the idea of "competing governments," which, as already noted, Ayn Rand strongly blasted. For more on Rothbard, refer to the topics of "Murray Rothbard" and "Anarcho-capitalism" in Wikipedia. For more on the Objectivist view of libertarians, refer to the topic of "Libertarians" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon for an initial overview.

    Regarding whether or not it is rational to misrepresent the views of an opponent, especially if one does it knowingly or deliberately (but also if one does it through intellectual sloppiness or failure of due diligence), I agree with John Paquette's answer. If one seeks to updhold and advance reason, one must begin with one's own adherence to it.

    Furthermore, "the cause of spreading reason" isn't the essence of why one should follow reason. Every individual should follow reason because it is man's basic means of dealing with the constant alternative of life or death which all living things face. Man has no other way to deal with that alternative. Either he uses his own faculty of reason himself (and trades with others who do the same) -- or he passes "the deficit to some moral man, expecting him to sacrifice his good for the sake of letting you survive by your evil," as Ayn Rand puts it in Galt's speech in Atlas Shrugged. (This assumes that one chooses not simply to suffer and die, which is rarely an explicitly chosen preference.)

    As corollaries of rationality, Objectivism identifies the virtues of productiveness, pride, independence, honesty, integrity, and justice. Objectivism urges every individual to practice these virtues, not out of dedication to "the cause of spreading reason," but for one's own personal survival, well being, and happiness. Objectivism also denies that the practice of these virtues requires the sacrifice of others to oneself, or oneself to others, or the sacrifice of anyone to anyone.

  • answered Aug 30 '11 at 01:04

    Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

    Ideas for Life ♦

    Excellent answer, thanks for being so thorough. Credit to John Paquette as well.

    (Aug 30 '11 at 05:50) Jonathan Conway Jonathan%20Conway's gravatar image

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    Asked: Aug 28 '11 at 07:35

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    Last updated: Aug 30 '11 at 11:21