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An Epidemic of Absents
An Epidemic of Absents

An Epidemic of Absents

One thing that happens when education and a culture starts to be unmoored from logic: more and more individuals lose contact with the truth and more and more start to talk (as if they were experts) about things they do not understand or know next to nothing (i.e., bullshit).

That is why she cannot be regarded as lying; for she does not presume that she knows the truth, and therefore she cannot be deliberately promulgating a proposition that she presumes to be false: Her statement is grounded neither in a belief that it is true, not, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth — this indifference to how things really are — that I regard as the essence of bullshit.

― Harry G. Frankfurt, On Bullshit


So Franfurt’s concept of “bullshit” includes or is co-extensive with Ayn Rand’s idea of “the arbitrary:”

“Arbitrary” means a claim put forth in the absence of evidence of any sort, perceptual or conceptual; its basis is neither direct observation nor any kind of theoretical argument. [An arbitrary idea is] a sheer assertion with no attempt to validate it or connect it to reality.

If a man asserts such an idea, whether he does so by error or ignorance or corruption, his idea is thereby epistemologically invalidated. It has no relation to reality or to human cognition.

Remember that man’s consciousness is not automatic, and not automatically correct. So if man is to be able to claim any proposition as true, or even as possible, he must follow definite epistemological rules, rules designed to guide his mental processes and keep his conclusions in correspondence to reality. In sum, if man is to achieve knowledge, he must adhere to objective validating methods—i.e., he must shun the arbitrary . . . .

Since an arbitrary statement has no connection to man’s means of knowledge or his grasp of reality, cognitively speaking such a statement must be treated as though nothing had been said.

Let me elaborate this point. An arbitrary claim has no cognitive status whatever. According to Objectivism, such a claim is not to be regarded as true or as false. If it is arbitrary, it is entitled to no epistemological assessment at all; it is simply to be dismissed as though it hadn’t come up . . . . The truth is established by reference to a body of evidence and within a context; the false is pronounced false because it contradicts the evidence. The arbitrary, however, has no relation to evidence, facts, or context. It is the human equivalent of [noises produced by] a parrot . . . sounds without any tie to reality, without content or significance.

–Leonard Peikoff, The Philosophy of Objectivism lecture series, Lecture 6


Education and philosophy have dropped the ball. Teachers and philosophers and intellectuals need to step up, take responsibility, and teach Aristotelian logic (appropriate to their age and intellectual level) — and induction and concept-formation and epistemology as understood by Ayn Rand.

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