Note: This post has been automatically imported from my old blog. Formatting may be incorrect.
Introduction and Background
On September 3rd of this year, Dr. John McCaskey (hereafter referred to as JMcC) posted a public announcement of his resignation from the Ayn Rand Institute and the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship (hereafter jointly referred to as the ARI), and he has since made several important updates, including posting several relevant emails. He also linked to an Amazon book review. On October 12th, the Drs. Hsieh posted a detailed review (for which I am extremely grateful) of the pertinent facts about the resignation and the events leading up to and following it. Except where necessary, I will not be rehashing this background and will assume from here on out that my audience has studied these sources. My purpose here is to finally make public my evaluations of the major players involved in the situation (Mr. David Harriman, hereafter referred to as DH, Dr. Leonard Peikoff, hereafter referred to as LP, JMcC, and the ARI) and my planned course of action.
I view this as an important issue for all of the reasons given by the Drs. Hsieh. In particular, I care about this issue because of three important aspects: 1. Particularly since I am a scientist, understanding the philosophical theory in question, determining its validity, and seeing it gain acceptance are hugely relevant. 2. A man has lost his job and stature and has been accused of moral transgressions, and justice in that matter is important whether he is guilty or innocent . 3. The ARI, to which I have donated and on which many Objectivists (at least partially) rely to help change the culture, has established an important precedent about involvement at its highest levels, and that precedent (whether right or wrong) has the potential to have significant effects on the future of the organization so long as it is unchallenged. I want to make it clear, though, that I do NOT care about this issue in order to gleefully attack great men or organizations, nor to praise small men without warrant. I do not take any pleasure in falsely denouncing, nor in granting undeserved sanction. My interests here are in discovering the truth and acting justly in accordance with that truth. Therefore, if you disagree with anything I write here (which I expect most of my readers will at one point or another), I ask of you to act as if I'm honestly mistaken and to please correct me with any facts or arguments that I may not have considered. If I am wrong, I will be thankful for the opportunity to change my mind to be right.
Evaluation of Dr. Leonard Peikoff
In my view, there are five interrelated aspects relevant to judging LP's actions in this matter:
First, I think it is straightforward that LP was well within his legal rights to present the ultimatum he did. Unless he has some sort of contract (for which there is no evidence), he is allowed to set whatever terms he wants for his continued association with the ARI. The question, then, is: was LP acting morally in presenting the ultimatum? In other words, was there good reason, within his context, for LP to withdraw his support from the ARI if JMcC continued his board membership? To answer this, let's turn to LP's own words: "When a great book sponsored by the Institute and championed by me… is denounced by a member of the Board of the Institute, which I founded, someone has to go, and someone will go." What does "denunciation" consist of?
Do JMcC's criticisms involve an explicit rejection of any of the principles of Ayn Rand's philosophy? There is no evidence of this, JMcC's claims and examples contradict the possibility, and no such explicit rejection has been pointed out by either LP or DH, as it surely would be if there were such a statement. Do JMcC's criticisms demonstrate that JMcC either does not understand or does not fully accept Objectivism? Well, according to LP, JMcC attacks LL and thus, implicitly or explicitly attacks LP's introduction to LL, which states that LL expresses Ayn Rand's epistemology. But a disagreement about as complex an issue as whether or not a particular theory of induction is an expression of Objectivist epistemology (which by itself does NOT include any theory of induction) does not ipso facto imply that either party does not understand/reject Objectivism. LP himself explains in one of his podcasts that there is room for legitimate disagreement in the realm of application of principles, which is even more true in the realm of determining if new abstract work is consistent with an entire body of existing knowledge. Moreover, it is not inconsistent for JMcC to say "LP understands Objectivism as a whole better than I, but I think he is wrong about this particular question." So does something particular in JMcC's disagreement imply misunderstanding/rejection of Objectivism? Here, LP is unspecific and merely states that the disagreements "often go to the heart of the philosophical principles at issue." JMcC's published criticisms, sample emails, and own claims seem to suggest that most of his criticism was about the accuracy of certain historical facts, with some more theoretical issues (such as questions about how applicable Rand's spiral theory is to the issue of induction) being put forth, thought with less certainty than the historical questions. Overall, though, there is nothing that he has said that obviously implies a misunderstanding of Objectivism, and no one, including LP, has been able to point to a specific argument which shows lack of understanding. Given JMcC's previous scholarly work and work with the ARI, I have to reject any general "there must be SOMETHING that shows he rejects Objectivism" claim as arbitrary at this point.
Perhaps, then, JMcC's criticisms are still inappropriate even though they don't imply a misunderstanding of Objectivism? Does the fact that the ARI has supported this book imply some sort of impropriety in JMcC's actions? Well, before his resignation none of his comments were made publicly and all seem to have been made with the aim of improving LL, so JMcC was certainly not acting contrary to the promotion of the book. In fact, I believe the right kind of robust, public discussion and debate of the complex new philosophical issues in LL brings more attention to the book, brings more attention to Objectivism as a system of thought off of which future work can build, and can help all involved refine, improve, and better defend their ideas, thus supporting the ARI's specific goal of promoting LL and its general goal of promoting Objectivism as a legitimate, serious school of thought. All of JMcC's published criticisms have a respectful tone and are focused on understanding the facts and how they shape the theory, which is exactly the kind of criticism that should be welcomed by the creator of any intellectual work.
Therefore, unless someone can point to any evidence that LP had reason to know for certain that JMcC does not understand Objectivism, that he was disrespectful to LP or DH's intellectual stature, or that he was not legitimately focused on the facts of reality and improving the intellectual output of the ARI in his criticisms, I must conclude that LP was not acting morally when presenting his ultimatum. I say "know for certain" because only certainty could justify the fact that LP presented his ultimatum after saying that he did not want to discuss what he took as facts and without consulting directly with JMcC even once.
The reasons given:
Was the way LP gave his reasons for the ultimatum proper? Without knowing what previous discussion occurred between LP and the ARI board/Arline Mann, it is impossible to judge this in the original context of the email. However, by explicitly granting permission for JMcC to publish the email publicly as-is and by not saying anything further on the matter, LP allowed the email to become part of a new context in which it must stand on its own. The email does not explain what JMcC did to constitute an attack, does not explain in what ways JMcC's criticisms go to the heart of the philosophical principles at issue, does not explain how JMcC's behaviour amounts to saying that LP or DH are misguided and that JMcC knows Objectivism better than either, does not explain how JMcC's criticisms constitute an attack, and does not explain why such denouncement implies that someone must go. LP is certainly not required to explain his actions to the public, but he did choose to explain them and by failing to back up his claims he seems to be either expecting us to take him on his authority or saying that the issue is so obvious that reasons need not be stated explicitly. Either way, the presentation is insulting and unfair.
Regardless of how just his ultimatum may be, I don't think anything can justify reminding the co-chair of the ARI who LP is or what his intellectual status is in Objectivism, especially not in as condescending a manner as was done in LP's email. Similarly, I don't think there is any evidence whatsoever that JMcC has committed a transgression justifying discussion of "rungs of hell", and while that may be merely a figure of speech in a private email to someone with whom LP may or may not have previous context, by allowing the email to go public that phrase cannot but be taken as an extreme moral denunciation, which I think is quite unjust.
Allowing the email to go public:
It seems evident that this email was part of a larger context, including but not necessarily limited to the prior phone exchange with Arline Mann and knowledge about the nature of LP's relationship with the ARI board (which relationship, as the Drs. Hsieh point out, is not a matter of public knowledge). Given that, why did LP not only give permission for the email to be posted publicly, but give said permission knowing that the person who would be posting the email was someone who he had denounced as unfit for service on the ARI board? When JMcC demanded a statement as a condition of his resignation, why didn't LP either provide the full context for his claims or prepare a statement more appropriate for a public audience? As it is, the email seems at best inappropriate and at worst completely dismissive of the public audience. If LP didn't find it important enough to prepare a public statement, he should have refused permission rather than allow the email as it is to become his public statement.
The lack of other public statement:
I actually don't have a problem with this on its own, as I don't think the public has any claim on him to explain his actions. However, given that he allowed the email to go public I do think that if he cares about how rational people may interpret this situation he should post some sort of explanation. Finally, while I don't have enough information to form any sort of solid conclusion about this, I do find it odd at the least that he hasn't responded to Dr. Diana Hsieh, who throughout this whole mess has been extremely respectful and interested only in discovering what actually happened.
So it's probably pretty clear that my judgment of LP's behaviour in this issue is quite negative. What do I intend to do about it? Nothing. I have no claim on LP, and he has no claim on me. I already own most of his major lectures on tape or CD, and I don't think that there's anything that could happen that would result in me not buying his forthcoming book on the DIM hypothesis aside from him not finishing it. Sadly, all I get from this aspect of the issue is a sense of disappointment in a hero.
Evaluation of Mr. David Harriman
I see four relevant issues in judging DH:
LL's reflection of discussions between DH and JMcC:
Since we don't have the totality of the interaction between DH and JMcC, we can only judge this based on the three email samples that JMcC provided. This section will draw specific examples from LL, and will be as generous to DH's interpretation of the history as possible (that is, while he may or may not agree with the accepted view of the history, I will assume that DH is right about how things actually happened in these experiments in spite of such disagreement unless evidence to the contrary is too strong). However, even if DH is exactly right about every aspect of history he puts forth, if some of his important historical interpretations are justifiably controversial (that is, there is legitimate reason for an honest student of the history in question to disagree with the interpretation), I think it was incumbent upon him to at least mention the controversy. This (the need to address justifiable controversy in intellectual work) is an important and general issue that I hope to make the focus of a future post.
In the first email, JMcC raises the question of whether Galileo really lacked a concept of "gravity" as an interaction between the earth and an object, referring to the writings of various scientists and philosophers of science from Galileo's day and one excerpt from Galileo himself that together seem to strongly suggest that Galileo had at least considered the idea that "the acceleration of natural motion" is caused by "attraction to the center". In the published form, however, LL still contains the assertion that Galileo "lacked the idea of an unseen interaction between the object and Earth" and that therefore Galileo did not decide to test the effect of geographical location on pendulum period. I think DH could have obtained more precision without losing essentialization by saying that Galileo "did not accept the idea of an unseen interaction between the object and Earth" or, if he did not accept JMcC's evidence that Galileo had considered the idea at all, the book could have benefitted from an inclusion of a foot/endnote to that effect, since a reasonable reading of the evidence (which may still be wrong, but is not unreasonable to believe) contradicts DH's view. That being said, this is a minor difference which, in the interpretation most generous to DH (i.e. that Galileo considered the idea but rejected it before he had a chance to see if it integrated with the pendulum), has almost no bearing on DH's conclusions in this section, so this isn't a huge deal.
The second email questions DH's claim that Galileo did not do any experiments involving dropping balls through water, largely based on Galileo's own writings on the subject. While this disagreement could be quite significant to the argument DH makes, I think (again, being as generous as possible) that DH addresses the concern adequately later in the section starting "Regrettably, Galileo's published works do not give an entirely accurate portrayal of his discovery process." on page 57. That paragraph implies that DH discounts any potentially contradictory history that derives from Galileo's own notes, which is enough for the level of detail taken in the book. An extended argument longer than this paragraph for why DH rejects Galileo's own story would be out of place here.
The third email concerns the genesis of the vector interpretations of velocity and acceleration, Newton's use of them in deriving the v-squared-over-r law of circular motion, and Newton's conception of inertia as a kind of force. Whether or not Newton was the first to conceptualize velocity as a vector quantity is not terribly relevant to the thesis (and DH makes no claim on this either way), but it is quite important to DH's point that the proper sense of velocity was essential to the formation of the v-squared-over-r law, so if there is any credibility to JMcC's claim that Newton initially arrived at the law on the basis of the "quantity of motion" conception of velocity (even if that claim is false), DH should have taken some space to say, at the very least, that he does not accept that interpretation of the history (though I don't know the history enough to know if JMcC's claim is credible at all). More significant, though, is JMcC's claim (backed up by the use of "vis insita") that, at least at the time that the Principia was written, Newton considered inertia a type of force. It is central to DH's claims about proper and improper concepts as green and red lights to induction that Newton's work was only possible after a proper conceptualization of inertia and force as quite distinct existents, so even if DH is correct that JMcC "is confused about this issue," he would have done very well to have said something about this huge discrepancy. Newton's magnum opus views inertia and forces like gravity as two species of the same genus, at the very least linguistically, so it is certainly incumbent upon anyone claiming that he had separated inertia and force to at least mention this seeming contradiction. That DH failed to do so after having had his attention drawn to the matter by JMcC is strong evidence of some historical sloppiness, at best.
So overall, with one significant exception, I don't think there's enough evidence to say if DH was derelict in any intellectual duty in modifying his book based on the criticism we can be sure he saw from JMcC before the final publication date. Moreover, I don't know the field well enough to be able to say if there are any reasonable controversies that DH should have known about simply through due diligence that he did not respond to. However, that one significant exception combined with DH's characterization of JMcC's views and his question about "believability" (both discussed further later) give me cause to be concerned that DH may have missed/left out something important in his presentation.
DH's denial of permission to release his emails:
DH denied Dr. Paul Hsieh's request to publish the email exchanges between DH and JMcC. He certainly had no moral obligation to explain why (he has done nothing that gives the public a claim on his private correspondence), but he chose to do so, saying that he doesn't "think you need access to private emails in order to reach a judgment on this conflict." This tells me that, at least for DH, JMcC has not done anything relevant to this issue beyond what is available publicly (that is, there is no hidden "smoking gun" that JMcC hasn't wanted to make public) and that DH thinks that the public critiques clearly demonstrate JMcC's lack of fitness for service on the ARI board.
The lack of a smoking gun is not relevant to judging DH, but it does seem to put an end to any claims that JMcC is somehow being dishonest or obfuscatory in his characterization of his criticisms (since otherwise, surely DH would have been glad to release that email). The idea that the public critiques demonstrate JMcC's lack of fitness to serve on the board is confusing given that DH's only direct claims about JMcC (as opposed to his implication, which I will get to later) are that he mischaracterizes the history and is, to use DH's word's, "confused about the issue". Does DH think confusion about scientific history makes a person unfit for service on the board of the ARI or does he think there is something more central than the confusion? If the former, then I seriously question DH's standards and think that applying them consistently could only result in board members who are afraid to express their views for fear of being thought confused. If the latter, the fact that he didn't take the time in the email to spell out his concerns precisely is at best sloppy and at worst either cowardly (he is afraid to speak the real reason) or condescending (he does not think Dr. Paul Hsieh and his audience deserve to hear or can understand the real reason). Overall, then, under the interpretation most generous to him, I find DH's explanation of his refusal sloppy and think he would have been better off saying nothing than giving the explanation he did.
DH's characterization of and implications about JMcC:
DH claims that JMcC thinks that "Galileo discovered the law of free fall without even understanding what is meant by 'free fall'" and that "Newton discovered his universal laws of motion without understanding the concepts of 'inertia,' 'acceleration,' and 'momentum.'" Looking at JMcC's Amazon review, he does say that initially Galileo grouped together air resistance and buoyancy, but this does not imply that Galileo has no understanding of 'free fall', as it can be reasonably assumed that JMcC thinks that Galileo still knew that something was resisting the fall and that that something could be abstracted away. Similarly, while JMcC does say that Newton had not grouped the directionality and magnitude of motion and changes in motion into a unified concept, that does not imply that he did not understand these aspects enough to be able to induce generalizations about them. Under a general interpretation of what it means to understand, then, DH appears to be misrepresenting JMcC's stance, quite possibly due to an honest misunderstanding. If, however, DH is claiming that any lack of a fully-formed, totally proper concept implies that you don't understand the relevant facts about it, then he appears to be begging the question: the phrasing "Galileo discovered the law of free fall without understanding what is meant by 'free fall'" is clearly meant to demonstrate an obvious absurdity, but it is not obvious that a fully-formed, totally proper concept is necessary to make significant progress in gaining inductive understanding an idea. Indeed, to the extent that JMcC addressed theoretical issues in his discussions with DH, that is the crux of JMcC's questioning of DH's theory! Moreover, the Amazon critique was intended to merely raise questions about historical facts, not to discuss theoretical issues. It is absolutely backwards to deny a claimed historical fact on the basis that that fact would be absurd according to your theory. Sticking with the most generous interpretation, however, the worst I can say is that DH has an honest misunderstanding of JMcC's claims here, which is of course no moral failing at all.
DH then goes on to characterize JMcC's views as "scientists stumble around in the dark and somehow discover laws of nature before they grasp the constituent concepts." I find this characterization unjust on two counts. First, nowhere does JMcC say anything that can be interpreted as him thinking that scientists stumble around in the dark. Now, perhaps DH thinks his statements can't help but imply such a conclusion about the scientists (I disagree, but that's irrelevant to this point), but there is a big difference between believing a certain view and believing things that logically entail that view. Indeed, there is an important form of argumentation (reductio ad absurdum) based upon the idea that a person would reject a certain view if he knew the logical consequences of that view. In fairness, DH should not assume that JMcC sees that his views imply this "stumbling" characterization and that, if he knew about that implication, he might change his mind accordingly. Secondly, the "somehow" in DH's characterization is unwarranted. JMcC may not have a theory of induction of his own, but he certainly doesn't think that the scientific process is as unknowable or random as "somehow" implies from an Objectivist. Now, perhaps DH simply meant "JMcC cannot currently explain how scientists manage to discover the laws of nature", but if so then he should have been more careful given the usual Objectivist connotation of "somehow" in that kind of context as meaning "it just happens, with no cause or reason".
Finally, DH remarks that "a favorite pastime among academics today is to find 'feet of clay' in great men." I know of no other way to describe this statement except for: passive-agressive psychologizing. Passive-agressive, because while the obvious implication is that JMcC is one such academic, DH chooses not to come straight out and make that accusation and instead leaves his statement in the general form. Psychologizing, because DH is assigning a particularly nasty motive to JMcC without nearly enough evidence to claim that he does, in fact, wish to or enjoy finding flaws in great men, or that such a desire necessarily underlies the kinds of questions JMcC was asking. This statement makes DH look petty and nasty, and he would have been much better off without it.
As a whole, then, I find DH's public characterization of JMcC's views and motivations to be inaccurate, unjust, and, in parts, vicious. This makes me seriously question whether DH understands (or, worse, wants to understand) JMcC's claims, though I can't say for sure that he doesn't.
DH's question about "believability":
DH sums up his argument against JMcC's claims by saying "In short, I ask you which is more believable -- that Isaac Newton was fundamentally confused about the difference between 'impetus' and 'momentum,' or that John McCaskey is confused about this issue?" Now, I want to make it clear that I don't think DH has any obligation to publicly respond to any particular criticism of his work. He is a busy man and has been spending years working on this book, presumably he thinks it presents a good enough argument to stand on its own, and in any case it is ultimately incumbent upon individuals to do their own research and thinking if they want answers on this issue. That being said, DH chose to address the criticisms, and in doing so raised quite a few questions and concerns.
Supposing that JMcC is indeed confused about this issue, why does that warrant the response he has received from DH and LP? If DH thinks JMcC is confused, why doesn't he try to correct the confusion? Again, why does confusion imply that JMcC is unfit for service on the ARI board? If JMcC is confused, why the accusations about clay feet? If JMcC isn't just confused, why does DH choose to sum up his response to JMcC by only claiming that he is? It seems clear, from the rest of his response, that DH thinks JMcC is more than just confused, so this seems like another example of possible sloppiness in DH's email.
More disconcerting, however, is DH's question about the relative "believability" of the great scientists having confusions on a particular issue versus JMcC having confusions on the issue. In this context, it appears that DH wants us to judge this issue based on the relative characters, intellects, and track records of the scientists in question and JMcC, as he offered this question as the summation of his evidence for rejecting JMcC's claims. But this is a completely inappropriate way to judge this controversy. Regardless of the greatness of Newton, if there is evidence that he may be confused or mistaken about an idea then the character of the person presenting that evidence is irrelevant. The proper approach is to look at the evidence available and judge the issue at hand accordingly. If there is not enough evidence to judge, then the proper response is to withhold judgment unless more evidence becomes available. It is certainly not necessary to address every criticism put forth by every crackpot about an intellectual giant, but if you choose not to address the criticism you should say that you are not addressing it, not that you have proven it wrong. Additionally, a lack of omniscience (such as an inappropriately grouped concept, or an as-yet unformed one) is NOT a slight on the character of a great man, and pointing it out is not an attack. Raising the possibility that Aristotle or Galileo or Ayn Rand may have made an honest error or may have lacked relevant knowledge is not an absurdity. If such a possibility is to be addressed, it needs to be addressed by looking at the evidence given for it, not by the person raising it in the first place.
DH's question about "believability" also raises concerns about the content of LL. If he thinks believability is a good test to apply to this question, did he also apply that test in his studies of the scientific history leading to the book? When faced with two different accounts of how a particular scientist acted, did he choose based upon asking which leads to a more believable story about the scientist in question rather than looking at the evidence given for each account? If so, then his entire historical narrative is suspect. As it is, there is not enough evidence to say how widely he thinks the questions of believability apply, but there is still significant concern.
DH's actions paint a very concerning picture. At best there are serious concerns about the quality of his scholarship and the calibre of his intellectual debate, and at worst he has based a historically narrative on a fantasy, refused to even listen to a man trying to correct that narrative, and viciously attacked the man for the privilege. While I am not prepared to outright condemn DH, I will certainly be extremely skeptical in my future in-depth study of LL and, unless things change, will be unlikely to purchase other work from him or support his Falling Apple Science Institute (as had been my plan before this situation). I am, however, open to arguments or evidence that DH is in fact an excellent intellectual and will happily change my stance back to extreme support if I am convinced I am wrong.
Evaluation of Dr. John McCaskey
I see four important issues relevant to judging JMcC:
I have already given my evaluation of JMcC's private criticism in the above sections, so I will not focus on that again here.
JMcC's choice to resign:
According to JMcC's resignation post, he chose to resign so that the ARI did not have to choose either side of the ultimatum put forth by LP. Taking as a given that, if he thought the ARI would be better off with him resigning, JMcC had a moral (and probably, as the Drs. Hsieh point out, legal) responsibility to do so, the question becomes: would the ARI have been worse off it had had to choose either side of the ultimatum? Given that he thinks the ultimatum was unjust, I can't see a good reason for JMcC to have thought so. Regardless of the material value brought to the ARI by LP's association with it, surely the ARI would be better off losing that association than capitulating to an (in JMcC's eyes) unjust demand and thereby both losing a valuable man and setting a precedent that LP (or other major donors) can get away with quite a bit by virtue of the fact of their contribution. I believe the ARI would be much better off having told LP something along the lines of "we do not see enough reason that JMcC is unfit to serve on the ARI board, nor do we want to lose your support. We welcome further discussion of this issue and hope you will choose to explain your demand further, but if you choose to cut off your association with us you are obviously free to do so." If the ARI thought that there was reason that JMcC is unfit but had been (in JMcC's view) irrational in coming to that conclusion, then neither he nor the ARI would benefit by receiving the sanction for that irrationality granted by a resignation. In my view, JMcC should only have resigned if he did not think he was fit to be on the board or if he thought that the ARI and/or LP had good reason to believe (albeit incorrectly) that he was unfit to be on the board. Given the situation as it is, however, I think JMcC made a mistake, one that might have resulted from pragmatism (when made explicit, something like "what's a little injustice against one person in the face of the intellectual property rights and influence LP brings to the ARI?). This mistake may have been made honestly, but I do have to wonder if there wasn't an element of cowardice in his choice not to put the decision in the ARI's hands.
JMcC's choice to go public:
Once he had resigned I don't think JMcC had any further obligation (outside of any still-in-effect contracts) to the ARI, especially not to remain quiet about his side of the situation or his criticisms. I think his choice to publish his reasons for resigning and the email from LP was an appropriate one. First of all, he believes an injustice has been committed against him and he should air his grievances both to vent his frustration/anger and in the hope that either the injustice will be repaired or that the public at large can judge the perpetrators accordingly. Secondly, the reasons he was put into a position to resign are, in his view and mine, atypical for an organization like the ARI, so by making these reasons public JMcC gave the public (which includes donors and potential donors) valuable information about the standards the ARI has for board membership and how the ARI reacts to pressure from those with influence. Such information may be essential to determining whether donation to or involvement with the ARI is appropriate for any given individual, and as a presumably benevolent person JMcC has an interest in seeing the public be armed with this important knowledge.
As for the intellectual criticism he posted, I am mixed. I think his book review was absolutely appropriate as Amazon is not a place to expound theories and JMcC merely gave the information and interpretations that he thought could be relevant to the choice to buy the book. That being said, I do wish he would find some appropriate place to post a full review of the book or at least repost all of the criticisms he has made so far in private. As important as the resignation issue is, I think it is more important that the philosophical ideas at hand get discussed and it would be a shame if this issue got in the way of JMcC contributing to the intellectual discourse at hand. However, since he has not made any sign that he is closed off to further comment, I think it is appropriate to give him time to produce such a detailed critique before forming a final judgment about the lack of same.
The Content of JMcC's Criticisms:
I am not familiar enough with the relevant history to judge the accuracy of JMcC's historical claims, nor have I investigated the issues enough to come to a final judgment on his philosophical claims. I do, however, think that he has put forth the criticisms in a manner that was both respectful to those he is critiquing and useful (in the sources he cites and the leads he provides) to those wanting to investigate further. Even if no further criticism is forthcoming, I expect to refer to his existing writing quite frequently when I take the time to study LL in depth.
On the whole, I think JMcC has been gravely wronged (while making a pretty serious mistake along the way) for acting in a way that was not only not appropriate but was actually helpful to the ARI's individual goal of promoting LL and long-term goal of spreading Objectivism. With the exception of his resignation, I think his behaviour so far has been exemplary and am now just hoping for more. As a result of this, I intend to do two things: I will be much more likely to read his other academic work, and, since he appears to be willing to talk about this issue, I will be sending him an email asking about a more fleshed-out critique and why he thought the resignation was the right choice.
Evaluation of the Ayn Rand Institute and its Representatives
I see three issues relevant to judging the ARI:
Since the details of their response to LP's ultimatum are not public and therefore no judgment can be made about them, I will not be addressing that issue here.
Accepting JMcC's resignation:
This fact is difficult to judge since we don't know if the ARI had any more reason to remove JMcC from the board beyond what information is available to the public now. If they didn't, then I think they should have refused to accept JMcC's resignation and refused to accept LP's ultimatum, since given the evidence currently available the ultimatum was unjust and sets the dangerous precedent that any disagreement with those with enough influence puts your job at risk. Assuming still that they didn't have further reason, the fact that they did accept the resignation seems to be the same kind of pragmatic sanction of injustice (whether due to honest mistake or cowardice) that I think JMcC committed in resigning. If, however, they did have more reason, it is impossible to judge their choice without knowing the reason. However, given that the ARI gave permission for JMcC to publish LP's email, that no one has disputed the JMcC's characterization of the reasons for the ultimatum or the nature of his criticisms, and that Dr. Yaron Brook did not mention the existence of additional reasons (not even to say that they were private) beyond the intellectual criticisms that JMcC described in his email (intended for publication) to Dr. Diana Hsieh. As such, I am skeptical that there was any further reason to remove JMcC from the board and am therefore almost certain that the ARI should not have accepted JMcC's resignation.
The ARI's public comments:
To date, the only public information sanctioned in some way by the ARI is LP's email and the email from Dr. Yaron Brook to Dr. Diana Hsieh. The situation as can be understood from JMcC's post and especially LP's email is that a man lost his job because he disagreed with an influential and resourceful individual in a way that was completely appropriate for intellectual debate and that was intended to help that resourceful individual (or, in particular, the person he supported) in his work and, ultimately, further the discussion of Objectivist ideas. The email from Dr. Brook does not contradict this view of the situation, nor does it give any evidence that there are other factors at play. Through Dr. Brook, the ARI claims to understand why the public has an interest in this affair, but does not seem to view that interest (which plays a role in how the public chooses to interact with and donate to the ARI) to be important enough to respond to. Unlike the other players in this situation, I do think that the ARI, as an organization funded primarily by donation, had a moral (though certainly not legal) obligation to explain what makes this extraordinary situation (which as of right now seems to have profoundly negative implications for the nature of the ARI) ok.
I am extremely concerned by the way this situation reflects on the ARI. The only reasonable interpretation of these events (which interpretation the ARI has done nothing to contradict) is that honestly-held views that do not explicitly contradict Objectivism, do not imply that the view-holder does not accept/understand Objectivism, and do not contradict with the overall policies of the ARI, when expressed in a way that furthers both abstract and particular goals of the ARI, can lead to the loss of a job if the wrong person disagrees. That state of affairs and the intellectual silence it implies are incompatible with the needs of an intellectual working to create and spread knowledge, and if it is not challenged it can only lead to a stagnant group of yes-men. As such, I am sad to say that I will no longer be donating to the ARI until it either gives some evidence that this interpretation of these events is incorrect or admits that this situation was not handled properly and gives assurances that this kind of thing will not happen again. I will also likely not take all of the general sessions (opting instead for a la carte options) at any future OCON, attend the banquets, or go to the talks on ARI programs or the state of the ARI. I will not seek to have the Objectivist group that I intend to start here in Rochester be affiliated in any official way with the ARI. Wherever I find it appropriate, I will publicly state my decision to stop donating/supporting the organization, and I will try to convince my friends to stop donating as well. As I have quite a few friends who are intellectuals or intend to be intellectuals, I will make it clear to them that taking any position at the ARI is a dangerous idea and that, at the very least, they should not count on such a position in their overall plans. I will no longer recommend the OAC, and I will be somewhat skeptical that future intellectual work coming out of the ARI is truly the result of individual, independent thought. In other words, I will stop supporting them, try to get others to join me, and be loud enough about it that the ARI will have to change its stance.