Resignation from the Boards of ARI and the Anthem Foundation

September 3, 2010 [Corrigenda and addenda are identified at the bottom.]

I have been on the Board of Directors of the Ayn Rand Institute since 2004 and of the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship since I started the Foundation in 2001. Though the Foundation remains a separate organization legally, Institute staff took over its operational management in 2008.

The Board of the Ayn Rand Institute recently received the following message from Dr. Leonard Peikoff, released here with his permission. “M” in the message is me. “AR” is Ayn Rand. The email’s addressee, Arline Mann, is an Institute board member. (She is an attorney who works in a legal department at Goldman, Sachs & Co.) “Dave’s book” is The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics by David Harriman, a book whose introduction was written by Dr. Peikoff.

Leonard Peikoff email

I have up until now made no public comment about Mr. Harriman’s book.

Over the years, the author shared drafts of the book with me (the Institute provided funding for the book and I was the board member most knowledgeable on the subject matter), he submitted excerpts to a journal of which I have been an editor, I have heard him lecture on the material, and he and I have had live one-on-one discussions about it.

My feedback, always shared privately, has had a consistent theme: The historical accounts as presented are often inaccurate, and more accurate accounts would be difficult to reconcile with the philosophical point the author is claiming to make. Examples of my criticism can now be read at www.amazon.com. A sample of emails I sent to Mr. Harriman is shown below.

In July, I participated in a meeting of eight professors and other academics, all affiliated with ARI (employees, board members, Anthem grant recipients, and/or OCON speakers) to discuss the issues raised by Mr. Harriman’s book. We acknowledged that—as happens when academics discuss new ideas—we’d each be forming and changing judgments as we went; we agreed that to ensure a free flow of ideas, however partly-baked, we would extend to each other the professional courtesy of not reporting other’s views outside the group until the speaker had a chance to reflect upon, refine, write up and publish them. In the meeting I noted where the proposed theory of induction contradicted the historical record and speculated on ways the theory could be refined, if it had to be, to better match the history. This meeting is the “forum” Dr. Peikoff refers to.

I have rarely spoken with Dr. Peikoff and never about this book. He did not seek me out for a first-hand discussion; he indicates here he is not interested in having one. I presume he formed his judgments based on whichever emails Mr. Harriman forwarded to him and second- or third-hand reports of what I said at the July meeting. (I now believe none of the participants spoke with Dr. Peikoff directly.)

I myself (I can’t speak for anyone else) find Dr. Peikoff’s weighing of my criticisms hardly objective, his remarks insultingly unjust—especially that part about Hell—and his ultimatum, as such, a threat to the Institute. I believe it would be damaging to the Institute if the Institute acted either way, either acceding to his demand or rejecting it.

So I decided to resign from the Board of Directors of the Ayn Rand Institute and of the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship.


October 4, 2010

Below are the three emails I sent to Mr. Harriman after I began reading the published version of his book, The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics. Each spawned a thread of interleaved discussion.

Letter to Harriman re book

Email with Harriman re Galileo

Email with Harriman re Newton

Dr. Peikoff said that my criticisms of Mr. Harriman’s book “often go to the heart of the philosophic principles at issue.” Unless indirect references such as the above are included, I would have said “a few times” rather than “often,” but regardless, here is an example, from a discussion about gravity. I express reservations about the principle that an inchoate concept provides a “red light” to induction and sympathize with William Whewell’s view that a concept’s final formation completes rather than begins an induction.

(By the way, my take on this episode is that it is not a story about having or not having a concept but about defining nominally vs. defining causally. I'd say Bacon and Galileo and all those pendulum swingers just before Newton had the same concept of gravity as heaviness with attraction as a possible but unproven cause; Bacon and then Newton insisted gravity should be defined causally. Galileo said that for his purposes a nominal definition was fine. Newton worked out the causal definition and in the process made terrestrial gravity just an instance of universal gravitation, the broader of which came then to be called gravity. The shift from nominal to causal definition often jiggers the boundaries. In this case, it did big time. I sympathize with Whewell here: he says every induction is completed by the forming or re-forming of a concept. For him, an essentialized concept is not the initial step that lets an induction proceed; it is the final step.)

I didn’t mention this in the email exchange (references to Objectivism in my exchanges with Mr. Harriman were rare) but this part of Whewell’s philosophy might fit well with Ayn Rand’s intriguing statement in the ITOE workshops that concepts implicitly contain propositional knowledge.


For those who don’t know him: William Whewell (1794–1866) was the last major advocate for a conception of induction that gained currency in Copernicus’ time and then dominated the philosophy and practice of science from the time of Galileo and Harvey to that of Darwin and Maxwell. It is too bad a discussion of writings on induction from those times was not part of Mr. Harriman’s book. Comparisons between what the scientists were taught to do and what Mr. Harriman said they actually did do would have helped highlight the new and distinctive features of the theory Mr. Harriman presents.

Updates:

July 15, 2015: Harriman reports that he has corrected some errors in the book.

November 16, 2011: Harriman has opened up a blog in which he responds to criticisms of his book. www.thelogicalleap.com

November 11, 2010: The Ayn Rand Institute issued a public letter to its supporters. www.aynrand.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=26109 [This link has gone dead. An archived copy can be found on the Wayback Engine.]

November 5, 2010: Leonard Peikoff issued a fuller explanation than that given in his email message below. www.peikoff.com/peikoff-vs-an-ari-board-member/ [This link has gone dead. An archived copy can be found at the Wayback Machine or by searching the web for “when McCaskey asked me to allow him”.]

Corrigenda and addenda:

Sept 4: Added “released here with his permission.” Sept 7: Identified Arline Mann. Added the sentence beginning, “In the meeting I noted . . .” Oct. 4: Corrected “nine professors” to “eight professors”. Replaced “conversations with participants of the July study group” with “second- or third-hand . . . ( . . . directly)”. Added the sentence beginning, “A sample of emails . . .” Feb 2, 2010: Removed markup and incorporated previous changes into the body of the text. Added the phrase “all affiliated with ARI (employees, . . . speakers)”. Sept 29, 2011: Corrected a typo and a misspelling. May 15, 2016: Changed “is available at www.johnmccaskey.com/emails.html” to “is shown below.”

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