Subsidizing ideas is immoral

As a lifelong public school attendee, I have seen first hand the consequences wrought by the subsidization of ideas. In middle school, I was taught the same facts of American history twice – but nothing about the ideas behind it. In high school, I was taught that we cannot have firm opinions at the same time I was taught that only College Board approved authors are literary. In college I have heard ‘intellectuals’ attribute the course of world history to geographical convenience and “white privilege”. When the government decides which ideas to support (or not to support), it is at fault if students are plunged into such an insuperable haze of disconnected facts and platitudes.

These inapplicably vague and contradictory ideas have in common that their proliferation is publicly (forcibly) funded and that their content cannot be chosen by the members of a given public school system. Some school choice systems allow students to attend other public (and in some cases private) schools, but they, their parents, and taxpayers, (including home-schooling parents) are still initially required to pay taxes, and participating schools are still effectively subsidized. In such cases, the element of choice preserved is not whether to pay, but whom to pay.

Government-subsidized ideas are reinforced at the expense of others’ ideas. If professors of a private institution in Massachusetts want to teach students about the benefits of Capitalism, they are forced to compete not with merely another University, but with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which has access to an inexhaustible pool of others’ money with which to fill the sails and coffers of its flagship institution of education.

The validity or invalidity of the ideas taught in a given institution is irrelevant to this discussion; a private institution has the right to teach any ideas it desires, but a public institution does not. Applying the fairness doctrine to education, by forcing publicly funded educators to present Darwinian Theory along side creationism, intelligent design, and scientologist literature, would perhaps be a step toward ideological heterogeneity, but it would not alter the fact that people who would not benefit from or have a voice in the educational system would be forced to contribute.

A more proper first step to establishing a free market in education (and ideas) would be to give citizens the option to opt out of funding and attending the public education system, while maintaining school choice for those who opt in. Educators from all public educational institutions would provide potential patrons with overviews of curricula, teaching methods, and budgets, so that parents and students could make informed decisions as to whether, where, and when to participate in the public system. Such an approach would force public schools to function within their means, afford private institutions with fairer opportunities to compete against them, give public schools themselves more incentive to compete, and remove the burden of funding from taxpayers who will not benefit from public education. Such would be the beginning of the end of the subsidization of ideas.


Paper on ObamaCare published in “We stand FIRM”

Defend Individual Rights, Repeal ObamaCare” has been commented on and shared by the blog Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine (We stand FIRM). Says Paul Hsieh of FIRM, “I very much like the fact that [Fatal] connected a “hot button” political issue to more fundamental issues of individual rights and the proper role of government, with an emphasis on how problems in one’s basic theory would lead to bad outcomes in practice.”

Read the rest of the post.

Read the full article on repealing ObamaCare

Celebrate private equity – from Yaron Brook and Don Watkins

Read the full article from ARI here.

Steve Forbes on stupid economic regulation

Sorry about the sound!

Defend individual rights, repeal ObamaCare

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010, contains a provision that will require Americans not already covered by healthcare plans to purchase plans for themselves by 2014. The alternative is not the freedom to use one’s own judgment to make health-related decisions, but to face a fine which would be the larger of $695 or 2.5% of one’s income per year, by 2016.[1] This part of the PPACA is known as the individual mandate. It is based on the premise, as espoused by President Obama, that “everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.”[2] Proponents of the law, including Professor Charles Fried of Harvard Law School, argue that since healthcare is “a market that everyone must at some time enter”, all citizens should participate in the “whole scheme designed to protect by health insurance the largest part of the population.”[3] Though such action would be proper among individuals voluntarily associating in order to ensure “basic security” to all members, such is not what President Obama and Professor Fried are advocating; they instead advocate the use of force to provide “basic security”. As such, the PPACA, and particularly the individual mandate, represent a gross violation of individual rights, and should be immediately, unequivocally, and guiltlessly repealed.

Before discussing which rights the individual mandate would be violating, I will briefly discuss how it would function in practice: how would requiring individuals to purchase a service ensure that “the largest part of the population” enjoy “basic security”? Since everyone, including individuals who infrequently or never use the service they will have paid for, would be participating in the healthcare market, the cost incurred by those needing healthcare would be spread across a much larger population. Supposedly, then, those who actually would receive care under their healthcare coverage would always enjoy lower prices.[4] The supposed (overall) reduction in healthcare costs is used to justify and apologize for the initial use of force.

Though the question of whether the individual mandate can or should work in practice is certainly worth further consideration, my focus will now turn to how, specifically, it violates individual rights.

Let us suppose that President Obama is correct in assuming that the inclusion of an individual mandate in the PPACA will provide everyone with “basic security”, and that Professor Fried is correct in assuming that everyone will need healthcare at some point and that the individual mandate will help satisfy that eventual need. Both argue that since there is a need and a conceivable government solution, action should be taken to satisfy the need. Such an argument presupposes that there is a “right” to healthcare. The problem with this assumption is that a “right” to a good or service would require that somebody provide it, i.e., that somebody be forced to provide it. Benevolent intentions and pragmatic arguments aside, any attempt to promise a right to a service such as healthcare falls short when one considers what “rights” actually are. According to Paul Hsieh in The Objective Standard:

Rights are not entitlements to goods or services produced by others; rather, they are prerogatives to freedom of action, such as the right to free speech, the right to contract, or the right to use one’s property. Any attempt to enforce a so-called “right” to healthcare necessarily violates the actual rights of those who are forced to provide or pay for that care.[5]

As such, just as one cannot kick down a neighbor’s door and hold a family hostage until all members pay a small fee toward his healthcare costs, or invade every house in a neighborhood in order to mitigate the payment of each individual being forced to pay, a large number of citizens cannot properly hand the role of hostage-taker to the state or federal government in order to exact indirect but forced payments from all fellow citizens. In principle, all such actions are the same, since they violate the freedom of action by initiating force against innocent people in order to provide “basic security” to those who “need” it.

Having considered what one does not have the right to do, one should also bear in mind what rights consumers do have. To refer back to a previous passage, one has a right to enter into a contract, and to use one’s property – including money.[6] By the same token, one has the right to not enter into a contract, or to refrain from using one’s property in certain ways. Since, according to Damon Root of, “American contract law rests on the principle of mutual assent,” in cases in which two parties do not agree to the terms of a contract, i.e., if it is not mutual, then there is no proper contract.[7] Individuals forced to purchase healthcare, which they otherwise would not purchase or for which they would otherwise pursue different terms of contract for, effectively see their right to contract negated. Furthermore, if the health insurance provider is forced to provide a certain amount or type of coverage to certain or all people, their right is also violated.[8]  If an individual is forced to accept the insurance plan of a provider which is forced to insure them in a certain way, the rights of both parties are violated. In all such cases, there is no mutual agreement. In all such cases, somebody is being forced to spend their own money, and as such their right to use – or not to use – their own property as they see fit, is also violated. All this being said, whether or not the individual mandate would provide everyone with “basic security” within “a market that everyone must at some time enter” is patently irrelevant, since it violates rights – namely those of a contract of mutual agreement and of the ability to spend or save one’s own money.

A less frequently considered but no less important subject of the healthcare debate is that of the rights of health insurance providers. As Richard Salsman explains in Forbes, health insurance is:

a valuable service provided by intelligent, hard-working professionals with years of painstaking education and training; people who, like other Americans, deserve equal protection under the law, people who, like other Americans, have a right to their own life, liberty, property and the pursuit of their own happiness. Doctors, nurses, hospitals, drug-makers, and health insurers are no more “servants” of the masses, or even of those in need of health care, than are businessmen, bankers, teachers, journalists, or truck drivers servants of those who need their services.[9]

If healthcare were truly a right, members of the medical field would by default be rendered the servants of those who have the “need” to obtain, but not the expertise to create, health insurance. In the event that there were not enough insurance providers, somebody somewhere would have to be forced to enter the medical field in order to be able to satisfy the right of his fellow citizens to a service which requires effort on somebody’s part. Failure on the part of the mystically inexhaustible supply of health insurance providers would thereby constitute a violation of the rights of all uninsured people. However if we recall the forgoing discussion of the right to contract and to spend one’s own money as one sees fit, we can properly regard the “right” of uninsured people to the gift of insurance by somebody to be nonexistent, since it would violate the right of providers to their terms of the contract and to spend their money as they see fit. If the end of “basic security” justified the means of forcing a minority of the population to provide it, one could properly force healthcare providers to stand guard over gated, sanitized cities populated by their customers.

The content of health insurance plans approved by the PPACA should also be considered. While it does not make private insurance in itself illegal, the PPACA “does establish federal insurance requirements, enforced by the government, which will make many private plans illegal and will force many out of business.”[10] Under the individual mandate, millions of people would have to purchase government-approved insurance, which almost certainly would include “benefits” they would not benefit from. “For example,” writes Hsieh, “Massachusetts currently requires insurance plans to include…in vitro fertilization, blood lead poisoning treatment, and chiropractor services—whether or not customers want them. Residents must purchase alcoholism therapy benefits, even if they are teetotalers.”[11] This example is relevant because “ObamaCare” is based on Massachusetts’ “RomneyCare”, and they are alike in principle. Being forced by the individual mandate to choose from a limited number of government-approved plans (all of which would include any number of “benefits”) is neither beneficial nor right, since those purchasing such plans would be forced to spend money against their will in accordance with contracts they would be forced to accept. Providers would similarly be forced to spend money to provide “benefits” and to offer contractual terms outside the realm of their preference – all to maintain government approval and to not be run out of business for non-compliance.

Some would argue that having to choose between private plans is an identical situation to that described above, since there is a necessarily finite number of options when choosing health insurance plans. Many feel the “need” for health insurance, so they feel “forced” to purchase it. While it is true that customers of private plans are ultimately limited to what their insurers offer within a given plan, it is not so that they are victims of force, since they are not being compelled to purchase, or not purchase, anything. Even in cases where limited options or high costs for private insurance would at face value seem prohibitive, people would still be able to devise alternatives without government interference:

In a free society, caregivers would still be able to provide free services, innovative payment options would arise, and charity organizations and mutual aid societies would be free to fulfill their missions. There is no role here, however, for the forceful hand of government.[12]

Having considered several of the many ways that the individual mandate violates individual rights, we can make a strong moral case for its repeal. To review, the individual mandate would force millions of Americans to purchase a service they may neither want nor need, regardless of the specific needs which may or may not be addressed in a given plan, on pain of a fine; it would violate the freedom of action to enter (or stay out of) contracts or to spend (or not spend) one’s own money; it would violate the rights of insurance providers by forcing them to set contractual terms and spend money against their will; it would violate the rights of companies whose voluntarily offered services would not gain government approval; it would violate the rights of charities to provide their own version of healthcare if they too fell short of government approval; it would ultimately grant tyrannical power to the government to set the terms for the healthcare – and the lives – of every American. If America remains a free country where the rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness are still unapologetically upheld, such heinous violations of these rights will not be permitted, and the individual mandate along with all of the PPACA will be and properly ought to be repealed.

[1] Kliff, Sarah and Ezra Klein, “Individual mandate 101: what it is, and why it matters,” Washington Post, March 27, 2012

[2] Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Robert Pear, “Obama Signs Health Care Overhaul Bill, With a Flourish,” New York Times, March 23, 2010.

[3] The Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (2011) (testimony of Professor Charles Fried). Print.

[4] Dentzer, Susan, “What is the individual mandate and what if it’s declared unconstitutional?” March 27, 2012

[5] Hsieh, Paul, “Healthcare and the separation of charity and state,” The Objective Standard, 2011.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Root, Damon W, “The four best legal arguments against ObamaCare,”, March 24, 2012

[8] Ibid.

[9] Salsman, Richard M, “Note to the Supreme Court: health care is not a right,”, April 2, 2012

[10] Lewis, John David. “What the ‘Affordable Health Care for America Act,’ HR 3962, Actually Says”. The Objective Standard, 2009.

[11] Hsieh, Paul. “Mandatory health insurance: wrong for Massachusetts, wrong for America”. The Objective Standard, 2008.

[12] Rhoads, Jared M. “Two more encouraging things from the oral arguments on the individual mandate,” Center for Objective Health Policy, March 28, 2012

Should beverages containing high fructose corn syrup or caffeine be taxed at a higher rate to decrease consumption?

According to a post on, “Scientific studies suggest that the over-consumption of soft drinks can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, hypertension, tooth problems, bone weakening, bone demineralization, heart diseases, strokes and cancer, among other [severe health conditions].”[1] Furthermore, according to Fox Business, “Kids that consume caffeinated energy drinks are at risk for anxiety, high blood pressure and sleeplessness.”[2] Such negative health effects of high fructose corn syrup and caffeine-containing beverages are undeniable; such information is virtually common knowledge.

The fact remains, however, that consumers of these products choose to consume them. So what should be the government’s role be in decreasing the consumption of these goods? Absolutely none – the government has no business whatsoever in safeguarding our blood sugar levels or body mass indices.

Consumers have a right to choose what they consume, how often they consume it, and why or how they consume it. Within the category of consumers we may separately consider parents and their children; the former may properly discourage their children from partaking in unhealthy habits, including but not limited to the consumption of soft drinks and energy drinks; the latter should be permitted to spend any money they earn in any way they like. Neither group has the right to dictate how a grocery store stocks its shelves, and is not entitled to force companies – whose products they are in no way obligated to purchase – to make or stop making certain items. Private organizations of consumers, however, have the right to create healthier products, organize people to boycott an unfavorable product, or to seek other methods of discouraging others from using such products – provided that they are not using force, public money, or misinformation. An increased tax on caffeinated or high fructose corn syrup-containing beverages – no matter how small it would be – would effectively constitute a sin tax, which on principle would punish individual consumers, including those who purchase these products regularly enough to be undeterred by a tax, and those who only purchase them occasionally as indulgences.

Producers, on the other hand, have the right to produce as much as they want of a given product for as long as they are able to do so without government intervention, and to sell it at whatever price or advertise it to whatever demographic they desire. They do not have the right to rely on government subsidies or to enjoy limited competition as a result of raised taxes on another company (e.g. a milk company seeing higher sales in a month after taxes on soft drinks have been imposed). Faced with a sin tax on soft drinks and caffeine, producers of these beverages would see decreased sales as a result of indirect government force which would leave other products un-touched. Though the government would not be actively preventing consumption, it would still be limiting individuals’ right to choose.

The underlying principle which the government must properly respect for consumers and producers alike is the right to choose – the right to choose the contents of our stomachs, the path of our habits, and the individuals or groups with which we associate, patronize, and market to (or refrain from associating with, patronizing or marketing to). Consumers must be allowed to make intelligent (or stupid) decisions with regard to their own health. Producers must be allowed to function freely and compete fairly, without help or hindrance from government-manufactured taboos or funds.

The associated nutritional shortcomings and social taboos of such products, as well as the frequency with which one consumes such products, are irrelevant to the consideration of the rights of producers and consumers to choose. Incidentally, this principle applies equally to alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, and marijuana.[3] As such, no amount of studies on the negative health effects of these products – no number of associated diseases or deaths – will constitute an argument in favor of the violation of individual rights. Freedom, not favorable public health statistics, is the proper concern for government.

Bearing this principle in mind, common arguments for taxing the beverages in question can be easily dealt with. Some would argue that a tax would discourage people from buying soft-drinks or energy drinks, thereby decreasing obesity rates. Some would argue that a tax would be a practical way to raise revenues for healthcare or to keep consumers from “making bad decisions”.[4] Both camps are right – these methods would work. But that, once again, is irrelevant if one’s concern is with rights; these methods would violate the right to choose which products to make and use.

[1] Pomoni, C. “How to cut back on soft drink consumption”, October 5 2009

[2] Rogers, K. “Energy drinks: should your child drink them?” Fox Business, September 12 2011

[3] Daley, B. “Collectivism and the Soda Tax” The Center for Objective Health Policy, July 15 2009

[4] Glaeser, E. “Demonizing, and/ or taxing, soda” The New York Times, September 22 2009

Fallacies in the Humanities

By Mike Gustafson

One of the dominant principles among today’s intellectuals is that there are no objective principles in the humanities. In metaphysics, the first principle—the Law of Identity—is under severe attack. In epistemology, the relationship between principles and facts has been severed. In Ethics, objective principles have been relegated to deontology while the nature of good and evil has been cast into caprice of relativism. In politics, the principle of individual rights has long since been abrogated; in its place, politicians have resorted to range-of-the-moment pragmatism guided by a vague reverence for altruism. The science of government has devolved into extreme pragmatism as legislators pass thousands of pages (4,517 in 2010) of arbitrary laws each year. In esthetics, intellectuals boast about the subjectivity of art and claim that beauty is an essentially contestable concept. Historians claim that there is no such thing as objective history—that, since history must be interpreted by someone, it is necessarily subjective. In place of objective principles, historians resort to accumulating various factors that influenced historic events. Economists, while they affirm objective principles in the idealized fantasy of free-markets, deny that these principles apply to the economics of the real world. Psychology has split into a handful of schools each with their own incomplete set of principles: behaviorists and psychoanalysts deny free will; cognitive psychologists neglect values; humanists neglect cognition; and biological psychologists deny free will, values, and cognition. In the name of progress, the humanities must be set on a firm foundation.

In order to be set on a firm foundation, the widespread fallacies in the humanities—such as the denial of objective principles—must be identified. A fallacy is a widespread principle that contradicts facts. This article identifies many of the fallacies in the humanities and exposes the contradictions which they imply.


The humanities are those sciences which depend on the nature of man. Philosophy is the basic human science because it subsumes every aspect of man, existence, and man’s relationship to existence. Metaphysics is the fundamental branch of philosophy because it establishes the basic axioms upon which the other sciences rest. Epistemology is based on metaphysics; it is the branch of philosophy that studies man’s consciousness. Ethics is based on epistemology and metaphysics; it is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of values and the means to achieve values. Politics is a corollary of the ethics; it is the self-evident extension of ethics into the domain of man’s relationships. Economics and the science of government are subdivisions of politics; economics studies voluntary relationships whereas the science of government studies coercive relationships. Esthetics is based on ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics; it is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of art. Metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and esthetics make up the five branches of philosophy. History and psychology are both based on philosophy as a whole; history studies the record of man’s past is relation to philosophy whereas psychology studies the nature of man’s subconscious in relation to philosophy. This article discusses the basic science of man—philosophy—as well as four other major humanities—economics, government, history, and psychology.


The widespread fallacy in metaphysics that has particularly infected the rest of the humanities is materialism. Materialism is the view that nothing exists except physical entities—in other words, it denies the existence of consciousness. Materialists hold that all scientific knowledge must be based on the nature and actions of physical entities. Therefore, consciousness has no scientific foundation because it cannot be reduced to physical phenomena. Materialism denies the existence of consciousness—or, in the words of Ayn Rand, materialism advocates “existence without consciousness.”

Since materialism holds that existence is only composed of physical entities, it holds that causality is nothing more than a chain reaction between physical entities. This is the ‘billiard-ball’ theory of causality; that the action of an entity is sufficiently caused by the former action of another entity.

The materialist view of causality leads naturally to the denial of free will. Materialism maintains that consciousness as a whole does not exist because it is not physical. Likewise, ‘Billiard-ball’ causality maintains that free will—a part of consciousness—does not exist because nothing is causally self-sufficient. Since materialism holds that all actions are sufficiently caused by previous actions, an uncaused cause—such as free will—cannot exist. According to materialism, free will is an illusion and all of man’s choices and actions are pre-determined by the actions of his environment and of his brain.

Thomas Hobbes, one of the foremost materialists, sums up his view of causality and free will as follows: “I conceive that nothing takes beginning from itself, but from the action of some other immediate agent without itself. And that, therefore, when first a man has an appetite or will to something, to which immediately before he had no appetite nor will, the cause of his will is not the will itself, but something else not in his own disposing.”[1]

Materialism is logically inconsistent with every single moment of man’s experience. When man perceives a physical entity it implies that there is both an entity that exists and a consciousness which perceives it. The fact of consciousness is axiomatic, i.e., it is self-evident. Implicit in every moment of awareness is the fact that there is a consciousness which is aware. Just as there cannot be a painting without a painter; so there cannot be awareness without a consciousness which is aware. In short, the claim that consciousness does not exist is self-contradictory because the claim itself implies that there is a consciousness capable of making such a claim.

The materialist view of causality is also logically inconsistent with every single moment of man’s experience. Man constantly perceives entities acting in certain ways that are not sufficiently explained by the former actions of other entities. In fact, it is absolutely false to assert that every action is sufficiently caused by the former action of another entity. For example, the fact that a billiard ball rolls in a certain direction and speed—as opposed to bursting into flames or rolling at a different speed—cannot be sufficiently explained by the action of the billiard ball that struck it. The motion of a billiard ball depends not only on the ball that strikes it, but also on the nature of the billiard ball itself—the material that it is made out of, its weight, its spherical structure, etc. All of the attributes of an entity contribute to the explanation of its motion. ‘Billiard-ball’ causality only considers the relationship between two entities. In fact, the action of an entity depends on both its relationship to other entities and on its attributes. The ‘billiard-ball’ theory of causality contradicts the effects that an entities attributes have on its action.

The materialist view of free will is also logically inconsistent with every single moment of man’s experience. It is an inescapable fact that man is constantly selecting among alternatives—e.g., which part of his visual field to focus on, which words to use, which actions to take, which friends to make, etc. Contrary to the demands of the materialists, free will cannot be identified by reference to neurological entities alone. Neurological explanations—such as dopamine levels or neurological quantum mechanics—cannot sufficiently explain the actions of man. The relationship between the brain and consciousness is an important relationship, but it is still only one relationship. The existence of free will does not depend on its relationship to the brain alone. There is a seemingly infinite amount of observations (of selecting among alternatives) that affirm the existence of free will—the materialist view of free will contradicts these observations.


There are three widespread epistemological fallacies: subjectivism, pragmatism, and the belief that the humanities are not subject to measurement.

The dichotomy between subjectivism and pragmatism refers to the nature of principles. Principles are statements that identify a relationship between concepts—and, concepts are man’s means of organizing observable facts. Both subjectivism and pragmatism endorse a breach between principles and observable facts. Subjectivism holds that the use of principles implies a necessary evasion of facts. For instance, a subjectivist might claim: “Sure, one can use free-market principles to describe certain economic behaviors, but such principles cannot be taken as immutable law; after all, there are many instances where free-market principles break down.” Subjectivism, in this sense, contradicts the contextual nature of principles.

All principles are valid only in a specific context. For instance, free-market principles are valid only in the context of voluntary trade—wherever there is voluntary trade, free-market principles are absolutely true. A principle cannot be required to apply to instances outside of its context. For instance, free-market principles cannot be required to apply to instances of government intervention. A principle is valid if and only if it holds for every instance within its context. Subjectivism holds that principles should hold for all instances regardless of context—in other words, it contradicts the fact that principles are contextual.

Pragmatism is a natural consequence of subjectivism. According to pragmatism, if principles cannot be absolutely true regardless of context, then they should be abandoned as cognitive instruments. In place of principles, pragmatists turn to facts. In the words of the arch-pragmatist William James: a pragmatist turns away from “abstraction” and “fixed-principles” and turns toward “concreteness” and “facts.” The pragmatic cognitive method consists of breaking up a cognitive whole into its constituent elements and then assessing those elements out of context. For example, in order to determine the cause of the industrial revolution, a pragmatist would differentiate the various factors of the industrial revolution—technology, agriculture, government, etc.—and would be content with identifying how each of the factors influenced the industrial revolution. His method consists of breaking apart the various aspects of the industrial revolution and treating each aspect as independent from the others.

In other words, the pragmatic method consists of differentiation without integration. Man’s conceptual faculty, however, performs both differentiation and integration. A conceptual explanation of the industrial revolution, like the pragmatic explanation, starts by differentiating the various factors involved. Unlike the pragmatists, however, a conceptual investigation seeks out the relationships between the various factors—in other words, it seeks out principles. The end product of the pragmatic investigation is a set of disassociated factors; the end product of the conceptual investigation, on the other hand, is a logical hierarchy of principles culminating in a fundamental principle. The pragmatic cognitive method contradicts the nature of man’s conceptual faculty, i.e., the fact that man’s mind can integrate data into a conceptual whole.

Another widespread fallacy in epistemology is the belief that the humanities are not subject to measurement. The consequence of such a fallacy is the division between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sciences. ‘Hard’ sciences those with attributes that can be measured whereas ‘soft’ sciences are those with attributes that cannot be measured. Physics, for example, is a ‘hard’ science because attributes such as ‘position’ and ‘velocity’ can be measured. Ethics, on the other hand, is a ‘soft’ science because attributes like ‘right’ and ‘good’ cannot be measured. In fact, the subject matter of a science has nothing to do with one’s ability to measure the attributes it subsumes. There is no such division between those attributes which can be measured and those that cannot—all attributes can be measured.

All attributes can be measured because measurement is not an aspect of existence but a method of consciousness; specifically, the method employed in concept-formation. Ayn Rand was the first to identify that the essential method of concept formation is measurement-omission. Her theory of measurement-omission is the answer to the question: “When forming a concept from a set of entities, which aspects of those entities are retained and which aspects are omitted?” Her answer is: the attribute that distinguishes those entities from all others is retained but the specific measurements of that attribute are omitted. Take for instance the formation of the concept ‘man’. The distinguishing attribute of man—his rational faculty—is retained, but the specific measurements of that attribute—such as the range of one’s rational faculty—are omitted.

The reason that man can integrate various entities into a single concept is because the units of each concept differ only quantitively in respect to their attributes. For example, every ‘entity’ differs only quantitatively in respect to its length and its weight. For a more complex example, all ‘men’ differ only quantitatively in respect to their height, weight, intelligence, and wealth. All attributes can be measured because the instances of each attribute differ only quantitatively from each other.

The difficulty with measuring the attributes of concepts in the humanities is that the attributes are extremely complex. Attributes such as length and height are simple because they are directly perceivable. An attribute of man such as ‘reason’, on the other hand, is complex because it cannot be directly perceived. In order for an attribute to be measured, one must discover a directly perceivable unit of measurement. In respect to the attribute ‘length’, an inch or a foot or a meter are all directly perceivable units that can serve as the standard of measurement. In respect to the more complex attributes such as ‘magnetic charge’ or ‘reason’, complex methods of measurement must be derived. The belief that measurement doesn’t apply to the humanities contradicts the fact that all attributes of all entities can be measured, including the attributes of man.


Two of the primary fallacies in ethics—hedonism and altruism—stem from a negation of the fact that man is a rational animal.

Hedonism negates the fact that man is rational. It holds that the good for man is whatever satisfies his immediate urges. Even more, hedonism advocates the satisfaction of one’s urges at all cost, at the expense of anything and anyone. Hedonism views man as an animal that responds automatically to pleasure or pain and has no interests beyond the immediate moment. It denies the fact that man’s action are not automatic; that man is constantly faced with alternatives and that he requires principles to guide his choices. Also, hedonists deny the fact that man must create the values that make life worth living; that he must use his reasoning mind to discover which values to pursue and how to achieve them. Man cannot survive by the stimulus-response method of animals, he must use his rational faculty to discover and create his values. Hedonism contradicts the fact that man must survive by means of his rational faculty—which means, by means of moral principles and long-range goals.

Altruism, on the other hand, negates the fact that man is an animal. All animals must generate those actions which sustain their lives—this includes man. Man must use his mind to figure out which values his life requires and then he must act to achieve those values.

Rationality is the means by which man survives. Altruism upholds a different view of rationality. According to altruism, since man is rational, he is not obliged to the same dog-eat-dog world of the animal kingdom. Instead of merely worrying about one’s own survival, man ought to worry about his neighbors and about all of mankind. He should stop worrying about himself and act only for the benefit of others.

The altruist view is summed up by this quote from Martin Luther: “For man does not live for himself alone in this mortal body, in order to work on its account, but also for all men on earth; nay, he lives only for others, and not for himself.” In other words, it is good to take actions for the benefit of others and it is evil to take actions for one’s own benefit. In the words of August Comte, who coined the term altruism: altruism is “living for others.” Within the works of Comte, one can see the explicit denial of the fact that man is an animal. To him, man rises above the level of primitive animals and is not bound the individualism and egoism of the animal kingdom. Comte observed that animals have certain faculties which are directed towards their own survival and that “it is only in the human species…that any kind of inversion of this order can be conceived.”[2] The inversion he speaks of is a man who lives not for himself but for others; a man who subordinates his needs to the needs of mankind as a whole. Altruism contradicts the fact that man is an animal who must provide for his own survival.


One of the major fallacies in politics is the belief that sacrifice is an unavoidable aspect of human relationships. Politics picks up the hedonism/altruism dichotomy and asserts that man must either sacrifice himself to others or sacrifice others to himself. In a speech given on July 25, 2011, President Obama claimed that the richest Americans ought “to share in the sacrifice everyone else has to make.” The belief that sacrifice is necessary rests on the false assumption that there is a finite amount of value in the world and that men are in cut-throat competition to get their fair share. If there is a finite amount of value, then one man’s gain is another man’s loss. The belief that there is a finite amount of value is expressed in political speeches which demand that everyone in society do their ‘fair share’ for the society as a whole. Many politicians believe that there is a finite amount of value in a society which must be distributed fairly among all citizens.

In fact, there is not a static quantity of value. Man has the distinctive capacity to create value; which means, to take the elements of existence and rearrange them in a way which enhances his life. Thus, there is no limit to the amount of value that can be created. One man can gain without loss to anyone else. In addition to creating value, men can trade the values that they create. A trade is a voluntary agreement between two or more individuals to exchange values. Trade does not require a winner and a loser—both parties can win. For example, if one man has a lot of i-phones and no food and another man has a lot of food and no i-phones, the two men can trade to mutual benefit. The belief that sacrifice is unavoidable contradicts the fact that man can create and trade values without expense to anyone else.

Economics and Government

There are two basic ways that men can deal with each other: they can trade with each other or they can use force against each other. Trade is a voluntary association whereas force is a coercive association. Within the science of politics there is a basic division which arises from these two types of association—trade is the province of economics and force is the province of the science of government.

One of the major fallacies in economics is the belief that free-market principles are invalid because they do not apply to many real-world situations. It is true that free-market principles don’t apply to many real-world situations but this does not mean that they are invalid—it means simply that the real-world is not a free market. A principle cannot be required to apply to instances outside of its context. For instance, in free markets interest rates rise as inflation rates rise because lenders must compensate for the devaluation of money over the term of the loan. However, if interest rates are fixed by the government, then the link between inflation rates and interest rates is broken. In this case, contrary to what many economists believe, there is no contradiction between the principle and the facts. The principle describing the relationship between interest rates and inflation rates applies only to voluntary associations whereas the fact of fixed interest rates is an instance of a coercive or forceful association.

Economists have a hard time differentiating between the voluntary and coercive elements within a market—they package them together and then dismiss free-market principles for not applying to the package-deal. There are many instances in a mixed economy to which free-market principles apply and there are many instances to which they don’t. The belief that free-market principles are invalid because they don’t apply to a mixed-economy contradicts the fact that a mixed economy contains coercive elements which are not subsumed under free market principles.

In respect to the other half of politics, one of the main errors in the science of government is the notion that the government can solve economic problems. The only solution to economic problems is production, i.e., the creation of wealth. The government, as an agent of force, cannot create wealth—it can only destroy or distribute wealth. Wealth is created by scientists, inventors, businessmen, and moneylenders, among others. If there is an economic problem such as unemployment, the only solution is the production of more wealth so that more people have jobs.

A common trend among politicians is to wish that society was further advanced that it actually is. They wish that everyone had jobs, healthcare, and high wages—but their wishes cannot create wealth. Because of their wishes, they decide to intervene into the economy in order to force it to be more like they desire. Their interventions have enormous consequences throughout the economy and lead to many new problems. In respect to these new problems, the government intervenes again and creates even more problems. As President Reagan said in his 1981 Inaugural Address: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to the problem—government is the problem.” The belief that government can solve economic problems contradicts the nature of government. Government is an agent of force; as such, it cannot create wealth but can only destroy or redistribute it.


The science that has perhaps been most affected by the fallacy of epistemological subjectivism is esthetics. In today’s culture, there is a great deal of hostility against claim that art can be judged objectively. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” people say, as if the nature of a work of art has nothing to do with it being beautiful or not. An objective evaluation of art is possible because art is something specific, i.e., it has a specific nature.

The beauty of a work of art is not found in the work alone or in the mind alone, but in the relationship between the two—that is, beauty is an evaluation of a work of art as perceived by man. An objective esthetic evaluation must refer to both the nature of the work of art and to the nature of man’s mind. Man’s mind consists of both a perceptual and conceptual faculty. When creating a work of art, the artist begins with a conceptual abstraction and then attempts to create a perceptual representation of that abstraction. The abstraction serves as the theme upon which the artist bases his selection of every concrete detail. For instance, a painter can begin with the theme ‘the spirit of youth’ and then attempt to express this abstraction in the form of a concrete, perceptual entity, i.e., a painting.

An esthetic evaluation of a work of art refers to the degree to which the artist has effectively concretized his theme. Such an evaluation is based on the various elements of a work of art as well as on the relationship of those elements to the artist’s abstract theme. For instance, if an author has perfectly expressed his theme throughout the plot, characterization, and style of his novel, then it is a beautiful novel. The nature of art determines how man ought to evaluate it. A work of art ought to be judged by the degree to which the artist has succeeded in concretizing his abstract theme. The claim that beauty is in the eye of the beholder contradicts the fact that an evaluation of art must be based on the nature of art and not on the nature of the observer.


One of the widespread fallacies in the science of history is complexity-worship. Overwhelmed with the vast complexity of historical data, historians often turn to what Leonard Peikoff called “complexity-worship.” In respect to history, complexity-worship amounts to the statement: “because history is complex, no simple answers are possible.” Complexity-worship is a consequence of epistemological pragmatism. Since many historians refuse to use principles to condense and simplify historical data, they must learn to live with and love the complexity of history.

The typical history professor would immediately discount any simple answer on the grounds that because it is simple it must not be true. There is a history professor at the University of Massachusetts who once said: “There is no such thing as objective history. All historical knowledge is relative; it is culturally filtered. The great thing about history is that it is hard and complex; that there are no simple answers. But, you history students already know this stuff. Objective, simplistic history is impossible.” In this single quote one can observe the pragmatism/subjectivism dichotomy and the complexity-worship that results from it. Since history is interpreted by someone, with certain cultural filters, it is necessarily subjective. And, since it is subjective, the principles that one might form could never fully explain the facts. Without principles, therefore, history is a bewildering complexity; and that is what complexity-worshipper’s love about it.

Complexity-worship misunderstands the nature of man’s conceptual faculty; specifically, the nature of abstraction. A typical explanation of a historical event consists of a set of different causes (plural) that explain the event. For example, many historians are content with a multiplicity of causes for the Industrial Revolution. There are technological causes, agricultural causes, macroeconomic causes, political causes, etc. These professors reject the possibility of a single cause. The reason that they reject this possibility is that they recognize that singling out one of the existing causes would necessarily omit the other causes. For example, the single cause of the Industrial Revolution cannot be technological, because that would omit the agricultural, macroeconomic, and political causes. These complexity-worshipping historians do not understand the nature of abstraction. Each of the existing categories of causes, on their own, cannot explain every aspect of the industrial revolution; but, man has the power of abstraction, he can abstract a single cause of the multiplicity. If one looks at the technological, political, and economic aspects of the industrial revolution, among others, one can attempt to abstract a single cause. In this case, the single cause might be something like: “the cause of the industrial revolution was a commitment to reason.” Then, if one can prove that a commitment to reason was the cause of political freedom, of technological achievement, of macroeconomic production, etc. then one can prove that reason is the fundamental cause of the industrial revolution.

Complexity-worship contradicts the nature of man’s conceptual faculty. Concepts and principles are man’s means of identifying and simplifying vast amounts of data. Historical data is extremely vast and complex; but this does not imply that man is incapable of abstracting out simple answers.


There are five major schools of psychology: psychoanalysis, behaviorism, cognitive psychology, humanism, and biological psychology (this article does not discuss biological psychology). Each school either denies or neglects a certain aspect of man.

The behaviorists and psychoanalysts deny that man has free will. Behaviorism is based on the premise that only man’s physical actions are subject to scientific study. The behaviorists not only deny free will, they also drop all introspection from the context of psychology. John B. Watson, the founder of behaviorism, claimed that “introspection forms no essential part”[3] of psychology. B. F. Skinner, one of the foremost behaviorists, argued against free will in his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, considered free will an unscientific illusion which must “yield to the demand of a determinism whose rule extends over mental life.”[4] Freud saw that causality was a law of nature and thought that it ought to apply to man’s mental life as well. He is right: man’s choices are determined by antecedent causes; however, this does not imply that man does not have free will.

As Leonard Peikoff explains: “Man chooses the causes that shape his actions.” Man has the power to program his own subconscious. When making conscious decisions, man must choose among alternatives. Such a choice is caused by various factors such as one’s values, knowledge, the opinions of friends, etc. These factors—that are chosen—serve as the cause for man’s choice and actions. Over time, similar choices are integrated by man’s subconscious into an automatic response. Man’s habits and emotions are automatic responses that have been automatized through a series of similar choices. Even if a man has chosen to abstain from making conscious decisions, i.e., to passively react to his environment, his actions will be caused by platitudes and norms that he has passively accepted over the years—which were ultimately caused by his choice to abstain from choosing. There is no dichotomy between causality and free will because man chooses the causes that shape his actions. The psychoanalytic and behaviorist schools of psychology contradict the fact that man’s actions are both caused and free.

The cognitive psychologist school and the humanist school affirm that man has free will but neglect certain domains of man’s choices—cognitive psychologists neglect the domain of values whereas humanists neglect the domain of reason.

Cognitive psychology was pioneered by Ulric Neisser in the late 1960’s. Neisser, who was highly influenced by the developments in computer science, viewed man as a dynamic information processing machine. Cognitive psychology studies the methods by which man processes the information that he experiences. A cognitive psychologist views the mind as an intermediary processer between experiential input and behavioral output. Cognitive psychology is a valid branch of psychology and has discovered a lot of valuable knowledge for the future of psychology. However, since it only studies cognitive processes as they can be observed in test-subjects, it cannot provide knowledge as to how man ought to use his mind. Cognitive psychology provides no direction or aim or purpose towards which man’s mental processes ought to be directed. It provides a description of mental process but not an evaluation of those mental processes.

Neisser recognized that cognitive psychology was only one part of the whole science of psychology. He did not deny the importance of values and he recognized the necessity of having certain branches of psychology which do deal with values. Cognitive psychology does not deny values; rather, it neglects them.

Humanistic psychology is based entirely on the achievement of values. According to humanism, the highest value is self-actualization—or, the realizing of one’s full potential. Humanists claim that they affirm free will but in many cases they deny it. Abraham Maslow, one of the two foremost humanists, held that man has an innate drive towards self-actualization driven by the requirements of human life. However, since man has free will, he does not automatically desire or pursue the values which his life requires. Maslow’s belief in an innate drive to self-actualize is inconsistent with his advocacy of free will. Carl Rogers, the other foremost humanist, held that self-actualization is fostered primarily by one’s childhood experience and one’s environment. Like all other organisms, Rogers held that the proper environment is necessary for growth. The determinism implicit in Rogers’ focus on external forces is inconsistent with humanism’s advocacy of free will.

The primary fallacy in humanism is that there is no objective standard for self-actualization. While both Roger’s and Maslow enumerated several characteristics of self-actualization, both held that it is ultimately based on each man’s subjective values. In fact, however, there is an objective standard of value and it is based on the requirements of man’s life. Because man has a specific nature, he must survive and flourish by specific means. For instance, because man’s mind is his means of survival, he must discover the proper way to use his mind, i.e., he must discover reason. Humanism recognizes that man is driven by the requirements of his life, but it lacks sufficient definition of those requirements. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs provides adequate definition for man’s basic needs, but it relegates man’s higher needs to subjectivism.

Because humanism rejects an objective standard of value, it neglects the value of reason. Since man is a being of a specific nature, there are specific values which his survival requires. In order to discover those values, man must use his mind properly, i.e. he must be rational. Man’s mind is his means of discovering and achieving the objective values which he requires. Humanism recognizes the importance of the achievement of values, but it neglects the means by which man achieves values, i.e., it neglects reason.


The identification of fallacies within the humanities has an enormous benefit—it undermines the skepticism that has reduced the humanities to stagnation.

As long as materialism prevails in metaphysics, skepticism will reign because the humanities will have no foundation. All science is based on the law of identity—which states that everything that exists has a specific identity. By claiming that consciousness does not exist, materialism denies that consciousness has a specific identity. Without identifying the nature of consciousness it is impossible to identify the nature of man—and the identification of the nature of man is the foundation of the humanities.

As long as the subjectivism/pragmatism dichotomy prevails in epistemology, the humanities will not have objective principles. An objective principle is one which is true of every instance within its context. Subjectivists observe that principles do not apply to instances outside of their context and then conclude that objective principles are impossible. Pragmatists take up this conclusion and abandon principles altogether in favor of investigating facts on a case-by-case basis—without context or principles to guide them. As long as intellectuals hold a necessary breach between principles and facts, objective principles will not take hold in the humanities—and skepticism will reign.

As long as the hedonism/altruism dichotomy prevails in ethics, the humanities will have no objective standard of value. The standard of ethical value is based on the nature of man. Man is a rational animal; as such he must use reason in order to achieve the values which his life requires. Hedonism negates the fact that man is rational by claiming that he can survive by the whim-of-the-moment. Altruism negates the fact that man is an animal by claiming that he does not need to provide for his own survival. As long as ethics negates the nature of man, the humanities will not have an objective standard of value—and skepticism will reign.

As long as the altruism/hedonism dichotomy prevails in ethics, the necessity of sacrifice will prevail in politics. If morality consists of sacrificing oneself to others or sacrificing others to oneself, then sacrifice will appear to be a necessary aspect of human relationships. Sacrifice is not necessary because man has the power to create value and trade value in win-win relationships. As long as the necessity of sacrifice prevails in politics—where one man’s gain is another man’s loss—men will be skeptical of the possibility of a benevolent society.

As long as men believe that sacrifice is a necessary aspect of man’s life, they will allow the government to reign over our lives and liberties. If sacrifice is a necessary aspect of man’s life, then the role of the government is to determine who should be sacrificed to whom. Since man has the power to create wealth, however, no one needs to be sacrificed. In order to improve the economy, a society needs more wealth creation and not more wealth distribution. The government, as an agent of force, cannot produce wealth; it can only destroy or redistribute it. As long as the necessity of sacrifice reigns in politics, men will be skeptical about the benefits of a limited government.

As long as subjectivism prevails in epistemology, economists will be skeptical about free-market principles. Subjectivism claims that principles are not a valid means of cognition because they imply a necessary evasion of facts. Economists discount free market principles because they cannot account for certain facts found within a mixed economy. A principle cannot be required to apply to instances that are not within its context; free market principles do not apply to instances of coercion in a mixed-economy.

As long as subjectivism prevails in epistemology, it will also prevail in esthetics. Just as subjectivists hold that principles are necessarily separated from the real world, they also hold that esthetics evaluations are necessarily separated from the nature of the work of art. According to subjectivism, the beauty of a work of art has nothing to do with the work itself but only with the “eye of the beholder”. In fact, the evaluation of a work of art must be based on the nature of the work itself. Art is a concretization of an artist’s abstract theme; as such, it is evaluated based on the harmony of the different elements within the work of art in relation to the abstract theme. As long as subjectivism prevails in esthetics, man will be skeptical about the possibility of objective esthetic evaluations.

As long as pragmatism prevails in epistemology, complexity-worship will prevail in history. Pragmatists abandon principles as cognitive instruments; this leaves historians without a means to deal with the vast complexity of historical data. As long as complexity-worship prevails in history, historians will be skeptical about simple answers.

As long the subjectivism/pragmatism dichotomy prevails in epistemology, psychology will not be a unified science. One of the premises of the subjectivism/pragmatism dichotomy is that knowledge is not contextual. Subjectivism holds that that a principle ought to apply to a fact outside of its context. Pragmatism holds that a fact can be identified and evaluated apart from its context. The various branches of psychology all drop a certain aspect of the context of man. The behaviorists and psychoanalysts drop the fact that man has free will; the cognitive psychologists drop the fact that man’s mind is his means of pursuing values; and the humanists drop the fact that reason is his means of achievement. In order for psychology to be a unified science, psychologists must recognize that the entity which they study, i.e., man, is a unity. Man is a single entity, from which one can differentiate different attributes such as his free will, his pursuit of values, and his means of knowledge. All of these attributes, however, are interconnected with each other because they are attributes of a single entity. As long as psychology denies or neglects certain aspects of man, psychology will not be a unified science.

The humanities are under attack from a number of widespread fallacies. The identification of the fallacies undermines the skepticism which pervades the humanities and is the first step towards setting the humanities on a firm foundation.


[1] Hobbes, Thomas, John Bramhall, and Vere Claiborne. Chappell. Hobbes and Bramhall on Liberty and Necessity. Cambridge [etc.: Cambridge UP, 2003. (p.38)

[2] The Positive Philosophy of August Comte, 85

[3] Watson, John B. “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It.” Psychological Review 20 (1913): 158-77.

[4] Freud, Sigmund. “Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis.” (1916): 106.

James Watt as the Embodiment of Francis Bacon’s Philosophy

By Mike Gustafson

Of the various factors that contributed to the Industrial Revolution, the economic, political, geographic, technological, and historic factors have received the bulk of the attention. This paper will deal with the philosophic causes of the Industrial Revolution. Today, philosophy is viewed as a theoretical science without application to the practical problems of life; this view is certainly justified given the philosophies that dominate our culture. In the 18th century, however, philosophy was viewed as a highly practical science. Science, as we know it today, was called Natural Philosophy during the Enlightenment. The great scientists such as Henry Cavendish, Joseph Banks, Isaac Newton, et al., were called Natural Philosophers. Contrary to today’s view of philosophy, the Enlightenment intellectuals understood that philosophic knowledge was a prerequisite to solving the practical problems of life.

The recognition of the power of philosophy was unique to the Enlightenment. The post-modern view that philosophy is impractical existed before the Enlightenment as well. The champion of the power of philosophy was Francis Bacon (1561-1626). Bacon rejected the Scholastic philosophy, which preceded him, because it was divorced from practical application. He held that knowledge is power—which means, the production of material goods flows directly from scientific discoveries. While it is possible to trace Bacon’s influence throughout the Enlightenment—such as his influence on the English Royal Society and on Diderot’s Encyclopédie—this paper will take a much narrower and simpler approach. I will demonstrate the influence of Bacon’s philosophy by describing the character of a man who perfectly embodied it—James Watt. By giving a concrete, real-life example of Bacon’s philosophy—the character of James Watt—I hope to demonstrate Bacon’s influence.

In the beginning of the 18th century, many inventions had already begun to improve man’s standard of living. The men behind those inventions, however, only knew “how things worked and not why they worked. Explanations were to come later, and with them a natural acceleration of both improvement and fresh invention.”[1] For example, Thomas Newcomen had created a steam engine that utilized the available knowledge of steam. He did not seek to understand the nature of steam himself; rather, he was more interested in creating an engine based on the existing knowledge. It was not until Joseph Black and James Watt had (independently) discovered the nature of Latent Heat that the steam engine was greatly improved. Newcomen was a mere inventor, but Watt was both a scientist and an inventor. James Watt was perhaps the first real engineer who applied scientific principles to his inventions.[2] A friend of Watt’s, Mr. Lauder, describes how Watt was both an Inventor and a Discoverer. In “Watt’s Discoveries of the Properties of Steam,” Lauder remarks on how Watt was determined to understand the principles of steam power: “The spirit of enquiry was in possession of him, and he had to find out all he could about the nature of steam.”[3] By the end of the 18th century, applied science had become “the link between science and industry.”[4]

The trend towards scientific knowledge as a prerequisite of practical invention has its roots in Bacon’s philosophy. Bacon held that in order to produce an effect one must first understand the cause. He famously declared, “Nature to be commanded must be obeyed; and that which in contemplation is as the cause is in operation as the rule.”[5] This simple aphorism contains a major aspect of Watt’s character; namely, that in order to command nature, he knew that he must discover the principles that lay hidden beneath the surface. He knew that in order to produce an efficient steam engine, he must discover the cause of steam power.

Before Watt’s time, for example, once the cause of the movement of a piston was determine to be related to pressure, the pressure from steam (and negative pressure from evacuated steam) could be used to move a piston. In respect to Watt himself, for example, once he discovered that the cause of wasted steam power in Newcomen’s engine was the re-heating of the piston, he was able to produce a separate condenser to increase its efficiency four-fold. Sir Humphrey Davy precisely described how Watt first sought after the cause of steam power:

“Mr. Watt’s improvements were not produced by accidental circumstances or by a single ingenious thought; they were founded on delicate and refined experiments, connected with the discoveries of Dr. Black. He had to investigate the cause [italics mine] of the cold produced by evaporation, of the heat occasioned by the condensation of steam—to determine the source of the air appearing when water was acted upon by an exhausting power; the ratio of the volume of steam to its generating water, and the law by which the elasticity of steam increased with temperature; labor, time, numerous and difficult experiments, were required for the ultimate result; and when his principle was obtained, the application of it to produce movement of machinery demanded a new species of intellectual and experimental labor.”[6]

Watt understood that if he wanted to command nature to serve his purposes, he must first understand it, and then obey it. He knew, as Bacon wrote, that “toward the effecting of works, all man can do is to put together or put asunder natural bodies. The rest is done by nature working within.”[7] Watt was determined to understand the ‘nature working within’ the steam engine so that he could re-arrange its parts to serve his purposes. Professor Pritchett, who taught at MIT in the late 19th century, commented on Watt’s investigation into the nature of steam: he wrote, “The problem of which Watt solved a part is not the problem of inventing a machine, but the problem of using and storing the forces of nature which now go to waste.” The forces of nature, particularly of steam, are what they are; they cannot be altered but they can be harnessed. For example, Watt’s discovery of the nature of latent heat that lay ‘within’ steam allowed him to increase the efficiency of the steam engine five-fold.[8] Watt was able to harness the latent heat that was ‘hidden’ in steam in order to serve his own purposes.

Another example of Watt discovering the cause of something in order to produce the effect is found in his method of building an organ. He was commissioned by the Mason’s Lodge in Glasgow to build a finger-organ. Watt proceeded to build the organ in true Baconian style. First, he discovered all there was to know about the science of music, and then he proceeded to construct his organ. Andrew Carnegie, in his biography of Watt, notes how upon receiving the commission, “Watt immediately devoted himself to a study of the laws of harmony, making science supplement his lack of the musical ear. As usual, the study was exhaustive…It is safe to say that there was not then a man in Britain who knew more of the science of music and was more thoroughly prepared to excel in the art of making organs than the new organ-builder.”[9] Watt sought knowledge of music in order to have the power to build an organ. In the same passage, Carnegie notes how Watt’s method of operation—first knowledge and then application—was ever-present, and that “the best proof that [Watt] was a man of true genius is that he first made himself master of all knowledge bearing upon his tasks.”[10]

Francis Bacon is famously known for his claim that knowledge is power: he wrote, “Human knowledge and human power meet in one.” In Bruce J. Hunt’s book, Pursuing Power and Light, he writes, “the interaction between the pursuit of knowledge and the pursuit of power comes across especially clearly in…the relationship between the development of the steam engine and the study of heat and energy.”[11] In Watt, we have the typical character of the men of the Enlightenment; they were at once men of thought and men of action. The view of knowledge as a means to increasing the dominion of man over nature was inaugurated by Francis Bacon. One of the themes of Bacon’s Novus Organum is that all knowledge must have a practical orientation. The ultimate aim of Watt’s scientific research was always to put it to practice in some invention. Sir Humphrey Davy wrote, “[Watt] brought every principle to some practical use; and, as it were, made science descend from heaven to earth.”[12]

Watt knew that the discovery of causes was necessary for his inventions and he knew that knowledge was worthless unless applied to practical advantage. Both of these principles derive from Francis Bacon. There was, however, a more subtle aspect of Watt that is found on the pages of Bacon’s Novus Organum—his method of thought. One of the aspects of Watt’s method of thought was his ability to tie his concepts and principles to the facts which they represent. Lord Brougham wrote that it was as if Watt’s “mind had separate niches for keeping each particular.”[13] Watt understood (if only implicitly) that principles are man’s means of organizing his experiences; and that a principle that is detached from its particulars is meaningless and useless. In his Novus Organum, Francis Bacon outlines the method by which principles are formed from a series of particular facts. He argues that in any cognitive endeavor, one should first list out as many facts as one can think of. This is exactly the process that Watt used when he gathered information from a vast supply of books before turning to practical application. Then, Bacon argued that one must seek out that principle which applies to all of the facts and which does not contradict any of them. For example, Watt discovered the necessity of the separate condenser because of a contradiction between facts of the Newcomen engine and the principles of steam power. On the one hand, the cylinder had to be kept at a high temperature so that power was not lost in re-heating the walls of the cylinder; on the other hand, the steam had to be cooled in order to produce a vacuum to pull down the piston. The fact that these two processes occurred in the same cylinder contradicted the principle that both processes counteract each other; therefore, Watt invented his separate condenser to separate the heating and cooling processes.

Because Watt used principles to organize his thoughts and experiences, he had a unique ability—the ability to think in essentials. Bacon’s method of cognition instructs one on how to develop principles which are essential, i.e., principles which explain the actions of everything within its domain. For instance, a principle of steam power should explain how steam acts in every circumstance, bar none. Moreover, since the principle applies to every single instance of steam, the principle is essential to the nature of steam. Watt had the lighting quick ability to analyze all of the facts of a given problem and immediately develop a principle which explained them all; in other words, he was adept at cutting write to the essence of a problem. Watt used principles to organize all of the facts of any given problem and to discover its essence. Lord Jeffrey reported that a “still higher and rarer faculty” of Watt’s was “his power of digesting and arranging in its proper place all the information he received, and of casting aside and rejecting, as it were instinctively, whatever was worthless or immaterial.”[14] Like most geniuses, Watt was able to cast aside all that was non-essential in order to get to the heart of the matter. Lord Brougham noted how Watt was able to cast aside “all worthless and superfluous matter, as if the same mind had some fine machine for acting like a fan, casting off the chaff and the husk.”[15] Bacon argued that all principles must be meticulously connected to all of the facts which they represent. Watt had a prodigious memory in which he stored all of the facts which were connected to his principles. Moreover, by discovering the principle which explained every single aspect of a problem, he knew the essence of the problem; and, therefore, he was well positioned to solve it.

Watt, like Bacon, understood that knowledge of causes was necessary in order to produce effects, that knowledge is meant to be applied to practical advantage, and that principles are man’s means of organizing facts and discovering what is essential. James Watt was the perfect embodiment of Bacon’s philosophy. In Bacon’s New Atlantis, he depicted a society in which men collaborated to discover the forces of nature and then used that knowledge to increase man’s dominion over nature. James Watt’s character contained both sides of Bacon’s vision: he was a scientist and an inventor. Sir James Mackintosh, a friend of Watt, describes how in Bacon’s New Atlantis, Bacon, the “father of modern philosophy” depicts a room which shall house the “statues of inventors.” Mackintosh then considers what Bacon would have thought of Watt: “What place would Lord Bacon have assigned in such a gallery to the statue of Mr. Watt? Is it too much to say, that, considering the magnitude of the discoveries, the genius and science necessary to make them, and the benefits arising from them to the world, that statue must have been placed at the head of those of all inventors in all ages and nations.”[16]

When confronted with a problem, Watt poured over all of the existing knowledge, organized that knowledge, performed experiments to discover new knowledge, discovered the principles that were the essence of the problem, and used these principles to guide his solutions. While there is no evidence of Watt’s knowledge of Francis Bacon, it is unlikely that a man as well versed as him would not have read the most pre-eminent natural philosopher from his homeland. Regardless of Bacon’s direct influence on James Watt, the similarities between Watt’s character and Bacon’s philosophy are inescapable. Bacon’s philosophy was vindicated through the character and achievements of James Watt.

Watt’s steam engine became known as the ‘work horse’ of the industrial revolution. First, it was used to raise water from the coalmines, thereby advancing the iron industry. His rotative engine was used in factories, particularly in the textile industry; thus supplying millions of people with comfortable and economical clothing. His engines were used in steam engine powered trains and the steamboat which shrunk the size of the globe and integrated markets over vast distances. The effects of Watt’s engines can even be seen in the second industrial revolution in America. Andrew Carnegie wrote, in the preface of his biography of Watt: “Why shouldn’t I write the Life of the maker of the steam engine, out of which I had made a fortune.”[17] Because of Watt’s engines, power could be supplied cheaply and efficiently in areas which did not have access to sufficient wind or water. If Watt had been a mere craftsmen, who tinkered with devices until they worked, he would have never been able to discover the inefficiencies of engines or improve them greatly. James Watt played a great role in advancing the lives of men on earth, and Francis Bacon had a great influence on the intellectual style of the Enlightenment period, as is manifest in the character of James Watt.


[1] Hart, Ivor Blashka. James Watt and the History of Steam Power. New York: Collier, 1961. (24)

[2] Ibid. (26)

[3] Carnegie, Andrew. James Watt,. New York: Doubleday, Page, 1905. (50)

[4] Hart, Ivor Blashka. James Watt and the History of Steam Power. New York: Collier, 1961. (27)

[5] Bacon, Francis, and F. H. Anderson. The New Organon and Related Writings. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1960. (39)

[6] Carnegie, Andrew. James Watt,. New York: Doubleday, Page, 1905. (225)

[7] Bacon, Francis, and F. H. Anderson. The New Organon and Related Writings. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1960. (39)

[8] Carnegie, Andrew. James Watt,. New York: Doubleday, Page, 1905. (53)

[9] Carnegie, Andrew. James Watt,. New York: Doubleday, Page, 1905. (40)

[10] Ibid.

[11] Hunt, Bruce J. Pursuing Power and Light: Technology and Physics from James Watt to Albert Einstein. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2010. (2)

[12] Carnegie, Andrew. James Watt,. New York: Doubleday, Page, 1905. (225)

[13] Ibid. (239)

[14] Ibid. (235)

[15] Ibid. (239)

[16] Ibid. (226)

[17] Ibid. (Preface)

The Power of Beauty

by Mike Gustafson

In the book, Six Names of Beauty, Crispin Sartwell explores six conceptions of beauty derived from six different cultures. He does not attempt to prove that one of those conceptions is correct. He does not try to identify a common theme to serve as the basis of beauty. He does not even evaluate the costs and benefits of each of the conceptions. In fact, he doesn’t attempt conclusions at all. The striking aspect of Sartwell’s book is that he makes no attempt to actually understand beauty. The irony of Sartwell’s position is that it is the concept of beauty which motivates man towards understanding. Because Sartwell does not attempt to understand beauty, he misses out on its role in man’s life as the source of spiritual fuel.

In order to understand the role of beauty in man’s life, one must first understand the role of ideas in general. Man needs ideas because his life depends on his ability to discover the requirements of life and to act to achieve them. They are a tool of survival; and as such, they must be taken seriously. To take ideas seriously means to not accept ideas divorced from facts or facts divorced from ideas—and, it means to not accept ideas divorced from action or action divorced from ideas. To put the point positively, to take ideas seriously is a commitment to tie ideas to facts and then live by them. Crispin Sartwell does not take ideas seriously. He is content with vague approximations of ideas. He openly admits that his idea of beauty is “cursory”, “general”, “open-ended”, and lacking definition.[1] His ‘stream of consciousness’ style indicates his disinterest in clarity and precision. He admits, too, that he had trouble “saying what he wanted to say;” which is a common symptom of writers who draw ideas from emotions rather than from facts.[2] There is a reason why Sartwell does not take ideas seriously—he does not think that man is capable of fully understanding the world.

The basic relationship between man and the world is the province of metaphysics. The basic metaphysical alternative is: either, (1) nature is ordered and man is powerful, or, (2) nature is chaotic and man is weak. Each man’s stance on this issue colors every aspect of his life and sets the stage for his entire philosophy. Most men, with rare exception, do not hold their metaphysical stance consciously; instead, it is summed up automatically by his subconscious. Each man has a basic emotional state—or, sense of life—which underlies ever moment of his life and sets tone of his experiences. A sense of life is a subconscious equivalent of metaphysics, i.e., it is a basic estimation of man’s relationship to the world—but it takes the form of subconscious emotions rather than conscious ideas. Sartwell has a desperate sense of life. He is a man searching for answers while believing that no answers are possible. His negative view of life displays throughout the book: at one point, he writes that a “fundamental condition” of the world is that it is like a “fire” which “consumes” everything we have including ourselves. Sartwell believes that nature is chaotic and man is weak. He writes, “…people are ill and the world, putting it mildly, is impure.” A man who is so open about his cynicism is surely desperate for relief from it. Ironically, the best cure for despair is a proper recognition of beauty.

The source of beauty is man’s need of order. To prove this, I must first recap a few points. In order to live, man needs to take ideas seriously. The most fundamental ideas are metaphysical, i.e., they concern man’s basic relationship to the world. Metaphysical ideas must be taken very seriously because they are the foundation of one’s approach to life. If a man holds that the world is ordered and he is powerful, then he will stop at nothing to make his life the best life it can be. On the other hand, if a man holds that the world is chaotic and he is weak, then he will lack the motivation to advance his life. The purpose of beauty is to show man that the world is ordered; which means, to show him that he is capable of dealing with it. Beauty proves to man that order is possible. Before a man can attempt to take control over his own life and pursue happiness, he must know that such control is possible. It is for this reason that beautiful art or beautiful scientific discoveries are closely associated with periods of flourishing. The Iliad showed the Greeks that a heroic life on earth is possible; the David showed the Renaissance that man is strong and good; and Newton’s laws showed the Enlightenment that objective order is possible. Because man’s need of order is the source of beauty, order is also the standard by which man judges which objects, people, or actions are beautiful.

Order, though, is a metaphysical term—in esthetics, order is called harmony. Harmony is the state of perfect order. In a harmonious object, all of the attributes are integrated. In a harmonious novel the plot, characterization, style, and theme are perfectly integrated. In a harmonious man, his thoughts, actions, emotions and habits are perfectly integrated. In a harmonious equation, the facts from which it is derived are perfectly integrated into a relationship between variables. Instances of full integration are powerful. They provide man with proof that he is capable of creating unity out of diversity—or, in other words, that he is capable of creating order out of chaos. The more complex and various the parts of a beautiful object are, the more powerful the creator had to be in order to create order, and the more beautiful the object is. A beautiful object is harmonious, a harmonious object is ordered, and ordered objects provide the necessary fuel for a spirit which thrives by creating order. This argument is not arbitrary; it is derived from facts; specifically, the needs of man’s survival.

Esthetic values—like all other values—are objective, i.e., they are based on certain facts of man’s life on earth. In order to live, man must evaluate the world around him. He must know what is good for him and what is bad. If not, he abdicates control of his life to chance. However, man is a volitional being; as such, he can choose to evaluate the bad as the good or the good as the bad—or, he can choose to not evaluate at all. Sartwell’s attempt to find beauty in everything is equivalent to choosing not to evaluate at all. This is because evaluation consists of selecting some objects as possessing a certain quality that other objects do not possess. If all objects are deemed to have a certain quality, the no evaluation is possible. (It is a useful psychological trick to conclude that everything is valuable as opposed to admitting that you do not want to evaluate (!))

While men are free to find beauty in disharmony; they are not free to benefit from it. This is analogous to saying: while men are free to evaluate a wrong action as right; they are not free to benefit from it. No matter how much I think that drinking excessively, and lethargy, and gluttony, and excessive spending are good for me—those actions are not good for me. No matter how much I think that a Pollock painting is beautiful—it cannot provide the same spiritual fuel, i.e., motivation towards ordering one’s life, which harmonious objects do. Sartwell’s attempt to find beauty everywhere undercuts his ability to recognize it where it really exists. As a result, he lacks the spiritual fuel that it provides; and, as a result of that, he has lost the drive to understand the world, to create order out of chaos, and to look for answers.

Beauty holds an ordered universe up to man as a beacon for all those who haven’t lost the best within them. This is why the idea of beauty is important to understand, because man needs to be motivated towards order in order to flourish; he needs spiritual fuel to keep up the good fight, to pursue happiness, to seek harmony, and to not give up.

Lastly, in order to really grab hold of the importance of beauty, imagine this scene: you’re a twelve year old in a communist country. Your dad’s business has been taken over by the government. Your friends are all leaving. You best friend vanished one night without notice. You live in a hut made of wood with ten other people. You eat the same rotten meal day after day and your only joys are your precious books. And then, one day, in a book, you find a picture—it is a picture of the skyline of New York City with the Statue of Liberty in the foreground. To you, her torch is calling out, “Come here and be free! Look here! This is possible!” Think about the contrast between the two worlds. Think about how you’ve never known any world besides your own; then think about how you’ll never have to know that world again. That is the power of beauty.[3]

[1] CRISPIN, SARTWELL. (2007-03-20). Six Names of Beauty . T & F Books US. Kindle Edition. (Forword).

[2] Ibid.

[3] The outline of this story was from Ayn Rand.

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