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Oldies Goldies, events and Finland's horribly high government expenses

I recently blogged about upcoming events here. It turns out that they had to move the 6.10.2010 event to a future date (perhaps in early 2011), so that'll have to wait.

Last week I was a speaker and a panelist at the www.veemaisin.fi event. Here's a finnish language story and wrap up about the event. One direct quote from it: "”Tilastokeskus ei ole suostunut julkaisemaan tämän hetken tilannetta. Suomessa on ylisuuri julkinen sektori ja alaspäin syöksyvän spiraalien kierre, kun sen pitäisi olla toisin päin”, jyrähti Tikka ja sai lähes täydeltä salilta spontaanit aplodit."" I am talking about public spending (and its ratio to GDP) and the fact that the Finnish statistics bureau currently refuses to report the situation. The latest statistic we have on the topic is this one from 2008. The EU statistics bureau (Eurostat) luckily has the 2009 figures behind this link. The 2010 figures are estimated to be even worse. According to Eurostat the only EU country spending even more (in relation to their GDP) than Finland is Denmark. When our GDP is growing slower than our government expenses are; you can guess what happens? This is a particular problem for Finland who has "corporative-conservative" societal structures, making change very slow and preserving the Status Quo one of the top priorities of the government. In another words = are going for broke. Full speed. Greek style. At least there is a very significant risk of this happening.

I would have the solutions to our situation and it is rather frustrating to see our impotent politicians unable to make decisions and act.

However often when I mention this topic to people they come up with the counterargument: money isn't really money, so taking in more debt and going for broke is only an illusion. Naturally, in a twisted way, they are right: the Euro as a currency is not real money at all and only represents a faith based currency of no intrinsic value. Also people often argue that if Finland doesn't soil the value of the Euro to the ground, the Greeks and others alike will do it anyways. These are fair arguments. They are also problems government has created for us. Why are we looking towards the government for solutions to the kind of problems they have created in the first place?

Ok, enough of that. If you would like to see a change in reckless government spending and expansion there are a few things you can do: openly oppose it and talk about it frequently. Let your opinion be heard. Vote for people who do so also, and encourage others to do so as well.

Then way back to an oldie but goldie:

Remember this old talk from almost a year ago?:

Taneli Tikka talking about entrepreneurship 15.12.2009 from Taneli Tikka on Vimeo.

It's me and Petri Niemi (Capman) discussing with Mauri Pekkarinen (minister of the economy) about startup finance, entrepreneurship and creating a competitive environment for growth.

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Slight Misrepresentation

I think this post is slightly misleading. While it is not a good idea in general to have high government spending relative to GDP it is a good idea if it promotes economic growth at a time of stagnation or recession. You save money when the economy is doing well and you spend to get out of the recession. This is not controversial.

Though Finland has high spending relative to GDP at the moment and although the debt burden is increasing because of this, Finland's debt to GDP ratio is low by any standard at around 44%. Of EU-15 countries only Sweden and Denmark have lower. That is why Finland can afford to do this and avoid harsh cutbacks to public services.

Once growth returns Finland's spending relative to GDP will fall again as will its debt. It is thanks to the careful management of the economy during the boom years that this is possible and it should be applauded.

Well, we, the teenagers of

Well, we, the teenagers of the 90's, still remember what it was and is gonna be like when the shit hits the fan. Sadly it seems that the government partly has forgotten it and the careful planning that was done after the recession seems to have faded during the recent years. But it'll be interesting to see how the Internet generation is gonna react if and when Finland goes bankrupt.

Still, don't know if it's right to give the full blame to the current government for the issues that are created by the debt based economy, but at least someone is trying to tell the old farts at Arkadianmäki what should be done. M-15 knows his shit: http://areena.yle.fi/video/1108009 + http://areena.yle.fi/video/1108025

Some of the stuff said there is just plain scary like the facts that Finanssivalvonta isn't even requesting the necessary stats from the banks to do the job their supposed to do and even less information flows to the Talousvaliokunta.

Government getting out of the way

Jon: what you describe there holds true only if the government has a similar very wide and always extending role to play in the economy. Things like over regulation, extremely high taxes, creating laws for every little thing of human life are the norms these days.

What if the government just got the hell out of the way? Took down harmful complicated structures, retracted its role in all aspects of life, abolished most taxes etc?

Perhaps even all the way to laissez-faire capitalism. The resulting prosperity would be something so positive that the expenditure of a minimal government would not have any effect on the economy what so ever.

Currently our government controls just about every aspect of our lives: dictates how we can live, consume, even marry and die - not to mention how we can partake in any economic activity at all. What is the moral justification for a government to do this? By what right? By what standard? By what virtue? Are we afraid as human beings to act on our own and do we need a superhuman state to do these things for us?

The current ever expanding, ever more spending, ever more inefficient, ever more expensive government is a downwards spiral. And it's accelerating.

Taneli, So let's be clear


So let's be clear what we're talking about here. On the one hand we can be discussing the extent to which government spending is unsustainable economically. As I said, I don't think that argument works.

In your comment though, you seem to be making another point, which is a broader frustration at the intrusion of the state into our lives. That's a big issue and I can't go into it here but I will pick up on one thing you said. "What is the moral justification for a government to do this?".

The moral justification is that the most important value is human well-being not liberty. Liberty is good, for sure, and without some forms of it I'm unlikely to be happy. However, it's not the only good thing and it's not the best thing. The best thing is to be happy.

There is also a correlation between countries with high levels of government intervention and life satisfaction. The Nordic countries with their high levels of government expenditure and state interference always top international life-satisfaction ratings.

So we have to be careful when we dismantle the state that we don't become at once very free and very miserable. I agree, as it happens, that in an ideal world government would not intrude into our lives so much but we need credible alternatives, otherwise it doesn't look pretty.

On government morality

Man's life is the standard of value, yes. When you logically follow this through it means that the government cannot initiate any kind of violence/force against the people who empower it. The government has a monopoly of violence in its area. Government's only moral purpose would be to bar physical force from social relationships and protect its citizens. This tops all and should be the primary purpose of government.

However the current "welfare state" is a travesty of that; it uses massive amounts of force against its own citizens and constantly commits acts of violence. This doesn't make the citizens happy and it also constricts the citizens from being the best they can be.

A socialist government with all its rules is capable of only realizing a fraction of the potential within its citizens. We could do so much better on this earth - instead we are willingly watching the downwards spiral accelerate. I find that quite troublesome.

Government morality (2)

I disagree, man's life is not the standard of value but man's well-being. The best society is not the one in which the most people are merely alive but the one in which people flourish the most. The best measure of that is life satisfaction and as I said, the Nordic countries lead the world in that respect.

I would also contend that government does not have a moral purpose. It is merely a practical instrument. We have governments because we think it's better than not having them - rightly or wrongly. It's purpose is to do whatever it is mandated to do. That's not to say I'm against a set of sharply defined rights and liberties, I am not, but I favour them because I think they are necessary for society and its individuals to flourish and not because I think they are some kind of magical universal rights handed down by God or whomever else is supposed to have invented morality.

If you want to argue that we should dismantle the welfare state because it infringes on the rights of its citizens then you need a really strong ethical argument and just stating forcefully that governments shouldn't coerce their citizens isn't it; any more than a homeless person telling a rich person they should give them money because they are poor.

I agree that governments are generally inefficient and that the level of state intrusion here is irritating and I'm open to ideas about how to maintain a good quality of life for all without them. I also agree that citizens don't always fully realise their potential but we have to accept that maybe they want to be happy, not just good at stuff.

Further on ethics

Jon: we are talking about the same overall principle and concept. However you seem to have it less clear than classic philosophy defines it. The standard by which one judges what is good or evil — is man’s life, or: that which is required for man’s survival qua man.

Since reason is man’s basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil.

I doubt that you would mean that happiness literally would top man's life as described above; because then it would mean that we can all put ourselves into a medically induced coma and be very very happy on a huge load of drugs till the end of our days - and that would be ethically the best choice. Doubt that. We are probably talking about the same thing: Man's life as what it means when lived to the fullest of man's ability and ethically good things that support man's survival & prosperity. A "welfare" state that uses force against its own citizens has no ethical justification - because it's against this principle. It's evil considering man's survival qua man.

Of course government MUST have a moral purpose and sanctification otherwise it exist as something totally artificial and unjustifiable. And governments nowdays tend to do very immortal things and restrict individual liberties as much as they can. Government's often claim to act on the will of the "majority" but there's no such individual as "the average" among as. That's already bad enough. Throw in there the fact that they are corrupt and mostly just serve as the staging ground for political power games and unethical looting of other's rights and property. Look what the Greeks did for example: turned their government into one massive buffet and had a national competition on how can rob most food out of it before it all crashes and burns. That's precisely why governments should not have a such huge role in our lives; they cannot be trusted with that much.

Governments don't have the moral sanction or justification to use force on their own citizens. Now they do in a massive amounts. It starts from this and expands from this single inescapable moral truth. Extrapolate from here and it will unfold all the arguments needed for minimal government - and why we would do much better with it than with the current system spinning out of control.

One essential clarification still

Made one bit a little unclear in my previous post. To clarify:

I mean that the INITIATION of force against the citizens is ethically wrong. The government CAN use force if it's in self-defence (against outright criminals or a foreign military force etc).

Small but essential thing. Kind of didn't include that there. In another form you could say:

Governments don't have the moral justification and sanction to initiate force against their own citizens.

Ethics part 3

I have a background in social and moral philosophy and the issues you raise can get pretty complex but there are some serious flaws in your reasoning which I think I can explain quite simply.

1)"Since reason is man’s basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil."

This is just indefensible philosophically and I'm not sure where you got it from. I don't think man's basic means of survival is reason. I don't know what "proper to the life of a rational being" means and I certainly don't know why morality should be defined by that criterion.

Take a step back. Where do you think morality comes from? I'm sure we agree that we were apes, which have no morality, and we became homo sapiens, who have a bunch of moral feelings. But what is the content of those feelings: our sense of right and wrong and justice and injustice? The logical biological answer is that in keeping with all our other feelings they evolved to foster collaboration and the furtherance of the species. Given that truth, you have to say that morality as we feel or experience it, is baseless and it's certainly not tied to reason. As Hume said "it is not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the stubbing of my toe". His point was that our reason follows our emotions not the other way around. There is no rational way to feel.

The history of ethical and political thought has been largely the attempt to make sense of the fact we have quite similar intuitions about things but not about everything - and sometimes those intuitions are in conflict. The fact so many extremely bright and careful thinkers still don't agree after 3,000 years is evidence we can't make sense of our intuitions in this way.

The traditional strategy has always been to take some superficially plausible first principle and then build a system around it. Your principle is not 100% clear to me but is something like "man's survival is the highest good". Aristotle argued human flourishing (as he defined it) was the guiding principle. Mill and Bentham argued utility or happiness was the guiding principle. Rawls argued when it comes to justice the guiding intuition should be that we should organise society in such a way that we would choose to live there if we didn't know who we were going to be.

All of these projects failed because these moral intuitions or instincts are themselves the products of an evolutionary and not a rational history. And there is no reason everything should work out neatly and be the same for everyone. See how violently people who believe in the right to life of a child clash with those who believe the highest principle is ownership of one's own body.

2) "Of course government MUST have a moral purpose and sanctification otherwise it exist as something totally artificial and unjustifiable."

Government is and always has been a practical response to practical problems. It is not morally justifiable but as I've already argued, nothing ultimately is morally justifiable. Fortunately, most of us want pretty much the same stuff. We want prosperity, opportunity, security, health and so on. Democracy and the rule of law have, to date, been more successful at delivering those things than other systems.

In general you're making the error here of taking a simple, quite plausible intuition, and then extrapolating from it. What you ought to do is really reflect on that basic first premise. You will find you cannot justify it. In the end it's just one assumption among many. If you want to argue for limiting the role of government I'd advise arguments along the lines of "whatever it is that you want out of life, you'll have a better chance if we have smaller government". The ethical arguments, as 3,000 years have shown us, are a non-starter.


Very interesting comment. I find it astonishing and quite extraordinary that somehow you have managed to study "social and moral philosophy" without studying ethics and ethical theory apparently at all. Naturally this is a structural problem with many academic tracks; related disciplines are sometimes totally ignored, despite of them being related.

My definition there about reason being man's basic means of survival is the primary definition of one of only three main ethical codes. The very top level of ethical schools of thought. This would be the absolutism-contextual ethics of the objective. It is truly astonishing that apparently you have never heard of this base definition despite of it being at the core of one of only three main ethical codes. The other two main ethical codes are altruism (often relativism-collective) and unbridled egoism (relativism-individual).

Your core argument there is that reason as man's basic means of survival is "indefensible philosophy". As said this essential principle is outlined in one of only three main school of thoughts of ethics - so there are hundreds of philosophers and ethical scientists behind this school of thought. A very long track of academic thinking, debate and evidence. Curiously enough often the originator of this school of thought is considered to be Aristotle, and thinkers after him have build from his most objective and brilliant work - also reshaping and questioning it, thus my no means I could state that this major branch of ethics would be directly coming from Aristotle. He's had an influence, that's for sure.

Thus your core argument can be refuted with some effort. Note that I am standing on the shoulders of the long line of philosophers in this school of thought with my reply, so everything hasn't originated from my own pen, parts of the text are direct quotes from them outlining this thinking:

Reason is man’s only means of grasping reality and of acquiring knowledge - and, therefore, the rejection of reason means that men should act regardless of and/or in contradiction to the facts of reality.

The senses, concepts, logic: these are the elements of man’s rational faculty — its start, its form, its method. In essence, “follow reason” means: base knowledge on observation; form concepts according to the actual (measurable) relationships among concretes; use concepts according to the rules of logic (ultimately, the Law of Identity). Since each of these elements is based on the facts of reality, the conclusions reached by a process of reason are objective.

The alternative to reason is some form of mysticism or skepticism. Further in your argument you clearly state that you are what ethical theory considers "a mystic" - a thinker that rejects reason and man's ability to know the facts of reality. In essence you reject pretty much an entire science known as epistemology. And reject reality. There's a nickname in ethical theory for this group of thinkers; they are often called "witch doctors".

Reason is man’s tool of knowledge, the faculty that enables him to perceive the facts of reality. To act rationally means to act in accordance with the facts of reality. Emotions are not tools of cognition. What you feel tells you nothing about the facts; it merely tells you something about your estimate of the facts. Emotions are the result of your value judgments; they are caused by your basic premises, which you may hold consciously or subconsciously, which may be right or wrong.

Just as the pleasure & pain mechanism of man’s body is an automatic indicator of his body’s welfare or injury, a barometer of its basic alternative, life or death; so the emotional mechanism of man’s consciousness is geared to perform the same function, as a barometer that registers the same alternative by means of two basic emotions: joy or suffering. Emotions are the automatic results of man’s value judgments integrated by his subconscious; emotions are estimates of that which furthers man’s values or threatens them, that which is for him or against him; lightning calculators giving him the sum of his profit or loss.

But while the standard of value operating the physical pleasure-pain mechanism of man’s body is automatic and innate, determined by the nature of his body; the standard of value operating his emotional mechanism, is not. Since man has no automatic knowledge, he can have no automatic values; since he has no innate ideas, he can have no innate value judgments.

Man is born with an emotional mechanism, just as he is born with a cognitive mechanism; however, at birth, both are “tabula rasa.” It is man’s cognitive faculty, his mind, that determines the content of both. Man’s emotional mechanism is like an electronic computer, which his mind has to program — and the programming consists of the values his mind chooses.

But since the work of man’s mind is not automatic, his values, like all his premises, are the product either of his thinking or of his evasions: man chooses his values by a conscious process of thought — or accepts them by default, by subconscious associations, on faith, on someone’s authority, by some form of social osmosis or blind imitation. Emotions are produced by man’s premises, held consciously or subconsciously, explicitly or implicitly.

There is no necessary clash, no dichotomy between man’s reason and his emotions — provided he observes their proper relationship. A rational man knows, or makes it a point to discover, the source of his emotions, the basic premises from which they come; if his premises are wrong, he corrects them. He never acts on emotions for which he cannot account, the meaning of which he does not understand. In appraising a situation, he knows why he reacts as he does and whether he is right. He has no inner conflicts, his mind and his emotions are integrated, his consciousness is in perfect harmony. His emotions are not his enemies, they are his means of enjoying life. But they are not his guide; the guide is his mind. This relationship cannot be reversed, however. If a man takes his emotions as the cause and his mind as their passive effect, if he is guided by his emotions and uses his mind only to rationalize or justify them somehow — then he is acting immorally, he is condemning himself to misery, failure, defeat, and he will achieve nothing but destruction — his own and that of others.

A moral code is a system of teleological measurement which grades the choices and actions open to man, according to the degree to which they achieve or frustrate the code’s standard of value. The standard is the end, to which man’s actions are the means.

A moral code is a set of abstract principles; to practice it, an individual must translate it into the appropriate concretes; he must choose the particular goals and values which he is to pursue. This requires that he define his particular hierarchy of values, in the order of their importance, and that he act accordingly.

I most certainly do not agree with your claim that "we are apes". We are humans and we have the capacity to be rational beings. Rationality is a matter of choice, and the alternative man's nature offers him is: rational being or suicidal animal. Man has to be man — by choice; he has to hold his life as a value — by choice; he has to learn to sustain it — by choice; he has to discover the values it requires and practice his virtues — by choice. A code of values accepted by choice is a code of morality. Since everything man needs has to be discovered by his own mind and produced by his own effort, the two essentials of the method of survival proper to a rational being are: thinking and productive work.

I find you quoting Hume quite amusing; if you observe that ever since Hume and Kant (mainly Kant, because Hume was merely the Bertrand Russell of his time) philosophy has been striving to prove that man’s mind is impotent, that there’s no such thing as reality and we wouldn’t be able to perceive it if there were — you will realize the magnitude of the treason involved. Treason towards the very means how man has survived through the eons; his reason and the fact that reality is objective.

Your other core argument went as follows: "Government is and always has been a practical response to practical problems. It is not morally justifiable but as I've already argued, nothing ultimately is morally justifiable."

In here you are saying that you are in fact both en ethical "mystic" and a pragmatist. As a pragmatist you in fact oppose the whole entirety of a principled approach to ethics. You advocate throwing out all absolute principles and standards. And you absorb prevailing standards from other ethics codes when convenient and effectively create your own "mashup version" of ethical mysticism. This is demanding to argument against to as such as there is no argument to challenge in the first place; just a claim without evidence.

Let's recap.

Your first core argument: "reason is not man's basic means of survival". Utterly refuted: man can' exists without reason and without adherence to objective reality.

Your second core argument: "nothing is ultimately morally justifiable". Utterly refuted: there isn't even a proper argument form your side here, just an overconfident mystic-pragmatic claim that this would be so. You present this claim without much evidence or logical backing. Reality is absolute and there most certainly is moral justification for just about all actions of man. Including government.

The source of the government’s authority is “the consent of the governed.” This means that the government is not the ruler, but the servant or agent of the citizens; it means that the government as such has no rights except the rights delegated to it by the citizens for a specific purpose. The governments of today are very clearly overstepping their justification to act on ethically justifiable grounds.

You suggest: "What you ought to do is really reflect on that basic first premise"

Yes. Indeed.

There are thousands upon thousands of pages of reflection on this very premise as it is one of only three main schools of ethical thinking. It truly is very remarkable that you have never heard of this. Amazing.

Oh dear

Taneli, really, what are you thinking?

1) Patronising me about philosophy is similar to me patronising you about being a start-up CEO. I'd look silly if I did that and you look silly doing it now. You really think after 6 years studying at highly respected philosophy departments I wouldn't have heard of the three major ethical theories?

You've heard of the internet right? Here's a problem for you: you can check stuff on it. Look at any history of ethical thought, any primer on moral philosophy, go to MIT and look at the content of the courses on ethics. Notice anything? The three foundational ethical theories you mention are absent. Your favourite, the "absolutism-contextual ethics of the objective" returns zero hits on google. That's right, Google which indexes millions of books.

I think this is called over-reach.

But you know that's okay; people do it all the time. Someone learns a bit of PHP and thinks they're a web guru. What makes it worse is when it become clear you are just parroting the one philosopher you have evidently read: Ayn Rand. When I say "philosopher" I use the term in its broadest possible sense.

You see, Taneli, here's the thing. I wasn't familiar with Rand's arguments because she is not taught at serious universities and she's not taught at serious universities because the professional philosophers - those people who devote their lives to answering these questions - don't take her seriously. She is what people like Brian Leiter, a professor at one of the top 5 philosophy departments in the world, calls a hack philosopher. She is to serious philosophy what intelligent design is to serious biology.

To be honest I do understand why you failed to attribute her ideas. It's because a quick look at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy shows us no fewer than 10 inconsistencies in just the most basic premiss of her writing. Even Robert Nozick, by far the most highly regarded libertarian philosopher of recent times, doesn't take her seriously. He's smarter than me so I'll let you go and look at the arguments.

I'm a bit disappointed: I thought you were arguing in good faith. If you're going to plagiarise you should at least choose to plagiarise a thinker that has even the most basic amount of respect among their peers. Philosophy is hard and reading one book that supports your viewpoint is not the way to go about it. If you ever want a serious discussion I'm happy to engage but you embarrassed yourself here.

on studying

An entirely anticipated reply there Jon. This is precisely what many academics back in school were debating over about: structured approach to ethical theory vs philosophy in a broad scope. This is an ongoing debate and I'm not surprised that it isn't ending any time soon while the different parties use different terms and different classifications in their theory. Just like you said: "zero hits on Google", which is pretty amazing as 'absolutism-contextual ethics' returns a little over 1 million hits, and about 20.000 articles in Google Scholar (without the hyphen). "absolutism-contextual" is an ethical theory definition, and is perhaps quite little used outside of it.

A loved child has many names as they say, and terms for this school of thought vary somewhere between; objectivism, Aristotelian egoism, rational individualism, ethical egoism, egoism, moral individualism, moral egoism, ethical individualism, normative virtuous egoism, or the philosophy of human flourishing. Depending on your choice of flavor and academic discipline.

I just read a book, is that it? So apparently years in school and studying ethical theory under Finnish professors and one professor from Penn-Wharton is the same as doing a few Google searches? It is all just from one of Rand's books, right? Not from the likes of Andrew Bernstein (especially his capitalism papers), Douglas B. Rasmussen, Tibor R. Machan, Eric Mack, George V. Walsh, Bryan Register, Lester Hunt, Randall R. Dipert, John Hospers, and Douglas J. Den Uyl at all? They represent a notable major ethical theory enough apart from altruism, so as a result; naturally it's taught in great detail - as should be in proper academics; offer theoretical views that disagree and define the same field differently. But I guess Penn-Wharton isn't a serious school then. Neither appears to be Aalto Univ. school of business.

There in lies another background influence why there seems to be such a disagreement: this school of thought it the strongest in business schools and a part of business theory in a way (often justifying business in ethical theory). Quite different discipline from wider approach to philosophy in general. Often the whole start of the approach is "if it has no practical applications, forget it".

Since you think all the professors who contribute in this field and schooled me through all those courses have just "read one book" let's just leave it at that and agree to disagree.

I'm not giving you a hard

I'm not giving you a hard time for the fun of it. The questions we're dealing with here about how society should be run and what is the foundation of the good society are important. Believe it or not, people look up to you and listen to you: that's one of the consequences of success. That gives you power and with that comes responsibility.

However many professors you've studied under there are clearly really large gaps in your understanding or you'd know better than to extensively quote Rand and you'd know better than to pretend that Objectivism is either a respected or widely held view.

We all screw up sometimes. We get into an argument and we pretend we know more than we do and then we over-compensate by acting all arrogant. It might have worked if you hadn't chosen to pick on someone whose discipline this is. And sure, arguing can be fun. All that said, I've called you on your bullshit and I'm sure your readers would have more respect for you if you just admitted it.

waiting for the argument

Jon; you state boldly, some might say very arrogantly that you are "the expert" over several professors - claiming theirs and my view to be "bullshit". For someone who claims to have a background in philosophy the technique and structure or argumentation is rather lacking. Let's examine this a little bit more closely:

1) first you state "I'm not sure where you got it from" despite being the expert.

2) You top it up by claiming that "morality as we feel or experience it, is baseless and it's certainly not tied to reason", without offering any real evidence behind that argument.

3) Then you take the opposing stand to entire ethical theory in general by stating "Government is and always has been a practical response to practical problems. It is not morally justifiable but as I've already argued, nothing ultimately is morally justifiable." in essence saying that you are a pragmatist opposed to the general idea of a principled approach to ethics. And arguing against yourself as a contradiction.

4) Next up "You really think after 6 years studying at highly respected philosophy departments I wouldn't have heard of the three major ethical theories?", yes indeed?

5) Then you take a reversal on points (1) and (4) all of sudden stating : "I wasn't familiar with Rand's arguments because she is not taught at serious universities and she's not taught at serious universities" Despite of this branch of ethical theory - and Rand in particular - being taught widely in especially business schools.

6) Next statement: "I've called you on your bullshit and I'm sure your readers would have more respect for you if you just admitted it." where is the call? Where's the argument that centrally refutes this entire branch of ethical theory and the facts of it being taught in many universities? Is your claim somehow reshaping reality and making this entire theory disappear?

- On what basis you claim to be an expert who at first hasn't heard of this whole topic at all and then all of a sudden has heard of it?

- What precisely are the "highly respected philosophy departments" you have studied in? With what professors? When?

- In my reply there I named just 10 thinkers who have contributed to this school of ethical theory with their publications. The 10 are all professors (often of philosophy) in various universities (one of them already dead tho, the last I checked, them being old men..) most of them belong to various institutions and groups who study and publish about this particular branch of ethical theory. The schools they teach & publish in are: Harvard University, Duke University, Yale University, Stanford University, the United States Military Academy, Columbia University, University of Wisconsin Madison, Founders College, the University of Southern California, St. John's University, Auburn University, Argyros School of Business & Economics, Chapman University in Orange California, Cato Institute, Ludwig von Mises Institute, Tulane Unversity, Salisbury State University, George Mason University, University at Buffalo, California state university Los Angeles. In addition to the list I studied my share of ethical theory in Aalto Univ. School of business. A number of the courses where by the American professor who run identical courses there. Those 10 professors are of course just the tip of the iceberg as there are entire institutes, organizations and societies studying this major branch of ethical theory. What precisely is the argument, other than "I disagree" that makes the academic work of these individuals somehow misguided and unworthy of interest? - let alone makes it "bullshit"?

Prof. Woiceshyn says it in a nice summarized form in Cambridge University's, Business Ethics Quarterly, publication: "The moral theory of egoism has received short shrift in ethics texts. Consequently, few people realize it is a substantive moral code with an explicit set of virtues offering guidance in achieving one’s rational self-interest". The emphasis there being on the 'substantive moral code' = which is precisely the reason why it's taught so widely and not ignored - it offers a sharply rational opposing theory to all the murky watered down flavors of altruism.

- Do you have some personal vendetta against this branch of ethics? Against me? Quite clearly you aren't happy with just simply disagreeing (I'm happy with that, people disagree with me all the time). What is it that drives you to call all of this bullshit and just dismiss it without any other evidence expect "this is my discipline and I'm the expert"?

- Which is the arrogant one? is it us both? (I could agree to that).

"Which is the arrogant one?

"Which is the arrogant one? is it us both? (I could agree to that)."

Maybe me too :)

Look, I'm not arguing from my own authority. I was a solid philosopher; I studied at the University of York and the University of Helsinki. I didn't blow the world away but I knew my stuff and I got the top grade in my Ethics and Political Philosophy courses. This doesn't make me Kant but I do know a good amount about all the major ethical theories. I care about this stuff and I changed my mind over it countless times.

When it comes to Rand I maintain that the best people in the business do not even consider her a philosopher nor respect her. My opinion, as a mere graduate philosopher, who has not devoted his life to Rand's thought, is largely irrelevant. I'm happy to discuss and defend it but if it were just me who thought Rand was a hack philosopher with weak arguments, no-one could or should care. But it's not.

We study some pretty odd and arcane stuff in philosophy departments. To be excluded from serious study requires you to be really weak. That's how Rand is perceived. I'm sure you can find someone at some third-rate university or business school that gives her the time of day. She seems to be a magnet for a certain kind of people; but what about at the world's top philosophy departments; those at the top of the PGR, a peer-ranking of the best departments (http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com/breakdown/breakdown8.asp).

The places you mention are so very far from the cream that you have to ask yourself, what do I, Taneli Tikka, understand in the arguments of Ayn Rand, that the best and brightest at the world's top philosophy departments just don't get?

These are the people you mention:

-Douglas B. Rasmussen - St John's University
-Tibor R. Machan - Auburn University
-Eric Mack - Can't find
-George V. Walsh - Salisbury State University
-Bryan Register - GMU
-Lester Hunt - Wisconsin (quite a good dept)
-Randall R. Dipert - University at Buffalo
-John Hospers - USC

As you can see, none of these make the top 25 universities on the PGR and most of them aren't mentioned anywhere. Lester Hunt is the only one at a respected department (still 27th in Ethics). Please give me the names of philosphers at Harvard, Duke, Yale and Stanford that support Objectivism.

I don't know why you think I am misrepresenting the status of Rand in the philosophical world. I have no reason to do so. But if you are using her philosophical foundations on which to base your real-world beliefs about the role of government I would urge you to think long and hard about it. Try to understand why so many of the best and brightest, even those sympathetic to her political conclusions like Robert Nozick, have a real problem with her arguments.

It is a dangerous thing to adhere too blindly to an ideology that may well turn out not to be true.

And no, I have no problem with you at all and I hope to meet you. I admire you as an entrepreneur and I also think you're very bright: far too bright to be calling people with reasonable well thought-out views (which may nevertheless be wrong) witches or mystics. And far too bright to be basing his political and economic views on the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

But probably you're right: maybe we both need to exercise a bit more humility.


Busy day coming up today, so a bit more detailed reply will have to wait.

Thanks for the reply, sheds more light on the background. Not afraid to admit that you are schooled on the topic way more extensively. Heated debate is enjoyable for a time, however when it drags for long it gets far less fruitful and often starts repeating itself a little bit too much. And I guess we could say that both here are guilty of "argumentum ad hominem" (I am at least) which is rarely a high quality way to conduct heated debates. Despite of that (ad hominem) it's been interesting to deepen this topic further.

Thanks for the ranking list link. The professor data was from Wikipedia and their faculty pages. Prof. Bernstein is kind of hyperactive in this area and lectures in Harvard, Yale and Duke - while not being a faculty member of any of them, just teaches there as a visitor (quite frequently as I understand, often with MBA programmes etc - as this topic is relevant to business schools, it seems). And those courses (as I understand) are mostly his capitalism-ethics courses which draw a lot from objectivism (check his 2 decent books about the topic: "The capitalist manifesto: The historic, economic and philosophic case for laissez-faire (2005)" and ""Capitalism unbound: The incontestable moral case for individual rights (2010).") these books are both quite good and are based on objectivism (at least to a strong degree). He mainly lectures similar content at those top shcools - might be there often as an opponent to other views perhaps? (dunno)..

Prof. Mack is here:

There's plenty more of these objectivist academics around, one source we used to check (for new opinions, critique and development of the theory) is the Rand study journal that has been running since 1999, found here:


Just restating: my school interest to this was purely ethical theory - not extending beyond that. Which I guess can be said to be limited/practical application of the whole (concerned with only things that have practical application - in particular an influence to choices of people etc, and not much else).

I'll take your advice, probably go read some Robert Nozick ;) and yield this one to you. Now off to a busy day ->

Oldies Goldies, events and Finland's horribly high government

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Oldies Goldies, events and Finland's horribly high government

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