The Philosophy of History with Stephen Hicks & Robert Tracinski

March 15, 2023 01:01:01
The Philosophy of History with Stephen Hicks & Robert Tracinski
The Atlas Society Presents - The Atlas Society Asks
The Philosophy of History with Stephen Hicks & Robert Tracinski

Mar 15 2023 | 01:01:01

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Show Notes

Join The Atlas Society for the 144th episode of The Atlas Society Asks and a special webinar discussion with Senior Scholar Stephen Hicks, Ph.D., and Senior Fellow Robert Tracinski where the duo will explain the questions: What causes historical change? What’s the role of ideas, knowledge institutions, or philosophy?

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00:00 Hello everyone, and welcome to the 144th episode of the Atlas Society. Ask. My name is Lawrence Olivo. I am the associate editor here at the Atlas Society, the leading nonprofit organi in org, leading nonprofit organization, introducing young people to the ideas of Iron Rand in creative ways such as through animated videos or graphic novels. Today, our C E o, Jennifer Grossman is getting the day off, and we are joined by the Atlas Society's senior scholar, Dr. Steven Hicks, and senior fellow Robert t Tru Zinsky for a special webinar discussing the philosophy of history. Before we get started, I wanna remind everyone, whether you're on Zoom, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, please put your comments in the comments section. We will be trying to get to as many questions we can near the end of this webinar. And with that, I'll pass it over to Steven. Speaker 1 00:00:59 All right, thanks a lot. Uh, so philosophy of history is this huge sprawling discipline. Uh, philosophy is huge and complicated. History is huge and, and complicated. And then marrying those two. So what, uh, uh, Rob Trein and I plan to do today, I think is rather surgically focus on one subset of questions about the philosophy of history. And we have a sort of division of labor worked out. I'm going to say some general things about the philosophy of history, sketching out some territory, and, uh, and a, uh, maybe a taxonomy of questions about, uh, the philosophy of history. And then, uh, Rob Brazinski will weigh in with a more specific thesis about, uh, philosophy of history. And then out of that, uh, I think after, hopefully no more than 30 minutes, we can have some back and forth and, uh, a substantial number of questions from, from, uh, from participants as well. Speaker 1 00:01:54 So, with that, I'm going to share my screen. I have a bunch of quotations I wanna just run by to, uh, to illustrate the various points. The first one here being one of my favorite quotations above all time about the philosophy of history, the idea here from Lord Bowling broke. Can you see this, Lawrence? Uh, it's showing up good that history is philosophy, teaching by example, and, uh, uh, that, that's fun in that it integrates philosophy and history with each other rather than seeing them as two completely disconnected things. But it also, uh, uh, makes, uh, philosophy very important. And, uh, what we should be doing is interpreting historical examples in the light of philosophy that has been established prior to that. Now, that's, uh, controversial. And what I want to do is, uh, next is, uh, illustrate why this is a controversial proposition within the context of a lot of other philosophies of, of history. Speaker 1 00:02:55 So, one of the questions, uh, that we can ask about history, and this is a big picture, metaphysical question, is whether, uh, we can make any sort of causal or random, uh, sense out of the way that history goes. And one of the feces about history is a, is a negative thesis, which is to say there is no, there are no patterns, there is no, uh, you know, consistent causality at work, or that there are so many different causal factors that, uh, nothing emerges from, from history. So history is a series of accidents, or is a series of things that are more or less random. And so all you can do, if writing history is piece together a number of anecdotes, but beyond that, to try to see that history has a plot or a direction or a constant theme that runs through it, that is a, that's a, that's a mistake. Speaker 1 00:03:49 Now, one of the other big picture theories, though, is a pattern theory, right? Or that there is a theme of history that runs through and says that history, uh, uh, is a matter of things going from better to worse. There were the good old days, or there were the days back when men were giants, uh, uh, metaphorically and or closer to literally, and, or history is a story of the original creation of the world by God. And God made the world great and beautiful. But since then, human beings have been increasingly messing things up. And so things are getting worse and worse. And so the right way then to read history is from an past good state into a series of progressively worse states and where it's going to go in the future. There's some variation there. Uh, another variation on this big picture is to say that no, it's not always that things get worse. Speaker 1 00:04:49 Sometimes things do get better, but, uh, there's no permanent, uh, uh, resolution to this. Instead, history is one of endless cycles of things improving for a while and then collapsing and going into a decline phase, and then we regroup and things get better for a while. And so at various, uh, points along the line, we might be more pessimistic or more, uh, more optimistic. But to the extent that we are informed and we scale back that we realize it's the same things over and over again. Uh, and the pattern then is ultimately a, a cyclical one. And then the other pattern possibility, of course, is then to say that things are getting better, uh, uh, than they are. And that, uh, uh, history overall is a matter of improvement. And this is, uh, sometimes called the progress theory of history. That the right way to read history is to say that things were worse for, for human beings in all sorts of ways overall, and that we have been improving, uh, or, or whatever the forces of history are. Speaker 1 00:05:54 They have been improving things over, over time. Now, it might not be a straight line linear progress, it might be a matter of two steps forward, one step back. But ultimately, uh, uh, the, the, the condition of human beings is, uh, is, is improving. Now, that's, uh, uh, one way philosophy of history is often, uh, portrayed initially that the author will lay out one of these picture big picture reads of the way history goes, and then proceed to induce evidence of, uh, various historical episodes to, uh, in support of, of, of that particular thesis. Now, a closely related question to this is to say, you know, if we think that history is a matter of decline or progress or cycles, what is causing the progress or what is causing the decline, or what is causing the cycles to go through the various, the various cycles that they are? Speaker 1 00:06:46 And here, uh, uh, we have a variety of metaphysical feces. People's metaphysics, then immediately comes to the four. Typically people will say there are any number of causal factors at work in the universe, but they will give pride of place to one. The most common, uh, uh, probably the most prominent one historically, has been to say that the number one causal force in the world is God, uh, a God or the gods. That gods have a huge amount of power relative to everything else or all of the power. And so what you should do is read history as the history of God's plan for, for the world. So, for example, uh, here's one from Hegel who's offering a somewhat secularized version as we get into the modern world. This is from the early 18 hundreds. The truth then that a providence that of God presides over the events of the world, consortiums with the proposition for do divine providence as wisdom, et cetera, et cetera. Speaker 1 00:07:46 So what's happening in the world is God manifesting his plan for, for, for the world. Now, other, uh, uh, philosophies of, of, of, of history will say that there are no gods, or that the gods are relatively, uh, weaker, and they will then, uh, uh, give naturalistic, uh, uh, caus causal forces pride of place. And then we can run through which of those causal, naturalistic causal forces one thinks are the, are the most important ones. So for example, here's Ortega cassette offering a biological, uh, uh, uh, force. And so we might say that human beings are primarily biological beings. Uh, we are driven by, say, the sex instinct, or we are driven by, uh, uh, aggressive instincts, and that cause us to go to war. And so ultimately, human beings are biologically competing and interacting with each other over, uh, these basic biological drives. And so, uh, you know, we might dress things up culturally a little bit, but ultimately, the history of the world is driven by biology. Speaker 1 00:08:51 Now, in this case, we have, in the case of cassette, a kind of vitalistic that human beings have more or less vital biological energy, and it manifests in various ways. And so religion and law and politics and everything else are ultimately manifestations of, of these biological forces. So others though will say, no, it's not these biological forces. We have a different understanding of what human beings are. Human beings are conditioned by or created by their environmental circumstances. And so we're all born into prevailing environmental circumstances. And those have a logic of their own. And human agency is a matter of how one is being conditioned. So here's, uh, marks and angles with just one variation on this that most of us are probably familiar with. Human beings are organized into classes, each with their own and economic genders. But as a result of that organization of society, there are necessary things that have to happen. Speaker 1 00:09:50 And history moves along as a result of that economic, uh, uh, slash uh, cultural dynamic, working, working. Its <inaudible>. Uh, I did have another quotation, uh, uh, uh, this says of someone who is arguing that all of history is ultimately random. The God's human agency and so on are completely po. This is the Roman poet. Uh, there are no gods to say Jo reigns is wronged his blind chance, right? That moves the years along. So randomness, God's providence, biological forces, environmental forces, all of those have had their advocates over, over the years. Uh, now, if we then want to argue that it's not that human beings are paws of biological forces, paws of the gods, or just ponds of random forces in the world, or even ponds of various social forces, there are theories of history that will argue that human agency is the most important causal factor. Speaker 1 00:10:50 Yes, of course, uh, we are biological creatures. Yes, accidents happen that, uh, introduce, uh, you know, you know, uh, uh, destroy our best rate plans. But ultimately, human beings are powerful causal agents. And it's what humans do. That is the primary force determining what history is going to be about. Now, there are again, then a new number of versions of this that are possible. Uh, for example, uh, we'll see technological versions of this. The human beings come up with scientific and technological ideas, and it's those, uh, perhaps the industrial revolution that comes along. And those change everything. And sometimes this can shade over into a somewhat deterministic thesis that, yes, human agency was responsible for generating the scientific ideas and, and, and all of the technological discoveries. But these technologies, the machines start to have a logic of their own. And then technological forces take over. Speaker 1 00:11:48 And we, uh, we're driving along. Now, a subset, though of human agency typically then is getting closer to what, uh, I think Rob is going to be arguing. Certainly what Rand argues, uh, uh, but there are other versions of this as well. And certainly what bowling broke was arguing. Ludwig von Misa argues is the human ideas are the most important causal force that we're a smart creature, that the ideas we generate, uh, uh, have huge implications for how we live our lives as individuals, how we organize ourselves socially. And so it's human ideas, the fact that we are very smart creatures that should be given pride of pride of place. Now, which ideas are the most important causally? There's, uh, then going to be a subset of debates that are possible here. So this is a quotation from John Maynard Kanes, for example, disagreeing with marks that, uh, yes, economics is important, but economics is not this deterministic force. Speaker 1 00:12:48 Rather, economic ideas are the most important, uh, uh, uh, force. But economic ideas are a matter of human choice, human agency, and so on. And so, the argument here, this is a famous quote from his 1936, general theory, practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from the intellectual influences. You are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. So everything that goes on politically wars, changes of, uh, power, right? And so forth, are driven by underlying economic ideas, generated by influential econom or economic theorist, typically a generation or or two earlier. It is ideas, not interest by which he means, you know, uh, lower grade economic or political interests, which are the most, the most dangerous. And then, uh, rand is going to be, uh, in this broad category of those who believe that ideas are mo the most important. But she's going to argue that, uh, it is philosophical ideas that have the most power in an individual's life and culturally. Speaker 1 00:13:56 And here's the, uh, the quotation from one of the quotations where Rand offers this thesis as, as well. Alright, with that said, the idea has been for me to sketch out some broad territory. Uh, are there patterns in history or is it, uh, just randomness? If there are powers or, or if there are patterns. What is the most important causal agency? Is it divine forces, biological forces, uh, uh, uh, sociological forces? Or is it human ideas and, and human agency? And if so, what kind of human ideas are the most? Now I've got some examples I would like to put out, but I'm going to save those examples for a little bit later. Uh, uh, when we start to test some of these, some of these theories and say, well, what about this, that, and the other thing? But at this point, I'm going to pause and we'll turn things over to Rob so he can take it, uh, to the next stage. Speaker 2 00:14:55 And with that, yeah, stop share. There we go. Okay, great. Thanks, Steven. And, and though that's a really good selection of quotes to give people an idea of, of what the different ideas are. But I want to back up a little bit and ask the question of why do we need a philosophy of history in the first place? Why is this important? Why should anybody care? Um, and, uh, I approach this a little bit. My, you know, my connection to this is not, as a historian, I have a strong interest in history. I have a lot of ideas about history, but in my work, uh, one of the things I do in my work is as a journalist, and journalists are writing the first rough draft of history. And I think that indicates why it is that the philosophy, history is important because the events of our day are, you know, these are important big things that are happening that are determining, you know, whether there's gonna be a war, whether who's going to win the war. Speaker 2 00:15:44 Uh, are we gonna have bigger government or smaller government? What party's gonna be in power? Are we gonna pursue an authoritarian model or be a democracy? All these big issues are constantly being fought out in our own, you know, current time, uh, in a way that clearly, obviously affects us. That's why people read the paper, uh, without which I would be without a job. Uh, well, they don't read the paper anymore, but they read websites, uh, <laugh>. At any rate, the, um, so looking at this from the journalist's perspective, who was writing the first rough draft of history, the question then is, oh, what are, where do these larger forces come from? What is giving us direction? And the big question is, do we have any control over it? Cuz there can be, in a lot of these philosophies of history you're talking about, there is a kind of fatalism to it, right? Speaker 2 00:16:29 So let me give you an example. There was a, um, a book very popular a few years back, uh, probably 20, 30 years ago, called Guns, germs, and Steel. And it, it, it, it sought to, this is the 1990s, you know, the, the, the Western Europe and the United States were sort of triumphant. We ruled the world. Um, uh, the Soviet Union Union had collapsed. And there's this question, well, how did the west become to be so powerful and so prosperous and, and the leading edge of technology? How did we come to be the dominant force in the world? And his answer was, well, it's guns, germs, and steel. And they, he gave this list of material factors, you know, sort of accidental material factors. Well, we developed guns, you know, first somehow, uh, we gunpowder came over from, you know, we discovered gunpowder and we developed guns and we developed stem. Speaker 2 00:17:14 So there's some steel making technologies that, for various accidental historical reasons were more advanced here. And then germs, which is we had diseases came through and we became subject to these diseases. And more resistant to them, I think was the theory. So it was a set of these, this collection of sort of accidental outside material factors that had co coincided together to make the west great, right? So that's one theory, is it's these accidental factors. And if that's the case, think about it, that we don't really have any control over this. We, they're lucky enough to be born in the West, to be the beneficiary of these, uh, historical factors, or we're not. And we're outta luck. And we are, you know, at the, we're the paws of larger forces, uh, over which we have no particular impact. Uh, uh, another, uh, version of this is the, there's the great man theory of history. Speaker 2 00:18:03 This is the idea that, uh, every once in a while a great man comes along, who through the sheer force of his personality, uh, affects things. So it's a Napoleon or, you know, now this, this history has a really bad, this, this view of history has a really bad track record. Cuz it often leads people to look for a great man who's going to help, who's gonna save us now, right? So the, uh, uh, I was struck, I was reading a while back, uh, Albert Spear's, uh, memoirs, he was the sort of right hand, one of the right hand men to, to Hitler and talking about, you know, why it is that he was basically br pulled into Hitler's orbit and, and looked up to him. And he talked about how was this common idea, even his, his own mentor as a, as an architecture young architect. Speaker 2 00:18:44 His mentor was someone who was totally opposed to Hitler, but still had this idea that what Germany needs is a great man who will interpret the, the will and the needs of the German people and lead us into a great era. So this great man idea of history has often led to people sort of looking for a strong man, somebody who they could, who will, who will rise up, and who will solve all of our problems. But if we just give 'em enough power. Uh, but again, it's, it's a fate. There's a fatalistic aspect. The idea that you, the individual have no real power. You're just waiting around for the great man to come along. And, and even some of the, now I'm a, an advocate of the idea that there is such a thing as historical progress, you know, that we've risen up out of the caves, uh, and, and made progress across, you know, numerous fronts, uh, over periods of thousands of years, and especially the last few hundred years. Speaker 2 00:19:32 But even some of the theories of progress, and, and Hagle is particularly notorious on this, uh, can have a, a, a deterministic aspect to it. You know, that, that the, the progress is inevitable. You know, even if it goes and fits and starts, and sometimes it goes back and we backslide and we move forward, the progress is inevitable. It's just happening. It's God's plan, or it's the working out of the world Spirit. Uh, Hagle is, is very famous, having this very strong interest in, in, in the philosophy of history. And therefore a huge impact on history. And his ideas are, are, are, are really difficult to understand and kind of nutty. So he has, unfortunately, a bad influence. But you saw this, for example, that, um, there were, there, now this is sometimes I think overstated that a, a number of years back during the 19, again, during this triumphal period of the 1990s, uh, Francis Fukiyama wrote a book called The End of History, which is this idea taken from Hagle that there's this working out of this great grand, uh, ideological or, or, or sort of mystical process of the development of history, and it's going to a final end state. Speaker 2 00:20:34 And we're, we're almost there basically is what Fu Fumo was saying. Now, he's not that much of a determinist a king alien, but that sort of gives you an idea that they're in the, on the pro progress side, there could be this sense of inevitability. So the, the reason why we need a philosophy of history is, is to understand why it is, you know, what are the factors that determine our fate as individuals living in this society that's moving in certain directions, but also to tell us do we have any control over it? And if we have control over it, what does that control consist of? What is it that we actually can do? And the appeal, uh, to me of the, uh, or the, the, the, the value or the benefit of the, uh, sort of objectives theory of history, uh, the, the objectives theory of history is ideas move history. Speaker 2 00:21:22 It's the idea that we, if we have certain ideas, if we develop certain ideas about, you know, how we gain truth, how we, uh, uh, uh, how we organize our society, you know, what should be the principles behind our government if we develop those certain ideas and then put them into practice, that that's going to determine, you know, the results. So if, you know, a great example of ideas determining history is you had, uh, I mean, I grew up in the 20th century during the tail end of the Cold War, and you had this wonderful, sort of like a laboratory ex, uh, experiment of history where you had places like Hong Kong versus mainland China, or East Berlin versus West Berlin, where you had two different societies side by side, ethnically the same. All the other factors are the same. The only difference is that these societies are organized on different ideologies. Speaker 2 00:22:13 So West Berlin is on a liberal, democratic, western, pro free market model. East Berlin on a totalitarian communist model, or Hong Kong on a, uh, British, uh, liberal, uh, not, not democratic, you know, Hong Kong per se, but a colony of a, of a democratic society and a pr a very much of a pro-free market society. And then, you know, very, very unregulated, uh, very untaxed relative to the rest of the world. And then surrounded by mainland China, which we had by that time was communists. So you had these laboratories where you could say, let's take two people. And the same, you know, two groups of people situated in the same part of the world, the same factors of climate, the same factors of raw material resource, natural resources often has less ne natural resources in the, in the pro free market side and the same ethnic group. Speaker 2 00:23:04 Everything's the same, except you have two radically different set of ideas that people adopt and use as the basis for their society. And then see what happens. And then you have these experiments where West Berlin became, you know, wealthy and vibrant and a dynamic society. And East Berlin was, you know, they were still driving around Theban, you know, this is the, the, the cheap car that made, made in the so made of the Easter block for, you know, for decades. It was basically a, a car, what a single car design developed right after World War ii, because it was the cheapest thing they could make. And they manufactured it for 40 years without any, any significant changes. And, and you had to wait on a waiting list for years to get it. It became this incredibly poor, backward, non progressing society. Uh, and the same thing with mainland China versus Hong Kong. Speaker 2 00:23:53 So you had these great historical experience experiments, and that showed, and then what that, what that indicates to people is, you know, by, by seeing these examples of when people implement a certain set of ideas, it leads to a certain result, then you can make the decision to say, alright, we're going to implement the ideas that will lead to a successful result. Uh, we're going to adopt these ideas and implement them. And it gives us, now you as an individual will have relatively little control over everything because, you know, you're the society of, you know, in our case, the United States today, 330, 340 million people. You as an individual, you have your one vote, you have your one voice. But that the idea that ideas move history actually does amplify your impact as an individual. Because having a voice can make a big difference. If you can advocate certain ideas, if you can convince others, you have more than just, you know, I'm one person with one vote. Speaker 2 00:24:49 You can have influence of other people. You can convince them to adopt a certain set of ideas and a more successful path forward that will, that will secure, uh, uh, help secure your prosperity and, and, and your wellbeing and, and protect you from, you know, uh, from collapse, uh, into a dictatorship, uh, that sort of outcome. So that's why this is this very empowering idea, right? That that ideas move history, which means that you can move history by advocating certain ideas. Now, the one thing I want to add to that, and just take a few minutes on, and, uh, is that within the sort of objectives theory on this, which is ideas move history, I have, uh, advocated a, a, a a minor variation. No, it's something that, you know, it's, it's, it's a very small heresy, I suppose you'd call it. But it's, uh, I found that in, in some of the things that ways Ayn Rand stated it, and especially in some of the ways was interpreted by people who came in the objectives movement, who came after Ayn Rand. Speaker 2 00:25:47 This idea of ideas move, history came to be interpreted, I think, a little too much in a top down way. And it became, came sort of the great man theory of history as applied to philosophers. So the idea is that, you know, it's philosophers in the ivory tower. It's what they're teaching in the philosophy department at Harvard that really determines everything and everything else kind of trickles down from there. And again, I thought my, one of my complaints about this is, it, it sort of denies that sort of individual agency. And also I thought that it, it, it, it doesn't really explain the situation we're in right now. So one of the things that, uh, one of the rules of being a writer, you have to plug your book. So I wrote this book called What Went Right, an Objective Theory of History that sets forth this, these views. Speaker 2 00:26:29 Um, and one of the things I started with did this title, what went Right is the fact of progress. The fact that the light, the late 20th century into the early 21st century, things have actually been getting better. That, uh, especially at the end of the Cold War, you know, great huge increase in the number of free Nations. But that I pointed out that things didn't really change radically in the philosophy departments. You know, what they were teaching, the philosophy departments didn't get better in some re in some respects, as, as you know, Stephen, with the influence of post-modernist ideas, it, it got worse in the philosophy departments, and yet things still still kept getting better. So I, I advocate for a more decentralized bottom up view of how ideas affect history, that all ideas affect history, this view of philosophical ideas affect history, but also so do, uh, people developing ideas about economics, people developing ideas about psychology, and also people grasping the, the elements of a proper social system, even on an implicit level, uh, as has happened, you know, the spread of free markets and of, um, and of free societies of, of, of liberal democracy throughout Asia and, and large o other parts of the world. Speaker 2 00:27:40 Uh, people are able to grasp the value and, and, and to some extent, the nature of these better systems of, of organizing a society without necessarily having heard it first from a philosopher. They're able to adopt, adopt it from the bottom up. And I also go into the idea, and I think this is something we should discuss about how, um, you know, his ideas move history, but history also moves ideas that, so one of the things I argue is it also goes the other way around that, uh, you know, philosophy moves history, but history moves philosophy that philosophers come along and they draw from these lessons of history. They draw from the things that have happened and sometimes draw new conclusions that no philosopher had ever thought of before based on, you know, what has happened historically. So I think one example of that would be Ayn Rand coming after the Industrial Revolution and seeing, you know, what the, the tremendous difference that, that the science and technology and, and, uh, intellectual innovation, uh, had the tremendous impact it had on human wellbeing and, and the, uh, uh, the increased quality of human life. Speaker 2 00:28:48 And she then develops a whole theory about how, you know, this is the, the basic plot of Atlas. The theme of Atlas Drugg is the theme of a lot of her philosophy about how the mind is the main source of, of production. It's the main source of wealth. It's what moves us forward in terms of progress is the thinking of individuals who are innovating and coming up with new ideas, uh, not just in philosophy, but technologically and, and, and in business and in, in, in production, you know, the, the factory owners and, and the, and the Henry Fords and the Thomas Edisons, et cetera. So, you know, this is a case where a historical development, the industrial evolution leads, gives you the evidence that a philosopher has to come along and say, well, let's draw some conclusions from that about what is the nature of human life? Speaker 2 00:29:32 What is the nature of the mind? How does progress and, and human wellbeing, how is that, how is that advanced? And so, you know, my, uh, my way of putting it is that philosophy moves history, history also moves philosophy. But beneath that, what's really happening is man moves. Both you as an individual are, you know, human beings are out here living in the world, trying to, uh, prosper to advance, to, to survive, to make our lives the best they can be. And in doing that, you know, we, like I said, we're smart creatures. We are intelligent creatures. We are have to draw these larger conclusions about what kind of world do we live in? Uh, you know, what, what, what kind of society should we have? What social principles should be organized? What, what moral principles should we be implementing, uh, to guide our lives? Speaker 2 00:30:21 And so we have to come up with these big ideas, and in pursuit of that, we come up with the big ideas. We also implement them as social systems, as, as ways of living. And then we also observe the results, draw conclusions from the sort of historical results of those ideas, and then form new ideas from that. So it's this, uh, I see it as sort of a, and that, that's why I view progress as, uh, part, I think history is characterized by progress. It's not an inevitable progress. It's a progress that occurs to the extent that we are putting ideas into practice, observing the results, learning from that, and then doing better and developing, uh, better ideas that we implement the next time around. So that's sort of my idea of, of, of, and I, I think that's the thing is to get to the basis of this, that the basis of the idea that ideas move, history is really that man moves history. Human beings move history. We move it by trying to draw these large conclusions about what is the nature of the world? What is the nature of human beings? What kind of moral systems should we have? What social systems should we have? And then putting that into practice and seeing the results. Mm-hmm. Speaker 1 00:31:30 <affirmative>. Okay. Fascinating. Uh, um, no, no. Lawrence, do you want to, uh, jump in at this point? Uh, or should we, uh, just have some back and forth with Robert and I? What do you think? Speaker 0 00:31:43 No, there are some questions beginning to, uh, come into the chat, but, um, I don't know if you want to capitalize on anything Rob just said for Speaker 1 00:31:50 Yeah. Well, actually Rob said a lot of very interesting things. So, uh, I was a little worried that we would just, uh, take over the whole rest of the time. But yeah. Do you wanna take up this, you know, this thesis about ideas, moving history as, uh, as fundamental, I'm, I'm reminded, uh, there was a, a lecture I heard from Alan Charles Kors, who was a great historian of the enlightenment at, uh, university of Pennsylvania. But he made a remark about history. He said, you know, if you were, uh, to take a more biological focus on human beings and see them as continuous with the animal kingdom, you know, you would then compare human history to the history of various other animals. So, and his example was the wild beast, you know, the, uh, the, the, you know, the hundreds of thousands or millions of them, you know, roaming African planets, say, here are, uh, you know, animals that are creatures of biology and environment. Speaker 1 00:32:46 But if you were to write the history of the WIDA Beast, it would be the same story over and over and over again. However many, uh, hundreds of thousands of years you wanted to go back in human history. But something distinctive happened in the case of human beings. Now, we are in part creatures of biology and creatures of environment, but human history is this almost endless diversity. And, uh, you know, we're, we're still <laugh>. They're just scratching the surface of all of the stories about what humans can possibly do. So there has to be something unique about humans. And that unique thing is we have a big brain that generates all sorts of ideas, right? About the world ourselves and our place in it. And human history then is, uh, uh, you know, what we do with those various ideas as we try them out, uh, try them out in life. Speaker 1 00:33:40 So this idea that, uh, uh, it's just environment or it's just biology is, is certainly much too much too reductionistic. Now what's interesting then is, uh, this, uh, you know, and Rob is, uh, uh, adding his, uh, proposed minor variation to the objectives. The, so I wanted to explore that a little bit. Uh, maybe we travel in different circles, but my, my understanding of the objectives thesis was, uh, uh, not that there was an institutional theory necessarily built into it. So, and I do agree, and I did hear this floating around that somehow, you know, we, philosophers were special in some sense, and we were at the top of the social pecking order, uh, and that we came up with these ideas in our ivory tower, and then, uh, we issue these ideas that function kind of like orders for the rest of the troops to follow. Speaker 1 00:34:37 So we're like, you know, general limos. And so, you know, we pat ourselves on the back and so on. Now, I'm, I'm, I'm turning that into a cartoon. Well, I, I would say there is that that top down thesis, you know, has to be false if it is institutionalized. Now, um, uh, uh, that part of the story has to be that we can't de, uh, de agency everybody else by saying that only philosophers have agency and the social power to make everybody do what they, what, what they want. Actually, <laugh>. One, the main complaints that, uh, philosophers have is it's very hard to get people to do what you want. <laugh>, I have a least great philosophy of ideas, but nobody, uh, very few people want to, uh, want to agree with me. I don't have that kind of, uh, kind of social power. But even interestingly, I think there's one thing to say that philosophy moves history, but then it's an open question about where people are getting their philosophy from. Speaker 1 00:35:38 You know, are they getting it from novels? Are they getting it from, uh, uh, from movies, right? Are they getting it from church? Are they getting it from philosophy departments that are operating in various ways? And I think it gets very messy, uh, that are, and even if you focus on the philosophy professions, uh, just, you know, going back the last three or four centuries to give pride of place to academic philosophy is already suspect, just because I would say, uh, uh, perhaps the small majority of the most influential philosophers of the last three or 400 years were not academics. So Decart was not an academic. John Locke was not an academic. Carl Marks was not an academic even getting into the 20th century, uh, you know, obviously I, Rand was not an academic Jean. Paul Sarro was not an academic. So there are any number of, uh, philosophers who have been from their institutional perch in academic philosophy departments influential, but, uh, at least as many or more outside of. So the mechanism that, that's not quite the right word by which philosophy is disseminated, and where people learn their ideas, I think we need a much richer, uh, uh, richer understanding. So, uh, Speaker 2 00:36:58 Let me just adjust one of those things just briefly. So I think there's, there's one passage where Ayn Rand says something to the effect, I, I'm paraphrasing it here, but pretty close paraphrase that the, uh, the philosopher is the commander in chief in an army whose foot soldiers basically are the intellectuals. Mm-hmm. And it's, it's k she, free up has an analogy, but it's k some people took it way too literally and had this idea that, you know, okay, if you are the philosopher, you are basically giving orders to all the other intellectuals, not just to the average person, but to everybody else who's the all you know, to the lawyers, to the artists, to the, uh, economists, et cetera. You know, they are taking orders from you, the intellectual, and their job is to salute smartly, say, yes, sir, and go out and do it. Speaker 2 00:37:40 Um, which I think two, two problems with that one. And, and again, if you take that to literally, it becomes this sort of top-down view that, uh, I think, I think was adopted by some objectiveness, and that's the one I'm arguing of. So it has this yeah. Like basis and something Ayn Rand said. But on the other hand, you know, Ayn Rand, not only was she not an academic, uh, philosopher, uh, she actually started out as you know, she started out as a novelist and a Hollywood screenwriter, a script writer. Um, but you know, if you look at her novels, who are her big intellectual heroes? They're the people who develop, you know, the, the fictional characters who develop the ideas and give the speeches in her novels. Well, one of those, an architect. And the other is an, uh, uh, a scientist and engineer, you know, so, uh, <laugh>, you know, she, she clearly grasped the idea that, you know, the philosophical ideas are not just coming from a guy in an ivory tower. Speaker 2 00:38:26 And specifically, I wanna, I, my part of my argument too is, is that historically, if you look at it, a lot of the big ideas have come from people who were immersed in some other field as well. Um, some of the best ideas in the, his on, on on philosophy of science, some of some very interesting ideas. And, and that field come from Isaac Newton, who was, who came up with them while developing a theory of physics. Right? So, you know, who better to, to develop a, of a view of the philosophy of science than a guy who's actually creating big new scientific ideas. Uh, so actually it, it, it led me to formulate sort of a, a, a rule of thumb I like, which is no one should become a philosopher un unless he's been something else first. Yeah. Then that everyone should have some field of specialized knowledge into which they, they become immersed. Speaker 2 00:39:13 Cuz that gives you the inductive basis for understanding and, and drawing big philosophical conclusions, and not having them just be something academic and in the ivory tower. And then of course, yes, the diff how ideas diffuse is actually, it, it's a fascinating discussion there. Um, I think one of the things that's underrated is how various kinds of institutions that we have, uh, kind of induct people into certain ideas. You know, that if you have a, if you, if you're living in a democratic society, by that I mean a liberal democracy, a a free society with, with voting and with the, the institutions of free speech and, and public debate and voting, that that's going to change your experience of life and give you a new different, a different, a different way of doing things that will sort of inductively draw you towards a certain conclusions. Speaker 2 00:40:04 Or if you have, if you're in a free economy, a capitalist society, you're going to have the everyday experience of being an individual, making your own decisions in control of your own life, capable of innovating. And that change of your everyday experience of life is going to make you more likely to gravitate towards certain, uh, certain ideas or to, to regard certain ideas as more realistic and as reflecting your actual experience of life. So I think there's lots of different fascinating ways in which I, you know, big, big Phil overarching philosophical ideas propagate not just because somebody took a course from a philosopher at college, because not that many people go to college, that that many people take classes from philosophers, as you know. Uh, and, and, and of that there's a smaller subset who even listened, uh, <laugh>. But, but it's that it, what happens is that there's all sorts of different ways in which from all the other fields of, of study and from the artists creating art and from the institutions that people live in, that they are brought to regard certain, uh, to, to develop certain ideas about the world and to regard some, some ideas as more realistic as reflecting the, their actual experience of life more than others. Speaker 2 00:41:17 So that's how, you know, it becomes very complicated how, how ideas propagate out, uh, through a society. Speaker 1 00:41:24 Now, part of this also turns on what we mean by philosophy and how generalistic and how technical we think it is. So I endorse the first part of what you were saying, uh, you know, quite, quite strongly, if you're going to do philosophy of science in our generation, probably you should have some scientific training, or if you're going to do business ethics, some actual business experience, right? Or philosophy of, of, of whatever. The same time, I'm gonna say that much of philosophy can be done by individuals, and it's proper to think of them as doing philosophy, uh, uh, in the course of their everyday experience. And so that children are doing philosophy when they're trying to figure out the way the world works and who they are and how they're going to interact with various, uh, various other people. And, uh, philosophy then is in that sense quite empirical. Speaker 1 00:42:20 So, uh, you know, for example, if I'm a little kid, you know, and I'm, I'm living, this is, uh, just, just an example, you know, I'm living in some, some valley and I like to go out and explore the world, and there are some hills right over there. Uh, you know, if my mom tells me, for example, don't go into the hills, uh, and explore in those hills because there are evil spirits that are living in the hills and they will gobble you up. Now, if I accept that as a belief, right? Well, that's, that's already a kind of philosophical belief. You know, the world is populated by evil spirits that are out to get me. And, uh, uh, to the extent that I adopt that without checking it out for myself, then I'm going to set myself up for a more broad philosophy of life. Speaker 1 00:43:08 And so that's, that's a philosophical move right there. If by contrast, you know, I push back against my mom and I say, well, you know, maybe I wouldn't tell her this, but I actually snuck up into the hills, uh, uh, several times, and I found some, some, um, some, some new metals that are, that are fun. You know, dad is a, is a, is a metalsmith and so on. I found a new source of metals out there, and I really plan to go and explore those hill. And I didn't see any evil spirits out there, so I'm not going to believe in them. That's already setting myself up for a more mature kind of philosophy, but it's being empirically driven. I'm learning it from myself. I don't need professional philosophers to be, to be, to be telling us this. So philosophy can be done by individuals, uh, empirically it can be learned by professional philosophers when I go to university and I sit in a class. But, uh, as we started to talk before, uh, there are all kinds of other cultural mechanisms by which I can pick up philosophy as well. So we do need to, uh, to sort that out much more. Okay. Lawrence wants to jump in. Speaker 2 00:44:13 Sorry, we just got 15 minutes. Let Rob, if you wanna quickly Yeah, I wanna do one very, very quick thing before that. Um, one, one thing that I think is, is a key differentiation to make is there's such a thing as implicit philosophy versus explicit Speaker 1 00:44:25 Philosophy. Yeah. Speaker 2 00:44:26 Uh, and I think that, you know, implicit philosophy basically means you have an idea without fully being able to name it or recognize it. And I think a lot of, if you wanna talk about the, the folk, the, um, and, and, and that's what Kanes was getting at when he says, you know, practical men who think they're not, uh, uh, have nothing to do with the world of ideas are the slaves of some defunct economist. Uh, oftentimes people have better or worse implicit ideas than their explicit ideas. And a lot of, I think the effective ideas on people's actions can be explained often as a conflict between the implicit and the explicit. Uh, one of the key things to give, like every example is, you know, we live in a society in which it is, you know, being selfish and being self-interested and considered the worst evil, though, you know, if you want to, if you wanna call somebody, make, make somebody sound bad, you call them selfish. Speaker 2 00:45:12 It's used all the time, and it's, uh, uh, uh, as a general label for something bad. But at the same time, most people actually live on the everyday life by a code of what you would call rational self-interest. They actually pursue their interests. They, they go out and they make money. They support their families, they buy houses, they buy cars, they're doing things, uh, uh, self interestingly to improve their own lives. And that's the actual 90% of what they do in life is something which by, if you ask them explicitly, is this the right thing to do? They'd say, oh, no, no, no, we shouldn't be selfish. And yet there they are doing it <laugh>. And that conflict can explain a lot of what goes on in the world around us. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, so, uh, I, I think, you know, I have a chapter in my book called The War Between the Implicit and the Explicit, because I think oftentimes you have people who get, have, have sort of from experience, they have a developed an implicit set of ideas that's different from what, from the top down they've got been told they're supposed to believe. Speaker 2 00:46:09 And those are often in conflict, and it helps to make the implicit explicit so you can actually resolve the conflict. But, but that's, you know, I don't, I don't wanna get too far into that, but, so let's go to the, uh, let's go to the questions if you have 'em to Lawrence. Speaker 0 00:46:24 Okay, great. Thank you both. So when it comes to questions, there are good number. We'll try to get through as many as we can. We've got about 15 minutes left. First question here comes from Ann m on YouTube asking, could it be proper to think of history as the study of human nature? Speaker 2 00:46:43 Oh, absolutely. I think that's, that's correct. Yeah. That, uh, but it, it's, it's human nature, but also it's human. See, it's not just raw human nature, right? Because it's human nature as improved by, or as directed by all the things that we develop as new ideas. So I would, you know, ideas are a form of technology is the way I would put it. You know, we're, we're all used to the idea that if somebody develops a semiconductor, right, and then that, that's a new technology they can put in place, and it radically changes how we do things, you know? And the fact that I'm talking to you, you know, from thousand, a thousand miles away, uh, we're all talking to each other live on, on over the internet. Uh, so this new technology makes this amazing things possible. Well, the very first technology was, you know, philosophy was among science and philosophy were among the first technologies we developed in terms of new ideas about how to do things that make, you know, vast amounts of new progress possible. Speaker 2 00:47:41 So it's, it's sort of now I would say that is, that's based in human nature in the sense that human nature involves, you know, I love Stephen's story about, you know, if you wrote the, the history of the was the wildest, it would be just, you know, we went and we ate grass, we, we ran away from predators, and then the next day we did it again, it'd be the same thing over and over again. Uh, the reason human history is different is because we have these big brains, but that too is our nature, is our nature not to be programmed by evolution, to do something, but to also be able to, but to be able to program ourselves to, to come not with a, a pre-wired set of programming, but to be able to make observations and say, you know what? We could do things differently and we could do things better. And so that, that, you know, that the whole point of that big brain is not to be pre-programmed, but to be able to program ourselves by developing new ideas about, about what to do and how to live and, you know, and to develop science and to develop philosophy and new social systems, et cetera. Speaker 1 00:48:39 Okay. My caveat, uh, everything Rob said is just, is fine. We're going back to the, uh, to the original question. I think it's a little bit too simple to say, history is human nature or philosophy of history is human nature, because human beings are embedded within a reality. And so human beings, uh, you know, are part of the story. But we live in a world, and the world has its own nature, and it's the interaction of us in the environment that gives the full count of human history. So, for example, we could say something like the Great Plague of the 13 hundreds, that was not something that was, uh, uh, caused by human agency, but it was a hugely important event that occurred. And then how humans responded to that event then becomes part of history. So it's the, the, the, uh, the metaphysical or the natural event that occurs, and the human response to that, that, uh, that, that is the story of, of history. Speaker 1 00:49:43 Uh, and so why the will beast history is going to be different from the human history is human, uh, will beast will be living in a world that has plagues and their history will go a certain way. Human beings live in a world where there are plagues, but their history will go in a different direction. So both elements are part of, part of the story. Um, but then even there, uh, and this is where the, the kind of ideas becomes important because the same kind of events happening out there in the world can prompt very different human reactions. And so the ideas that we have matter. So I can, uh, just to take the example, I can, uh, to change the example, go to like the huge, uh, um, earthquake that occurs in some part of the world and just huge number of people who are killed and property is destroyed and so on. Speaker 1 00:50:35 Uh, how humans react to that is going to depend on the philosophy and the more specific ideas they have. If I say, well, it is God's will and or we are being punished for our sins, or this is God telling us that we shouldn't live here anymore, then our reaction to that is going to be entirely different from people saying, well, we need to figure out what the cause of the earthquakes is, do some science and some technology, and figure out how we can build our buildings better. So as better to survive from, from, uh, from the earthquake that it occurs the next time. So the same reality conditions can be holding, but people's ideas can be very different. That's the human nature variability. And so the historical stories will be different. Speaker 0 00:51:22 Yeah. Great. Thank you for that. Now I have two questions kind of along the same line. I'm gonna sort of combine them here. One's more of a question, one's more of a comment, uh, from Alex Hern Na Tib argued that the idea of historical black swans or unexpected events that have an outsized historical impact. Where would you put this view in the various philosophies of history and how would you judge its validity? And this is kind of tying into what, uh, Philip Coates is saying, that there are sometimes these very big events in history that radically can change the course of how people are going to think and develop, such as when the Persians invaded Greece, if they won, perhaps uh, Athenian democracy would not have come around. So what are your thoughts on that? Speaker 2 00:52:11 Well, one of my thoughts, I'd say from the journalistic perspective, one of my thoughts is I, I am continually amazed at how impervious people are to big events sometimes. Um, I mean, I, September 11th was one that really, that really got me that way cuz I thought, oh, a lot of things are gonna change. And then, you know, a few years later, everything went back pretty much to the same. Uh, there's a, a story that Dashel Hammett, the, the mystery detective, fiction writer wrote about how, um, I like to tell this one that, that, that Sam Spade, his de fictional detective is hired to find a guy who, who disappeared. He left his, his wife, he disappeared like, you know, years earlier. And his wife wants to track him down and find out what happened to him. And he finds out that, you know, the guy's story that he, he was walking down the street one day when a a, a beam fell, almost fell on his head, uh, from a construction site. Speaker 2 00:52:55 And it caused him to question his life and did totally two things radically. And he left his wife, he left his family, he went on a series of adventures and he says, and then beam stopped falling from the sky on his head. And he went back to exactly the same life he had before, just in a different town. You know, same jo, same kind of job, same kind of life, same kind of family. It went back to normal. And, and human beings will tend to do that. A big event will happen. It will be a crisis. They will become very mobilized to change everything. And then after a couple of years that fades and they go back to what the accustomed, um, uh, what the accustomed routine was. I, I think, but I, I do think that, you know, there are a big events that can, that can, that can make a difference and the outcome of them can make a difference. Speaker 2 00:53:36 Um, you know, I think, for example, what's going on in in Ukraine right now, you know, I, it's been an astonishing to see that, you know, you have Sweden and Finland that have been nutritionally been neutral and now want to join nato. And the way it's sort of galvanized and it's made u, European U the idea of a European Union, of a European unity, which had been kind of a, an idea that hadn't really been put into practice is now becoming much more of a reality. I'm hoping it will focus things more on the idea of people will start thinking about the difference between, um, you know, free societies in the West and the kind of authoritarian societies you have in, in Russia, for example. Um, I'm hoping that will focus people's attention on that, but it really is the event has to happen and then people need to be able to draw conclusions from those events. Speaker 2 00:54:25 And sometimes they draw the right conclusions and sometimes they, they don't learn from the events. So it's, it's the event happening, but it's also people learning from the events. Um, and you know, even you, you and I, I would say even exp let's say the persons had defeated the Greeks in ancient Greek history and had taken over Greece as a colony. There's plenty of times when the colonized have become the colonizers. I mean, this is what happened to the Romans. They took over the Greeks and basically Greek ideas and Greek arch took over the Roman Empire. So, um, you know, it, it's possible you still would've had a very similar hi history if that event had changed. So it's not just the events, it's also the lessons that people learn from the events and then what they do with those lessons. Speaker 1 00:55:07 Yeah. All right. Yeah, this is another, yeah. Rich set of, uh, uh, issues that get, uh, provoked just from this question about the Black Swans, for example. Now, uh, my take on the Black Swan event is that it's kind of a generalization on the great man theory of history in a way. Because what we're saying is there's the broad mass of events or the broad mass of activities that human beings are engaging in that are kind of ordinary and normalized, but then something very unusual happens, and that's the, uh, the black swan that occurs. Uh, and now of course the black swans can come in two types. They can be non-human events. So, uh, you know, if we had been around at the time of the dinosaurs, for example, and suppose it really was a comet that crashed into, into the Earth, well, that would be a Black Swan event that would have huge impact on, on human, on human history. Speaker 1 00:56:01 So, or a plague that sweeps through or an an an earthquake, right? Or, you know, I'm just making this up, science fictional, if the polarity of the earth for some reason that we don't understand, were to switch right now, uh, right. Human history would then take a, take a very different direction. Although how we respond to that Black Swan event is probably going to be at least as important as the original Black Swan event itself. Now then the other kind of Black Swan is to say the human agency. So if we go back to, I'm gonna go a little bit, uh, um, after the Persians and the Greeks, although that's a, that's an interesting what if kind of question. You know, we say, you know, the Greeks are going along and they're doing their thing, and the Persians are going along and they're doing their thing, and there are all these empires and tribes and so on. Speaker 1 00:56:47 And, you know, the story is just the same thing over and over again of conquest and, uh, but not particularly large scale conquest. And then along comes Alexander the Great, right? And so he's like a black swan human being and boom, right? Things, things changed. Or if we are going to jump then say another, what would it be 1,500 years to Asian history that's been going along the same old way that it's always going along. And then suddenly Jenga Khan, right? And the Mongos get their acts together and they take over basically almost all of Asia and make inroads. So how do we explain Jenis Khan? Well, he's kind of a black swan human being who comes along and alters human human history. Now another question though, I think, uh, has to do with what you take as the beginning and the end of the Black Swan event and its implications. So are we trying to explain events where, you know, the, the, the, the effects last for 10 years for a century or 500 years? And, uh, what counts as a black swan or doesn't partly seems to depend on what timeframe we are thinking of. So there's a lot more that needs to be said about this question. Speaker 2 00:58:00 And that's interesting when you mentioned Genghis K, because on the one hand he had a huge impact on, on, on, you know, on on, uh, on the area and, and con a huge amount of Asia on the other hand, you know, the Mongols or one of these civilizations that had this vast geographic footprint and have almost no cultural footprint, right? Speaker 1 00:58:19 So two centuries later, right? It's, it's not very much. And that becomes, Speaker 2 00:58:22 Well, the, you know, the Mon Mongol philosophy, Mongol art and Mongol. I do think Mongol political systems have an impact. We talked about this with Ukraine, that, um, and a similar Speaker 1 00:58:31 Point can be made about the Spartans compared to the Athenians, right? Okay. Speaker 2 00:58:36 Or, or the, uh, uh, the, the Phoenicians that the, uh, the, the know the Carthridge versus Rome, you know, Carthridge was defeated, but Car, the Carthaginians didn't really have any cultural. There were these people who had vast empires and huge influence in the Mediterranean world, and no real cultural legacy. They're left behind. So it's, it is a matter of, there are black swan events and there are big things that happen, but the impact tends to fade over time unless there's some new idea or new lesson or some right intel, some something that people learn as a result of this or something. That's, that's the Speaker 1 00:59:09 Human agency point. What do we, exactly what lesson do we learn from it? Or how do we react? How do we react to it given our pre our, our previous ideas that we already hold? Yeah. Speaker 2 00:59:20 Alright, we're Speaker 0 00:59:20 Coming, coming out here to the last two minutes, but, uh, I'll give you this, we'll do this last question. I apologize to everyone who didn't get a chance, uh, but for this last question I wanna do, Kira Stenner says Rand was able to shape her philosophy, thanks, in part to coming after the Industrial Revolution. Do you think her philosophy still applies now as we enter the digital revolution? So if y'all wanted to give your lightning round responses to that, Speaker 2 00:59:46 Hmm. Uh, I'm gonna give a ten second response and say, no, I don't think the digital revolution is that profound. A difference from, I think it's an extension of the industrial revolution. I don't think it's that profound difference. I think, you know, it's interesting to ask the question of what new conclusions might we draw from this? Uh, but that's gonna take more time than we have. We have left, Speaker 1 01:00:05 I say yeah, what Rob said. Speaker 0 01:00:08 All right, well, in that case, I want to thank Rob Stephen, thank you so much for joining us today to talk about this very interesting subject. And I want to thank everyone who came to listen and give comments and sh and sh ask your questions. We really appreciate it. If you enjoyed what happened today, please let us know and consider making a tax deductible and donation to help us continue doing events like this. Uh, be sure to tune in next week when, uh, Jennifer Grossman will be back and she will be interviewing Dr. Andrew G. Huff about his latest book, the Truth About Wuhan. On the next episode of the Atlas Society, ask Rob Stephen again. Thank you, everyone else. Have a wonderful day. All Speaker 1 01:00:58 Right, thanks a lot guys. Speaker 2 01:00:59 Thanks everyone for participating.

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