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Harry Binswanger and Gregory Salmieri on the Rubin Report - Grounding morality in facts

The Rubin Report: Why It Is Critical to Be Fact-Oriented

Recently, we featured in New Ideal the Ayn Rand Institute’s partnership with Dave Rubin to produce a series of Rubin Report interviews exploring Objectivism and its view of happiness. See the episode list below for the first four videos.

Today, we continue the series with a deep dive into the question of why it is critical to be fact-oriented in the pursuit of happiness. In this interview, Rubin sits down with two philosophers — Harry Binswanger, a member of ARI’s board of directors, and Gregory Salmieri, Anthem Foundation fellow and lecturer at Rutgers University — to discuss the relationship between facts and values, and why that issue — which might seem abstract and esoteric — is crucially relevant to the achievement of happiness.

This being Binswanger’s first appearance on the Rubin Report, Rubin took the opportunity to ask him, as someone who knew Ayn Rand well, what she was like as a person, and why the “meme” about Rand and about Objectivists is often negative. Binswanger charmingly recounts some of his experiences interacting personally with Rand — and both Binswanger and Salmieri note that a highly provocative thinker who challenges people’s deepest-held beliefs is bound to provoke strongly charged reactions.

After that introductory discussion, Rubin plunges right into the philosophical deep end by asking about the “Is-Ought” gap. This is the age-old philosophical question of how ideas about what we “ought” to do are related to questions about what “is” — in other words, how values relate to facts.

Binswanger and Salmieri question whether the moral lessons conveyed by Old and New Testament stories of sacrifice really do convey any truth, psychological or otherwise, when the morality of self-sacrifice cannot be derived from facts.
Rand’s philosophy offers a fresh and radical solution to this question. Salmieri notes how Rand draws on her distinctive view of how all concepts are formed on the basis of facts, while Binswanger points to the specific facts about living organisms from which Rand thought value concepts are formed.

Readers may recall that Rubin hosted a panel conversation at last summer’s Objectivist conference that included Salmieri as well as Jordan Peterson. That conversation delved even more deeply into the “is-ought” issue and Rand’s distinctive approach to it.

It also touched on a number of other themes relevant to the current discussion. Referring back to that event, Rubin asks about the connection between morality and stories.

Peterson has argued that religious mythology conveys a kind of psychological truth or significance even when it is not literally true. While acknowledging that religious mythology can be artistically powerful, Binswanger and Salmieri question whether the moral lessons conveyed by Old and New Testament stories of sacrifice really do convey any truth, psychological or otherwise, when the morality of self-sacrifice cannot be derived from facts. Great art that draws on a more rational moral code, on the other hand, can provide inspiration, clarity, and the philosophical perspective needed to overcome obstacles in the pursuit of happiness.

Much of the rest of the conversation centers on the implications and importance of a philosophical commitment to the facts of reality:

  • Does the exploration of and adherence to a philosophy like Objectivism amount to the dogmatic embrace of something like a religion, or does it give one tools for being intellectually honest?
  • Does such a philosophy wall itself off from science, or does it welcome new scientific discoveries and work to integrate them into its principles?
  • Does scientific progress occur more or less automatically in the absence of government interference, or does such progress itself have to be achieved through the development of a fact-oriented methodology?
  • Does the ubiquity of social media technology present us with unavoidable distractions from the facts of reality, or can we devise a proper method of using it that enables us to know more about the world?
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After a wide-ranging intellectual discussion with a focus on the rigorous development of standards of morality and science, it is refreshing that the conversation ends with Rubin’s pointed question, “Where does fun fit into this?” To find out whether Binswanger and Salmieri are any fun, and whether they think this is what counts in a life lived in the pursuit of happiness, watch the video until the end!

Audio podcasts of this episode are available on iTunes and Stitcher.


Objectivism on Happiness (Rubin Report episode list):

In this episode, Onkar Ghate and Tara Smith delve into the question of how selfishness could possibly be a good thing — and why Rand is the only thinker who has dared to challenge the basic moral premises that have animated our culture for more than two thousand years. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, Onkar Ghate explains why free will matters for one’s own life and happiness, and how human free will is consistent with the Law of Causality. He and Dave Rubin also discuss the effects of genes and environment on a person’s nature and choices of actions. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, Dave Rubin has an in-depth discussion with Yaron Brook and Onkar Ghate about tribalism as a low form of collectivism. They examine its manifestations on the left and the right today, including “intersectionality” and “the oppression Olympics,” explaining how these are consequences of the moral code of altruism. They contrast all of that with the original American system, which was geared toward the rational, productive person pursuing his own happiness. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, Onkar Ghate and Gregory Salmieri join Dave Rubin to discuss the moral and practical considerations involved in achieving one's own personal happiness. They discuss the Objectivist perspective on happiness as a flourishing and successful state of life and provide guidance on how to create a happy life that is a purposeful, meaningful and integrated whole. In discussing free will, they examine what is and what is not within an individual's control. The discussion also encompasses related topics such as how a deep sense of meaning is possible in a world without God. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, Gregory Salmieri and Harry Binswanger talk with Dave Rubin about Binswanger’s experience knowing Ayn Rand personally, why Ayn Rand’s ideas continue to generate the strong reactions they do — and Objectivism’s novel view of the relationship between facts and values. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, Tara Smith talks with Dave Rubin about what it means to take one’s happiness seriously. Smith discusses the objective requirements of flourishing, the role of the ideas one accepts in one’s pursuit of happiness, and what it means to be self-interested in the pursuit of team goals or relationships. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher. For more perspective see the New Ideal announcement.
In this episode, Yaron Brook and Gena Gorlin talk with Dave Rubin about what it takes to live a meaningful life. Among the topics discussed: why a career purpose is so important, and how to navigate the challenges inherent in a career; why deep engagement with art can be such a powerful inspiration; and why rationality is not only compatible with romantic love, but a necessary condition for it. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, Harry Binswanger speaks one-on-one with Dave Rubin about Objectivism’s view of truth, objectivity and self-interest — and why these concepts matter outside the philosophy classroom. Other topics of discussion include Binswanger’s experience hearing Ayn Rand speak for the first time, and how that lecture affected the course of his life; how to answer a skeptic who claims there is no objective truth; and why Objectivism considers self-sacrifice to be immoral. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, Yaron Brook joins Dave Rubin to discuss why Ayn Rand and her ideas matter today. Brook explains the unique value Objectivism brings to today’s intellectual landscape — and how Rand’s vision of what it looks like to achieve a truly happy, fulfilling life has inspired generations of idealistic young people to gravitate toward her. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, philosopher Gregory Salmieri and psychologist Gena Gorlin talk with Dave Rubin about the psychological requirements of happiness. Among the topics discussed: what it means to treat happiness as a process, not just an outcome; the difference between Rand’s view of the pursuit of happiness and the “hedonic treadmill” notion of pursuing shallow pleasures that never truly satisfy; how having a central purpose can resolve internal conflicts; and how to find a sense of meaning in life. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, John Allison and Dave Rubin discuss the role of philosophy in Allison’s business success. Ranked by Harvard Business Review among the world’s 100 most successful CEOs over the last decade, Allison explains how a business culture built upon Objectivist virtues helped his company, BB&T Corporation, to successfully navigate the 2008 financial crisis, growing in assets from $4.5 billion to $152 billion during his tenure. Audio podcasts are available at iTunes and Stitcher.
In the final episode of the series, philosopher Gregory Salmieri joins Dave Rubin for a big-picture discussion of today’s political culture. Salmieri compares the ugly aspects of our political situation with those of the past and gives advice about how to navigate it in a more positive way. Among other topics discussed: whether it’s important to “get good people into politics,” how to think about the “lesser of two evils,” whether the media is more biased today than in the past, and how to be a better consumer of news. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
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To explore this topic further check out “David Hume: Causality, the Problem of Induction, and the Subjectivity of Ethics” on ARI Campus.

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Ben Bayer

Ben Bayer, Ph.D. in philosophy and formerly a professor, is a fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute.

Keith Lockitch

Keith Lockitch, Ph.D. in physics, is a senior fellow and vice president of content at the Ayn Rand Institute. He focuses primarily on the intersection of science with current events and policy issues. He is a senior editor of New Ideal.

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