Answering Hutchinson's Critique of Objectivism
First, Hutchinson began with a compliment:
Despite the great extent to which I disagree with you, I must confess to appreciating the lucidity by which you present your case.
First, I suggest that in upholding Objectivism as the criteria by which all things are judged, you are engaging in just another form of Presuppositionalism. I quote from one your blogs:
"The primacy of existence is a fundamental precondition of proof."
Is this any different in kind from those who uphold the primacy of Scriptures as a fundamental precondition of understanding the cosmos?
By contrast, the primacy of existence describes the proper orientation between consciousness and its objects and consists of the affirmation that the objects of consciousness hold metaphysical primacy over the conscious activity by which one has awareness of those objects. Since knowledge, logic, induction, etc., all involve conscious activity, the question of the proper orientation between consciousness and its objects in these matters is ever-present and inescapable. Any time one formulates a thought about something, makes a statement, constructs and argument, draws a generalization, studies a phenomenon of nature, pursues his values, etc., he is making use of his conscious faculties and thereby engaged in a relationship between himself as a conscious subject and whatever object(s) he perceives and/or considers. There is no agenda here to convince oneself of some religious formulation that has been handed down through the centuries as the tradition of men, nor is its purpose to silence critics. Its purpose is to provide the basis for objective cognition by clearly identifying and understanding the fundamental roles between the two basic components of any cognitive activity, namely the subject of consciousness and its objects. The goal of the primacy of existence is not to bamboozle non-believers, or defend an arbitrary worldview, or encourage belief in what is only imaginary.
I don't have a problem with Presuppositionalism as A form of proof. My problem is when it is made THE only form of proof. (It is also badly grounded on a theological and Scriptural basis but that is neither here nor there.) As a form of proof, it is useful if it presents an internal coherence and a correspondence to reality. I.E. Does the Christian worldview demonstrate a coherent consistency with objective reality. Do those assertions in Scriptures, which can be measured, be validated? Or in your Objectivist faith, do your axioms stand up to objective reality and logic?
Second, in response to the question of whether or not the Objectivist “axioms stand up to objective reality and logic,” I can only ask: how does one conceive of the concept of ‘objective reality’ without the axioms? The very concept ‘objective reality’ (itself a redundancy, albeit a necessary one in certain contexts), denotes the view that reality is what it is independent of conscious activity. The bible never speaks of something called “objective reality”; its authors appear to have been utterly ignorant of the idea, and the worldview which they accepted and endorsed in their writings about a universe-creating conscious being which “controls whatsoever comes to pass” (Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, p. 160) and to whose will everything else in reality supposedly conforms, only confirm their commitment to the primacy of consciousness metaphysics. Objective means in accordance with the primacy of the object in the subject-object relationship. It is the strict and comprehensive adherence to the fundamental, incontrovertible recognition of the fact that a thing is what it is independent of what one may think about it, feel about it, wish about it, etc.
In the case of logic, I have already explored the notion that logic somehow rests on the existence of the Christian god in my five-section study on the issue:
Does Logic Presuppose the Christian God? Part I: Examining the Presuppositionalist Viewpoint - In this entry, I examine the claim that logic presupposes the Christian god by reviewing the defenses for this view proposed by several presuppositionalist theorists. In that examination, I uncover many deficiencies, confusions and discrepancies in the presuppositionalist “case” for this view.
Does Logic Presuppose the Christian God? Part II: Reasons Why Logic Cannot Presuppose the Christian God, #1: Christianity’s Lack of Objectivity - In the remaining four entries, I identify reasons why logic cannot presuppose the Christian god or the Christian worldview. I begin by pointing out the facts that logic rests on the view that reality is objective while Christianity consists of a subjective version of metaphysics, which precludes objectivity both as an orientation grounding one’s worldview as well as a principle guiding one’s judgments.
Does Logic Presuppose the Christian God? Part III: Reasons Why Logic Cannot Presuppose the Christian God, #2: Christianity’s Lack of Concept Theory - In the second installment identifying reasons why logic cannot presuppose the Christian god or Christian worldview, I develop the case for logic being conceptual in nature, then point out the facts that Christianity lacks a theory of concepts and that presuppositionalism seeks to fill this void with what can rightly called a storybook understanding of logic. Without a theory of concepts, the Christian worldview can hardly “account for” logic, since logic is conceptual in nature.
Does Logic Presuppose the Christian God? Part IV: Reasons Why Logic Cannot Presuppose the Christian God, #3: Contradictions in Christ - In this entry, I point out the fact that the doctrine of the incarnation is inherently self-contradictory, and note the fact that logic (which is “the art of non-contradictory identification” – Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged) cannot be premised on a self-contradiction.
Does Logic Presuppose the Christian God? Part I: Reasons Why Logic Cannot Presuppose the Christian God, #4: The Trinity - In the final installment, I argue that the doctrine of the trinity is incoherent due to its inherently self-contradictory nature, and therefore that logic cannot presuppose the Christian god or the Christian worldview because “the art of non-contradictory identification” could not itself have a self-contradictory basis.
I have several problems with your viewpoint
Are objects necessary for consciousness to exist?
"a consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms" (Atlas Shrugged, Galt’s Speech)
It makes consciousness not an entity unto itself but both entity and relationship between itself and its object.
As to Hutchinson’s question, “are objects necessary for consciousness to exist?” I would of course say yes, since consciousness is consciousness of some thing. This does not mean that consciousness is “both entity and relationship between itself and its object,” but rather an attribute of a biological organism which is engaged in a relationship between itself and some object. The proper orientation of the relationship between the subject of consciousness and its objects is what the primacy of consciousness denotes.
I would submit that just as existence can exist without consciousness, consciousness can exist with nothing to be conscious of, including itself. Consciousness can be immersed in a void, within and outside of itself. It would not be a contradiction in terms, but rather a living hell. Indeed, in US military experiments, 'volunteers' were experimented upon with sensory deprivation. Most exited displaying symptoms of temporary insanity. If that occurs with a mild case of deprivation of objects with which to dwell upon...
Hutchinson raised another objection:
Another point of order is that you suggest that other philosophies / theologies suggest that consciousness creates existence or objective reality. Outside of existentialism, I don't know of any Western philosophy or Christian orthodoxy that asserts that. I don't think that Rand accuses those other worldviews of that.
Creation, on Christian principles, must always mean fiat creation… If the creation doctrine is thus taken seriously, it follows that the various aspects of created reality must sustain such relations to one another as have been ordained between them by the Creator, as superiors, inferiors, or equals. (The Defense of the Faith, pp. 26-27).
God may at any time take one fact and set it into a new relation to created law. That is, there is no inherent reason in the facts or laws themselves why this should not be done. It is this sort of conception of the relation of facts and laws, of the temporal one and many, embedded as it is in that idea of Go in which we profess to believe, that we need in order to make room for miracles. And miracles are at the heart of the Christian position. (The Defense of the Faith, p. 27)
As for what Rand said of other worldviews adopting the primacy of consciousness, we need look no further than the essay in which she introduces her theory of metaphysical primacy:
The primacy of existence (of reality) is the axiom that existence exists, i.e., that the universe exists independent of consciousness (of any consciousness), that things are what they are, that they possess a specific nature, an identity. The epistemological corollary is the axiom that consciousness is the faculty of perceiving that which exists – that man gains knowledge of reality by looking outward. The rejection of these axioms represents a reversal: the primacy of consciousness – the notion that the universe has no independent existence, that it is the product of a consciousness (either human or divine or both). The epistemological corollary is the notion that man gains knowledge of reality by looking inward (either at his own consciousness or at the revelations it receives from another, superior consciousness).
The source of this reversal is the inability or unwillingness fully to grasp the difference between one’s inner state and the outer world, i.e., between the perceiver and the perceived (thus blending consciousness and existence into one indeterminate package deal). This crucial distinction is not given to man automatically; it has to be learned. It is implicit in any awareness, but it has to be grasped conceptually and held as an absolute…. Very few men ever choose to grasp it and fully to accept it. The majority keep swinging from side to side, implicitly recognizing the primacy of existence in some cases and denying it in others, adopting a kind of hit-or-miss, rule-of-thumb epistemological agnosticism, through ignorance and/or by intention – the result of which is the shrinking of their intellectual range, i.e., of their capacity to deal with abstractions. And although few people today believe that the singing of mystic incantations will bring rain, most people still regard as valid an argument such as “If there is no God, who created the universe?” (“The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, pp. 24-25)
She also observed that “the majority [of human individuals] keep swinging from side to side,” sometimes acting on the primacy of existence, sometimes retreating to the false security of the primacy of consciousness (e.g., “it makes me feel better to ignore the pain in my chest!”). Finally, she points to theism as the ultimate expression of the primacy of consciousness, and she is right to do so.
My understanding is that most believe that flawed perception skews the comprehension of 'the object as is'. The person who is colour blind, (cannot see green and red), cannot perceive the object as is.
Similarly in the case of someone who is colorblind. He sees an object precisely as his faculties can, given their nature. Joseph Rowlands speaks directly to this issue:
Imagine you're color blind. So you only see things in black and white. Now, are your senses flawed? Are you seeing the world incorrectly? The answer is no. The causal chain is still there, although it works different for you. You are still connected to reality. You may not have easy access to some data, but that's not a flaw. That's how everything is. Because there's a means of gaining knowledge, it is necessarily limited. There's nothing wrong there. Just as real people don't have x-ray vision but they still view the world fine, a color blind person is fine too. (Sense Perception)
As all persons have internal biases and flawed structures by which they decode the cosmos, these act as similar filters from seeing 'things as are'. (Christianity's version is of the 'plank in the eye')
Language is a code of visual-auditory symbols that serves the psycho-epistemological function of converting concepts into the mental equivalent of concretes. Language is the exclusive domain and tool of concepts. Every word we use (with the exception of proper names) is a symbol that denotes a concept, i.e., that stands for an unlimited number of concretes of a certain kind. (Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 11).
As for “Christianity’s ‘plank in the eye’,” I’m supposing this refers to Matthew 7:3, in which the following words are attributed to Jesus:
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
I think Rand rages at this idea that things cannot be perceived as they are. But I have yet to have found where she states that Western thought believes objects are projections of one subjectivity.
Rand pointed out that the mistake which this view commits is essentially what Kant believed. Writes Rand:
[Kant’s] argument, in essence, ran as follows: man is limited to a consciousness of a specific nature, which perceives by specific means and no others, therefore, his consciousness is not valid; man is blind, because he has eyes—deaf, because he has ears—deluded, because he has a mind—and the things he perceives do not exist, because he perceives them. (“For the New Intellectual,” For the New Intellectual, p. 30)
why do you imply that perrceptions [sic] have to be the same for all people in order for them to be a base for objective individual knowledge? Each person makes the implicit judgement "this is how this object looks under these circumstances to me." I may be colorblind or I may be wearing rose colored glasses or be looking at an object passing thru a refractive surface such as a stick passing thru the surface of a lake. That is how those things look to me under those circumstances.(What does it mean to perceive Objectively?)
Also, as we saw above, she did characterize the primacy of consciousness as “the notion that the universe has no independent existence, that it is the product of a consciousness (either human or divine or both).” Western thought is a mixed bag; we have little if any basis to ascribe any fundamental uniformity to it. If a person has not learned to grasp the primacy of existence explicitly and fully, he is like a ship at sea with no rudder or compass, meandering about in a “hit-or-miss” fashion, as Rand puts it, sometimes acting on the primacy of existence, at other times assuming the primacy of consciousness, and never recognizing the difference between them. If there were ever a contest between worldviews on concealing the distinction between the primacy of existence and the primacy of consciousness from its adherents, Christianity would take the cake.
Hutchinson went on:
But the largest problem I have, is with your Objectivist presumption of the Primacy of Existence. And by that presupposition, you presume to disprove the Christian God because the Scriptures 'affirms the existence of a consciousness on which existence depends.'
Hutchinson then wrote:
My question to you is that when you write and project a thought, actually codifying this entity with your keyboard upon electronic media somewhere on the Net; at the point at which you create and communicate it, is not the object that you create a projection of your consciousness? If that is true, does that mean that you do not exist?
There are some respects which reality is the product of human consciousness. For example, Dawson’s mind causes blog posts to appear in the world. (Bethrick Burner)
My consciousness does not cause blog posts to appear in the world. My physical actions do. Without a functioning computer hooked up to the internet and without my fingers busily typing away and pointing and clicking hyperlinks, etc., I would not be able to post even one word on my blog. My mind does not put the blog on the internet, my actions, along with the electronic mechanics of my computer and www.blogger.com, do.
Just last week I was editing a post on blogger.com when a storm outside caused the power to fail temporarily. I lost the edits that I had been making. My wishing was not sufficient to prevent this, nor was my wishing able to restore those edits once the power came back on. If my consciousness causes posts to appear in the world, my wishing should have been sufficient to do all this. But reality does not conform to consciousness. On the contrary, to get the job done, I had to start over, physically going through each paragraph again to review what was written and make any edits that needed to be made. (Theism and Subjective Metaphysics)
Hutchinson sought to anticipate my counter-objection, writing:
Now, you might argue that a thought is not a real object or entity. But then I would ask, "Why do you engage in imaginary entities when you spurn the theists for engaging in theirs?" Indeed, the materialist would suggest that there are chemical messages that constitute the physiological components of that thought. You might suggest that you are merely manipulating objects by typing them on an electronic page. But the thought itself is independent of the manner by which you codify it and the tableau on which you inscribe it.
Also, since Objectivism explicitly affirms the axiom of consciousness, and consciousness has a nature (including the conceptual activity of human consciousness), there is no reason to suppose that thoughts cannot be real objects of awareness. Part of the confusion here may be due to a lack of understanding as to what the concept ‘object’ means in the present context. An object in the present context is anything which one perceives and/or considers. It can be a primary object, such as something one directly perceives (a tree, a ball, a mountain, a skyscraper, a computer screen, etc.), or a secondary object – one which is assembled by the mind on the ultimate basis of perceptual input (such as thought, a feeling, a concept, an argument, a thesis, etc.). Thoughts can be objects, just as they are at many points in this paper (such as at the present moment!). But thoughts are not entities in the sense of mind-independent entities, like trees, mountains, automobiles, biological organisms, staplers, and the such. To treat them as entities within the confines of a certain context (namely one defined by the primacy of existence), is harmless. But failure to grasp the distinction between a thought and the things it denotes, can lead to major confusions and unnecessary mistakes in philosophy.
And it may very well be the case that “the thought itself is independent of the manner by which [I] codify it and the tableau on which [I] inscribe it,” but this does not validate the notion that my blog articles are a “projection” of my consciousness on the internet in the sense being debated. Indeed, I had the thought before I went through the physical motions of typing the symbols which record that thought in visual form. That’s not a counter-example to the primacy of existence; indeed, it is due to the fact that existence holds metaphysical primacy.
Hutchinson went on to say:
It could be argued that any creation that a man creates is a projection of their consciousness at the point of your creating it. It would seem that the logic of the Primacy of Existence denies any form of creation, including that belonging to mankind.
Finally, Hutchinson closed with the following remark:
If my reasoning is sound, it would seem to destroy your disproof of God and challenge the presumption of the absolutist maxim of the Primacy of Existence. (I am, by no means, suggesting that this proves God's existence.)