Saturday, September 11, 2010

Andrew Louis' Persisting Confusions

Andrew Louis replied to my comment (in this post) responding to another of his confused attempts (found here) to interpret my statements (found here).

Andrew’s latest response can be found here.

In his latest offering, Andrew Louis once again demonstrates his persisting habit of confusing and distorting what has been very carefully stated in reply to his previous batch of confusions. Throughout our exchanges, Andrew seems bent on finding some element in my responses to him which supposedly undercuts the entirety of my position. At several points throughout our prolonged discussion, he’s declared that certain things I’ve said in fact undermine, undercut or contradict “my case.” Though in each instance, it’s unclear exactly what he seems to think the problem is, though it is clear that in the run-up to these little “Eureka moments” he’s gotten some basics wrong. Quite often, Andrew’s problem seems to arise when he reads one word, but apparently thinks he’s read a significantly different word, which throws off his understanding of the whole. A few examples of this appear in his latest response.

Earlier on in our discussion, I had recommended that Andrew read some of the primary Objectivist literature in order to become more familiar with the philosophy which he’s trying to critique. But after observing his persisting habits of error and carelessness, I am now persuaded that this wouldn’t do any good.

Andrew had stated:
To see words as representation is to bring to light certain skeptical questions such as, “How do you know you've represented reality properly?”
I responded:
It depends on the situation. If I say to my daughter “Take my hand,” and she does it, then I’ve obviously communicated what I intended, for she understood me.
Andrew now replies:
No, it doesn't depend on the situation, it depends on the context (or so I'll suggest).
Yes, it’s definitely true that it depends on context as well. But the context varies depending on the situation, as my example clearly indicates. The situation governs context. There’s no dichotomy here as Andrew seems to think.

Andrew continued:
In this case your example is a rhetorical context of the everyday where the test for truth is less about philosophical representation (or a philosophical conversation) and more about simple understanding and triangulation.
Right: the situation determines the context in regard to Andrew’s question about knowing when we’ve represented reality properly. Outcomes are one way we can test this, and whether or not a desired outcome has been achieved varies from situation to situation. Of course, it takes two to tango. I can “represent” the Objectivist position properly, for instance, but this does not guarantee that someone who is habitually careless in his reading and understanding will grasp it properly.

Andrew explains:
In other words if I tell you (in the midst of us talking face to face), “STOP, Dawson, that stove is hot!” as you're about to put your hand down on it, you don't question my ability to adequately represent reality, you take it that both your and my experiences and beliefs are to a certain degree on par.
So what gives rise to Andrew’s skeptical question “How do you know you’ve represented reality properly?”? What solution does Andrew provide in response to his own skeptical question? What have we learned from Andrew in this regard? Or, does he have only heat, and no light to offer on the matter?

I wrote:
I thought I was pretty clear on this. Words are symbols for (“represent”) concepts. I also gave an example (the defendant’s testimony) of how the use of the word “represent” in my view is unproblematic. So I guess I’m not seeing what the problem is.
My example was as follows:
People often refer to a statement’s correspondence to reality in terms of representation, as in the case of a statement such as “the defendant’s testimony did not accurately represent the situation of the night of the murder,” which is harmless.
Andrew replied:
You're right, it is harmless, and once again we have to make a distinction between the everyday rhetorical use of “representation”, and it's use in a philosophical context, because a philosophical context carries with it certain implications and baggage.
That’s right, and that’s why I tried to elevate the issue to Andrew’s attention. In philosophy, the term “representation” has specific meaning, particularly in the case of the representationalist theory of perception which I brought to Andrew’s attention. Objectivism rejects the theory of representationalism. I am still not convinced that Andrew grasps the significance here.

Additionally, I explained that, philosophically, there’s much more to knowledge than merely representing something observed in reality. This too seems to have been lost on Andrew, perhaps because he’s already adopted a version of nominalism. This would explain much.

Andrew writes:
It's one thing to suggest that by the above discourse you can glean some sort of understanding of the circumstance, it's entirely another to use it as an analogue for how language works – but in fact, that's exactly what your philosophical system does, but not what you're saying here.
Statements like this are all we need to confirm that Andrew has not grasped very much of what I’ve written, particularly about consciousness’ task of identification and the conceptual process by which it undertakes this task. How many times do I have to explain that Objectivism does not subscribe to representationalism? How many times do I have to explain the role of concept-formation in providing content to language? How many times do I have to explain why elements of language (i.e., words) do represent concepts (words are “visual-auditory symbols that serves the psycho-epistemological function of converting concepts into the mental equivalent of concretes” – Rand, ITOE, p. 10), but that concepts are not merely “representations” of objects (concepts provide man with a one-to-many correspondence to reality; he’s not limited to a one-to-one relationship of a mirror-like representation)? Andrew misses the open-ended nature of conceptual content as well as the fact that we use language to convey what we mean, not merely to represent specific objects in our immediate perceptual awareness.

Andrew wrote:
Allow me to simplify this even more. I think I made a pretty clear case that you do in fact see truth (language, propositions) as representing the “facts of reality” (that reality existing independent of man, and containing facts), in a philosophical sense… You then go on to make a clarification regarding facts, however it doesn't help your case any. Actually, I think it makes your case even worse and plays right back into my hands.
Again, it’s completely unclear what Andrew is trying to say here. He does not explain how my conception of facts – as existing independent of consciousness – works against my position. On the contrary, if I held that facts conform to conscious intentions, that would drastically undermine my position. Does Andrew understand the concept ‘objectivity’? I did try to explain it to him at one point.

I wrote:
By “facts,” I generally mean existents in relationships. E.g., tree next to the house, bird on the fence post, mountain south of the city, etc. The task of consciousness is to perceive and identify facts, not create them... The concept “reality” includes all existents and the relationships in which we find them.
Andrew responded:
This is essentially a restatement of what we've already been through. All you've done (or added) is defined what these facts are that we're identifying – or their nature. You have existents, (let me call them particulars) and their relationships (we could call those concepts, universals, whatever).
Just in trying to interpret the meaning of “fact” that I had given, Andrew is already confusing himself. Why does he suppose that the relationships in which we find existence should be called “concepts, universals, [or] whatever”? Why automatically suppose that those relationships are not themselves particular? Andrew does not say. Again, he seems to be confusing concepts with particular objects which they subsume. This mistake is actually more common than some might realize. On my view, the existents which constitute facts are particular, and so are the relationships in which we find those existents. We use concepts (“universals”) to identify (and integrate) those existents and the relationships we find them in. As I pointed out numerous times now, truth is an aspect or property of identification. But apparently no matter how many times I remind Andrew of this, or try to explain it to him, it never seems to sink in.

Andrew writes:
Now, since you've already stated explicitly that the facts of reality exist independently of man, and that the facts of reality are “particulars” in relationships, all you've done is essentially tie along with particulars, the relationship of particulars to the reality outside of mans consciousness as well.
So what’s wrong with that? I explicitly stated that facts are existents in relationships. I have also been consistent in stating that facts obtain independent of consciousness. Additionally, I have pointed out that concepts are products of a mental process. Why then does Andrew suppose that a key element of facts as I have understood them must be a product of mental activity (he called them “concepts, universals, whatever”)? I have not been inconsistent here, nor have I undercut my own case.

Andrew continued:
And in essence, there goes your defense of concepts and universals.
How so? Facts exist independent of consciousness, and we use concepts to identify them. I’ve never wavered from this, nor does the conception of facts that I gave undercut this view. If Andrew thinks I’ve contradicted myself in some way, he needs to show this by pointing out which two (or more) statements of mine (when rightly understood) actually conflict with each other. So far, Andrew has not done this. As we saw above, he has a tendency to insert his own (mis)interpretations into my statements. And as I showed above, this carelessness does in fact result in problems, but they’re problems that are not original to the position I’ve presented.

I had written (in the comments of this blog):
Realism in terms of universals is the view that “that universals have a reality of their own, an extra-mental existence. Positions are often marked out, running from moderate to absolute Realism. The more definite, fixed, and eternal the status of the universals, the more absolute is the Realism.” (Reese, Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion, p. 637). This of course does not describe the Objectivist view; but it does describe Plato’s view.
Andrew writes:
But wait, you've already given them a reality ‘all their own’.
Where have I given universals (i.e., concepts) a reality “all their own” – i.e., an extra-mental existence, an existence apart from conscious activity? I’m guessing that Andrew comes to this conclusion as a result of misinterpreting my description of what facts are. Recall that I had written:

I wrote:
By “facts,” I generally mean existents in relationships.
Andrew understood this to mean the following:
You have existents, (let me call them particulars) and their relationships (we could call those concepts, universals, whatever).
He seems to think that, since on my view facts are extra-mental, while on his views the relationships which are inherent in facts are concepts or universals, that I’m therefore giving concepts or universals a reality of their own, apart from conscious activity. But this is a mistake on Andrew’s part, and a big one, too. When giving my description of what facts are – as existents in relationships – I nowhere stated that the relationships should be called concepts or universals (nor did anything I say imply that these relationships themselves are conceptual in nature), and my own statements neither require nor stipulation such an interpretation. I see no reason why the relationships in which we find existents cannot be just as particular as the existents involved in those relationships. My own examples (“tree next to the house, bird on the fence post, mountain south of the city, etc.”) are examples of particular relationships.

Is Andrew understanding what he’s read? His following statements indicate that he does not.

Andrew wrote:
Once again you state, ‘truth identifies a sort of relationship between the facts of reality’.
I could not find anywhere in my writings where I had stated what Andrew attributes to me here.

I suspect what Andrew has in mind is the quote I recited from Peikoff:
“The concept of ‘truth’ identifies a type of relationship between a proposition and the facts of reality.” (OPAR, p. 165)
Andrew forgot the part about truth identifying a type of relationship between a proposition and the facts of reality.

Andrew continued:
You've agreed and stated explicitly that facts exist in reality independent of man. We know that truths are proposition spoken in a language game, and we already know that you believe something to be true when one of these proposition corresponds to the reality which exists independently of man (but not just the particulars of reality, their relationships as well). That's correspondence, that's representation, that's the mirror of reality, and that's Realism.
Andrew has not shown that any of this is “Realism,” for he has not clarified what he means by “Realism,” in spite of my asking him to do so on several occasions now. Going back to Andrew’s original criticism of Objectivism, he was eager to demonstrate (or at any rate, assert) what he called “the parasitic nature of Objectivism upon Platonism/Realism” (see Andrew’s 1 Sept. comment, time-stamped 3:47 PM, on this blog). Clearly he set out on his mission with a conception of “Realism” as it is associated with Platonism. This can only mean that Andrew is claiming that Objectivism is a type of Platonic Realism. He has not explained otherwise, and yet I’ve already corrected him on this several times now. Either he is not reading, is not digesting what he reads, doesn’t care or is unable to integrate what he reads, or is simply ignoring what has been presented in response to his objections. This has happened so frequently throughout my discussion with Andrew that I’m of the opinion that he may very well be unteachable on the topic, which is why I have come to suspect that studying Objectivism’s primary sources probably won’t do Andrew any good.

Andrew continued:
Now you can argue that Rand doesn't say that, believe that, etc., and I must admit again that I haven't read Rand. However in the vary least you have to accept that perhaps you've simply done a poor job representing what Rand's core beliefs are, and in fact have made it explicit that they're just further forms of Realism, words as representation, and thus carries with it the skeptical baggage I've been pinging you with from the start.
I’m happy to grant the possibility that there are areas where my presentation of the Objectivist position could be improved; given the little amount of time I have to edit what I’ve written, there’s always room for improvement. But in the present case, I frankly do not see what more I could have done to prevent Andrew’s persisting misunderstandings. For instance, citing Reese, I identified the distinctives which characterize Realism, and also showed how Objectivism both repudiates Realism and explained how the Objectivist alternative to Realism is not (and cannot be) just another version of Realism so defined. At no point has Andrew come back saying anything to the effect of, “No, that’s not what I mean by Realism - this is what I mean by realism,” going on to cite an alternative definition and explain (in an informed manner) how Objectivism falls into that category. In short, he has not made good on his charges against Objectivism. He’s not even come close. Of course, Andrew’s lack of familiarity with Objectivism is a key factor in his persisting confusions. But I suspect their root lies deeper than this, since efforts to correct his errors and misunderstandings have so far been futile.

Andrew then wrote:
Which is, of course, that you'll ultimately be unable to provide a non question begging account of your core axioms, or that anyone should (for that matter) just blindly accept your axioms. Just like we shouldn't blindly accept Sye's.
The very idea that Objectivism requires an individual to “just blindly accept [its] axioms,” only indicates that its author does not grasp what the axioms are in the first place. Andrew may be able to recite them (though even here he’s had trouble), but understanding what they mean and why they are axioms is apparently a different matter, particularly for Andrew. On the contrary, Objectivism points out that just by opening our eyes and seeing anything, we are confirming the truth of the axioms. If you see any thing, you are seeing existence. If you are seeing any thing, you are seeing one thing as opposed to another thing. If you are seeing any thing, you are seeing. The axioms denote each of these facts: the axiom of existence (there is a reality - what you see); the axiom of identity (that to be is to be something specific – that what you see has a nature); the axiom of consciousness (that consciousness is the faculty of awareness – that you see as opposed to not seeing). I’m always amazed when thinkers apparently feel that these fundamental recognitions are somehow controversial, that they are unjustified, that they must be accepted on faith, etc. Do they realize what they are taking for granted?

So it’s quite ironic that Andrew would characterize the axioms as something that one should “just blindly accept.” What is the alternative to blindly accepting something? It would be to accept something with one’s seeing eyes wide open. When your seeing eyes are wide open, you’re seeing, you’re seeing something. To do this, you would have to exist, the something that you see would have to exist, and you would have to see – i.e., be conscious. Just by seeing anything, the axioms are implicitly established. And since seeing something is not an inference seeking to establish a conclusion, just by seeing we have a non-question-begging account of our core axioms. Andrew has not shown that this account does beg the question, nor has he shown that the axioms must be accepted blindly. Additionally, he has not shown that this is anything akin to presuppositionalism, which requires a thinker to treat as actual something that is in fact imaginary.

For that matter, what does Andrew offer in place of the axioms? What are the foundations of human thought that he would propose as alternatives to the axioms of existence, identity and consciousness? How would anything he might propose in their stead avoid assuming the truth of these axioms? Andrew only seems willing to criticize Objectivism, for errors which Objectivism does not commit, and has no solutions to propose in their place.

Andrew wrote:
Let me clear up one final piece regarding Realism. Of course I could have cut with the “general” Realist/Platonist usage and made a distinction between, say, Platonic Realism, Immanent Realism, and Nominalism – but the reality is all 3 of those forms will ultimately contain the same or similar baggage previously stated (but I don't even want to get into that at this point). The fact that I was throwing Platonism around so willy nilly is really a poor clarification on my part – I should have taken what was going on more seriously, but I really didn't think you'd want to carry the conversation this far, although I'm happy you did.
Now Andrew acknowledges that his earlier use of “Platonism” was in fact careless, and mentions that there is a distinction between “Platonic Realism, Immanent Realism, and Nominalism.” But he does not explain what distinguishes these three positions from each other. Additionally, he fails to show that Objectivism is a version of one or more of these (or that it is “parasitic upon” any of them), and he also fails to clearly explain what he means by “baggage” which “all 3” of these schools of thought allegedly contain. What is this baggage, and what makes it objectionable? Is Andrew now admitting that Objectivism is not a form of Platonism? Is he conceding that, after all, Objectivism is not “parasitic… upon Platonism/Realism” as he had originally asserted? Clearly he thinks some kind of “baggage” burdens Objectivism, but after all my effort to tease out of Andrew specifically what objection(s) he has in mind, he is still unable to explain himself.

by Dawson Bethrick

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Another Reply to Andrew Louis

This is in response to Andrew Louis’ recent blog entry responding to my blog.

Andrew wrote, quoting me:
”Again, not [a correspondence] between concepts and reality as in ‘the thing in itself’ (Kant’s ‘Ding an sich’), but between concepts and the things which we perceive.” That couples nicely with “There is reality, and there is our consciousness of reality, and there is the relationship between the two.” Couple that with “whereas according to representationalism we perceive ‘appearances’ of things, i.e., not the things themselves.
In response to these points, Andrew wrote:
If I gather you correctly then, what you call ‘the thing itself’, is that which exists (mabye a bad word there) in perception, not reality.
Andrew, what makes you think that this is what I’m saying? Where have I dichotomized objects of perception from reality in this manner? On the contrary: if the objects did not exist (in reality), we wouldn’t be able to perceive them in the first place. As I have maintained consistently throughout the discussion: perception gives us direct awareness of objects – of things which exist, of things that are in reality.

You grant (as I would as well) that there's a world out there, but that we do not (in speaking of truth and facts) mirror the way the world is in itself.
There’s a world out there, and we’re part of it, we perceive it, and we identify it (if we choose to). I already spoke to the “mirror” analogy in my blog. Did you see that part?

Furthermore, if I gather you properly, you're stating [e.g.] that there are rocks in reality, however the truths that we speak about them relate not to them as they are in themselves, but to them as they relate to the relationship between us and reality, i.e. in perception.
No, you haven’t understood me correctly. What you’re describing is Kantianism. Kant distinguishes between the world out there (the “noumenal realm”) and what we perceive (the “phenomenal realm”). Your clause “as they are in themselves” (and have tried twice now to correct this) as well as the disjunction you apparently think I’ve affirmed, give this away. Objectivism rejects this view. On the contrary: objects exist, we perceive them, and we perceive them directly. The view you’re describing is as silly as saying that we can enter New York City on I-80, but we can’t enter New York City as it is “in itself.”

There are rocks in reality, and the statements we make about those rocks can only be true if we follow an objective process of identifying them. If we use some subjective method (i.e., some procedure which ignores the fact that existence exists independent of consciousness), then we won’t be identifying the rocks we perceive. Rather, we will essentially be fantasizing. At root, this is the problem which plagues Christianity.

I have no overwhelming issue with that either
With what you described? You should.

The volitional/active portion of cognition is what supplies the reasons for believing the things we do
Not on my view. On my view, the facts of reality supply the reasons for believing the things that I believe. As a volitional consciousness, I have to make the choice to go with the facts, or to ignore them.

Let me throw this out there; I'm with Richard Rorty when he says that beliefs are not representations, but rather habits of action;
Does he say this about all beliefs of all men? How could he know this? (I’m not saying he can’t; just wondering how he does.) I think people do generally automatize many of their belief patterns, but they were not originally habitual. We had to learn them at some point. And even then, one must have capacity to form concepts and subsume new units into their content.

For instance, if I have developed a habit of fearing loose dogs – i.e., the belief that a loose dog can be dangerous – when I encounter a loose dog I’ve never seen before, I can identify it as a dog and integrate into the sum of my knowledge (including, relevantly, my belief that it could be dangerous) only if my beliefs have a conceptual basis.

I’m not an expert on Rorty, but I’m sure even he would grant at least some of what I’m saying here.

Mind you, I tend to see belief as a degree of confidence in a claim, namely a degree falling short of certainty. If my co-worker asks, for instance, where the boss is, I might reply that I *believe* he went to lunch. By stating it this way, I’m tacitly communicating to my co-worker that I think this, but also that I’m not sure.

Similarly, if I encounter a loose dog, I believe it may be dangerous, but I’m not certain. It may be a really dopey, friendly dog who comes running up to me to make friends. It’s happened before, and such counter-examples are integrated into my beliefs.

and that words are not representations, but tools.
On Rorty’s view, what’s the relationship between words and concepts? Or would he say there’s no relationship there to begin with?

Furthermore I'd add that the manner with which we define things to be (or talk about things, the nature of our discourse) is related not to the way the world is in itself, but according to how things best suit our current needs and interests.
Actually, we do not define things – i.e., the particulars that exist in the world. We define the concepts we form to identify and integrate those things.

To say that the world causes us to have beliefs is simply to recognize that there is a world out there that's ultimately going to push us around in ways that are not under our control.
The world does not push us around to believe certain things. The diversity of thought throughout mankind’s history shows at least this.

But causality is a strict taskmaster. So is the pleasure/pain mechanism built into our biology. A person will feel pain when he touches a hot stove. If he doesn’t want to feel the pain again, he would do well to identify its cause. Nevertheless, he’s still free to concoct the belief that the pain he experiences was caused by a group of invisible gremlins hiding behind the pot. There’s nothing in reality that’s going to come into his mind and stop him from confusing what he imagines with what is real. That’s why religion can persist so apparently unchecked.

I think where there would ultimately be a hang up between you and I is your idea of an objective process of identification as a means of ascribing truth, and how far that stretches.
Fine. I’ll go the way of objective identification, you go the way of… whatever. Deal? Just understand that the way of objective identification is not Platonic, nor is it “on par” with anything involved in Sye’s worldview when I affirm that truth is absolute.

Secondly, I don't see the need (as a pragmatist) to hold to the axioms you do.
In addition to telling us where knowledge begins, the axioms demarcate the relationship between consciousness and its objects, and thus explain why, for instance, the imaginary is not real. You don’t see the need for this? Neither does Sye.

In the comments section of my blog, visitor OpenlyAtheist wrote the following:
As for the axiomatic nature of the senses; whenever an apologist pulls some such Plantinga-type move, I simply point out that anyone attempting to convince me my senses aren't reliable makes use of those very senses in presenting their argument to me.
Andrew responded:
This all hangs upon what one means by the senses and consciousness.. If one defines consciousness and the senses as on par with a mental state which aligns itself with (say) a “feeling” (as in, I feel that I'm conscious as I'm perceiving) as opposed to a more behaviorist/objective approach that simply says consciousness is “what we observe” [simply] in other people as they interact with their environment, then you're begging the question and/or presupposing that someone else has such feelings.
Consciousness is the faculty of awareness. It is essentially active in nature. Perception is man’s means of acquiring awareness of the world. Knowledge is knowledge of objects, of reality, of things that exist. In order to acquire knowledge of things that exist, a subject must have awareness of those things. Man has awareness of the things in his environment by means of perception. Perception thus precedes knowledge.

Is a man “begging the question” just by perceiving an object? Of course not. His perception of the object is not an argument, nor is it an inference from some prior non-sensory (or nonsensical) knowledge. Is he begging the question by grasping the fact that he’s perceiving an object? No, he’s not. He did not need to argue his way to this awareness. All he needed to do was recognize the fact that he’s perceiving something, which – like perception – is itself a form of direct awareness called introspection. Nor is he begging the question by identifying the faculty which he has observed in himself. Moreover, he is not begging the question when he observes other human beings possessing sensory organs and actions analogous to his own in response to how those sense organs are stimulated, and inferring from this that those other human beings must therefore possess a faculty of awareness analogous to his own. What premise would he be affirming in such an argument that assumes the truth of its own conclusion? Blank out.

Even if one wants to argue that OpenlyAtheist’s point here begs the question, his statement can easily be modified to bypass this objection completely and still accomplish its intended end. He could simply point out that anyone attempting to convince him that his senses aren’t reliable requires him (OpenlyAtheist himself) to make use of those very senses in learning what that argument may be, thus performatively defeating itself. OpenlyAtheist would have either to look at some text and read it (thus requiring him to use his eyes – the sense organs associated with sight), or listen to some speech and comprehend it (thus requiring him to use his ears – the sense organs associated with hearing). (Similarly, if he were blind and had to discover the nature of the argument through Braille, he would still be relying on his sense of touch.) Thus the argument could be coming from a robot which has no consciousness of its own, and yet OpenlyAtheist still needs to rely on those very senses which the argument is trying to undermine. Thus even to have awareness of the argument, means that his senses had to be functioning.

As Peikoff points out:
The validity of the senses is not an independent axiom; it is a corollary of the fact of consciousness. (As we have seen, it is only by grasping the action of his senses that a child is able to reach the implicit concept of consciousness.) If man is conscious of that which is, then his means of awareness are means of awareness, i.e., are valid. One cannot affirm consciousness while denying its primary form, which makes all the others possible. Just as any attack on consciousness negates itself, so does any attack on the senses. If the senses are not valid, neither are any concepts, including the ones used in the attack. (Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 39)
Andrew continued:
This runs along the lines of a comment I made earlier in that, you cannot prove with certainty that someone else loves you, you cannot prove they're experiencing a certain mental state.
A person can prove his or her love for someone else. Love is not an isolated emotion locked away in the chambers of some remote mental sphere with no external manifestation. Love is devotion to one’s values, and this can be proven beyond any and all doubt through one’s actions in relation to those values he loves.

The only thing we can say is that “behaviors” we associate with love are reflected in a certain person, and from that infer certain behavioral patterns from them in the future.
I don’t think we’d need to “infer certain behavioral patterns… in the future” to know that someone loves something or someone in the present. Love is not merely some fleeting emotion, but in fact a response to one’s own values. Human beings need values in order to live, and one’s loyalty to his own values is observable in his actions regarding those values. The connection between love and “behavior” (or, more broadly, one’s choices and actions) is found in the fact that he values and in what he values.

In other words I'm making a distinction between consciousness as an internal state, and consciousness as an observed behavior.
Why restrict yourself to these two options? Why not think of consciousness as an active faculty of awareness? Why not recognize that consciousness requires means of consciousness, namely perception?

If we are distinguishing things in our awareness, then we are perceiving. In other words, simply distinguishing one object from another is all the “evidence” one needs to vouchsafe the reliability of his senses. Because that’s their job: to give us awareness of objects as entities distinct from one another.

As for Andrew’s thought experiments regarding artificial intelligence, I think it would be premature to wade into such issues, since there’s obviously so much that needs correcting and clarification on more fundamental matters. Besides, given what he did provide, I’d say there’s still far too little information to formulate the kinds of judgments he’s asking for.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Sunday, September 05, 2010

A Reply to Andrew Louis

Andrew Louis has posted two blogs interacting with statements I have made in an effort to clarify my position and correct some of his misunderstandings on my blog (see here and here).

Andrew’s blog entries can be found here:
Below I reply to Andrew’s questions and objections, beginning with his first blog and continuing to his second.

I had written:
Objectivism *begins* with incontestable certainties.
Andrew writes:
I gather that these incontestable certainties are [e.g.] existence & perception.
The Objectivist axioms are existence, identity and consciousness. Specifically, they are the recognitions that (a) existence exists (i.e., reality exists, things exist, something exists); (b) to exist is to be something (i.e., to have identity); and (c) consciousness is consciousness of something.

The context of these three axioms entails a fourth axiom – the primacy of existence: existence exists independent of consciousness, to exist is to be something independent of consciousness, a thing is what it is independent of consciousness.

I refer to these as incontestable certainties because they would have to be true in order to deny, doubt, dispute or question them. Since certainty essentially means without doubt or reservation, anyone can be certain that these axioms are true for they are not only the indispensable foundation of truth, their truth is self-evident – not in a Cartesian sense, but in the sense that any knower can recognize their truth firsthand by means of his own awareness of the world about him. Just by being aware of anything, the truth of the axioms is established: one must exist in order to be aware of anything (the axiom of existence), something has to exist for him to be aware of (the axiom of existence again), that something must be something as opposed to something else (the axiom of identity), and one must have the faculty of consciousness to be aware of anything (the axiom of consciousness). Being aware of anything is a minimum requirement for denying, doubting, disputing or questioning something, for these are conscious activities.

I had written:
Universality is essentially nothing more than the human mind’s ability to form open-ended classifications of reference (namely mental integrations) into which new units can be integrated when they are discovered or considered.
Andrew replied:
I think I gather what you're saying here just fine, other then the fact that the word ‘reference’ seems a bit teasing as I'm thinking, ‘In reference to what? Concepts? And what are the concepts in reference to?’
Baseline concepts – i.e., concepts which are formed on the basis of perceptual input (such as ‘chair’, ‘table’, ‘sofa’) denote those specific objects which we perceived when we formed them, as well as other objects which are relevantly similar to them (i.e., other chairs, tables and sofas which we’ve perceived, as well as those which we haven’t perceived and even those which we’ll never perceive). Higher concepts are formed using the same process, but instead of drawing their content directly on the basis of what we immediately perceive, these concepts integrate previously formed concepts. We’ve already formed the concepts ‘chair’, ‘table’ and ‘sofa’; now we integrate all three of them into a new concept – ‘furniture’ – a concept which includes all chairs, tables and sofas, and other items (such as dressers, nightstands, hutches, buffets, etc.) – both those which we have perceived as well as those which we haven’t perceived and may never perceive. The concept ‘furniture’ is a higher concept or higher abstraction, since it was formed on the basis of more fundamental concepts/abstractions.

So ultimately concepts refer to or denote objects that we perceive with our senses. But while some concepts do this directly, others do so indirectly, via other concepts.

Andrew wrote:
I'm not seeing how, when an objectivist ultimately speaks of fact and truth, that it isn't looked upon as ultimately a reference to or correspondence with reality.
There is reference to reality here, there is correspondence to reality here. As I had stated before, some have called the Objectivist view a version of the correspondence theory of truth. Peikoff goes so far as to call it “the traditional correspondence theory of truth” (OPAR, p. 165). He writes:
The concept of “truth” identifies a type of relationship between a proposition and the facts of reality. “Truth,” in Ayn Rand’s definition, is “the recognition of reality.” In essence, this is the traditional correspondence theory of truth: there is a reality independent of man, and there are certain conceptual products, propositions, formulated by human consciousness. When one of these products corresponds to reality, when it constitutes a recognition of fact, then it is true. Conversely, when the mental content does not thus correspond, when it constitutes not a recognition of reality but a contradiction of it, then it is false. (Ibid.)
Now I’m not persuaded that referring to Objectivism’s theory of truth as “the traditional correspondence theory of truth” is the most responsible equation to make. I say this because there are many traditions in philosophy which Objectivism rejects but which may be associated with one or another version of the “traditional” correspondence theory of truth, and to the extent that such association may be read into Peikoff’s statement, I think it can lead to misunderstanding. But Peikoff does explain what he means in terms of “recognition of fact” taking the form of “conceptual products… formulated by human consciousness,” which is vital.

Also, there is context involved, beginning with the context provided in perception (since both differentiation and integration are so vital to the process of forming concepts). A proposition integrates what may be an enormous context of information, and every element of that context must conform to reality in order for that proposition to be true. This is why I could not agree with Sye when he says that “truth is absolute.” The underlying context informing Sye’s conception of truth involves false premises, such as the premise that the primacy of consciousness metaphysics is true. Since I’m aware of this, I cannot affirm with Sye that truth is absolute. On the contrary, it is because the primacy of consciousness metaphysics is in fact false that I can affirm the absoluteness of truth in a context uncontaminated by error.

I wrote:
Truth, on my view, is a property of identification. Identification is a mental activity which involves a consciousness’ interaction with the objects of its awareness.
Andrew responded:
This is where I'm tempted to force you a bit. But let me say this, I'm with you completely when you state that ‘A rock is not true’. Correct, that is NOT a proposition, it's only what we say about the rock the has the property of being either true or false as in, ‘The rock is gray’ - in that sense that is either a true statement or a false one. My question would be, then, (and I think I know what your answer would be) is a rock and for that matter ‘grayness’ a property that exists in the word (outside of consciousness) or would you rather say that both are ‘concepts’? i.e. that the world is neither in itself rock-like (in some ways) or gray-like (in others) but that these are merely objective concepts which are mind dependent.
First, let us talk about rocks. There are the things in the world that we call “rocks,” and there is the concept ‘rock’ by which we denote the things in the world that we call “rocks.” There is reality, and there is our consciousness of reality, and there is the relationship between the two. The things in the world that we call “rocks” exist in the world independent of consciousness. They are not concepts. On the other hand, the concept ‘rock’ is a product of mental activity which is formed on the basis of what we discover about these things in the world that we call “rocks.”

In the case of “grayness,” I take it that this refers to the quality of “being gray.” So, using my point above, there is presumably the quality of being gray, and the concept ‘grayness’ by which we denote this quality. The important thing to note in the case of sensory qualities (such as colors, sounds, smells, etc.) is that they are the *form* in which we experience the objects we perceive. Because objects reflect light and our sensory organs have their particular natures, we experience things which we perceive with our eyes as having certain colors. The rock appears gray; appearance being the *form* in which we see something. This does not make colors and other sensory qualities “subjective.” The color gray does not exist in the rock, nor does it exist in the mind. Rather, it exists in the interaction between object and perceiver. Without the perceiver, the rock simply reflects any light that happens to hit it. It is not “gray” or any other color, since colors are the form in which a perceiver sees an object.

Andrew wrote:
Also noting that the world is not ‘objective’ either, it just exists, as you say. i.e. objective is merely another ‘concept’, a means by which we approach talking about the world, hence objectivism.
The concept ‘objective’ is a very important concept, since it has to do with the method by which we acquire and validate knowledge. Rand explains:
Objectivity is both a metaphysical and an epistemological concept. It pertains to the relationship of consciousness to existence. Metaphysically, it is the recognition of the fact that reality exists independent of any perceiver’s consciousness. Epistemologically, it is the recognition of the fact that a perceiver’s (man’s) consciousness must acquire knowledge of reality by certain means (reason) in accordance with certain rules (logic). This means that although reality is immutable and, in any given context, only one answer is true, the truth is not automatically available to a human consciousness and can be obtained only by a certain mental process which is required of every man who seeks knowledge—that there is no substitute for this process, no escape from the responsibility for it, no shortcuts, no special revelations to privileged observers—and that there can be no such thing as a final “authority” in matters pertaining to human knowledge. Metaphysically, the only authority is reality; epistemologically—one’s own mind. The first is the ultimate arbiter of the second.
The concept of objectivity contains the reason why the question “Who decides what is right or wrong?” is wrong. Nobody “decides.” Nature does not decide—it merely is; man does not decide, in issues of knowledge, he merely observes that which is. When it comes to applying his knowledge, man decides what he chooses to do, according to what he has learned, remembering that the basic principle of rational action in all aspects of human existence, is: “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” This means that man does not create reality and can achieve his values only by making his decisions consonant with the facts of reality. (“Who Is the Final Authority in Ethics?” The Objectivist Newsletter, Feb. 1965, 7.)
Andrew asked:
To spin this another way, would you agree with the statement that, yes, the world causes us to have certain beliefs, but it does not give us the reason? In this way we supply the concepts of ‘objective’, ‘grayness’, ‘rock’, etc., but that the world is none of these things...
I do not think that “the world causes us to have certain beliefs,” as if our minds were passive balls of clay manipulated without our own active participation. Cognition is both active and volitional. As Rand points out, “Consciousness, as a state of awareness, is not a passive state, but an active process that consists of two essentials: differentiation and integration.” (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 5) When we perceive, we perceive an enormous contextual sum. From this sum we select that which we will identify and integrate into the sum of our knowledge. So just by developing our minds – prior to any formed beliefs about anything – we are exercising volition. Our first choice is to think, or to evade thinking. So just by having any beliefs, we’ve had to have made some choices.

I wrote:
Realism in terms of universals is the view that “that universals have a reality of their own, an extra-mental existence. Positions are often marked out, running from moderate to absolute Realism. The more definite, fixed, and eternal the status of the universals, the more absolute is the Realism.” (Reese, Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion, p. 637). This of course does not describe the Objectivist view; but it does describe Plato’s view.
Andrew responded:
Because of the hang-up I stated with the word ‘reference’ above, I'm tempted to push this matter a bit. Because you use the word ‘reference’, and to some degree (you talk about this more as I quote below) you use correspondence jargon, I'm tempted to infer something along the lines of the following. I agree with you that we should not look at universals as having an existence all their own. However, since we're talking about ‘reference’ and ‘correspondence’, I'm tempted to consider that the objectivist position, whereas it does not see the universals as existing on their own, nonetheless see them as representative, correspondent of, and/or in reference to a reality. In this way truth is judged via an adequate correspondence to reality – i.e. we know when something is true when it adequately represents reality (which again, this also brings out that dirty “mirror” metaphor, which I know you've stated you shun). It is within that idea that I raise my suspicions over how ones knows they've ‘adequately adhered to anything’.
I’m hoping that some of what I wrote above, particularly the Peikoff quote on the nature of truth, will address Andrew’s concern here. I have been explicit in using words like “reference,” “denote” and “correspondence” in speaking about the relationship between concepts and the world. I resist “representation” primarily because I want to avoid wrongful association with the representationalist theory of perception (which I addressed earlier in my exchange with Andrew), and also because I don’t think concepts are “representations” per se, but rather integrations. Concepts are not replicas, they are not an exercise of holding a mirror up to reality, as if reality needed to look at its own reflection. Rand explains:
A concept is a mental integration of two or more units which are isolated according to a specific characteristic(s) and united by a specific definition. . . . [In concept-formation], the uniting involved is not a mere sum, but an integration, i.e., a blending of the units into a single, new mental entity which is used thereafter as a single unit of thought (but which can be broken into its component units whenever required). (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 10)
My earlier point about truth being a property or aspect of identification of reality, and identification being a type of mental activity, should serve to indicate that the correspondence between our knowledge and reality is not automatic, like the reflection which a mirror produces, nor is it a mere recreation of what is perceived, as if that would do the mind any good. If the mind reflected reality as a mirror reflects an image, that would still not explain how we form concepts and how they can be applied from situation to situation, nor would it explain the logical structure we find in knowledge.

I wrote:
As for language, according to Objectivism, it is “a code of visual-auditory symbols that serves the psycho-epistemological function of converting concepts into the mental equivalent of concretes” (ITOE, p. 10). “The primary purpose of concepts and of language is to provide man with a system of cognitive classification and organization, which enables him to acquire knowledge on an unlimited scale; this means: to keep order in man’s mind and enable him to think.” (Ibid., p. 69)
Andrew replied:
I'm a bit hung on your use of concepts, and whereas I know you're staring [steering?] clear of Kant, I can't help but stir up the idea of Kant's a prior [a priori?]concepts when thinking about this. But I move on.
The reason why Andrew has Kantian ideas in mind is most likely because he’s accepted many Kantian assumptions and also because he has little or no understanding of the objective theory of concepts. There is no such thing as an “a priori concept,” in spite of the heritage of thinkers who’ve signed on to the idea. Concepts are formed by a mental process ultimately on the basis of what we perceive. There must be interaction between consciousness and its objects (“experience”) in order for a subject to have the materials necessary to form its first concepts.

I wrote:
In essence, a statement is true when it adheres to an objective process of identification of reality. Some have called this a version of the correspondence theory of truth. “Reflect” implies a one-to-one relationship, but in fact conceptualization allows for much, much more than this.
Andrew responded:
Now, if I'm correct, your “objective process of identification” is also conceptual, but perhaps not a priori conceptual? My problem here is the same one I have above, you seem to have a trail of correspondence here to follow (at least, that's where I'm going with it). What I'm seeing is that language (a fact statement say) is true when it adheres to this “process”, this process is a concept, but what's the concept derived from. Again, I'm tempted (from the metaphors you're using) to infer that implicit with all this is a connection between language and reality that may not be one to one per se, but is nontheless representative in some fasion – i.e. truth is a matter of correspondence to reality. But, I suppose for now I'll have to take that as my misunderstanding of objectivist lingo.
The objective process of identification is a mental activity. We do use concepts to identify this process, and it is a process of forming concepts to denote what we perceive, or to integrate other concepts which are either directly or ultimately based on perceptual input. It is not “a priori” since it is part of the interaction of a consciousness with its objects, an activity which is volitional in nature. Our identifications are not automatic, nor are they part of our consciousness “out of the shrink wrap” as it were. It takes a budding consciousness years of effort to come to grips with its own nature and abilities. Some never learn how it works or how to control it.

Andrew asks “what’s the concept derived from,” which is essentially asking: how are concepts formed? Rand devotes a specific chapter of her book Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology to explicating the steps of this process. I will not quote the entire chapter here, as there are issues which she brings out in the first chapter (“Cognition and Measurement”) which must be understood before the process of forming concepts can be fully grasped. But let’s look at a few points from that chapter. First, let’s consider Rand’s definition of ‘concept’:
A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted. (ITOE, p. 13)
Notice that Rand does not define a concept as a “representation” of two or more units which posses the same distinguishing characteristics, for this would potentially conflict with the second aspect of her definition of ‘concept’: the omission of particular measurements. Representations, as in “mirror-like” reflections, do not omit specific measurements, but rather reproduce what they reflect as replicas retaining their specific measurements. This would disable the conceptual faculty of man’s consciousness before it had a chance, for it would completely stifle integration. The correspondence of knowledge to reality does not require “mirror-like” reflection which recreates what is perceived in replica form, for this would strand man’s consciousness to the perceptual level, to the level of concretes. It is because knowledge is formed by a process involving measurement-omission as Rand explains it in this very chapter that man is capable of knowledge which is essentially transferable from situation to situation, from one circumstance to another, in different times and different places. As a result, I can get on the phone with my sister in Vermont (I’m on the west coast) and she can talk about her house, and since I have the concept ‘house’ – an open-ended mental unit which allows me to integrate new units from the world along with other units from the world that I’ve perceived – I can know what she’s talking about. If I did not have this capacity, if knowledge were merely a “mirror-like” representation of reality, she could talk about her one-storey house and I wouldn’t be able to follow, because my house has a second storey, and here she would be using an idea that does not correspond to the “mirror-like” representation that I have in mind.

I wrote:
Since knowing in Objectivism is essentially a process of identification (and also integration), we know this implicitly just by perceiving and attempting to identify and interact with what we perceive. If I perceive an object, my senses are reliable – they are doing what senses do by virtue of their nature: responding to external stimuli, transmitting sensations to the brain, and automatically integrating those senses into percepts.
Andrew responded:
I gather this, one cannot wrongly see something, you just see what you see.
So why then would anyone think we need to prove the validity of the senses? Why does the fact that Objectivism acknowledges that the validity of the senses is axiomatic such a stumblingblock for Andrew? And why has he said that I’ve given no reason for supposing that the validity of the senses is axiomatic? In fact, I’ve pointed to a number of reasons why it is proper to categorize the validity of the senses as axiomatic. For instance, sense perception is non-volitional, autonomic, on the same level as digestion and photosynthesis. It is the primary mode of awareness (in human beings). Also, since proof is essentially a process of showing the logical connection between that which is not perceptually self-evident to that which is perceptually self-evident, which means: the very concept of proof presupposes the validity of the senses. To demand a proof for the validity of the senses ultimately leads to a series of stolen concepts.

Andrew continued:
Perceiving, however, is one thing, knowing another. To know something is to be able purport, to make an assertion in a language game, to make a commitment as in, “I know this rock is gray.” In the statement above, you're connecting the act of knowing (the act of making statements in a language game, as I've forced it) to the very act of perceiving itself, thereby (as I see it for the moment) making a direct connection between language (truth) as correspondence and/or representation of reality. i.e. I know it (and in fact it's true) because it properly represents reality – so the representationalist bagagge is right there. Now again, I know you want to stay away from that, but I don't see how you have. I'll accept that as my problem for the moment.
Of course, knowledge (of reality) is connected to perception, for it is by means of perception that we have awareness of reality. We cannot know anything unless we are first aware of something. But this does not validate or depend on the representationalist theory of perception - not in any way, shape or form. Nor does it smuggle its fallacious baggage into Objectivist epistemology since Objectivist epistemology slashed off the very source of that baggage by correcting the fundamental error of representationalism.

But I don’t think this is what Andrew’s really talking about (nor do I see any indication that Andrew understands the fallacious nature of the fallout caused by accepting the representationalist understanding of perception). People often refer to a statement’s correspondence to reality in terms of representation, as in the case of a statement such as “the defendant’s testimony did not accurately represent the situation of the night of the murder,” which is harmless. But such treatments are not intended as a philosophical analysis of knowledge’s relationship to reality. Nor do such statements necessarily imply the representationalist theory of perception. When we get to a philosophical analysis of knowledge, however, I think we need to be careful with how we state our positions and recognize that certain terms carry meanings governed by the history of philosophy. Also, I gave some more technical reasons above for cautioning against its use in trying to understand the nature and formation of concepts.

I wrote:
I suspected that you had some knowledge of the history of philosophy – the representationalist view of perception having quite a lineage – and that you would understand what I was saying here. The representationalist view essentially says that we perceive appearances of things. Objectivism holds that this is false (it commits the fallacy of the stolen concept), and that we are perceive things directly (not their appearances). In Objectivism, appearance is the *form* in which we see something, but what we’re seeing is the thing itself, not a representation of it.
Andrew responded:
Here again are a few hang-ups. You are in fact saying that what we perceive is, “the thing itself”. Here's the problem, if on the one hand you want to say that we're perceiving the thing itself, but on the other you want to reject representation, (i.e. the truths we speak don't represent the thing in itself from above, not here) then what sense does it even make to state that we actually perceive “the thing itself”? But I've got ahead of myself here, as in this particular case what you're rejecting is the perception of the “appearance of things”. I'm using representation in a different way, which (I think) you also reject. However by talking about and rejecting one form of representation, I seem you as grabbing the other, in which case I ask the epistemic question.
Note that in the above statement, I was contrasting the Objectivist view of perception from the representationalist alternative. According to Objectivism, we perceive the thing itself (not “the thing in itself” as in Kant’s “Ding an sich”), whereas according to representationalism we perceive “appearances” of things, i.e., not the things themselves. So specifically in this sense I am trying to convey the fact that Objectivism rejects representationalism, what this means, and why. It is the representationalist theory of perception which, according to Objectivism, commits the fallacy of the stolen concept (for it makes use of the concept ‘appearance’ while ignoring its genetic roots). I did not say that the view that truthful propositions represent reality commits the fallacy of the stolen concept. Andrew states that he’s using “representation” in a different sense (i.e., not in regard to the representationalist theory of perception, but presumably something more along the lines of the example I gave above from the hypothetical murder trial). Again, I’m hoping my statements above help clarify my thoughts on this. I would say in general (such as in everyday conversation), such use of “representation” is harmless, but in a discussion of the philosophical nature of knowledge I try to avoid it because of it can be very misleading.

I wrote:
I’m somewhat speculating here, but I think, for the most part, the process of learning the correspondence of language symbols to specific concepts is automatized memorization which is reinforced by repetition and use.
Here again you're using correspondence lingo (which implies representation, mirroring, adherence, etc. to reality) however in this case you state that it's a correspondence to concepts, which I'm a but mystified about at this point as to where you make the connection between reality (existence, the thing in itself from above) and the concept.
Again, not between concepts and reality as in “the thing in itself” (Kant’s “Ding an sich”), but between concepts and the things which we perceive. This distinction may not register with Andrew if he’s not familiar with the problems in Kantian philosophy. But Andrew continues to read “the thing in itself” when I write “the thing itself.”

The connection between language and reality (i.e., the objects of perception) involves several intervening steps. And certainly there is correspondence involved – even representation, especially when it comes to the correspondence between the symbols which make up the code which is language, and the concepts for which they stand. But let’s look at the steps in order, beginning with the first step: perception.

We begin our search for knowledge where we are aware of reality – in perception – and only after we’ve begun perceiving. (A child perceives his surroundings long before he starts to develop knowledge of what he’s perceiving.) Perception inherently *corresponds* to objects (since – and I hope Andrew doesn’t wince at this again – perception is perception *of objects*), but it does not “represent” objects (since perception is not a form of representing anything – it’s our form of being aware of what we’re aware of), nor is perception “mirror-like” – since it is not a means of reflecting an image back to reality.

Next comes concept-formation. On the basis of this perceptual input, we form concepts which identify and integrate what we perceive. We form concepts by integrating two or more units which we’ve perceived and which are similar to each other in some way, into a single mental unit. Integration of multiple perceptual units into a single mental unit is made possible by means of measurement-omission: each specific object (or “perceptual unit”) has its own specific characteristics. Take for example our concept ‘ball’. A child sees two balls: one ball is about 2.7 inches in diameter, covered with yellow felt, with the rubber surface below the felt exposed in a single looping line curving about the exterior of the ball (I’m trying to describe a tennis ball here). The other ball is quite smaller, denser in mass, with a hard white plastic exterior covered with about 300 or so equally spaced dimples (I’m trying to describe a golf ball here). Both objects have similar attributes – especially their shape. But they possess those attributes in different measurements (some of which I’ve tried to describe). The child perceives both of these objects and can tell that they are similar in some ways and different in other ways just by looking at them. Their similarity is readily apparent by differentiating them from other objects in his surroundings (they don’t look anything like his chair, the television set, the rug on the floor, his tricycle, building blocks, etc.), and their differences are readily apparent by setting them side by side and noting different color, size, exterior features, weight, etc. So they are similar, but possess their characteristics in different measurements. In the process of forming the concept ‘ball’, these measurements are “omitted” or “de-specified” (as Porter puts it) in order to integrate both objects into a single mental unit, namely the concept ‘ball’. Of course, the child does not need to know what inches and feet are and calculate the size of each object in order to see that one is bigger than the other. In this way, measurement is initially ostensive given the perceptually self-evident variations in degree between the two objects. One is obviously bigger than the other, they are obviously not the same color, etc. This mental unit allows us to integrate yet more objects into its scope of reference, provided they meet the similarity requirements implied by the concept’s first forming, such as their shape. The concept ‘ball’ thus includes not only the particular tennis ball and golf ball which the child saw, but all tennis balls, all golf balls, all baseballs, all beach balls, etc., whether he’s seen them or not, even those which he will never see.

Granted, there’s a lot more involved in concept-formation, but I’m hoping this example summarizes the main point that we form our initial concepts on the basis of what we perceive. What should be noteworthy in regard to some of Andrew’s concerns is that the concept ‘ball’ is not a “mirror-like” reflection of the balls which the child has actually perceived, for this would ignore the integrative capacity which concepts provide to human cognition. It would in effect disallow subsuming new units (whether perceived directly or indicated through communication) into the same mental unit, for those new units are not part of the original “image” (i.e., direct awareness of two particular objects) from which the concept was initially formed. It is in part because our knowledge is conceptual in nature that I believe the mirror analogy is harmful.

Then, after we’ve formed concepts, we assign verbal or visual symbols to represent them (here’s where “representation” is most appropriate). Language essentially gives our concepts perceptual form, to the extent that this is possible, and it does this by consistently assigning symbols to individual concepts. In this sense, language’s symbols represent concepts (without implying the representationalist theory of perception). Porter explains:
One function of language… is an ample supply of symbols. Another is communication, when we all use the same symbols for the same things. Public storage is a third, a byproduct of communication. But these are all derivative functions. The essential function of language… is that words turn concepts themselves into identifiable things. So we can distinguish them, manipulate them, exchange them and store them, like physical things. And think about them, like philosophers. (Ayn Rand’s Theory of Knowledge, p. 27)
So we can safely say that language symbols represent the concepts to which they’re assigned (for that’s what symbols do – the represent something beyond themselves), and those symbols are man’s way of giving what Peikoff calls “conceptual products” concrete form. But prior to developing a language, we need concepts which that language’s symbols will represent. And concepts are more than merely representations; they are open-ended mental units allow the mind to continue integrating new units without implying a quantifiable limit. (For instance, the concept ‘ball’ does not have a ceiling beyond which new particulars cannot be added; it does not come with a label saying “do not exceed 500 units”). We do use concepts to assemble propositions which are intended to represent things, but this is possible only because concepts themselves are not restricted to any specific representation in the first place.

Andrew asked:
[W]hat's the connection (in your philosophical system) between truth's, facts (statements in a language game) and reality.
Since on my view facts are inherent in reality apart from conscious activity, I would need to rephrase the question as follows: What’s the connection between truthful statements and reality? That connection is, in a word, concepts. Statements or propositions, whether true or false, are composed of concepts. Concepts integrate what we’ve perceived into mental units, and are themselves integrated into higher units and propositions. We use language to give concepts perceptual form, but the meaning of language’s symbols is entirely dependent on their conceptual content. Grunts, snorts and groans have no conceptual content, so they cannot be either true or false.

I wrote:
the code of symbols which is language converts concepts “into the mental equivalent of concretes” (emphasis added) – in other words, the code of symbols allows the mind to manage concepts as units, thus overcoming (an understatement here) the limitations of the crow epistemology.
Andrew replied:
Perhaps I'm not understanding you here? How does changing from the idea of "adhering to concepts" to "managing concepts as units" get one away from correspondence to concepts (representing concepts, mirroring concepts, etc.), and crow epistemology?
I’m not sure I understand this question entirely. But let me point out a few things which may facilitate better understanding.

Language symbols give concepts perceptual form. This is essentially what Rand means by converting concepts “into the mental equivalent of concretes.” We form the concept ‘freedom’, which is a very broad, higher abstraction, which would be stranded in our minds and beyond our ability to manage if we did not tie it to something perceptual – i.e., a word. As a writer, I’m very aware of this, as there are often times when I have a thought that I’m trying to nail down in a formal manner which requires the use of many concepts, and many symbols corresponding to those many concepts, so that I can work with it – i.e., refine it, test it, improve it, remember it, record it, communicate it, etc.

Because they integrate an enormous sum of information into a single, open-ended unit, concepts expand the human mind’s capacity far beyond his perceptual awareness. In other words, concepts broaden man’s awareness beyond what he can see in any given moment. Peikoff explains:
Consciousness, any consciousness, is finite. A is A. Only a limited number of units can be discriminated from one another and held in the focus of awareness at a given time. Beyond this number, the content becomes an unretainable, indeterminate blur or spread, like this: /////////////////////////
For a consciousness to extend its grasp beyond a mere handful of concretes, therefore – for it to be able to deal with an enormous totality, like all tables, or all men, or the universe as a whole – one capacity is indispensable. It must have the capacity to compress its content, i.e., to economize the units required to convey that content. This is the basic function of concepts. Their function, in Ayn Rand’s words, is “to reduce a vast amount of information to a minimal number of units…” (Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 106, quoting Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 63)
I’m hoping this explains my reference to the crow epistemology.

At one point I wrote:
In addition to what I stated above about general and particular truths, please try to understand that universality is an aspect of concepts.
Elsewhere I wrote:
In Objectivism, universals are essentially concepts, and have been misunderstood for millennia because issue[s] of how the many and the one relate to one another got sidetracked into debates about the ontological status of universals. Rand’s theory corrects this by providing an analysis of how the mind forms open-ended mental units which condense whole constellations of data.
Andrew inquired:
So which is it? Are universals an aspect of concepts, or are they essentially concepts, i.e. the two are synonymous. I accept your objections to the things I've said, but understand you haven't been all that clear yourself. Which, I understand does happen when we're both barfing out long posts and talking past the other.
Notice what my first statement above says: “universality is an aspect of concepts.” Now notice what I stated in the second statement above: “universals are essentially concepts.” I am clearly differentiating between universals (a plural noun denoting mental categories) and universality (a singular noun denoting the quality of open-endedness belonging to those mental categories). I am not treating universals and universality synonymously. And while it’s certainly true that I’ve been “barfing out long posts” in response to Andrew’s queries and contentions, I have tried my best to be careful in my delivery. And in this case, I was careful.

Throughout history, philosophers have talked about “universals.” Rand argues that these are really concepts, even though many philosophers have treated universals as if they were independently existing entities residing in some otherworldly dimension accessible to human minds only by means of revelation, anamnesis, or some other mystical connection. Rand rejects this notion and shows how the human mind in fact forms the mental units commonly called “universals” from sense perception. By contrast, universality is the open-endedness of a concept’s scope of reference, the human mind’s ability to continue adding new units to the content of a concept without implying a maximum capacity (as I mentioned above about the concept ‘ball’ being limited to the first 500 units).

Universals (i.e., concepts) and universality (a property of concepts) are definitely related. In fact, you can’t have one without the other. But they are not interchangeable as Andrew suggested.

I wrote:
Universality is essentially nothing more than the human mind’s ability to form open-ended classifications of reference...
Andrew replied:
Moving on then, you do [seem to] explicitly state that language (codes) adherence's to these concepts (you even state that objectivism has been called a correspondence theory of truth, which I've found to be true), however you don't explicitly state that concepts are a direct “one-to-one” adherence's to the world.
In fact, I did say that “conceptualization allows for much, much more than” a one-to-one relationship between man’s consciousness and the objects he perceives in the world. Rather, concepts provide him with a one-to-many relationship, since each concept (a single unit) is open-ended in its reference, denoting an unlimited quantity of existents (be they balls or men or automobiles or instances of injustice, etc.).

Andrew continued:
Although I can only assume since you do state explicitly that we “experience a thing in itself”
No, not “a thing in itself” – we perceive the thing itself as opposed to its appearance.

He went on:
(not a shadowy image) that the concepts must then be a representation, or a correspondence to those things, other wise I don't see how it even makes sense to say it at all. That said it then follows that language (truths, facts, etc.) are representations of the way the world is in itself, which then makes all my original contentions valid and me not as bat-shit crazy as you'd like to think (of course you didn't call me that, but I just like the word).
Andrew affirmed many criticisms, such as his view that certainty in the axioms is unjustified, that Objectivism is “parasitic” to Platonic Realism, that “what is in the mind (according to Rand) is a mirrored reflection of the world in itself,” that the Objectivist position is just as circular as that of the Christian’s, etc. None of these points are validated by granting that statements are representative of the world in some way (as I have understood this above).

by Dawson Bethrick

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Friday, September 03, 2010

My Squabble with Andrew

In the comments section of my blog A Critique of Sye Ten Bruggencates’, a commenter by the name of Andrew Louis has been trying, in a most confused and uninformed manner, to challenge certain positions of mine. In responding to Andrew, I have repeatedly had to correct numerous careless mistakes and basic blunders on his part as he attempts to interact with me. In a comment which he had deleted after posting it, Andrew said of himself:
I tend to follow the philosophical traditions paved by Hagel, Nietsche, Heiddeger, Wittgenstein, Dewey, Rorty, and Robert Brandom. So I’m a card carrying neo-pragmatist. As such I’m simply interested in how far down your thinking goes here. [sic]
Throughout the exchange, Andrew has stated that he “could give a rip less about certainty,” says that “epistemology is a dead end road,” has confused the representationalist theory of perception with a representationalist theory of truth, mistaken the realist theory of perception for Platonic realism, refuses to answer questions (such as what he means by “absolute certainty”), resists my recommendation to examine Objectivism from its primary sources, and overall seems unable or unwilling to integrate my corrections and other points that I’ve made in order to better understand my position.

I have gone many rounds with Andrew, trying patiently to help him along in his understanding, and also trying to understand for myself with more precision exactly what his objections against Objectivism might be. Upon my return Friday evening (3 Sept.) from a day with my family, I came back to no less than eight fresh comments from Andrew. Since (a) Blogger has a word limit on comments, (b) the comments on the original blog have already exceeded 100 in number (which is very long for my blog), and c) as I am constantly reminded by my detractors, I’m a wordy son of a bitch, I’ve decided to reply to Andrew’s latest barrage of blather in a fresh post.

Andrew writes: “Dawson, for the record, if you can’t properly articulate an objectivist theory of truth in some coherent way, I see no reason to look into it more (as you’d suggest I do).”

Andrew has in mind my earlier recommendation that he examine Objectivism from its primary sources. I made this recommendation on the slim gamble that he might actually be interested in Objectivism and may sincerely want to learn about its teachings. Apparently he’s expected me to present a comprehensive thesis about the Objectivist understanding of truth – complete to his liking (a liking which is apparently influenced by everyone from “Hagel” and “Nietsche” to Heiddeger and Rorty) – in the comments section of a blog post. Andrew is a fine one to talk about properly articulating a position “in some coherent way,” given his all-over-the-place meandering of topics and continual carelessness on even basic issues. Andrew is free to do as he chooses. He is free to hold Objectivism in contempt, and even blame me for it. I’m quite willing to concede that Objectivism may not be his cup of tea.

Andrew writes: “The fact remains that the language you’re using is consistent with what I’ve been saying,”

The problem is not that the *language* that I’m using is consistent with what Andrew has been saying. Both Andrew and I have been communicating in English, so I would expect on the broad level some common ground here. The problem is Andrew’s persisting carelessness in attempting to deal with issues with which he’s obviously not very familiar, and what may in fact be a simple attitude problem (as some other commenters have pointed out). I grant that Andrew is intelligent, but he seems to suffer from a learning deficiency of sorts, and perhaps an attending piqued frustration complex which impedes his ability to grasp what others are saying.

Andrew continues: “and now you’ve resigned yourself to saying that “I just don’t get it” (esentially),”

While I did not exactly say this, I’m wondering what conclusion Andrew expects me to draw when he continues to make the same mistakes that I’ve already corrected.

Andrew writes: “because you just can’t speak to what your actual theory of truth even is.”

Andrew writes this, even though I had stated quite clearly prior to this that truth is a property of identification and that identification is a mental activity which involves a consciousness’ interaction with the objects of its awareness. Had Andrew questions about this conception of truth, I’d expect him to have posed them in subsequent comments. But he seems not even to have read it, for not only has he not inquired on it, he now says that I “can’t speak to what [my] actual theory of truth even is.” Of course, Andrew never did come out and ask “Dawson, what exactly is your theory of truth?” Rather, he has posed more pointed questions, such as “do you hold to the idea of ‘absolute truths’, i.e. truths that exist independently, exist not in relation to other things, not relative to other things, and are true for every possible circumstance,” apparently hoping to elicit some answer that fits his pre-set repertoire of debating tactics.

Andrew tried to clarify his earlier statements about “representation”: “ When I use representation, I’m talking NOT about the relationship between object and perception per se, I’m talking about the relationship between TRUTH and what we say we’re perceiving.”

And that’s why I emphasized the importance of the Objectivist theory of concepts, since before we have truth, we need to identify and integrate what we perceive in conceptual form. When we perceive a rock, for instance, we do not say “that rock is true” or “that rock is not true.” Truth pertains to propositions, specifically propositions which identify some aspect of reality. Propositions are composed of concepts, so to relate truth to what we perceive, we need at least some discussion of how the mind moves from perception to statements about what we perceive. That's where concept theory comes in. But this seems to have gone right over Andrew’s head.

Andrew writes: “And TRUTH, as we know it, is contained within the language practices that we have, the things we say, the facts we present etc..”

If truth is involved in our language practices, then this only confirms my previous point: that we need to have at least rudimentary understanding of the nature of concepts, for it is by means of concepts that we identify and integrate what we perceive, and it is concepts for which language is a code of visual/auditory symbols. Again, I tried to bring all these points to Andrew’s attention, but it’s all apparently gone right past him, as if he hadn’t even read anything I had written in response to his queries.

Andrew writes: “The only manner with which you’ve addressed any of my objections is the same manner with which Sye addresses his, and that is to be a bully that just keeps re-asserting his prime axiom, and that is, that this thing of yours just is, with no real reason at all to accept it.”

While I have not had the pleasure of observing Sye addressing Andrew’s objections (I’m reminded of late night B movies involving alien women and mud wrestling), I don’t think Andrew’s statement here is very fair. For one, I’ve given Andrew the benefit of the doubt (perhaps wrongly) that he is seriously interested in learning more about my position. I’ve been patient to step him through some of Objectivism’s fundamentals (it’s clear he’s never studied it for himself), correct many of his basic blunders (I’ve had to restrain myself here), and relate the issues he’s raised to the role of the axioms in grounding knowledge. None of this is the action of a “bully,” and my responses to Andrew’s objections cannot honestly be likened to “just keeps re-asserting his prime axiom,” nor can Andrew honestly say that there’s no reason to accept the axioms – for instance, as I pointed out, they identify in the broadest possible terms the fact that there is a reality, that the objects which exist in reality are what they are independent of consciousness, and that consciousness is consciousness of some object(s). There are some reasons right there (as if they needed to be pointed out). In addition, in discussions throughout the comments section, I’ve noted the fact that denying the axioms is self-refuting, which is a confirming reason. I’ve also pointed out that the axioms are conceptually irreducible, which confirms their status as axioms – they are the bedrock of knowledge, assuming no prior knowledge. (Knowledge *of what*? *Whose* knowledge?) Again, either Andrew’s been reading but is not able to integrate any of these points, or he’s ignoring them – perhaps deliberately – and proceeding to raise questions which in fact many of these points do in fact address already.

When Andrew wrote: “But you're still adhereing (which is the point) and you still have not accounted for that adhering.”

I responded to him, asking: “How do you know this, Andrew? Are you certain that I’ve not accounted for the adhering that I’ve spoken about?”

Andrew then replied: “That response is Sye TenB 101, for those who have debated with Sye.”

Sye checked out of the discussion a long time ago, choosing not to interact with my critique of his “proof.” In the comments discussion, Andrew and I have been debating, or at least discussing. And the response I threw back in his face is Andrew Louis 101. Observe:

Consider Andrew’s 1 Sept. comment, in response to my points about the nature of universality, he replied “Really? How do you know that?”

Similarly, in a later comment of Andrew’s which he apparently deleted, he wrote: “You are saying that existence is in itself, self evident. BUT, how do you know that? … how do you know that ‘A’ cannot be both ‘A’ and ‘/A’ at the same time? If you say it’s self evident, that it’s an axiom, or axiomatic I can simply ask, ‘How do you know that’.”

In one of his 2 Sept. comments, Andrew wrote: “How do you know that the ‘coded’ sound that funnels from the mouth amounts to anything like an adherence to anything?”

He states that this question (“How do you know that?”) is “Sye TenB 101,” and refers to Sye’s debating tactics as that of “a bully,” also calling this question “pure intellectual dishonesty.” If it’s dishonest and bullyish when Sye or I ask it, why isn’t it also dishonest and bullyish when Andrew asks it?

Apparently Andrew doesn’t think that I should be allowed to ask the same kind of questions he expects me to drop everything and answer to the satisfaction of his nebulous, unstated standards. But I do reserve the right to ask questions of my interlocutors. And I don’t think I was being dishonest when posed my questions above.

Recall that Andrew had written: “But you're still adhereing (which is the point) and you still have not accounted for that adhering.”

He’s saying that I’m doing something and not accounting for what I’m doing. So he has accused me of some failing. I just want to know how he knows that I’ve done this. It’s noteworthy (if not telling) that he not only resists addressing the question, but takes umbrage to it, as if he should be able to make assertions about someone else’s alleged failure to account for something without anyone questioning how he might know this.

But I’m not throwing this question back in Andrew’s face just to be an annoyance, or to throw him off, as perhaps Sye or other apologists would do. Rather, I want to know – given all the corrections I’ve had to make of Andrew’s statements, his persistent carelessness with the issues, and his obvious unfamiliarity with even the fundamentals of Objectivism – how he can still come back and declare that I’m doing something without having accounted for it. Also, such questions would provide Andrew the opportunity to show us what he knows about how one acquires and validates knowledge, which is a core issue to the discussion. So it’s a live question, one which he’s apparently unwilling to address.

And yes, he has asserted his charges as incontestable certainties (that he becomes so incensed when his accusations are questioned indicates that he doesn’t think they should be doubted), which makes me wonder – given his multiple inquires about how I know something and his repeated insistence that he “[doesn’t] care… about certainty” – how he can know what he claims with such apparent certainty.

Andrew wrote: “Let’s take language for example. You’ve explicitly stated that what you’re perceiving is actual things in themselves.”

Andrew wants to “take language for example,” but then inquires about my position on perception. (I’m just trying to follow him here; he doesn’t make it easy.)

I don’t know where Andrew thinks I’ve “explicitly stated” that the objects I perceive are “actual things in themselves.” Can he show me where I’ve “explicitly stated” this? Or is he assuming I said this when perhaps I really haven’t?

(Let me give you a hint here, Andrew: “Thing-in-itself” (“Ding an sich”) is a Kantian idea. Objectivists are not Kantians.)

Andrew: “If that’s true, then it follows (no matter how you make the connections) that truth (what we speak as a matter of fact) are representations, or adherences of/to those perceptions of things in themselves.”

In one of my replies to Andrew from last night, I posed a question to him point blank: “What exactly do you mean by ‘truth’?” Andrew has not answered this question.

But his above question makes me curious: Is it the case that he defines “truth” as a “representation”? Or does he define it in some other way? What is a “representation” as Andrew is using it here?

I ask these questions because Andrew comes across as continually trying to find fault with my position while never really demonstrating that he’s grasped either it or the many corrections I’ve had to make on his attempts to interpret my position. I stated that truth is a property of identification. Rand defines truth very generally as “a recognition of reality” (Atlas Shrugged) – not a “representation” of reality. Andrew seems to be trying to assess my position by measuring it against a conception of truth which my position may in fact reject. (I say “may” here because I suspect this is the case, but it remains to be confirmed based on further clarification on Andrew’s part as to what he actually has in mind.)

Andrew asked: “If you say that-that actually isn't true, then on what basis can you assert that what you're perceiving is actually a thing in itself?”

Again, “thing in itself” is a Kantian idea which Objectivism rejects. But let’s trim that off Andrew’s question to make it read as follows: “on what basis can you assert that what you’re perceiving is actually a thing?”

To explore this, let us ask a more fundamental question: What does it mean to perceive? Does it make sense to say that when we perceive, we perceive nothing? Is there such a thing, on Andrew’s view, as consciousness without anything to be conscious of?

Objectivism emphatically rejects the view that there’s such a thing as consciousness without anything to be conscious of. On the contrary, Objectivism recognizes that consciousness always has an object. (I know, Andrew’s going to ask “How do you know?” which is really code for “Prove it” – but since this recognition is axiomatic, the fact that it is an axiom answers both challenges. Of course, if Andrew thinks there’s such a thing as consciousness without anything to be conscious of, I invite him to explain his view on this.)

So, since perception is a type of conscious activity, and consciousness is consciousness of an object, perception is always perception of an object. (Recall how upset Andrew got when I had earlier written “perception is perception of an object” – continually demonstrating his failure to recognize the prepositional phrase “of an object” included in this statement? I had to make this point explicit because it was clear to me that he had not been grasping it.) So if I’m perceiving, I must be perceiving something. I must be perceiving an object.

Now Andrew asks: “on what basis can you assert that what you’re perceiving is actually a thing in itself” – which implies a Kantian view which Objectivism rejects. If we slash off the Kantian presupposition and ask instead: “on what basis can you assert that what you’re perceiving is actually a thing?” I can remind him of the axiom of consciousness (consciousness is consciousness *of something*, perception – which is a conscious activity – is perception *of some thing*) and also point out the fact that the concept ‘thing’ (a concept which Andrew’s question uses) is very broad, very open-ended, and includes any object that I might perceive. If I’m perceiving, then I must be perceiving an object, and if I’m perceiving an object, there’s no offense in using the concept ‘thing’ to denote that object, be it a book, a tree, a house, my wife, a stack of waffles, etc.

I don’t know why any of this could be so difficult for anyone. But given Andrew’s performance to date, I’m not confident that this is going to help him very much.

Andrew: “Again, I'm sure you'll just re-assert your prime axiom again, in which case, ‘yawn’.”

If the axioms are true and they play a significant role in addressing Andrew’s questions, why shouldn’t I remind you of them? In his yawning drowsiness, Andrew seems constantly willing to ignore them.

Andrew did post a few more comments beyond what I’ve responded to here. But it is late, and much of what Andrew writes in those posts is mind-numbing in that addressing them requires more corrective labor on my part. I’ve had a long day, and this will have to do for the time being. But it should be clear so from the above that it appears more and more that Andrew is not very serious in grasping my position, but anxious to somehow find a flaw in it. Some people have the uncanny ability to see only what they want to see.

by Dawson Bethrick