I read through Hodge’s brief entry and posted my own reaction to it in two comments on my own blog, where NAL had originally drew attention to it.
A little later, Ydemoc, another frequent visitor to my blog, posted a comment over at Hodge’s blog entry informing him of my critique of his refutation of objectivism (note the small ‘o’ here – it appears that Hodge has some generic understanding of objectivism in mind here; he makes no reference to Rand, Peikoff or other Objectivist author, and he does not interact directly with any of Objectivism’s own stated positions; moreover, he apparently expects his readers to “just know” what he’s addressing, since he provides essentially no explanation of what he’s trying to refute; in his blog entry, Hodge confines his refutation to an attack on the senses, and he presumably expects his readers to learn of his position by perceiving and interpreting the little marks he’s created on his webpage).
So my initial response to Hodge can be found there, in my comment on my blog.
Now Hodge has replied to me, in the comments of his own blog, in reply to Ydemoc’s comments drawing attention to my interaction with Hodge’s piece. So here is my interaction with his response to my criticisms of his “refutation.”
Hodge writes: "In essence, he misconstrues both what I am arguing and to what extent I am arguing for.”
What exactly is he arguing then? Why doesn’t he make more effort to be clear about what he’s arguing? It was clear in his first statement that he essentially thinks there are two opposite realities – one which can be perceived, and another which cannot be perceived. But after this he makes no effort to clarify which of these two realities he has in mind when he uses the word ‘reality’.
Hodge writes: “His rebuttal consists of a tu quoque fallacy.”
This is completely untrue. I do not say that he is in the same boat as I am in. I don’t accept that the problem he ascribes to perception is legitimate in the first place. My point was clear: he ascribes a problem to perception, and yet his solution does not escape this problem. That’s not a tu quoque.
Hodge writes: “I am not attempting to answer the objection here. I am only stating the objection, which he has not sufficiently answered.”
Is Hodge’s view that he has sufficiently stated his objection? If so, then the points I made in my critique stand.
Hodge writes: “Merely arguing that the sense are reliable because we use them automatically is merely descriptive.” What does “merely descriptive” mean? He makes this statement as though “merely descriptive” were some kind of defect of failing. Of course, I did not argue that the senses are reliable simply because we use them automatically. I never even attempted this in my criticism of his post.
Hodge writes: “It says nothing as to whether we are sensing all of reality.”
“…sensing all of reality…”? Who makes the claim that we are “sensing all of reality”? What precisely does it mean?
Hodge writes: “In fact, much of my argument above is pointing out that we have no way of knowing whether we are sensing reality by our senses because we have no one else, in an atheist system, to verify that for us.”
I see. So on Hodge’s view, we need “someone else” to come along and say “Yes, you are actually sensing reality, not something other than reality.” No one ever comes along and tells me that what I'm perceiving is real. I have to figure this out myself. We all do. But Hodge acts like there's a little angel sitting on his shoulder vetting everything he perceives. Why does Hodge think we need this?
Does Hodge ever consider the distinction between perceiving and imagining? I can perceive a rock, a car, a fence, a house, a dog, a human being, a cell phone, etc. But I cannot perceive a god. However, I can imagine one. If Hodge truly thinks that we cannot know on our own that when we are perceiving, whether or not we’re actually perceiving reality, what about when we imagine a god? Does Hodge have any concerns here? If I imagine a god, for instance, am I imagining the right god, or the wrong one? What about him? What’s his solution to this? Christians have been infighting since the days of the Pauline epistles. Essentially they were clashing because different factions imagined the Christian god differently. Neither group could point to anything objective to settle their differences, since they had already retreated into the imagination. Rather, they had to appeal to “revelations” to “validate” their own imagined deity. That’s hardly convincing.
Hodge writes: “All we can do is experience the physical, but this too cannot tell us whether we are experiencing the physical en toto or merely in part.”
Notice that Hodge has moved the goalpost. Before it was a question of whether what we are perceiving was real or not. Now it’s whether we’re perceiving “en toto or merely in part.” If by perceiving “en toto” Hodge means we perceive everything in reality (or in this case, everything physical in reality) all at once, in one gulp as it were, who claims that we do this? Objectivists surely do not. When I perceive, I perceive only those things which exist within the reach of my senses. If I’m on a high vantage point, on a clear day I might see for several miles. Perhaps the furthest thing I can perceive is a star in the night sky, but I perceive it merely as a little speck of light. And that light had to travel to me; my senses do not travel to it. But I don’t perceive Hodge’s immediate surroundings just as he does not perceive mine. So the question is whether or not Hodge is going to allow that the physical is real. Is his own flesh real? Is his skin real? Are his eyes real? Are his ears real? Are his fingers real? These are physical things. Does he really deny their own reality? Why? If his worldview denies the reality of his own physical body, what good is it?
If Hodge does concede that his own physical body is real, does he then deny that the physical objects that he perceives beyond his own physical body – such as the chair he sits on, the computer he uses to type up and post his blog entries, his toothbrush, his slippers, his toenail clippings, his hairbrush, his shaving cream, his tissue paper, etc. – are real? Hodge keeps everything all safely abstract so that questions like this never come up, at least on his side. But I’m raising them. How does he answer them? Are these things he perceives real or not? That’s the question. What’s his answer?
Hodge writes: “Beware of sophistry that doesn't hit the main objection head on.”
Wow, this guy is most ironic!
Hodge writes: “Second to this, the argument that I am implying that there are ‘no means’ to access an accurate view of reality is bogus.”
This sentence is in bad need of editing. What is the subject of “is” in “is bogus”? Is it “the argument that I [Hodge] am implying”? Is Hodge implying a bogus argument?
Hodge: “I can understand a historical event via faith in the report.”
What does the faith part do in enabling understanding? When I examine the report of a historical event, I understand it by integrating the concepts that are used in delivering that report. This is not an act of faith. It is an act of mental integration.
Hodge writes: “Likewise, I can understand all things through a metaphysical view of the universe that is given via report.”
And he uses faith for this, too, I presume? It sounds like a recipe for beaming out if there ever were one. Remember Marshall Applewhite? How about David Koresh. How about millions of Muslim jihadis? They all rely on faith. So did the Inquisitors. When are people going to grow up, put away childish things, are start using their minds responsibly? One can accept any view he wants based on his emotions and imagination and call it “faith.” That is not a path to knowledge of reality.
Hodge writes: “I am not in the position to judge empirically whether my belief has given me an accurate view of reality, but that is my very point.”
And since he’s abandoned reason (he has epistemologically sabotaged his own capacity for reason), he’s also not in a position to judge rationally whether any of his beliefs are “accurate.” That’s my very point.
Hodge writes: “So I am arguing for a species of subjectivism, one based upon faith.” See, Hodge agrees with my point!
Hodge writes: “And that is where everyone must begin.”
And he concludes that everyone must begin with a species of subjectivism based upon faith thanks to a number of subjective premises which he’s accepted on faith. He cannot claim that those premises are objective, for he’s already denied objectivity as such. Essentially, he wants the form of consciousness which he imagines to be real, so his “argument” that everyone must begin with a species of subjectivism based upon faith is driven by theological need, not by facts that he has objectively gathered and integrated into a non-contradictory whole.
Hodge writes: “Hence, my ultimate argument would be that, as a Christian, I believe that man is completely reliant upon God to know the essential nature of the universe and thereby access reality.”
And the Blarko-believer’s ultimate argument would be that, as a Blarko, he believes that man is completely reliant upon Blarko to know the essential nature of the universe and thereby access reality. Hodge’s belief is no better than the Blarko-believer’s. Why believe either of them? “Arguments” which are essentially statements of what one believes which are informed by a species of subjectivism accepted on faith are no substitute for reason. Like the Blarko-believer, Hodge has no alternative but to imagine his god. None of us have any alternative to the imagination when it comes to this. I must imagine Hodge’s god just as he does, if I want to contemplate it.
Essentially, without acknowledging it as such, Hodge is seeking to vindicate the imagination as a reference point enjoying primacy over the things he perceives. What we perceive we cannot be sure is real, he is saying, unless we appeal to some supernatural consciousness which we can only imagine. And somehow this makes perceiving things a legitimate means of awareness. Again, the motivation here is driven by theological need: vindicate the god-belief at all costs.
Hodge writes: “If He chooses to leave one in his deceptions or be led into others, there is no way for a man's belief to be correctly placed.”
So on Hodge’s view, it is very possible (and indeed a reality in the case of many persons) that his god can choose to leave people in their deceptions. There’s nothing that a man can do to overcome this; if the Christian god chooses to leave Hodge in his deceptions, Hodge would be none the wiser. He wouldn’t know that he’s been abandoned by the Christian god to his deceptions. Since he’s lost in his own deceptions, he’d not recognize his deceptions as deceptions; he’d think they’re the gospel truth. There’s no way for Hodge himself to overcome the inherent uncertainty guaranteed by his own theological formulations: “there is no way for a man’s belief to be correctly placed.” This is just one reason why the claim “God has revealed it to me in such a way that I can be certain that it’s true” is utterly hollow. A person making this claim has no means of confirming whether or not he’s got the real truth, or that he’s been abandoned to his own deceptions.
So again, back to my previous assessment: Hodge prefers knowledge no how.
Hodge writes: “If He chooses to lead one out of such a mess via His leading him to the right report and faith therein, then a man can have access to an accurate, analogically based, view of reality."
And of course Hodge wants to believe that this is what’s happened in his case. He has been passively led to the truth by the guiding hand of an invisible magic being which he can only imagine. No method performed volitionally by the human mind can lead to such truth. That’s why the pretense of having an argument to sustain all his bullshit is just a ruse. Argument is a method which man volitionally performs to lead to truth. But Hodge is saying that whether one has truth or not is simply a matter of divine whim: the Christian god can choose to lead a man to truth, or it can choose to let man languish in his own deceptions, like leftovers forgotten in the back of the refrigerator, abandoned to their own rot.
Hodge writes: “So my point is basically that objectivism is self refuting and cannot be revived by merely assuming that the senses are valid because they don't need to be validated;”
For one thing, Hodge has not shown that either objectivism (little ‘o’) or Objectivism (capital ‘O’) is self-refuting. Certainly in the case of Objectivism, Hodge has executed nothing approaching an internal critique, which is what he would need to undertake in order to even have the hope of showing that Objectivism is self-refuting.
On the contrary, I would suggest that Hodge do some research and learn about what Objectivism actually teaches before he attempts to refute it. He clearly does not understand the axiomatic nature of consciousness, and he treats perception as though it were something other than a form of consciousness. The denial of perception as a form of consciousness is, from what I’ve seen over the years, always implicit in any attack on the senses. If we perceive at all, then we are perceiving something – we are aware of some object. This is not an activity which we perform volitionally. In this respect perception is no different from hair growth, the heart beat, digestion, respiration, metabolic processing of nutrients, etc. We cannot simply choose to turn it on or turn it off. If someone drives a screwdriver into your kneecap, you cannot choose not to feel pain. You’re going to feel pain. Is feeling this pain under such circumstances not “valid”? (Strictly speaking, validity has to do with formal argument, but those who attack Objectivism typically do not grasp this.) Imagine going to a surgeon who’s accepted Hodge’s view of perception:
“No, that screwdriver in your kneecap has nothing to do with your subjective experience of pain. The senses are not valid! You can’t say that the senses are valid simply because you’re assume they’re valid! How do you even know that there’s a screwdriver sticking out of your kneecap? You don’t think the senses need to be validated? Well, you need to have faith! That’s all! Here, have faith in my invisible magic being, then you can say that what’s sticking out of your kneecap is a screwdriver and that what you’re experiencing really is pain!”
Consider the following dialogue between a subjectivist denier of the validity of the senses and an Objectivist:
Subjectivist: “The senses are invalid. You couldn’t know that they give you awareness of reality unless you had access to another reality which you cannot perceive.”
Objectivist: “So you’re saying there are two realities?”
Subjectivist: “You’re misconstruing my point. Beware of sophistry that doesn't hit the main objection head on.”
Objectivist: “Well, what exactly is your point?”
Subjectivist: “That you need faith in a metaphysic, that you need belief in a reality that we cannot perceive in order to know what reality is independently of yourself in order to measure your perception by it and establish the idea that what you perceive is in fact reality.”
Objectivist: “Again, it sounds like you’re affirming the existence of two different realities – one we can perceive, and one that we cannot perceive.”
Subjectivist: “You’re misconstruing both what I am arguing and to what extent I’m arguing for. That the senses give us an accurate perception of reality can only be confirmed by belief in a reality we cannot perceive with the senses.”
Objectivist: “It still sounds like you’re positing two different realities – one which we can perceive and one which we cannot perceive.”
Subjectivist: “Look, you need to have faith is what I’m saying.”
Subjectivist: “Because, my ultimate argument would be that, as a Christian, I believe that man is completely reliant upon God to know the essential nature of the universe and thereby access reality.”
Objectivist: “But that’s not an argument. It’s just a statement of what you believe. Why do you believe it? Why should anyone believe this?"
Subjectivist: “Because you can’t know that your senses give you an accurate perception of reality unless you can know what reality is independently of your perceiving it.”
Objectivist: “So when I see my daughter running to me with her homework and asking me a question about math, I can’t know that this is really my daughter, that this is really happening, unless I have knowledge of this by some means other than by perceiving?”
Subjectivist: “Again, you’re misconstruing what I’m saying.”
Objectivist: “I don’t think I am. Where do you get all this?”
Subjectivist: “As a Christian, I go by the Scriptures.”
Objectivist: “Do you mean the Christian bible, the Old and New Testaments? ‘It is written…’ and all that?”
Subjectivist: “That’s right. God’s written revelation to man.”
Objectivist: “So this is a written text, right?”
Subjectivist: “Yes, that’s right. It is written, thus saith the Lord.” Objectivist: “So I have to learn what it says by reading it, right?”
Subjectivist: “Or alternatively, faith cometh by hearing.”
Objectivist: “But both hearing and reading are perceptually-based activities.”
Subjectivist: “Well… er, umm…”
Objectivist: “Which means just to learn what you’ve stated here about the senses not being confirmably accurate without prior knowledge of what reality is through some other, as yet unidentified means, I have to rely on sense perception.”
Subjectivist: “Er…. Well… now you’re misconstruing again…”
Objectivist: “And in the case of the Christian bible, this is something I must read, right? I need to read the letters on the page in order to learn what it’s saying, right?”
Subjectivist: “Well, explain this, then. How do your senses and black squiggles on paper or sound convey meaning and abstract concepts? Explain that, smart boy!”
Objectivist: “Well, how did you know what appears on the paper are black squiggles?”
Subjectivist: [pause] “Umm…. I can’t answer that question.”
But before moving on to that, I want to revisit a point I had made in my interaction with Hodge’s original blog entry. And that is that, if I need to have awareness of reality by some means other than perception in order to confirm that my perception of reality is “accurate,” why do we get to just assume that this alternative means (whatever it might be – Hodge has not indicated any means other than perception by which I could have awareness of my daughter coming to me with a homework problem) is “accurate”? Why wouldn’t we need yet another means of accessing reality in order to confirm that this alternative means of accessing reality is “accurate”? And so on, into infinity. At no point does Hodge seem aware that his position invites this line of inquiry, and yet when it is raised he accuses me of the tu quoque fallacy. This is not a tu quoque fallacy – I’m not the one who’s saying that we need access to reality independent of perception in order to confirm that our perception of reality is “accurate.” This is necessitated by his premise that perception needs to be confirmed by some means of accessing reality independent of perception. The point is that, if one means of accessing reality cannot be confirmed as “accurate” without using some means independent of it, then what allows us to automatically assume, as Hodge seems most willing to do, that this other means gives us “accurate” awareness of reality? Hodge does not address this and is utterly mistaken in characterizing it as a tu quoque.
Now, as to Hodge’s hapless confusion of perception with identification, note his objection to the view that the senses “don’t need to be validated because they are already in use.” In reaction to this, he states:
That is like saying that a dog need not validate whether he judges a rose to be black and white, since he automatically does not see in color already.
Hodge then writes: “Such is the stuff of nonsense.”
Boy, if he only knew!
Hodge goes one: “We know, having higher senses than the dog, that the true color of the rose is not black or white, but red. Its senses are not meant for it to have full access to reality. They are only meant to help it function in what it needs to do in its world.”
The point which Hodge makes here confirms Objectivism rather than argues against it. The color in which we perceive something is one of the forms in which we perceive it. This is dictated by various particulars of the set of eyes doing the perceiving. If I perceive a rose and I perceive it as red (apart from what I judge it to be), I have no choice about this. This has to do with the interaction between my senses and the objects which stimulate them. We perceive objects according to their nature just as we perceive in a particular form according to the nature of our perceptual faculties. All these are factual parameters that are preconditional to any experience we have. We do not choose to perceive something that’s really blue as something that’s red. If another organism comes along and perceives the rose which we see as red, but perceives it as blue, this would be due to the particulars of its perceptual faculties. Indeed, if we, seeing the rose as red in color under normal lighting conditions, look at the same rose when the light is very dim, it may appear to be a different color. The point is that the form of our perception is just as “objective” as the object we perceive in the sense that it is not subject to our preferences, wishes, etc. It is not a matter of “faith” or “belief in a metaphysic,” that we perceive the rose one color or another. Perception is more fundamental than belief. This is what attacks on the senses like Hodge’s fail to acknowledge.
Hodge continues: “Hence, I am not arguing that no reality can be known through the senses, but that only partial reality can be known.”
What exactly is this intended to mean? And how is this supposed to integrate into Hodge’s refutation of Objectivism? What is it in Objectivism that he is reacting to here? Objectivism does not claim that we perceive everything in reality. While sitting here in Bangkok, Thailand, I am not perceiving the living room of my house back in the United States. Nor do we say that, when we see a rose, we see things inside the rose that are not accessible to vision. For instance, if I see one side of the rose pedal, I’m not seeing the back of the rose pedal at the same time. I’m only seeing the surface of the pedal that is facing me and from which adequate light is being reflected.
Now, if Hodge is suggesting that there are things in reality which are by their very nature beyond the access of any of our sense modalities (sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell), he needs to argue for this. He should not special plead his case here, insisting that we need to validate the senses while giving himself a free pass from having to validate claims about some “reality we cannot perceive with the senses,” especially if he indicates no method by which we can reliably distinguish between what he calls “reality we cannot perceive with the senses” and something he may merely be imagining.
Hodge continues: “That's why his division of my argument as confusing two realities doesn't understand what I'm saying. These are not two realities, but one reality that can only be accessed fully via faith and reason together.”
I readily admit that there may be aspects in Hodge’s view that I do not understand, but I would hasten to add that this is not due to my inability to understand things, but rather due to his failure to articulate his position in a coherent and consistent manner. But his first statement very clearly affirms two different realities. Let’s look at it again:
Hodge wrote: “That the senses give us an accurate perception of reality can only be confirmed by belief in a reality we cannot perceive with the senses.”
Now, it could be that Hodge meant something other than what he has written here. But in that case, this would be his mistake, not mine. So again, I would urge that he put more care into expressing his own position so that it is not so easily misunderstood.
Also, I would point out that faith and reason are not compatible. Faith rests on the primacy of consciousness metaphysics while reason requires the primacy of existence. These are not reconcilable. I’m guessing that, if Hodge does not accept this, he does not have a very good understanding of reason; he may not even understand faith very well for all we know.
Hodge writes: “One must have faith in a metaphysic in order to attempt to describe the whole of reality.”
Why? What part of the task of “attempt[ing] to describe the whole of reality” is beyond the reach of reason? Hodge does not explain this, nor does he attempt to argue for it. He simply asserts it and leaves it at that, and presumably his readers are expected to accept it on his say so. I don’t.
Hodge writes: “One does not need a metaphysic in order to attempt to describe the part of reality one can access via the senses.”
Perhaps Hodge needs to explain what he means by “a metaphysic,” and then explain why “one does not need a metaphysic in order to attempt to describe the part of reality one can access via the senses.” I suggest Hodge put some effort into defining his terms, explaining what he wants to say with greater care, and – finally – actually putting an argument before his conclusions. It would also help if he simply identify his ultimate starting point. In the interest of doing so, he should take care to make sure it really is fundamental – i.e., conceptually irreducible – and identify the means by which he has awareness of what he takes his starting point to be.
Hodge writes: “Hence, the problem surfaces when one attempts to use the reality that he can only access through the senses as all-encompassing.”
What exactly is that problem? I perceive objects and formally recognize the fact “existence exists.” This recognition is all-encompassing – it encompasses everything that exists. It leaves nothing that exists out. And yet, I did this by beginning with perception and then forming concepts on the basis of direct perceptual input. Where’s the problem? Hodge has identified no problem here.
Hodge writes: “It is at that point, the point when one attempts to say something more about reality than the senses allow, that faith in a metaphysic comes to light."
The senses do not disallow the formation of concepts. The senses simply provide the initial input for concept-formation. Since concept-formation involves the process of measurement-omission, the conceptual level of cognition expands our awareness beyond that which we immediately perceive. This does not require an appeal to “a reality we cannot perceive with the senses,” but rather a process of abstraction from perceptual input. It does not require that we posit a supernatural consciousness which magically installs knowledge in our minds, a supernatural consciousness which we can only “access” by means of imagining it. Rather, it requires us to recognize the fact that what we imagine is not real, that what we perceive is real, regardless of whether we like it or not. Thus I doubt Hodge is suddenly going to adopt a warm attitude towards Objectivism (big ‘O’) in spite of his flailing errors in trying to take down objectivism (little ‘o’).
by Dawson Bethrick