My August Comments to B.C. Hodge
I know that Hodge reacted to some of what I have stated below and that some of the regulars here (Robert, Ydemoc, Photosynthesis, NAL, etc.) have continued interacting directly with Hodge on his blog. Unfortunately I’ve been able to read up on small portions of those conversations, but what I have seen so far is quite familiar: rational individuals trying their best to reach someone whose mind has turned its back on reason. There’s clearly more to say, but that will have to wait until later.
So here they are in their entirety, my last bout of comments to B.C. Hodge.
You wrote: “Let me suggest to you that you have not understood my argument, yet again.”
Then tell you what. Why not lay your argument out in a clear and succinct manner. Number your premises, and make it unmistakably clear what your intended conclusion is.
You wrote: “The reason why I say this is that you seem completely unaware that the definitions offered to me, both by you and your ilk, all beg your naturalistic worldview.”
I don’t know what you mean by “beg your naturalistic worldview.” I do have definitions, that’s true. But don’t we all? Perhaps when you lay out your argument succinctly, you can provide definitions for your argument’s key terms.
You wrote: “If I define existence to include non-perceivable attributes, that consciousness includes a supernatural mind, etc., I'd like to see you work into your conclusions with those assumptions.”
For one thing, I do not define the concept ‘existence’ in terms of prior or more fundamental concepts. That’s because the concept ‘existence’ is axiomatic: there are no more fundamental concepts. To what would any supposed prior concepts refer if not to something that exists? If they don’t refer to things which exist, what use would they be?
If I discover that something exists, I’m happy to integrate it into the concept ‘existence’, the widest of all concepts. But if there’s no evidence for something actually existing, then I do not integrate it into the concept ‘existence’. Do you think there’s something wrong with this policy? If so, what exactly do you think problem is?
You wrote: “It's stacking the deck.”
I might agree if the definitions were arbitrary or formed expressly for some illicit purpose. But that is not the case with my definitions. So I don’t think there’s any “stacking the deck” on my part.
You wrote: “Of course, you would argue that one can't use my assumptions and the definitions gained from them because they already preclude any conclusions of naturalism and your views concerning O/objectivism (spell it as your prefer).”
If your definitions (whatever they may be – I don’t think I’ve seen any yet) assume the primacy of consciousness, then they are to be rejected given their commitment of the fallacy of the stolen concept.
You wrote: “I appreciate the recommendation to read more, and I am certainly not a philosopher, but rather a biblical scholar; but my field discusses these issues quite a bit when it comes to data, and the fallacies often committed therein are also identifiable within what I have read thus far of Rand's Objectivism. It simply cannot function without first assuming definitions of existence, identity, perception, etc. that all accord with an a priori stance of philosophic naturalism.”
If you think this is what Objectivism does, you clearly don’t know anything about it. Objectivism does not rest on a priori assumptions.
You wrote: “You cannot win an argument merely by defining things in such a way.”
Who’s concerned about winning arguments?
You wrote: “As I said, it only begs the question and then argues that Christians are wrong because they don't let you define the terms according to your worldview.”
That is not why I think Christians are wrong.
You wrote: “NAL, and apparently you as well, have misconstrued what I was saying. I, at no time, have argued that reality within itself shifts into a distortion because it is not perceived correctly by an observer.”
Hodge, here is what you wrote: “That the reality of the object's nature is distorted by the dog's faculties is obvious.” How do you expect this statement to be understood?
You wrote: “I am not arguing that what is perceived is not real. I am arguing that perception itself is limited and therefore can distort the observer's view of what is real.”
Then let’s see your argument for this. So far it appears to me that you’ve simply been asserting that this is the case. Give me an example of a perception which “distort[s] the observer’s view of what is real.” How do you know that a distortion is even involved?
You wrote: “Hence, reality is distorted for him, not ontologically.”
I don’t know what this means.
You wrote: “It is his view of reality that is off.”
This is why I think you’re confusing perception and identification. When we perceive, we’re merely aware of objects as distinct entities. This is an automatic process of our biology. There’s no distorting going on at this point. Beyond this we need to *choose* to identify things what we perceive, and this is a volitional process which involves the formation of concepts to identify and integrate objects into mental units. Thus we can use the concept ‘man’ for instance to denote *all men* who exist now, who have ever existed and who will exist in the future, and anywhere where they might exist (since time and place are omitted measurements).
But when you talk about a person’s “view of reality,” it appears that you have in mind an entire network of positions on various matters about reality which are only possible after one has begun forming concepts – i.e., identifying and integrating what one has perceived. Objectivism holds that we should indeed build a view of reality, but that we should do so in a manner that is wholly consistent with the principle of the primacy of existence – i.e., existence exists independent of conscious activity. This would mean, among other things, that perceiving an object does not alter or “distort” an object, that consciousness does not have the ability to distort or alter reality, that one’s faculty of awareness cannot distort “the reality of [an] object’s nature.”
You wrote: “The dog perceives that no color exists.”
This would at best be overstating the case. I would say rather that the dog perceives things according to the nature of its perceptual faculties given the make-up of its sensory organs and the way perceptual signals are processed by its nervous system. It does not perceive “no colors exist.” It perceives how it perceives because of its nature and the nature of the objects it perceives. It’s an interactive process.
You wrote: “Are you actually making the argument that what the dog perceives is real and that the object really has no color, but when I look at it, it suddenly gains color?”
This is two questions packaged into one. If a dog perceives something, what it perceives is in fact real. It could not perceive something that does not exist. So in answer to the first question, I am affirming that what the dog perceives is real. If it perceives a rose, the rose must be real in order for anything to perceive it.
The second question ignores the fact that color is part of the form in which an organism perceives something visually. The concept ‘color’ presupposes not only an object which appears a certain color, but also a perceiver which perceives the object in a certain form. For example, an object exists, and when light hits it, it reflects light. That reflected light travels at different wavelengths, and depending on the type of receptor cells in the perceiving organism’s eyes, that light is perceived in the form of one color or another, or in a monochromatic or non-color form (e.g., shades of grey). This is a phenomenon called perceptual relativity. You won’t learn about it by studying the bible. But you can learn about it from David Kelley, for instance, who discusses it in his book The Evidence of the Senses.
My point is that when you compare how a dog perceives a rose with how a human being perceives a rose, simply because one species perceives without color variation while the other does, it does not mean that either the dog’s or the human being’s perceptual faculties are “distorting” the rose. Such a conclusion is drawn in haste typically because one fails to take into account the nature of perception in general and perceptual relatively in particular. The result is an instance of the fallacy of the stolen concept: it affirms a concept (in this case ‘distort’) while ignoring or denying its genetic roots. Ask yourself: What exactly is allegedly being “distorted” here? Earlier you affirmed that “the reality of the object's nature is distorted by the dog's faculties.” Then when you are challenged on this, you say that “reality is distorted for him, not ontologically”; and then you say “It is his view of reality that is off.” It changes every time you try to state your position.
You wrote: “Obviously, you think that I am somehow saying this, but it's the exact opposite of what I am saying. The object is real. It is being perceived, but we do not have the ability to know whether we are capable of perceiving all of its attributes or only some of them.”
Actually we do have the ability to discover that we have not perceived all of an object’s attributes. For instance, when my wife brings home a sandwich from the supermarket and I look at it from the outside, I see bread and a little bit of meat and cheese poking out the edges. Then when I bite into it, I discover that there are other ingredients in the sandwich that I did not initially perceive, such as mayo sauce and a tomato. As we explore things, we are definitely in a vantage to discover new attributes about the objects we perceive. So I don’t accept what you say here at all.
You wrote: “To make a judgment, i.e., an identification, of the object is to assume a sufficient amount of knowledge about the object to do so. But there is no way of knowing this.”
I don’t think this is necessarily true either. We can make tentative identifications based on what we do in fact observe directly, all the while recognizing that there is more that we can learn about an object. Identification does not require omniscience; indeed, omniscience would make the task of identifying completely redundant. Reason is the means by which we discover the nature of objects – and continue discovering the nature of things we have already perceived and identified. What’s more, reason enables us to detect and correct errors. But generally speaking, this process – identifying what we have perceived – is only possible after we have perceived something.
You wrote: “Identity, then, can only be for conventional purposes of distinguishing objects AS WE PERCEIVE THEM, but not as they are.”
This is like saying one can only experience San Francisco as approached by I-80 or Highway 1, etc., but never as it “really is.” Since perception is perception of an object(s), perception gives us direct awareness of objects. Thus we are aware of objects directly. We are not perceiving something other than the object we are perceiving. But that is what the view you state here requires us to suppose. But there’s no good reason for supposing this.
You wrote: “Hence, our perception of objects and the true identity of objects themselves may have little to no correlation between them, as they do not with the dog concluding that the object is colorless.”
Two points here:
First, the notion that “our perception of objects the true identity of objects themselves may have little to no correlation between” can and should be dismissed. That’s because perception is causal, and involved in the causality of perception is the object being perceived. The nature of the object contributes to the perceptual process, such as an object’s ability to reflect certain wavelengths and intensities of light. So to say that there may be “little to no correlation between” an object and one’s perception of it, is to ignore the interactive nature of perception.
Second, when you say that the dog concluded “that the object is colorless,” you’ve moved well beyond perception and into the realm of inference, which is a conceptual process. So already you’re losing sight of the original issue.
You wrote: “I would also shy away from arguing from technicalities in definitions in the sense that my definitions are not usually what your group means when you use them.”
Definitions are certainly important. But what are your definitions? And, importantly, where do you get your definitions? I would think that, since the Christian bible is supposed to be, well, your bible, you would have biblical definitions. But the issues that have come up in this discussion are nowhere addressed in the bible. It’s as though its authors were completely unaware of them. And given what poor thinkers they clearly were, I would strongly recommend not being so eager to put stock in much of what is found in the bible. But I realize you want to take what the bible affirms as truth, so my caution will likely fall on deaf ears in your case.
You wrote: “Communication is facilitated by cooperation in allowing one to define his own terms.”
I’m all for all parties to communication making their definitions clear, and being willing to defend them if they’re challenged, or to revise them if they are found defective. I would also emphasize that definition is a crucial step in concept-formation, and thus a theory of definition would come under the heading of a theory of concepts proper. But where would you as a Christian get a theory of concepts? There is no theory of concepts to be found in the bible. And given that Christianity has been splintered into quarreling factions since even the days of the apostle Paul, even if one were to point to some theory of concepts and call it distinctively Christian (and I’ve never encountered one), there would likely be multitudes of Christian adherents who rejected it.
You wrote: “Maybe I'm using perception and I mean what perception does in identifying an object.”
Just as you recognize the need to be clear in our definitions, we also need to be very clear in what is meant by ‘perception’ here. In philosophy, perception proper is not equated with “understanding” or “judgment” or “intuitive grasp,” but rather the process by which sensory qualities are automatically integrated into percepts which give us awareness of objects as distinct entities. “A ‘perception’ is a group of sensations automatically retained and integrated by the brain of a living organism, which gives it the ability to be aware, not of single stimuli, but of entities, of things.” (Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 19)
Perception is automatic, direct awareness of an object as a distinct entity. It is not the same thing as identification. Identification is a conceptual process, undertaken volitionally; we do not automatically identify things. We choose to identify things. When we identify an object, are are singling it out, isolating it from all the other things we are perceiving. Thus there are many things that we perceive which we do not and possibly never will identify. A good demonstration of this is when you’re driving down a street you’ve never been on before. You focus on identifying only those things which you judge to be relevant to your task of safely and successfully driving yourself to your destination; you will perceive many things in your visual field, but most of them you’ll just pass by without ever identifying. But you did perceive them, even if only for a brief instant. So there’s a fundamental distinction here to keep in mind.
You wrote: “Maybe I, as someone not trained in philosophy, am using the terms differently than their technical use. That’s very possible.”
It’s not so much as a matter of technicality, but clarity and consistency. We should have a clear understanding of what we mean by the terms we use, and we should use them consistently. Again, I don’t think you’ll learn about these things by reading the bible.
You wrote: “The easy thing to do if one wants to win an argument through posturing is to assume that one can win by proving a different use of terms.”
I’ll leave such concerns to those who are more concerned with winning arguments than with discovering and validating truth. To be sure, you are dealing with someone who does not think that the purpose of definitions is to win debates.
You wrote: “I likely am using terms differently than Rand, but then I also would since her definitions are not based upon my worldview but hers.”
So what then is the specifically Christian definition of ‘perception’? Where do you get this definition? How do you know it accurately isolates the essentials denoted by the concept ‘perception’? Or, do you think definitions have a different task? If so, what do you think that task is, and where do you learn about these things?
Also, if you have a different definition for ‘perception’, do you have a different concept to denote what Objectivism means by ‘perception’? Clearly we perceive objects as distinct entities. Objectivism has identified this form of awareness. If you have a different understanding of ‘perception’, what concept do you use to identify the form of awareness which Objectivism denotes as perception?
You wrote: “But none of that is essential to what I was arguing. To focus on such things is to evidence a desire to obscure the argument, rather than illumine it in order that one might make it clear and refute it.”
Why not simply lay out your argument in a clear and succinct manner, make it clear what your premises are and what conclusion you think they support, state your definitions, and stop worrying about such trivialities? One of the relevant issues that I’ve detected on several occasions so far is that (a) you make statements that seem quite inordinate, and (b) when readers inquire on those statements you accuse them of misconstruing what you’ve stated and then state something that is different from what you previously stated. So there seems to be some shape-shifting going on, in which case it makes it pretty much impossible to know what exactly you’re trying to argue and how exactly you’re trying to argue it.
You wrote: “Your answers to me evidence nothing but a desire to win an argument, absent of any intent to consider the argument made.”
I don’t think that’s true at all. I’ve tried my best to correct what I think are major philosophical errors in what you’ve presented so far. It’s not motivated by a desire to win an argument, but to enlighten readers who might otherwise be misled.
You wrote: “Indeed, to consider it would cost too much to the neo-atheist, as he wants to continually paint himself as the intellectual superior to his religious counterparts. Yet, as I have argued, and I think anyone with common sense would admit, one must begin his arguments by stating his beliefs and then work out from there. Anything else is academic dishonesty.”
Or, do as I suggested in my first blog entry dealing with your writings: identify your starting point and the means by which you’re (supposedly) aware of what you take your starting point to be.
You wrote: “That said, my statement concerning your argument, that ‘the idea that physical objects make up the sum total of reality is a metaphysic that cannot be confirmed through sensory perception (yet, he still affirms it in his definition of reality)’ uses imprecise language. I should have said, rather, that your view assumes that there is only a naturalistic component to reality that can either be perceived through the human senses or reasoned to using what is perceived by the human senses’."
Actually, my view does not make this assumption. Specifically, I do not begin with some a priori commitment to the view you attribute to me and then use that to guide my assessments and conclusions. Rather, I start the only place I can start: by looking outward, with perceptual awareness of objects that come into contact with my senses. It is on this basis – on the basis of direct perceptual input – that I begin the task of identifying the most basic facts, beginning with the fact that existence exists. I.e., there is a reality. This is fundamental, it is conceptually irreducible, it is directly perceived, and it is implicit in all awareness, even conceptual awareness. So I am not beginning with some “assumption” that “there is only a naturalistic component to reality.” One of the discoveries I’ve made and factor into my worldview is the fact that there is a distinction between the objects I perceive and the conscious activity by which I perceive them, and also that the objects of awareness exist and are what they are independent of consciousness. In other words, existence holds metaphysical primacy over consciousness: existence does not conform to the contents of consciousness, but rather consciousness, in order to identify the objects of awareness on their own terms – i.e., in accordance to their nature, must conform to the objects of awareness. This implies yet a further fact, of which I am wholly aware, namely the fact that there is a fundamental distinction between reality and imagination. So while I am fully capable of imagining invisible magic beings, I recognize that I am in fact merely imagining, and also that what I am imagining is not real. Hence my question to you: how can I reliably distinguish between what you might call a “non-physical” object and something you may merely be imagining? If what you call a “non-physical” object is in fact a mind-independent entity, then you should be able to articulate a reliable method by which I can do this. But so far you haven’t done this. But surely it seems you should agree that, given the fundamental distinction between reality and imagination, this is an important matter for those who affirm the existence of “non-physical” objects – indeed, “supernatural beings” – to contemplate and address.
You wrote: “Your argument, as well as all of your definitions, beg this assumption.”
But as should be clear now, I don’t even make this assumption in the first place. So you are speaking in haste here, on the basis of your own assumptions rather than on the basis of knowing the method which my worldview actually applies.
You wrote: “Now, you want me to show you how your terms beg the questions? I think you can prove it to yourself if you just do the opposite of what you, and Robert, have done with me. Assume my definitions that assume my worldview and then argue from there. Assume consciousness is primarily rooted in a soul and that the brain is secondary mechanism used to function through a physical body in a world which has a physical component to it. Assume that existence includes things that cannot be perceived by the human, as though the human's perceptions and identifications had anything to do with the nature of existence itself. You'll find your arguments to fall flat as they assume what my definitions and ultimate beliefs do not assume.”
But to do this, we would have to jettison facts that we have already discovered and validated. So why should we deny what we know to be true? That’s not begging the question. That’s simply being consistent with the facts that we have discovered. Consciousness is biological. All examples of objectively verifiable consciousness that we have discovered in reality are faculties of biological organisms, whether they are human beings, dogs, fish, snails, etc. We know what physiological structures are responsible for sensation and we know that consciousness develops with the maturity of an organism just as do its other biological functions. There’s no *objective* basis to suppose that consciousness has its source in some supernatural realm which is available to us exclusively by means of imagination. I can imagine invisible conscious beings which float around and have magical powers, for example, but I already know that there’s a fundamental distinction between reality and imagination. Integrating these facts, which I know to be true, is not an instance of begging the question or circular reasoning. If you think it is, you need to revisit your logic texts and recognize that logic requires content, and the only content suitable for knowledge of reality is content that is objective in nature. A person might feel comforted by imagining supernatural spirits and hoping that they’re real, but such a process is not a means of identifying reality. Robert and I recognize this. As one pastor once said, “You know too much.” In essence, he was right: I’m aware of too many facts which vie entirely against the mysticism of god-belief, whether Christian or otherwise.
You wrote: “That was my original, and total, objection to Rand's argument.”
But where have you interacted with any of Rand’s arguments? I haven’t seen it.
You wrote: “It assumes a worldview in order to get her definitions that then supposedly prove her worldview, but that worldview cannot be substantiated by what we perceive without first assuming it.”
I don’t know what you’ve read, but I already know that this is not Rand’s methodology. I’m supposing that you read something in the Objectivist literature, perhaps by Rand herself, bristled in emotional reaction to it, and then supposed that this must be what she’s doing, probably given the fact, known to you at the time, that Rand was an atheist and that her worldview is incompatible with your god-belief. But without knowing the specifics (which you have not presented), I can only suppose that this is what happened (as I’ve seen it many, many times with other Christians).
You wrote: “Hence, only the concepts that are valid are valid because they are gained from our sensory perception, then the nature of reality, that she merely assumes in her worldview, cannot be valid.”
I’d like to know where Rand states this. Rather, her view is that the only concepts that are valid are those which are formed on the basis of objective input and by means of an objective process. Rand wrote a book about this, so her method is available for anyone to examine. I had written: “When one calls something ‘non-physical’, he seems only to be indicating what it is not, not what it is. But objects which exist have positive identity; they are not merely negations floating around."
You wrote: “Because we think analogically, so I can only use what I have experienced in order to explain what I have not. Hence, I use the physical to merely given an analogy as the antithesis of the non-physical.”
So are you saying that you have not experienced a “non-physical” object?
You wrote: “But I can assign positive attributes to it.”
But if you haven’t experienced a “non-physical” object, on what basis do you do this? If you’re aware of positive attributes that what you call a “non-physical” object is supposed to have, why not denote it according to these rather than denoting it by negation? How do you discover what “positive attributes” a “non-physical” object has? How do you determine that it is “non-physical” in the first place? What steps can I perform to come to the same knowledge of these things that you claim to possess? Is it simply accepting some report as true without any independent means available of validating that report? Or, did you perform some objective process by which you discovered the existence of a “non-physical” object (without experiencing it), reliably determined that it is in fact “non-physical,” and reliably distinguish it from something you may merely be imagining?
You wrote: “I just have to use analogy in order to do it.”
What exactly does that mean? Is this because you simply don’t know how else to assign attributes to something you call “non-physical”? What are these positive attributes any way? And how do you know that they belong to what you call “non-physical” objects? Do you just make them up? Or is there some objective method that you use? If it’s the latter, can you spell out the steps you take to make these determinations?
You wrote: “Thus is the nature of finite beings in a box.”
It sounds like you want to claim knowledge but at the same time are saying that it’s knowledge that no one could acquire, that we’re trapped in some way and thus can do nothing to come to the knowledge you claim, albeit analogically, to have. I don’t know how else to integrate what you’re saying at this point.
You wrote: “Only the objects perceived inside the box can be used to define objects outside of it.”
So what you call “non-physical” objects are outside your box? Then how do you identify them? How could you even have awareness of them? How do you know that you’re not making a mistake when you identify them as one thing as opposed to another, or have one set of attributes as opposed to another? What method do you have to guard against error????
You wrote: “To say there are no objects outside of it because of that, or to argue that such makes speaking about them meaningless, depends upon whether you believe one from outside the box has communicated to those inside the box, using their analogical thinking, to convey important elements of existence to them.”
Well, I can always imagine that there’s “one from outside the box” as it were that has “communicated” to me. But I am already aware of what it means to imagine something, and I’m also aware of the fact that there’s a fundamental distinction between reality and imagination. If I cannot reliably distinguish this “one from outside the box” which has allegedly “communicated” to whomever from what may merely be a figment of someone’s imagination, then I have no objective basis to accept such claims as legitimate knowledge of reality. Do you think I should ignore this and believe anyway? If so, why? My mind and is content are extremely important to me. I don’t “just believe” everything people tell me. Again, “you know too much,” so I’ve been told.
You wrote: “Do you think that describing ‘dark matter’ is also something that indicates dark matter is meaningless and should be either described without analogy or discarded as a concept?”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a description of ‘dark matter’, so I couldn’t say. But I’m willing to grant that there may be descriptions of ‘dark matter’ that are meaningless. I do know that in my life, I have never found the need for such a concept.
You wrote: “It is my very worldview that believes that such analogies should be made. It is your very worldview that believes there is no need to do so since nothing outside the box exists.”
It depends what “the box” is intended to represent. We hold that existence exists and only existence exists. If something exists, it exists and is part of existence. The non-existent does not exist. Also, my worldview holds that there’s a fundamental distinction between reality and imagination. Most people implicitly recognize this distinction, but not everyone consistently acknowledges it in all their thinking. We think people should. Do you think that’s wrong?