Examining Stefan's Presuppositionalism
Below I reply to Stefan’s comments.
On Blarko as a replacement for God in the ontological argument: Simply replacing the term ‘God’ with the term ‘Blarko’ changes nothing at all.
But in terms of religious worship, there would be a difference. Unlike the Christian god, for instance, Blarko did not have a son. This would throw everything off kilter for the Christian worldview.
My point in raising the example of the ontological argument in my post replying to your comments, is that it provides an example of the harrowingly anti-conceptual consequences that can arise when one reverses the order of the steps of concept-formation. As I pointed out, in the objective theory of concepts, the step of defining a concept comes at the end of the process of forming concepts. It does not begin by affirming a definition and then going out to try to validate it somehow. The objective procedure adheres to the principle that knowledge of reality begins by looking outward (thus objective - since it bases knowledge on the nature of the objects we discover in the world through a rational process), while the ontological argument exhibits the opposite procedure – the subjective procedure which begins by looking inward (thus subjective - since it basis knowledge on the subject of consciousness – internally consulting the contents of consciousness and taking this as the standard of what exists “out there”).
Objectivism consistently incorporates the objective theory of concepts since one of its founding axioms is the recognition that existence exists independent of conscious activity – i.e., the primacy of existence.
So when the ontological argument begins by affirming the definition of the notion ‘God’, two things immediately come to mind. First of all, since a concept is a mental integration of two or more units (e.g., the concept ‘man’ integrates an indefinite quantity of men), and since we define concepts (as opposed to proper names and grunting), stating that the word “God” has a definition assumes that it is a concept and that it therefore integrates more than one unit. And yet, “God” is supposed to be sui generis - meaning that there is supposed to be only one “God” (and thus a proper name, not a concept). But if there were only one “God,” then “God” could not be a concept, and thus no definition could be applied. Thus the ontological argument bungles its own terms from the inside.
The other thing that comes to mind would of course be the question: Where did this definition of “God” come from? Again, since I already know that we do not begin with definitions (definition is the final step of concept-formation), this definition – in order to be true – must have some objective basis. Indeed, since definitions are in fact statements identifying the distinguishing essentials of the units a concept subsumes, they can be true or untrue. So to determine if the definition which the ontological argument applies to “God” is true, we would need to examine the units subsumed by “God”. But if we could examine the units subsumed by “God,” then we would have awareness of those units independent of an argument that seeks to establish their existence by means of an analysis of the definition of “God,” which would render the entire venture of the ontological argument completely unnecessary. For example, we do not seek to prove the existence of men by an analysis of the definition of the concept ‘man’. Most thinkers would recognize right off that this procedure has things completely backwards. And yet somehow we are expected to assume that this procedure, when employed by the ontological argument, is perfectly legitimate. It isn’t – it represents a complete logical reversal of how knowledge is acquired.
I think that one thing presuppositionalism is attempting to point out is that if one begins their reasoning process univocally, that is to say with one voice, which is to say without reference or any kind of submission to a primary mind, than what occurs is that all philosophy reduces to pragmatism, or what works.
Notice how the notion of “a primary mind” has no objective reference. We have no alternative but to imagine such a thing. We do not acquire awareness of “a primary mind” by looking outward at the world. Rather, it is something one concocts in his imagination and secures in place given other notions that lack objective reference.
Of course, it does not follow that if one does not begin by imagining “a primary mind” to which we are supposedly expected to submit, that his only alternative is therefore some form of “pragmatism, or what works.” Of course, if something works, that’s a good thing. Since as biological organisms we face the fundamental alternative of life vs. death, we need things that are successful. But success does not depend on fleetingly pragmatic consequences which happen to obtain at some given point in time. Rather, it depends on conforming our knowledge and action to facts. Facts are entities in specific contexts. Perception gives us direct awareness of facts. We identify the entities we perceive by means of concepts, and this identification can be true or untrue; there can be errors. Thus we need an objective method by which we identify things, which means: we need reason. Reason is the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by the senses. Applying reason consistently helps us avoid error in our identifications. Identification which conforms to the facts of reality are true identifications, and thus requires us to look outward at those facts first to have awareness of them and then identify and integrate them by means of concepts. Identifications which are obtained by looking inward lack objective reference and thus could not be identifications of facts, but rather ideational content informed by fantasy and emotion. Objectivism takes the looking outward approach while presuppositionalism, as an application of Christian notions, takes the looking inward approach.
I see in the objective theory of concepts this limitation. We establish a concept which has for is members those that meet certain fundamental qualities inherent in the idea by means of measurement-omission.
We agree on the idea.
Agreement among individuals on objective identifications can only come later – after each individual in the party has made some identifications, applied a mutually understood system of visual-auditory symbols to represent those identifications (i.e., words, language, grammar, etc.) and then undertake the task of communicating with one another, just as we attempt to do here on Incinerating Presuppositionalism.
But let us consider for a moment one of these sure concepts, that of “man”. What of great import have we said about the class? What great questions of the philosophers have we answered? We have not reached beyond physics to metaphysics, so we have said nothing metaphysical.
As for the distinction between physics and metaphysics, Stefan’s view seems to be quite different from mine. Peikoff explains what the term ‘metaphysics’ denotes according to Objectivism:
The branch of philosophy that studies existence is metaphysics. Metaphysics identifies the nature of the universe as a whole. It tells men what kind of world they live in, and whether there is a supernatural dimension beyond it. It tells men whether they live in a world of solid entities, natural laws, absolute facts, or in a world of illusory fragments, unpredictable miracles, and ceaseless flux. It tells men whether the things they perceive by their senses and mind form a comprehensible reality, with which they can deal, or some kind of unreal appearance, which leaves them staring and helpless. (Leonard Peikoff, The Ominous Parallels, p. 23)
Are you in a universe which is ruled by natural laws and, therefore, is stable, firm, absolute—and knowable? Or are you in an incomprehensible chaos, a realm of inexplicable miracles, an unpredictable, unknowable flux, which your mind is impotent to grasp? Are the things you see around you real—or are they only an illusion? Do they exist independent of any observer—or are they created by the observer? Are they the object or the subject of man’s consciousness? Are they what they are—or can they be changed by a mere act of your consciousness, such as a wish?
The nature of your actions—and of your ambition—will be different, according to which set of answers you come to accept. These answers are the province of metaphysics—the study of existence as such or, in Aristotle’s words, of “being qua being”—the basic branch of philosophy. (“Philosophy: Who Needs It,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 2)
By contrast, physics is the branch of science which studies the particulars pertaining to matter, energy, motion, force, etc. It is not a branch of philosophy, but rather one of the special sciences – i.e., a systematic application of reason to some specific area of focus. It requires specialized knowledge and in fact rests on general philosophical principles, including comprehensive principles about the universe as such. Thus physics presupposes metaphysics.
We can in no way make any ethical declarations, for without any true metaphysical knowledge, knowledge which cannot be had by a univocal earth bound reasoner, we cannot be sure we have the mind of God/ not God on the subject.
Now compare Stefan’s notion of “metaphysical knowledge” which he characterizes as “knowledge which cannot be had by a univocal earth bound reasoner,” with the alternatives Rand employs in the questions she asks in the statement I quoted above. She asks:
Are you in a universe which is ruled by natural laws and, therefore, is stable, firm, absolute—and knowable? Or are you in an incomprehensible chaos, a realm of inexplicable miracles, an unpredictable, unknowable flux, which your mind is impotent to grasp? Are the things you see around you real—or are they only an illusion? Do they exist independent of any observer—or are they created by the observer?
Yes, the contrasts are indeed striking.
Any [And?] what about epistemology? If God does lie behind the curtain, and has made man in God’s image via the original Word, so that words beget creation beget more words, than an epistemology that does not take this in to account is actually wrong about what is going on with regards “knowing”.
But the primacy of consciousness spills over into the worldview of the adherent as well. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump, so the saying goes. A Christian is at the very least a believer in the Christian god. Thus a Christian is an individual who constructs his rendering of the Christian god, given inputs taken from some narrative source for example, in the confines of his imagination, and then projects it as though it really exists outside himself, when in fact it is merely imaginary. How does he know that his god is real? By “revelation.” Are revelations things that we perceive in the world? No, they are not. Revelations are allegedly communicative transmissions from some supernatural realm into the mind of the believer. So how does he know that he has received a revelation? By looking inward. How does he discover the contents of this alleged revelation? By looking inward. How does he know that he has not misinterpreted this alleged revelation? By looking inward. How does he know anything about the world? He claims to know it by looking inward. Clearly this is all an exercise in metaphysical subjectivism.
It is the case of Neo in the Matrix. The entirety of his world was in one sense false.
Say Neo had been an objectivist. Say he was asked, “are physical objects as you perceive them real in a physical sense?” Surely he would have said, “Yes, that is air I am breathing”. But he would have been wrong, and this in every particular. As it turns out, his whole life is a dream, and he is basically a car battery for some robot.
Consider Peikoff’s treatment of such arbitrary scenarios:
As an example, I will quote from a recent skeptic, who asks: “How can I be sure that, every time I believe something, such as that there are rocks, I am not deceived into so believing by … a mad scientist who, by means of electrodes implanted in my brain, manipulates my beliefs?” According to this approach, we cannot be sure that there are rocks; such a belief is regarded as a complex matter open to doubt and discussion. But what we can properly take as our starting point in considering the matter and explaining our doubt is: there are scientists, there are electrodes, men have brains, scientists can go mad, electrodes can affect brain function. All of this, it seems, is self-evident information, which anyone can invoke whenever he feels like it. How is it possible to know such sophisticated facts, yet not know that there are rocks? The author, who is a professor of philosophy, feels no need to raise such a question. He feels free to begin philosophizing at random, treating advanced knowledge as a primary and using it to undercut the direct evidence of men’s eyes. (Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 140)
Now people often shrug this off as “silly”,
but in fact it is just such questions and details with which philosophy has to do.
Prove the idealist vision of reality is false. Your not going to do it by kicking your foot against a rock.
Again, note the stark contrasts here: Objectivism is this-worldly, taking reality seriously, and learning about it by looking outward; presuppositionalism is other-worldly, taking fantasies seriously, and learning about it by looking inward and calling it “true.”
What Neo needed in this example of what I am saying by analogy, was he needed “outside input”.
To “know” is to be in possession of a true conclusion that is based upon previously known truths all the way back to your presuppositions about metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. Both Bahnsen and Van Til would have said that unbelievers used induction and deduction properly as tools. They just would have said that at the most fundamental level, that of their presuppositions, they were guessing as proven by the fact that the world, full of its univocal reasoning, has come up with numerous and varied sets of presuppositions, none of which they can prove, because having refused to admit God into their paradigm of what it means to know, they are without the one necessary tool for knowing, the blue pill ( I think it was blue).
Stefan mentions “the most fundamental level,” which of course is of greatest importance. If one is off at the most fundamental level of his thinking, everything thereafter is at best suspect. Of course, most thinkers are not entirely consistent throughout the sum of their knowledge. Many borrow from other worldviews. For example, Christians borrow from Objectivism when they make statements like “saying that it is so doesn’t make it so” or “wishing doesn’t make it so.” These are expressions of the primacy of existence, a principle which Christianity rejects and which is entirely discordant with the teachings of Christianity. By contrast, Christianity assumes the primacy of consciousness. An obvious example is the Christian doctrine of creation: the Christian god simply wished the universe into being, and voilá, reality conformed itself to the Christian god’s wishes.
Another clear example of the primacy of consciousness can be observed in the following:
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9)
So no, Van Til and Bahnsen were not onto anything new. People have been seeking ways to negate the consciousness of other men, and even their own, for thousands of years. Van Til and Bahnsen were just a new batch of witch doctors – different packaging, but surely the same poisonous brew.
I get that Objectivism makes sense to you, and to many others, but not to all.
There is only one Objectivism. There are many varieties of mysticism. Christianity is one general category of mysticism, and yet within Christianity there are hundreds if not thousands or even more sub-varieties. Islam is another variety, with its own internal divisions, factions and schisms. There are eastern religions as well. There are tribal animistic religions. There are other forms of theism as well. But there is only one Objectivism. There is only one worldview which begins with the axioms of existence, consciousness and identity and firmly and consistently recognizes and adheres to the primacy of existence. All forms of mysticism represent different consequences of rejecting all of these.
Most people have a kind of hodgepodge of philosophical notions, most of them far from being explicitly identified and understood, sort of a tossed salad of ideas mixing the mystical with the objective and thereby teeming with contradictions. When a Christian, for example, takes action to produce values for himself and preserve those values that he already has, he is not applying Christian principles of self-sacrifice and anti-selfishness; on the contrary, he is making use of principles that are completely alien to Christianity. The Christian worships a god which is said to have allowed its own child to be tortured and executed by vicious, evil people, and yet it did nothing to intervene and protect its child from these evil-doers. And yet we do not see many Christians themselves acting this way. But the Christian turns around and tells us that only his worldview provides an absolute basis for morality, even though his worldview imagines that there is such a thing as “a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists” (Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready, p. 172), which he says his god has! What good is a standard of good when it can justify any evil that it allows to take place? Blank out!
Arguing about each others positions from the tree tops of our respective world views does no good.
So yes, I agree – the tree tops is not where we need to be focusing. Let’s get right down to the roots. Let’s look at the issue of metaphysical primacy. Let’s see who’s looking outward at the facts and who’s looking inward into one’s own fantasies.
We have to stand in one anothers shoes, and show that from that position, that our presuppositions stand together as coherent or not.
1. Do you acquire knowledge of the facts by looking inward or by looking outward?
2. Does wishing make it so? Yes (the primacy of consciousness) or No (the primacy of existence)? Why?
3. Does saying that something is the case make it the case? Yes (the primacy of consciousness) or No (the primacy of existence)? Why?
4. Is there a fundamental distinction between reality and imagination? Or, do you think they are one and the same? Or, do you think they overlap at some point?
5. Can you explain to me in a clear, logical manner how I can reliably distinguish between what you call “God” and what you may merely be imagining?
Of course my Christianity does not make sense from outside of Christianity.
God has the right to command and be obeyed. He has, therefore, the right to tell us what we must believe. (John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 51)
Applying non Christian presuppositions to Christianity shows it to be absurd. I mean come on.
I believe someone rose from the dead, which is looney tunes given say atheistic presuppositions about the non existence of God.
However, if you honor me as a thinker by standing within my presuppositions about metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, no problem. Still unusual, but not problematic.
The problem comes in supposing that what is merely imaginary is real. Now when I read the gospel narratives and imagine Jesus rising from the dead, I know that I am in fact imagining. I know this because this is a volitional type of mental activity that I perform in my mind. While I am real and I really am imagining, what I am imagining is not real. But belief in what the Christian worldview would not be possible without blurring this fundamental distinction between what is real and what is merely imaginary. Thus to accept the Christian worldview, one must ignore this distinction in order to allow certain figments of one’s own imagination to be treated as though they were real, when in fact they are merely figments of the imagination and nothing more.
How I see all univocal systems of reasoning, is that they cannot speak intelligently about basic philosophical categories of inquiry, because they are subject to the limitations inherent in a man on his own.
That does not mean that their members do not “get on in the world” or make right inferences. It just means that they cannot justify what they are doing beyond being pragmatic from within their univocal system.
What they need is analogical knowledge, or a connection to the one who resides behind the veil, which I believe they certainly have.
That it is hard to hear someone else from their own context, and that you refuse to do it, is shown by your statement:"If deduction came first, what would be deduced, and from what would it be deduced? We have already seen above that, if deduction is the process of moving from general information to a specific conclusion, then clearly we need that information first.”Your correct, in a godless universe.
Stefan then opined:
It is amazing that you quoted me, and then immediately said that you did not hear me.
Stand in my shoes. Part of my presuppositional framework is that God projects reality via speaking so that God’s mind has primacy over objects, God’s word over the objects it creates. Word begets creation begets reflexive language.
Given my starting point, there is coherence in what I say.
Given your starting point, what I say makes no sense. I guess we are going to have to appeal to a higher authority, one who can tell us if I am right or you are right. Oh that’s right, we can’t, at least not from your shoes.
Good slam by the way on the whole Stefan trying to declare as true something after undermining deduction by undermining induction. You nailed that one. In perfect form I said, “there are no absolutes”. What a jackass.
Of course, I do not believe that there are no absolutes. and I like what you bring to the table from objectivism as a means for explaining what we are doing when we use language. I was more interested in how you would save the inductive/ deductive process.
The notion of God assumes the primacy of God’s consciousness, not man’s.
But the primacy of consciousness is undoubtedly involved on the part of the believer as well. We saw this above. Indeed, the believer has no alternative but to imagine the god he claims to worship, and yet he insists that this god that he imagines is real. Any “epistemology” that begins by looking inward to the contents of one’s own consciousness as opposed to looking outward at the facts of reality, is an expression of the primacy of consciousness in the realm of thought. And this is evident throughout Christianity. Consider the doctrines of revelation, salvation and prayer for starters.
Your statement: "To be sound, a logical proof must rest entirely on the primacy of existence" is a presupposition, not proven truth.
Stefan, however, is using the term ‘presupposition’ to mean something closer to an unproven axiom – some statement or affirmation taken for granted or assumed to be true without proof. But it is not the case that what I stated above is a presupposition in this sense.
The very concept of truth presupposes and rests on the primacy of existence. This is because a truth is an identification of facts formulated by means of an objective method – i.e., reason. Facts are what they are independent of consciousness, and as such they instantiate the primacy of existence. Without facts informing our identifications, we cannot claim that our identifications are true. Thus, since truth rests on facts which are what they are independent of consciousness, identifications which are true must be wholly consistent with the primacy of existence. Subsequently, to be sound, a logical proof must be formally valid and have true premises - which means: its premises must rest entirely on the primacy of existence.
Consider the alternative – i.e., the supposition that the concept of truth is compatible with the primacy of consciousness. So we have two individuals – both conscious agents – making statements about the capital of the state of New York. Person A recognizes that true statements need to be informed by facts which obtain independent of anyone’s beliefs, wishing, feelings, imagination, etc., and affirms that Albany is the capital of the state of New York. On the other hand, Person B rejects the view that truth must rest on facts that obtain independent of conscious activity and declares “Schenectady is the capital of the state of New York because I want it to be the capital of New York!” Unfortunately for Person B, truth does not conform to conscious intentions any more than facts do, and that is because to be true, statements identifying facts must conform to the facts they identify, not to conscious activity.
Notice how Person B would still be wrong if he stated that Albany is the capital of New York because he wants it to be the capital of New York. Truth is contextual because identification is contextual. If the context of the identification includes the assumption of the primacy of consciousness at any point, it must be rejected. Truth is only possible on the basis of objective identification, and identification can only be objective if its entire context is wholly consistent with the primacy of existence.
So I stand by my statement above that “To be sound, a logical proof must rest entirely on the primacy of existence,” and since I can prove it by citing the facts which validate it, it is not an unproven presupposition that one must accept without rational justification.
There are other presuppositions that disagree with yours.
And back in the United States where I lived before this, I was surrounded by people who routinely confuse reality with their imagination, presupposing that what they imagine is real because of the impact it has on their emotions, and using their emotions to justify their confusion of the imaginary with the real. They are called Christians. And they go door-to-door sometimes, interrupting my privacy to “share the gospel,” a fantasy which they call “historical” and interpret as having the power to put all these obligations on people, principally an obligation to sacrifice one’s own self-interests on behalf of a deity that one can only imagine.
So yes, I realize that many people – indeed, the vast majority of human beings – have “presuppositions” which differ from mine. But the very fact that there are such differences confirms that human beings need an objective method by which the facts of reality can be discovered and properly identified such that we can confidently know what the truth is. Notice that both the Buddhist and the Christian worldviews both share the same fundamentals: mystical reality beyond the reach of the senses, the primacy of looking inward over looking outward as the means of “knowing,” the repudiation of selfishness, collectivistic politics, etc. They’re essentially the same, only the packaging is different.
By what right other than the supremacy of your mind over mine do you dogmatically assert that you are right and that I am wrong.
What I hope Stefan would take away from this is an enlightened understanding about the fundamentals underlying the notions of true and untrue, right and wrong, accurate and mistaken, and recognize their nature with respect to the issue of metaphysical primacy – i.e., the proper orientation between the subject of consciousness and the objects of consciousness. See for example my discussion above about the concept ‘truth’ necessarily presupposing the primacy of existence. Stefan will not learn about these things by reading the bible.
I am on an equal footing with you as far as being authoritative goes, which is shifting sand for both of us.
You appear to be suffering from the irrational/ rational tension.
Assuming something to be true so completely that you don’t even realize that you are assuming it.
I own my presuppositions as just that. Apparently you do not.
I will keep reading.
Thanks for the response in book form.
I do think is some ways you have misread Bahnsen, but I am not interested in defending him. Given a different set of circumstances, he would have been a mass murderer, by his own admission. That Theonomy is scary shit.
Every dictator is a mystic, and every mystic is a potential dictator. A mystic craves obedience from men, not their agreement. He wants them to surrender their consciousness to his assertions, his edicts, his wishes, his whims—as his consciousness is surrendered to theirs. He wants to deal with men by means of faith and force—he finds no satisfaction in their consent if he must earn it by means of facts and reason. Reason is the enemy he dreads and, simultaneously, considers precarious; reason, to him, is a means of deception; he feels that men possess some power more potent than reason—and only their causeless belief or their forced obedience can give him a sense of security, a proof that he has gained control of the mystic endowment he lacked. His lust is to command, not to convince: conviction requires an act of independence and rests on the absolute of an objective reality. What he seeks is power over reality and over men’s means of perceiving it, their mind, the power to interpose his will between existence and consciousness, as if, by agreeing to fake the reality he orders them to fake, men would, in fact, create it.
Last note: I do not see any reason to refute the tree top observations of objectivism. It is not the details but the presuppositions I am interested in. Sorry I did not go in to your list of presuppositions for objectivist thought.
by Dawson Bethrick