Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bolt on Evidence and the Need to Take a Claim Seriously

As with many Christian apologists, Chris Bolt exhibits a special knack for embarrassing himself. He recently took a comment of mine and has attempted to interact with it in a blog of his own. The results are, well, rather dismal.

The statement of mine which Bolt has seized upon is the following:

If there is no evidence for a proposition, there is no need to take it seriously.

Since context is important, I will repeat my above quote with its original surrounding statements (see my 11 Oct. comment here):

Justin stated: “There is absolutely no evidence that he universe will start acting chaotic the next second…”

Chris: “This is irrelevant to the problem, though I think Dawson would disagree with me in this.”

Me: “Yes, I do disagree. Knowledge (objective knowledge, that is) is built on factual evidence, not on hypotheses which are arbitrary in nature (rightly understood – see OPAR pp. 163-171). If there is no evidence for a proposition, there is no need to take it seriously. If someone tells you that he has a dragon living in his garage but can produce no evidence for it, there’s no need to take that claim seriously. Feel free to disagree, Chris.”

I’m guessing that by posting an entire blog devoted to grappling with this one statement (and an example) which I made in a comment of one of my own blogs, Chris Bolt is expressing disagreement with some or all of what I had stated above.

In the leading statement, Justin Hall points out to Bolt essentially what I had stated: On the Objectivist view, if a proposition has no evidential support for it, there is no need to take it seriously. Of course, a skeptic (someone whom Bolt says we “must” take seriously) may come along and claim that our projections of future happenings are inherently unreliable because the universe could suddenly start behaving chaotically in the next moment. Justin’s point was that, if there is no evidence to support the supposition that the universe could start behaving chaotically in the next moment, it is not worth our attention. It is clear that Bolt does not think one should require evidence to take such proposals seriously. That may “work” in his faith-based epistemology, but Objectivism has more important tasks for its theory of knowledge.

To inform my point, I cited the fact that objective knowledge is built on factual evidence rather than on arbitrary hypotheses. In addition to this, I gave a reference which further expands on what I mean here. I also gave an example to illustrate my point.

In his blog, Bolt seems anxious to discredit the principle which I stated, but has a very hard time doing so. A noteworthy deficiency in his analysis is its glaring ignorance of the content of the source which I cited to back up my position. It is clear from what Bolt has written, both here and elsewhere, that he has no informed understanding of the Objectivist position to which I alluded. He has attempted to interact with my position without knowing “the fullness thereof.”

In challenging my statement, Bolt raised four concerns, beginning with the following:

First, there needs to be a definition of “evidence”. Different people consider different things to constitute evidence. One needs to know what type of evidence one must require in order to take a proposition seriously.

Peikoff provides a definition of ‘evidence’ in the source which I cited in my comment (OPAR). Had Bolt taken the time to familiarize himself with the Objectivist position before attempting to defeat it, he might have seen that his first concern has already been addressed in the literature.

Next,Bolt states:

Second, there needs to be evidence provided for this proposition itself. Since the proposition is not self-evident, and since no other evidence for accepting the proposition is provided with the proposition, then there is no reason to take it seriously according to the proposition itself.

Same problem here. The evidence for the position is the Objectivist analysis of knowledge, beginning with the primacy of existence, and including the objective theory of concepts. This is why I pointed out to Bolt that knowledge, on the objective conception of it, is built on factual evidence as opposed to arbitrary hypotheses. Again, this concern has already been addressed in the literature, and Bolt would have known this if he were familiar with his subject matter.

Bolt’s next concern is:

Third, it is not clear what is meant by “no evidence”. An individual having no evidence for a proposition is a very different matter from there being no evidence at all to be had by anyone at anytime for a proposition. An individual may have no evidence for a proposition and hence not take it seriously when there is in actuality evidence for the proposition to be taken seriously. There may actually be no evidence at all for a proposition, but how a limited subject would come to know this might become a problem depending upon the proposition.

It’s curious to me that Bolt does not understand the phrase “no evidence.” “No evidence” means “no evidence.” I see no reason to make this more difficult. My statement was not “if a person has difficulty producing evidence for his claim, then there is no need to take it seriously,” or “if there is in actuality evidence for a proposition but an individual may not have it, there’s no need to take it seriously.” As I said, “no evidence” means “no evidence.” Bolt seems to be having trouble dealing with the principle which I stated on its own terms.

Last, Bolt writes:

Fourth, if there is evidence for a proposition then one presumably needs to take it seriously. It would need to be explained why anyone would “need” to do so, however, and this without appealing to other evidenced propositions lest an infinite regress be the result.

My statement does not affirm – nor is it intended to imply – the view that one does in fact need to take a proposition seriously if it has evidence for it. This would be determined by one’s hierarchy of values. Observing that claims of a certain type (e.g., those lacking evidential support) do not impute a need to take them seriously, does not entail that claims of any other type (e.g., those which do have evidential support) do impute such a need. It may be the case that the proposition in question does in fact have evidential support for it (such as which team won last night’s pennant game), and yet represents no impact on one’s values to begin with (since he couldn’t care less about sports scores). No one “needs” to do anything but die, and this comes naturally. The activities which we undertake in life, are undertaken by choice. Whether it’s going off to work, conversing with a friend, buying groceries, putting the car into park, looking at the calendar, calling a loved one, or writing a blog entry, each of these things we do by choice. This is all explained in the source which I have cited in my comment. So again, Bolt’s concern has already been answered in the literature, he’s simply unfamiliar with it.

Next Bolt focused on the example which I gave to illustrate my point:

If someone tells you that he has a dragon living in his garage but can produce no evidence for it, there’s no need to take that claim seriously.

In response to this, Bolt writes:

Unless the term refers to varanus komodoensis or some of its relatives that may share the label, dragons are known to be mythical creatures and therefore would not be found living in garages. This is the real reason someone might not take the claim in question seriously. There are problems with the statement quoted above even if we substitute a non-mythical entity into it. Consider, “If someone tells you that he has a llama kushing in his garage but can produce no evidence for it, there’s no need to take that claim seriously.” Is this statement true?

Not at all. Just because an individual cannot produce evidence for some claim does not mean that the claim is false, nor does it mean that there is no evidence for the claim. It may be that the claim is true and that there is evidence for accepting the claim but the individual making the claim cannot produce said evidence. It has been said, “A lack of evidence is not evidence of lack”. There is no reason to not take such a claim about a llama kushing in a garage seriously, even when the individual making the claim produces no evidence for it. Please note that taking a claim seriously and accepting the claim as true are two different things.

Bolt does bring up a good point here. Essentially, he asks: to what specifically does the claimant refer by his use of the word “dragon”? This of course would need to be sorted out if one does choose to undertake the project of investigating his claim. He could refer to a Komodo dragon, as Bolt suggests, or to a mythical beast mentioned in a storybook. He could even be referring to his mother-in-law, or perhaps a nasty tenant. But in either case, if we go to his garage and find no evidence of the “dragon” he claims is living there, and he can produce no evidence to support it, why would anyone still need to take it seriously?

Bolt apparently thinks we do need to take it seriously, though it is unclear why he thinks this, as this is the point he is trying to make in regard to the claim that “he has a llama kushing in his garage.” Now of course, llamas do exist, and if I understand what “kushing” is supposed to mean, I suppose this is an action possible for llamas to perform. Even given these premises, it is unclear why anyone would consequently have a need to take this claim seriously. But supposing we do choose to investigate it, but when we go to this fellow’s garage we find no evidence of a llama, and he is unable to produce evidence for any llama, why suppose anyone has a need to take his claim that he has a llama in his garage seriously any further? Bolt does not explain this.

Bolt states that simply because the claimant is unable to produce evidence for his claim, this does not mean that there is no evidence for it. That’s fine. But of course, I did not argue this. Bolt draws from this scenario that “there is no reason not to take such a claim about a llama kushing in a garage seriously,” but this too is not what I argued. I specifically stated that there’s no need to take such a claim seriously. A person may have no need to take a claim seriously, but still think of reasons for deciding to take it seriously. For instance, perhaps you’ve always wanted to see a llama kushing. One may see this as sufficient reason to pursue the claim further. Other reasons could be conceived as well. But what I have stated does not rule out such possibilities. Indeed, he may have evidence that there is a llama kushing in his garage, but this in itself is insufficient to imply that we have a need to take it seriously. Bolt fails to demonstrate any need to take such claims seriously, thus my statement remains intact.

Then Bolt quoted another statement of mine:

To affirm a possibility, one needs at least some evidence to support it, and no evidence against it.

Apparently he finds this highly summarized view of possibility deficient, for he states:

What was stated previously regarding propositions might be applied now to alleged possibilities. An individual having no evidence for an alleged possibility is a very different matter from there being no evidence at all to be had by anyone at anytime for an alleged possibility. An individual may have no evidence for an alleged possibility and hence not take it seriously when there is in actuality evidence for the alleged possibility to be taken seriously. There may actually be no evidence at all for an alleged possibility, but then how a limited subject would come to know this might become a problem depending upon the alleged possibility.

It’s important to keep in mind here that my point is intended to be taken in regard to first-person epistemology, not third-person narrative mode, a perspective which many philosophers seem to have a hard time shaking. If an individual has no evidence at all to support an alleged possibility, on what epistemological grounds does he then decide to take that alleged possibility seriously? Bolt cites none at all, let alone compelling grounds. So what is Bolt’s point here?

Is the individual expected to say to himself, “I know that I have no evidence to support this alleged possibility, but there may be evidence that I’m not aware of, so I should take it seriously anyway”? Wouldn’t he need at least some evidence for the supposition that there may be evidence that he’s not aware of? Or is his ignorance itself supposed to be taken as sufficient evidence? Wouldn’t this lead down to an argument from ignorance? Is the individual not allowed to go on the facts that he has discovered and validated?

Now it should also be borne in mind that the principles which I have affirmed in no way prohibit an individual from expanding his knowledge as he makes discovery of new facts. Context is vital here. For it is within the context of the knowledge which we have already validated that we integrate newly discovered facts.

Also, it seems that Bolt has missed the second half of the principle which I stated, namely “and no evidence against it.” If someone is told that something is possible, and he is given no evidence to support it, knows of no evidence which supports it, and in fact has evidence against it, then he is right to reject it. But perhaps Bolt doesn’t like this either. That’s too bad. For him.

Take for example the claim that the Christian god exists. What Christians proffer as evidence to support the claim that it exists continually turns out under examination not merely to be insufficient, but often to be contrived, misconstrued, or simply empty. Meanwhile, there is ample evidence against the alleged truth of god-belief claims (such as the primacy of existence). Given this context, one is more than justified in rejecting the Christian’s god-belief claims. This entails the fact that one can only accept god-belief claims by ignoring, or in fact denying, the over-arching context which the primacy of existence provides for knowledge in the first place, since the primacy of existence is axiomatic, undeniable, and inescapable. The theist himself assumes its truth, while his theism denies its truth.

Bolt then produced a hypothetical example of someone considering the claim that the earth is not flat presumably without the benefit, for example, of modern technology (such as trans-oceanic seafaring, space travel, and the like):

Consider the Objectivist man living long ago who observed the flatness of Earth about him. When presented with the alleged possibility that Earth is not flat, no evidence was found to support it. His observations of the flatness of Earth about him were taken to be evidence against the alleged possibility that Earth is not flat. He therefore could not affirm even the possibility that Earth is not flat. Rather, he exclaimed, “On my worldview, I work from the evidence, not from hypothetical ‘possibilities’ which are essentially no different from fantasies posing as considerations which need to be taken seriously”. The man never came into contact with what he would consider evidence to support the position that Earth is other than flat and thus could not affirm the possibility that Earth is not flat. He even thought he had good evidence against the possibility. His conclusion was that it is impossible that Earth is not flat. Perhaps the man was mistaken due to the Objectivist view of possibility he adhered to, or perhaps it is impossible that Earth is other than flat. The latter conclusion is false and the former is true. The man was mistaken due to the Objectivist view of possibility. The view is seriously flawed.

I highly doubt that the would-be “Objectivist man living long ago” would, as a matter of default, simply assume that the earth is flat. He would require evidence for this position just as much as he would need evidence for any other position on the matter. For instance, in his experience of the earth, he may see primarily mountainous regions. I myself grew up surrounded by mountains and hills; this landscape in no way suggested to me that the earth is “flat.”

In the present case which Bolt asks us to consider, it must be noted that, in order to make an evaluation of the would-be Objectivist’s reasoning concerning the claim that the earth is flat or possibly flat, we would need to know what specifically he was told. The claim that the earth is not flat does not exclusively entail the understanding that the earth is spherical, for instance. One could deny the earth’s flatness, but affirm that it has the shape of an undulating wave, that it is curvedly polyhedral, or that it has the shape of a turtle’s shell (I’m reminded of The Portable Presuppositionalist, p. 134.n15). Again, context is vital here. When this individual was “presented with the alleged possibility that Earth is not flat,” what specifically was the alternative indicated? Why wasn’t evidence provided in support of it? What indicators accompanied the claim that the earth is not flat? The scenario which Bolt presents here tends to require us to consider knowledge claims in a sterile environment, when in fact we each bring an enormous context to the knowledge claims we are asked to consider. I’d think even a presuppositionalist could appreciate this.

If Bolt is supposing that there was no evidence available to the peoples of the past to support the inference that the earth is in fact spherical, he’s wrong. Aristotle cited ample observational evidence – for instance, the visibility of certain constellations given one’s latitude on the earth’s surface, the shadow cast by the earth on the moon during an eclipse – that the earth is in fact spherical. (As a side note, Rand herself would probably argue that the Objectivist of the “long ago” past was Aristotle, as her philosophy is predominantly influenced by Aristotle.) Subsequent observations added to this body of evidence. Ironically, for instance, it’s where the earth is “flattest” – such as on the surface of lake or sea – that its curvature is most apparent. Ships on the horizon, for instance, appear to displace significantly more water (i.e., sit lower in the water) than they are known to.

It should also be pointed out that the earth as a whole is not perceivable in its entirety to anyone standing on its surface. So an individual cannot reasonably be expected to know automatically things about its overall shape – whether flat or spherical or something else – that would be confirmable only from such a vantage. In biblical times, for instance, it was generally assumed that the earth was in fact a flat surface resting on pillars. In Isaiah 40:22, for instance, we read of what the author calls “the circle of the earth.” Curiously, many Christian apologists cite this verse as evidence that its authors were aware of the fact that the earth is actually spherical in shape. But a circle is not a sphere. A circle, like a disc, is flat, not spherical.

In his conclusion, Bolt states the following:

In any event, given Dawson’s rule, “If there is no evidence for a proposition, there is no need to take it seriously” there is no reason to take his statement “To affirm a possibility, one needs at least some evidence to support it, and no evidence against it” seriously. It may be that it should not even be considered possibly true.

The evidence which I offer for the truth of my statements includes (but is not limited to) the following:

(a) the axioms, especially the axiom of consciousness (consciousness is consciousness of something),

(b) the primacy of existence (existence exists independent of consciousness),

(c) the integration of (a) and (b) – i.e., the implications which the primacy of existence have in regard to knowledge, e.g., the task of consciousness is to perceive and identify its objects, not create them or dictate what their identity should be, etc., and

(d) the fact that concepts are ultimately formed on the basis of perceptual input.

Epistemologically, the only position open to us given these premises is that knowledge (which for man is conceptual in nature) ultimately requires the basis of perceptual input, i.e., evidence collected from reality which we observe and from which we form our initial concepts. Bolt is welcome to deny any of these points (a) through (d). But what would he offer in their place? Would he deny the truth of the axiom of consciousness? That would be directly self-defeating. Would he deny the truth of the primacy of existence? He would be making use of the principle while denying it. Would he argue that we should not integrate the axiom of consciousness with the principle of the primacy of existence? He would be arbitrarily putting up walls of separation between principles whose truths are self-evident. Would he deny the fact that man’s knowledge is conceptual in nature? He would need to do this without using concepts. Would he try to argue that concepts are not ultimately formed on the basis of perceptual input? He would be admitting that, on his worldview, concepts have no objective basis. For that matter, where does he get a theory of concepts? Or does he even have one? Etc.

These problems are just the tip of the iceberg if he wants to dispute my position.

By Dawson Bethrick

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Chris Bolt on Hume and Induction

Presuppositionalist Chris Bolt has raised some more questions about induction in his recent comments to this blog of mine.

Chris Bolt writes:

One would presumably think that if Hume is outdated and his problem easily dealt with it would not require so much writing to provide an answer to my questions.

Actually, what takes a lot of time and energy, two commodities which are in short supply for me presently, is undoing Hume’s many errors. Or, does Bolt think that Hume made no errors? Does Bolt believe that Hume’s analysis of induction is free of any error? Does Bolt think that Hume’s argument about induction is sound? If Bolt thinks this, then he would require much schooling to understand where Hume went wrong than I have time for. Then again, why would this be my responsibility?

But I’m hoping to provide some pointers here for Bolt, though I’m supposing much of it will go over his head given his unfamiliarity with Objectivism.

Bolt writes:

Recall from what Dawson has written that I am still awaiting a response from him. What he has provided thus far does not suffice. His comments indicate that he has more to say in order to try and answer my questions.

Yes, I have oodles to say about induction. But much of it has already been stated in other sources. I have already referred my readers to David Kelley’s treatment of the topic (for instance, see here). Kelley addresses the matter directly, and points out several of Hume’s errors in framing the matter. I would also recommend Ayn Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, which develops her theory of concepts. The importance of a good understanding of concepts cannot be over-emphasized, since induction is a conceptual process. You won’t learn this fact from the bible, though. Nor will you learn it from Greg Bahnsen.

Unfortunately, the lack of a conceptual understanding of induction does not stop presuppositionalists from promoting Hume’s problem of induction as a topic of debate with non-Christians. They apparently think not only that Hume’s conception of the problem needs to be addressed on Hume’s terms (which assumes that Hume’s analysis of induction is faultless), but also that belief in the Christian god somehow overcomes the problem. The operative implication of the inductive version of TAG (the “transcendental argument for the existence of ‘God’”) goes essentially as follows: if non-Christians can produce no satisfactory answer to Hume (again, taking the validity of Hume’s analysis of induction for granted), then Christianity is vindicated. Why? Because only a supernatural being such as the Christian god can guarantee the uniformity of nature.

As Brian Knapp writes:

In the nature of the case, the answer to the question of why it is reasonable to assume nature is and will continue to be uniform must originate from outside nature itself; that is, outside of man and his experiences. Any answer that originates from within nature will always ultimately be justified through the use of induction, as for any solution to apply to the unexperienced realm requires applying a conclusion drawn from experience to that which has not yet been experienced. (“Induction and the Unbeliever,” The Portable Presuppositionalist, p. 131)

The first thing I notice about this analysis of induction and its justification, is that it does not benefit from an informed understanding of the conceptual nature of induction itself. One of the points which Kelley makes in his interaction with Hume is that "inductive generalization is not the only way to extract information from the senses" (Universals and Induction). In fact, inductive generalization is not even the primary means by which we gather information of reality through the senses. On the contrary, we form our initial concepts on the basis of immediate perceptual input. The profound implications which this process has for expanding our knowledge beyond that which we perceive in the immediate moment is completely overlooked by the type of analysis which Knapp presents in his paper. Indeed, we would not even be able to perform inductive inferences without first having formed concepts in the manner which the objective theory of concepts explicates.

My view is not only that thinkers need to make a more critical examination of Hume’s conception of induction, but also that we should recognize the inductive implications which concept-formation provides even before our very first inductive inference. I don't know why this should be so controversial, unless someone is trying to hide something.

This approach seems completely foreign to the presuppositionalist mindset, as if it had never been considered. Apologist James Anderson, for instance, has written an essay titled Secular Responses to the Problem of Induction. In this essay, Anderson reviews several of the more popular attempts to address the problem of induction, including those endorsed by Frederick Will, Max Black, Karl Popper, Hans Reichenbach, et al. Curiously, Anderson does not consider Kelley’s response to Hume. Indeed, I don’t think it would serve Anderson’s ends very well if he had. What is common to all the attempted answers to the problem of induction which Anderson does survey, is the fact that none of them points out that Hume’s analysis of induction is faulty. Additionally, none of those attempted solutions addresses induction’s nature as a conceptual process. When I pointed out to Anderson that

I'm always surprised, when reading a paper that attempts to deal with induction, that there is no discussion of concepts, the nature of their forming, or their relationship to inductive generalization, as if these issues did not matter

Anderson’s telling response was:

Well, it's not immediately obvious to me how the nature of concept formation bears either on the description of the problem of induction or on the development of cogent solutions.

I call this admission “telling” because it really tells us all we need to know. The problem here is not that Hume’s analysis of induction is faultless, but that many thinkers (perhaps most?) fail to understand induction as an extension of the process of abstraction, i.e., of concept-formation. Anderson’s own conclusion, based on his survey of a select sampling of attempts to solve the problem of induction, is that

it is evident that there presently exists no satisfactory solution to the problem of induction from a secular perspective. (Secular Responses to the Problem of Induction)

I find this deliciously ironic, for it is itself an example of a hasty generalization, i.e., a faulty inductive conclusion.

In short, the solution to the problem of induction involves two fundamental tasks: first, correcting the errors in Hume’s understanding of induction (Hume did not understand induction as a conceptual process; neither do presuppositionalists); and second, recognizing how Rand’s theory of concept-formation provides the working model of inductive generalization (as well as answers many of the misconceptions which attend the conventional understanding of the problem of induction, such as when Hume’s analysis of inductive reasoning is taken for granted).

But in my opinion, Bolt is not anywhere near ready for any of this, as his own worldview has burdened his mind with much unnecessary baggage. For instance, he seems not to have understood one of the points which Justin Hall proffered in his own 29 Sept. comment:

A things identity in totality really does not change, for that very identity includes all the ways in which it can change, and if it changes in a way not included in our identity of it, well we expand and improve of conceptualization of its identity.

Now, I understand what Hall is trying to say here. But I don’t expect Bolt to get it. Not now anyway. Bolt’s own reaction to Hall’s statement confirms that he does not understand how this factors into a proper understanding of induction.

But when it comes to a proper understanding of induction, where would Bolt go to find this? To the bible?

Please, this is a serious matter.

It would seem that a presuppositionalist – i.e., someone who feigns to be concerned about “presuppositions” – would have more appreciation for the foundations of inductive reasoning than Bolt displays. That is why I asked him to make it clear whether or not he disputes the truth of the Objectivist axioms.

Specifically, this is what I asked Bolt in my 17 Sept. comment:

In the meantime, I wanted to ask you if you dispute the truth of the Objectivist axioms. They are the following:

1. The axiom of existence: This is the axiom which states “existence exists.” It is the explicit recognition that something exists, that there is a reality.

2. The axiom of consciousness: This is the axiom which states “consciousness is conscious of something.” It is the recognition that, to be conscious of the fact that things exist (the axiom of existence), one must be conscious.

3. The axiom of identity: This is the axiom which states “to exist is to be something” (as opposed to “nothing”). This is the recognition that a thing which exists is itself, that to exist is to have a nature, an identity, that A = A.

4. The primacy of existence: This is the recognition that “existence exists independent of consciousness,” i.e., that the nature of an entity is what it is independent of the activity of consciousness.

If you dispute the truth of any of these axioms, it is important for your understanding that you make your contentions known before going any further. If your own understanding of the Objectivist position is not important to you, then I would ask that you make this clear.

In response to this, Bolt writes (6 Oct.):

As for the so called “Objectivist axioms”; it is necessary for Dawson to show in a much more specific manner how they are at all relevant to the discussion. So far he has been unable to do so. I find the axioms to be incoherent. It may be that I just do not know enough about them. In either case I rightfully have difficulty accepting them.

Notice that, on the one hand, Bolt says that he “find[s] the axioms to be incoherent” (though he does not say why), but on the other hand says that I am “unable” to show how they relate to the topic under consideration. This latter judgment is quite hasty. As I indicated in my 17 Sept. comment, I have been quite busy over the past few weeks. That Bolt does not practice even a little charity here suggests that pursuing the matter with him will probably be fruitless for both of us.

The reason why I asked Bolt whether or not he disputes the truth of the Objectivist axioms, was not specifically to draw out their implications for inductive reasoning per se, but to make it clear where he stands. If he denies the truth of the Objectivist axioms outright, then I want to know this before wasting any more time trying to educate him on the topic of induction. As for their relevance to induction, this should not be difficult to see. Induction is a mental process about objects of one’s awareness. As such, induction presupposes the truth of the axioms; it presupposes the fact that there is a reality (the axiom of existence), that the one performing inductive inferences is in fact aware of objects (the axiom of consciousness), and that the objects of one’s awareness have a specific nature (the axiom of identity). Induction also presupposes a relationship between consciousness and its objects, which is identified by the primacy of existence. If Bolt thinks that these axioms are not true, and/or fails to recognize their fundamental importance to inductive reasoning, then I would wager that he is in sore need of substantial remedial tutoring before he would be in any position to understand, let alone appreciate, the Objectivist analysis of induction and its answer to Hume. Indeed, that Bolt needs all this spelled out to him explicitly, only proves my suspicion that he is simply not ready for a crash course on the Objectivist analysis of induction, that in fact he should start with the basics, beginning with a primer in the axioms.

In the same breath, Bolt acknowledges that he may simply not understand the axioms and their relation to induction sufficiently. If that’s the case, then indeed he requires much schooling on the matter, and I do not know why this is my responsibility, especially if he insists on being unteachable on the matter. For all I know, it may be the case that he does not even recognize the fact that he assumes the truth of the Objectivist axioms every time he thinks, speaks and acts. Helping him understand this would be first-order business, long before we ever get to the conceptual mechanics of induction.

Bolt continues:

For example if “existence exists” is “something exists; there is a reality” then I do not understand why the tenet would be expressed in such vague language.

Right after I have explained what “existence exists” means (see above), Bolt announces that he thinks its language is vague. How is the explicit recognition that existence exists, that there is a reality, vague? Bolt tells us about himself here, and says nothing about the axiom itself. Does the concept ‘existence’ have meaning in Bolt’s view? Either it does, or it does not. To what does the concept ‘existence’ refer in Bolt’s view? What does he think it denotes? Does it refer to something that exists, or to something that does not exist?

The language here is not vague. The axiom ‘existence exists’ identifies a fundamental truth using a single concept. If the axiom used more than one concept, we would be left asking: which is more fundamental? Rand avoided this by stating her irreducible primary as a single-concept axiom. In Objectivism, the concept ‘existence’ is a collective noun denoting everything that exists, which has existed, and which will exist.

It is wholly important that we not miss out on the purpose which the Objectivist axioms fulfill. They explicitly identify a relationship which is fundamental to all knowledge, as Porter explains:

Axiomatic concepts [‘existence’, ‘consciousness’, ‘identity’] are metaphysical concepts, identifying the fundamental distinction and relation between consciousness and existence, between the knower and the known, between epistemology and ontology. (Ayn Rand’s Theory of Knowledge, p. 223)

Those who do not want these relationships explicitly identified and understood, would do well to avoid Objectivism at all costs. But why would anyone not want to identify and understand these relationships? What is it that they want to protect? What are they trying to hide? Philosophies other than Objectivism have succeeded very well in keeping the nature of the relationship between consciousness and its objects out of mind and out of sight.

It hasn’t been explicitly articulated, so philosophers feel no discomfort in straddling it. (Porter, Ayn Rand’s Theory of Knowledge, p. 199)

I wholly agree with Porter, especially when he states:

I think the primacy of existence is the most important issue in philosophy. I think it’s the real axiom of Objectivism. (Ibid., p. 198)

What is Bolt’s position on the primacy of existence? I asked, but he resists stating it for the record. Apparently Bolt has adopted the policy of "don't ask, don't tell." If so, why?

In mulling over the meaning of the axiom of existence, Bolt himself acknowledges its truth:

Do I believe that something exists? Yes

Was that so hard?

Then he hastens to state:

God exists, for example.

Already Bolt has derailed himself by confusing what is merely imaginary with what actually exists. Indeed, just by saying “God exists,” Bolt performatively contradicts himself. He makes use of the primacy of existence while affirming a claim which denies the primacy of existence.

Bolt continues:

Do I believe that there is a reality? I suppose that would depend upon how one defines “reality”.

Conspicuously, Bolt does not tell us how he defines the concept ‘reality’. In Objectivism, reality is the realm of existence. In Christianity, however, reality is a combination of that which exists with that which the believer imagines. The earth exists, for instance, but so do supernatural beings which the believer enshrines in his imagination. Should we be surprised why Bolt does not divulge his definitions? I don’t think so.

Bolt goes on:

If “existence exists” is the same thing as “something exists” then “existence” must be “something”, but what is it and how is it known? Such vague language being utilized in the expression of an axiom makes me wary and raises suspicion that much more may be smuggled in somewhere down the line.

If Bolt were truly concerned about illicit assumptions being “smuggled in somewhere down the line,” he should see the value which Objectivism provides. As the quote from Porter above rightly indicates, keeping the proper relationship between consciousness and its objects hidden from view, is key to smuggling illicit assumptions into one’s worldview. Objectivism deters this by making the proper relationship between the known and the process of knowing, by “identifying the fundamental distinction and relation between consciousness and existence, between the knower and the known, between epistemology and ontology,” explicit. You can’t hide from it once it’s been made explicit at the foundation of one’s worldview. Indeed, why would one want to?

Hopefully my points above will put Bolt’s fears to rest.

But what about the other axioms? Bolt only kicks around on the axiom of existence. He does not indicate whether or not he disputes the truth of the axioms of consciousness, identity and the primacy of existence. Instead, he wants to discuss higher-level issues pertaining to induction. But if Bolt disputes the truth of the Objectivist axioms, it’s unlikely that he’ll understand (let alone accept) anything I have to say on induction, since the Objectivist theory of induction which I hold presupposes the truth of the Objectivist axioms. As Brian Knapp puts it:

The issue at hand is truly presuppositional in nature. (“Induction and the Unbeliever,” The Portable Presuppositionalist, p. 121)

Just what are the presuppositions which Bolt holds in regard to the relationship between consciousness and its objects? Indeed, before Bolt can understand the Objectivist theory of induction, he would not only need to recognize the truth of the Objectivist axioms, but he would also need a good understanding of the Objectivist theory of concepts. But from what I can tell, Bolt is nowhere ready for this.

In my 29 Sept. comment responding to Justin Hall, I wrote:

This 'makes sense' given their acceptance of the Humean conception of causation. I have discussed the problems with this conception of causation here.

In response to this, Bolt writes:

Have you actually read Hume? He offers something quite like what you are presenting here. I am afraid that the solution is not as easy as saying that causation in Objectivism is drastically different so as to avoid Hume’s concerns. :) I have already addressed this attempt at a way out in my questions and plan to write more on it.

Notice that Bolt does not quote Hume to show that what he offered is “something quite like” what I have presented. He simply asserts that what Hume offers is similar to what I have presented, as if it were common knowledge. It’s not. Yes, I have read Hume, many times in fact. And contrary to what Bolt says here, Hume does not offer the conception of causation which Objectivism endorses. As I have already explained, Hume’s analysis of induction assumes the “event-based” model of causation, which conceives of causation as a relationship between events which happen to follow in succession. Hume writes:

All events seem entirely loose and separate. One event follows another; but we never can observe any tie between them. They seem conjoined, but never connected. (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding)

Interestingly, it is clear from statements Bahnsen makes in his publications that he assumed the event-based theory of causation which underwrites Hume’s understanding of induction. For instance, in his book Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, Bahnsen writes:

If the mind of God does not sovereignly determine the relationship of every event to every other event according to His wise plan, then the way things are in the world and what happens there are random and indeterminate. In that case, there is no intelligible basis for holding that any experience is like any other experience, there is nothing objectively common to the two of them, and there is no causal connection between any two events – and thus they are meaningless and undescribable. (P. 110n.64)

The Objectivist conception of causation is radically different from the Humean view in that it (Objectivism) views causation as a relationship between an entity and its own actions rather than merely a relationship between “events” (however the term may be defined). The Objectivist view of causation is essentially the application of the law of identity to action (since actions exist, they have identity), and constitutes the recognition that an entity’s actions depend on its nature (hence it is a necessary relationship). This is axiomatic. It is also significant to a proper understanding of induction. And no, I never suggested that this is all there is to it, as Bolt seems to think. Objectivism does not say: “our conception of causation is different from Hume’s, and that alone solves the problem of induction.” The proper conception of causality is indeed very important to the matter, but it is not the only factor. There is also the theory of concepts. As Rand pointed out:

The process of observing the facts of reality and of integrating them into concepts is, in essence, a process of induction. (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 28)

This is why, more and more, I have come to view concept-formation as providing the working model for inductive reasoning.

While presuppositionalists try to solve the problem of induction by (a) accepting Hume’s analysis of induction and (b) pointing to an imaginary creator which somehow guarantees the uniformity of nature (which is stipulated in that imagination), Objectivism takes a radically different approach, including (a) correcting Hume’s faulty analysis of induction and (b) understanding the conceptual nature of inductive reasoning explicitly.

Hume made numerous mistakes in his epistemology. But nowhere do I see Van Til or Bahnsen pointing this out when they deploy the inductive version of TAG. On the contrary, they seem to be counting on the potential that both apologists who wield TAG and those whom such apologists seek to engage, are simply unaware of Hume’s mistakes. For instance, in his essay “Induction and the Unbeliever” (The Portable Presuppositionalist, pp. 118-142), presuppositionalist Brian Knapp makes no effort to point out Hume’s mistakes. Indeed, doing so would be counter-productive to the intended outcome of TAG, which is essentially to elicit the response: “Duh, I donno! Must be God did it!

I wrote:

Typically they believe that in order to use knowledge of the present to inform our projections of the future, we have to prove that nature is uniform. But this ignores several key facts, such as: (i) proof presupposes the uniformity of nature, and (ii) the uniformity of nature is essentially the consistent application of the axioms

Bolt responds:

Ignores? I do not think it ignores these things at all.

If the challenge is that one prove that nature is uniform (as my comment noted), then the challenge does in fact ignore the fact that proof presupposes the uniformity of nature. The uniformity of nature is not established by proof. To require a proof is to commit the fallacy of the stolen concept. But in his essay, Knapp doesn’t seem to recognize this either.

Bolt goes on to ask:

What difference does it make that the uniformity of nature must be presupposed?

The difference which this makes is the difference between knowledge and fallacy. Axiomatic truths are not truths which must be established by means of proof. It is not the case that the uniformity must merely be presupposed – certainly not for its own sake. It is a precondition of meaning. But since this is ultimately axiomatic, that is not a problem for those who are willing to govern their cognition according to the constraints delineated by the axioms.

Bolt says:

The skeptic is essentially asking, “Why presuppose it?”

The very question “Why presuppose it?” itself presupposes it. The question would not be meaningful without it. That’s all we need to point out to the skeptic. If he doesn’t like it, he can pound sand. His likes and dislikes do not alter reality. Nor do they constitute a lien on man’s cognition.

Bolt states:

It has not been shown how “consistent application of the axioms” solves the problem either, regardless of how many times Dawson repeats the “Objectivist axioms” as though they are philosophically insightful.

Nowhere did I say that the consistent application of the axioms “solves the problem [of induction],” but rather that ”the uniformity of nature is essentially the consistent application of the axioms”. Take a look at the axiom of identity. It is the recognition that to exist is to be something, to have a nature. If something exists, it is itself. As Rand rightly put it, “Existence is Identity” (Atlas Shrugged). How one could deny this truth and yet affirm the uniformity of nature is beyond me. One would need (very) good reason not to integrate new units into his knowledge according to this recognition once it’s been made explicit. The skeptic is cognitively impotent at this point, since any attempt he makes to validate the move to jettison this recognition will itself assume the truth of this recognition. So he can only commit the fallacy of the stolen concept in asking us to pursue with him his skeptical course.

I wrote:

For skeptics, ‘the future’ is merely a stand-in for ‘the unknowable’…But for rational individuals, the concepts ‘past’, ‘present’ and ‘future’ are merely temporal designations.

Bolt responds:

The term future is not synonymous with the term unknowable

Of course it’s not. But the skeptic’s tactic is to pretend that it is, to treat it as if it were synonymous. Pointing out that it is not so synonymous effectively defuses his intended gambit.

Bolt continues:

and there is no need for a skeptic to assume that it is.

Of course he doesn’t need to. But he often does nonetheless, not because he feels a need to do so, but because he’s afraid of the consequences of not doing so. Just like presuppositionalists.

Bolt writes:

Of course “past”, “present”, and “future” are temporal designations. So what? You have not provided anything that would lead one to believe that “preconditions” must therefore be “affirmed” at these different “times”.

The concepts ‘past’, ‘present’ and ‘future’ do all the providing themselves, since they have meaning. These are not first-level concepts. On the contrary, they are complex abstractions which rest on knowledge residing on the lower tiers of the knowledge hierarchy. This is why I raised the question, “the future of what?” The intention here is to remind us that the concept “future” does in fact have meaning, and that its meaning cannot obtain unless certain preconditions are understood to be in place. Those preconditions include, but are not limited to, the truths denoted by the axioms.

Another, very crucial point about temporal designations (as which Bolt agrees the concepts ‘past’, ‘present’ and ‘future’ qualify), a point which most treatments of induction tend to miss, is the fact that in forming concepts of entities (and keep in mind that entities are what act), time is an omitted measurement. Moreover, so is location. This is significant.

In his essay “Induction and the Unbeliever” (in The Portable Presuppositionalist), Brian Knapp suggests that

an appeal to past experience in drawing conclusions about the future is the very definition of inductive reasoning (p. 126)

while earlier in his paper he states:

Although induction is primarily thought of in the relation of past events to future events, it is also relevant to the way in which a given event will occur in a different location. ...induction has both spatial as well as temporal applicability. (p. 122n.5)

How one conceives of induction in the first place has great significance on what problems it may pose for human cognition and how it is justified. Where for presuppositionalists like Knapp “induction is primarily thought of in the relation of past events to future events” (notice the primacy which is put on “events” here; compare with Anderson’s definition of the “inductive principle” as “the principle that future unobserved instances will resemble past observed instances”), I tend to think of induction as a process of reasoning from sample to population (which is entity-based and conceptual in nature).

While Knapp is correct to say that we make inferences about future happenings as well as about happenings in different locations, what he fails to grasp explicitly is the fact that time and place are omitted measurements. This has profound implications for induction. In fact, this is what makes such inferences possible in the first place. Specifically, the fact that a concept integrating like entities into a single unit omits (i.e., de-specifies) temporal and spatial measurements, is what makes them available to our inferences about an entity’s actions regardless of time and place. But the knowledge necessary for such inferences, i.e., the information which we need to inform such estimations, is already available to us in our formation of concepts of entities. Gotthelf summarizes as follows:

The integration distinctive of concept-formation begins with multiple perceptual grasps of a small number of individuals (for example, a child’s noticing of some tables similar to each other and different from some nearby chairs), and moves to an open-end grasp of all relevantly similar individuals, past, present and future (for example, a grasp of all tables, past, present, and future). (Ayn Rand on Concepts)

For instance, the concept ‘man’ includes every man who exists now, who has existed and who will exist, regardless of how many this might potentially be (after all, who’s keeping count?), regardless of when any of them might live, and regardless of where they might exist. The concept ‘man’ includes men who are six feet tall as well as those who are four feet tall, those who are lean and muscular as well as those who are fat and slovenly, those who are young as well as those who are old, those who are clean-shaven as well as those wearing full beard, living in this century or in the sixth century BCE, in North America or New Zealand, etc. Since we ourselves are capable of forming concepts (which are open-ended in the manner described here), we are in effect able to have at least some knowledge, however abstract, of men whom we will never personally encounter in life. For instance, we can know, just by the concept which we have formed on the basis of a relatively very small sample of men, that the men living in other parts of the earth in previous centuries were, like the ones we do know, biological organisms, that they breathe air, that they have bones, skin, organs, needs, etc. We can know these things about men whose existence we hypothesize in our projections of the future. Why? Because time is an omitted measurement. Any units not possessing these attributes could not justifiably be integrated into the concept ‘man’. In the case of such projections, induction uses the concepts which have been formed by an objective process (which Rand articulates in her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology), and essentially employs it according to its meaning. Since measurement-omission is a key aspect of the abstraction process, variations within certain ranges – ranges are defined by the units which we do encounter, but which we expand on the basis of integrating new units which we encounter after originally forming the concept – are not disallowed in our inductive projections. What is disallowed, since the process of forming concepts is objective, is context-dropping. For instance, a man which is not biological, which lives by breathing sulfuric acid, which has ten legs, an exoskeleton, etc. We can imagine such things, but such imaginations drop the context of what we learn about men in reality.

So not only do temporal designations themselves presuppose certain fundamental preconditions in order for them to have any meaning (let the skeptic affirm their meaning while denying their genetic roots), the fact that time is an omitted measurement in the formation of concepts of entities eliminates the skeptical hurdles which the Humean conception of induction arbitrarily imposes on human cognition (let the skeptic affirm that the formation of concepts does not omit measurements). The skeptic’s angle simply implodes on itself. Meanwhile, the concept ‘future’, properly understood, simply does not have the adverse significance for inductive reasoning that the skeptic assumes it has.

I wrote:

“The future,” then, refers to a continuation of the reality which exists from the present.

Bolt protests:

No Dawson. How do you know that reality will continue from the present?

I know this by my recognition of the fact that existence exists. This is absolute context, and is undefeatable. It is power.

Bolt then asks:
How do you know that it will be the same? Are you saying that reality never changes, that specifics of reality never change, or what? Be careful lest you head down the same road as Justin! :)
Regardless of what I do and do not know, some things will change, while other things will not change. The population of Tokyo will change. The height of the tree I planted in my backyard will change. The truths denoted by the axioms will not change. Whether I know this or not is no impediment to existence. Existence exists. I merely observe, identify, wonder, and enjoy. And I enjoy it all, regardless of who disapproves.

I wrote:

[The concept ‘future’] does not, therefore, refer to some alien universe whose physics constitute a reversal of those which apply in the reality which exists.

Bolt asks:

Why not?

Because its meaning has an objective basis. Let him who disputes, take up his dispute, and announce his view that concepts have no meaning. Otherwise, he would be wise to hold his tongue, and take a vow of silence. Or, he can join the Objectivists, and recognize that concepts do have meaning, and that their meaning has an objective basis. We all have this choice. What’s your choice, Bolt?

I wrote:

Presuppositionalists point to Hume as if his conclusion regarding induction were sound. But they never show that it is sound. They simply assume that it is, and with this assumption they endorse all of Hume’s relevant mistakes.

Bolt responded:

You can hand waive all day but it will not make the arguments and questions go away. [sic]

This statement very strongly suggests that Bolt does in fact think Hume’s conclusion about induction is soundly established. It is hard to make sense of his statement otherwise.

At any rate, observing that an argument is faulty, is all one needs to do to “make it go away.” If an argument is unsound, why should anyone need to pay it any mind? Unfortunately, Bolt has not shown that Hume’s argument is error-free. He can wave his hand all day, but that will not make the errors which an argument commits go away.

by Dawson Bethrick