Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Was Ayn Rand "Dead Wrong"?

I was recently asked for my reaction to Geoffrey James’ Top 10 Reasons Why Ayn Rand Was Dead Wrong.

James’ anti-Rand rant is so full of holes, it seems that anyone who is genuinely familiar with Objectivism wouldn’t need my response to detect its flaws.

James clearly has issues with Ayn Rand and her philosophy, and in the litany of alleged offences that he cites, he often toggles between Rand the person and Objectivism the philosophy as the target of his charges. In fact, some of the accusations which James presents, have nothing to do with what Objectivism actually teaches, but seem to stem from personal misgivings of his own.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Knock at the Door

One morning recently I was home minding my own business, when suddenly there was a knock at the door. I wasn’t expecting anyone, so I had no idea who it might be. When I opened the door there was a well dressed young man standing on my doorstep. In the distance behind him I saw two other young men, also well dressed, poking around the neighbor’s yard across the street. I suspected that he was a religionist out evangelizing.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Some Thoughts on Presuppositionalism and the Problem of Evil

Christian apologist Dan of Debunking Atheists agreeably affirms Greg Bahnsen’s solution to the problem of evil, which reads as follows:
God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists. (Always Ready, p. 172)
Bahnsen offers this statement (for which he cites no biblical citation specifically supporting it) as an overlooked premise which satisfies the problem of evil:
1. God is all-good.
2. God is all-powerful.
3. Evil exists. (Ibid., p. 171)
Bahnsen adds to this formulation of the problem of evil the claim that his god “has a morally sufficient reason” for evil. Bahnsen does not tell us what that alleged reason is. He does not even suggest possible candidates for what it could or might be. Bahnsen’s concern is to claim that his god does have a reason for allowing and/or committing evil, and that reason is “morally sufficient.” In essence, Bahnsen is passing judgment on something he has not seen; he is pre-judging as “morally sufficient” something which he cannot even show actually exists, and whose identity is unknown. Bahnsen nowhere explains how we can morally evaluate something that is unknown, and yet attempts to solve the problem of evil by affirming a premise which does exactly this. Such prejudice is rash and baseless, and the opposite of morally responsible.

All this is to say that Bahnsen offers a defense against the problem of evil, but fails to validate a crucial component integral to that defense, namely the notion of a “morally sufficient reason” for evil. As we examine Bahnsen’s own statements around his proposed defense against the problem of evil, and Dan’s additional comments on the matter, consider what kind of mind is required to take the view that there is such a thing as a “morally sufficient reason” for evil. Bahnsen himself shows no indication that he winces at the idea; in fact, he seems gleeful in affirming it.

Bahnsen clues us in on the psychological process by which the Christian mind comes to the evaluation of reasons which are unknown, as “morally sufficient” when he states the following:
If the Christian presupposes that God is perfectly and completely good -- as Scripture requires us to do -- then he is committed to evaluating everything within his experience in the light of that presupposition. Accordingly, when the Christian observes evil events or things in the world, he can and should retain consistency with his presupposition about God's goodness by now inferring that God has a morally good reason for the evil that exists. God certainly must be all-powerful in order to be God; He is not to be thought of as overwhelmed or stymied by evil in the universe. And God is surely good, the Christian will profess -- so any evil we find must be compatible with God's goodness. This is just to say that God has planned evil events for reasons which are morally commendable and good. (Always Ready, pp. 171-172)
Observe Bahnsen’s procedure here, and notice how its entire weight is borne on faith-based assumptions:
Step 1: Assume on faith (i.e., on the basis of hope and desire) that there is a god.
Step 2: Assume in advance of anything else, that this god “is perfectly and completely good.”
Step 3: Commit yourself “to evaluating everything within [your] experience in light of [these assumptions]” – i.e., deliberately allow them to predetermine the outcome of any evaluation, inference, supposition, judgment, conclusion you may make about said god.
Step 4: When you observe evil in the world, “retain consistency with [these assumptions] about God’s goodness by now inferring that God has a morally good reason for the evil that exists.”
Step 5: Don’t worry about what specifically that reason might be; you might never know what it is (in fact, it’s preferable that you don’t know what it is). Bahnsen himself concedes that he has no idea what this “morally sufficient reason” could possibly be when he writes:
the Bible calls upon us to trust that God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which can be found in this world, but it does not tell us what that sufficient reason is.
The apologist finds delight in such ignorance, pretending that it indicates some “higher knowledge” to which man has no access. The purpose here is not to establish the claim that the Christian god has a “morally sufficient reason” for evil. Rather, it is simply to assume, on the basis of prior assumptions accepted on faith, that whatever reason said god supposedly has is, sight unseen, a “morally good reason” for evil. Don’t even worry about knowing what such a reason could be; don’t try to hypothesize examples; don’t think critically about what you are expected to accept as knowledge. The important thing is not to evaluate specific instances, but to settle in your mind at any cost that whatever reason this god might have for allowing or committing evil, it’s a “morally good reason.”

Step 6: Rationalize Steps 4 and 5. For example, remind yourself that “God certainly must be all-powerful in order to be God; He is not to be thought of [i.e., imagined] as overwhelmed or stymied by evil in the universe. And God is surely good.” Given these assumptions which are affirmed in advance of contemplating anything that might be called evil in the world, pretend to have drawn the conclusion “[therefore] any evil we find must be compatible with God’s goodness.”

Step 7: Put out of your mind the fact that the very notion of evil being “compatible with God’s goodness” is indistinguishable from evil being compatible with the nature of an evil god. I.e., suppress genuine moral judgment in order to replace it with morally bankrupt prejudices resting on faith-based assumptions which are to be accepted in advance of any judgment for no good reason whatsoever (for to evaluate a reason as “good” would defy the very procedure under consideration).

Step 8: Having gone through Steps 1 through 7, pretend that you’ve established as a conclusion to prior reasoning that “God has planned evil events for reasons which are morally commendable and good.” Again, do not inquire as to what these reasons might be; what is important is that you presuppose that they are “morally commendable and good.”
If those reasons are in fact “morally commendable and good,” then, by deeming them as such, the apologist is essentially saying everyone should go and do likewise, for they are “morally commendable and good.” But what if everyone went around, like the Christian god, allowing and/or committing evil and claiming to have a “morally sufficient reason” for doing so? If this would not be a suitable formula for man’s choices and actions, then how can one call the Christian god’s supposed “reason” for allowing evil “morally commendable and good”?

In attempting to turn the problem of evil into merely an emotional difficulty as opposed to an actual contradiction, Bahnsen openly admits that he does not know what reason his god might have for allowing or using evil to achieve its ends:
The problem which men have with God when they come face to face with evil in the world is not a logical or philosophical one, but more a psychological one. We can find it emotionally very hard to have faith in God and trust His goodness and power when we are not given the reason why bad things happen to us and others. We instinctively think to ourselves, "why did such a terrible thing occur?" Unbelievers internally cry out for an answer to such a question also. But God does not always (indeed, rarely) provide an explanation to human beings for the evil which they experience or observe. "The secret things belong to the Lord our God" (Deuteronomy 29:29). We might not be able to understand God's wise and mysterious ways, even if He told us (cf. Isaiah 55:9). Nevertheless, the fact remains that He has not told us why misery and suffering and injustice are part of His plan for history and for our individual lives. (Always Ready, p. 173)
I have already written on a broader problem in Christianity, what I call the problem of imperfection, in my blog Was Adam Created Perfect? Bahnsen avoids addressing, even acknowledging, that Christianity is unable to resolve the inherent contradiction in affirming the view that the universe was created by a perfect creator, while imperfections exist in that creation. The problem of evil is essentially a more isolated aspect, or manifestation, of this broader problem, which few apologists ever consider.

In trying to downplay the logical conundrum raised by the problem of evil, Bahnsen proposes a solution which affirms the notion that evil is justifiable if one has a “morally sufficient reason” for it, and, apparently pleased with himself, proceeds to call the persistence of the problem of evil a “psychological” problem rather than a philosophical problem. Bahnsen thus announces that he sees no philosophical problem in affirming the notion that evil is justifiable if one has a supposedly “morally sufficient reason” for it.

He says that the psychological problem of evil arises as a result of not knowing what that reason might be, for not having a suitable answer to the question, “why did such a terrible thing occur?” Bahnsen’s claim that whatever reason his god has for allowing or using evil to achieve its ends, it is a “morally sufficient reason,” is intended to calm the believer’s mind by appeasing the wrong end of the contradiction: by camouflaging evil with the guise of goodness to make it seem acceptable.

Bahnsen complains that “Unbelievers internally cry out for an answer to such a question also,” but “unbelievers” are not the ones whose worldview brews such a philosophical quandary in the first place, nor is it the “unbeliever’s” worldview which posits the notion of a “morally sufficient reason” for allowing or using evil as the solution to the problem of evil.

In spite of the raging nature of this question, given its mystical premises, Bahnsen reports that “God does not always (indeed, rarely) provide an explanation to human beings for the evil which they experience or observe,” that “He has not told us why misery and suffering and injustice are part of His plan for history and for our individual lives.” Bahnsen even suggests that believers “might not be able to understand God's wise and mysterious ways, even if He told us.” So Bahnsen acknowledges that he does not know what reason his god might have for using evil to achieve its purposes, and says that he probably wouldn’t understand it even if he were to learn of it, and yet he still calls it “morally sufficient.” For Bahnsen, the moral is not the understood, but the obeyed. Understanding plays no central role in the Christian conception of morality.

The bottom line for Bahnsen and his worldview, then, is that evil is morally justifiable so long as one does not disclose his reasons for adopting its use. Something does not need to be known or understood in order to call it “morally sufficient,” and Bahnsen was the type of individual who found this “solution” to the problem of evil satisfying.

Bahnsen does affirm that evil is a serious issue. He writes:
It is important for the Christian to realize –indeed, to insist upon – the reality and serious nature of evil. The subject of evil is not simply an intellectual parlor game, a cavalier matter, a whimsical or relativistic choice of looking a things a certain way. Evil is real. Evil is ugly. (Ibid., p. 164)
But if Bahnsen takes evil so seriously, why then does he offer as his solution to the problem of evil the claim that his god has a “morally sufficient reason” for evil? In giving this as his solution to the problem of evil, Bahnsen is essentially conceding that his god is ultimately responsible for the reality of evil in the world; we have already seen that Bahnsen thinks that “misery and suffering and injustice are part of His plan for history and for our individual lives” (p. 173). And, presumably, since this god is supposedly both omnipotent as well as free, it should be able to achieve its ends and create a universe without evil ever coming into the picture. So the conclusion that the existence of any evil anywhere is ultimately the responsibility of the omnipotent creator which is supposed to have created everything in the first place, seems unavoidable. Indeed, if Bahnsen didn’t think his god were responsible for the reality of evil, he wouldn’t need to claim that his god has a “morally sufficient reason” for evil. As I pointed out above, Bahnsen does not tell us what “morally sufficient reason” his god supposedly has for the evil that exists in the world; he doesn’t even give an example of a reason which he considers “morally sufficient” for allowing or committing evil. Indeed, to do so, Bahnsen would simply be giving us a glimpse into his own views, which he prefers to keep private for obvious reasons. So it comes as no surprise that Bahnsen does not elaborate on this point.

Dan writes:
This can't be a discussion as to "God is going to clear up the mess." He will, but that is not an adequately sufficient answer for the non-believers here. The question the Atheists here have is not whether God will 'take care of it' but, why did God allow it? Why is there a mess to begin with? Is God sadistic or impotent?
Actually, the question is more like:
How could a good god, which is characterized as a “loving father,” choose to allow it?
Or, consider the following:
How is a god which allows evil, and/or makes use of evil to achieve its goals, any different from a god that is evil?
If the Christian god is supposed to be “all-good,” then presumably any action it chooses to do must originate from good intentions, since all its intentions would supposedly be good. Also, bear in mind that this god is supposedly in control of everything. Presuppositionalists in particular are eager to affirm such a view. Observe:
God controls whatsoever comes to pass. (Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, p. 160)
God’s thoughts make the world what it is and determine what happens – which is why all facts are revelatory of God… (Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 243)
God controls all events and outcomes (even those that come about by human choice and activity) and is far more capable and powerful than modern machines. (Van Til's Apologetic, p. 489n.43)
So how does the Christian square events and outcomes which are not good in nature, with the view that the Christian god, which is supposed to be “all-good” and only “all-good,” is in control of everything? Bahnsen’s own proposal, that his god has “a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists,” does not reconcile the matter. On the contrary, all it accomplishes is portraying the Christian god on cozy terms with evil. So the problem persists.

Predictably, Dan writes:
The Atheist are [is] in a real quandary when he tries to argue for the problem of evil, he has to first make a moral judgment that is objectively correct. Objective moral judgments can only be grounded in the transcendent God of Christianity.
Several points here:

First, Dan misses the internal nature of the critique launched by the problem of evil. The problem of evil points to a state of affairs which is inconsistent with what the Christian worldview would have us believe. Christianity affirms both horns of the conflict, namely that an all-good, omnipotent and omniscient creator created the entire universe and all its contents, even “control[ing] whatsoever comes to pass” within it, and that evil exists in the world. The conflict is thus confined within the Christian worldview.

Contrary to what presuppositionalists typically say, the conflict to which the problem of evil draws our attention is not the non-believer’s (alleged) failure to ground moral judgment without reference to the Christian god. On the contrary, since both sides of this conflict are affirmed by Christianity, so the problem obtains regardless of what the non-believer can or cannot do.

This conflict not only destroys the Christian worldview from within, it also has profoundly damning implications for the moral character of those who actively seek to defend it, especially in a manner like Greg Bahnsen. By definition and by virtue of its nature, an all-good being would not willfully use evil to achieve its ends: its all-good nature would preclude any willingness complicit with evil. Consequently, a being which does make use of evil to achieve its ends cannot rightly be called “all-good.” But this is what Christianity essentially teaches in this respect: that its god is all-good, but also that its creation contains evil, and the “all-good” god is ultimately responsible for the evil. The task of the apologist is to reconcile these teachings without contradiction. But the contradiction cannot be reconciled without compromising either side of the conflict, even if the believer wants to say that his god has a “morally sufficient reason” for the evil it uses to accomplish its ends. Indeed, the very notion of a “morally sufficient reason” to allow or make use of evil is a contradiction in terms: that which is morally sufficient abstains absolutely from evil. Is there such a reason as a “morally sufficient reason” to commit murder? Is there such a thing as a “morally sufficient reason” to rape children? Is there such a thing as a “morally sufficient reason” to burglarize a house? Is there such a thing as a “morally sufficient reason” to evade relevant facts in one’s reasoning? These are questions for the Christian who affirms the notion of a “morally sufficient reason” for allowing or committing evil to consider.

Second, Dan incorrectly assumes (most likely because he wants it to be the case) that “objective moral judgments can only be grounded in the transcendent God of Christianity.” He does not establish this claim; no apologist really does. Apologists love to repeat this kind of claim, but it is typically accepted by believers on faith: they want it to be true, and on the basis of this desire, they affirm it as if it were true. A dead give-away here is the use of the concept ‘objective’ in qualifying “moral judgments,” a concept that is anathema to the Christian worldview (see here).

We’ve already seen that the Christian worldview is opposed to moral judgment as such. Actions which are chosen by a volitional agent are always subject to moral evaluation. But Christians have imperatively insisted that no one has the right to judge their god’s chosen actions. Even this insistence, however, is at odds with what Christians like Greg Bahnsen urge us to swallow: they tell us that their god and all its actions are good, which is a moral evaluation. And yet we’ve been denied the right to make any moral evaluations. In fact, we’re told that we have no basis to make moral evaluations to begin with.

Now the apologist speaks of “objective moral judgments.” But does he understand what objectivity is? His claim that “objective moral judgments can only be grounded in the transcendent God of Christianity.” In other words, in the apologist’s view, objective moral judgments are not grounded in reason. The presuppositionalist literature in fact confirms this analysis. Bahnsen explains the presuppositionalist understanding of objectivity as follows:
For Van Til, objectivity in the Christian worldview is not a matter of having no presuppositions (and letting a pretended neutral reason find the pretended external truth, which is actually organized by the subjective mind of man), but a matter of having the right presuppositions – that is, having the divine point of view gained through revelation. (Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 286)
So clearly, for the presuppositionalist, reason has nothing to do with objectivity. If it did, why wouldn’t Bahnsen make mention of this when he gives the Christian “understanding” of objectivity?

Moreover, the presuppositionalist conception of objectivity does not rule out the view that wishing makes it so. On the basis of the Christian worldview, wishing does make it so, especially if the wisher is the Christian god (see here). Think of it: a conception of objectivity which allows wishing to make it so!

This is how the Christian worldview divorces “objectivity” from reason: by underwriting its conception of objectivity with the primacy of consciousness, and doing away with reason in epistemology. It manifests itself by accepting an enormous sum of mystical premises as “truth” which are said to be “divinely revealed” and are consulted as the ultimate guide to understanding the world. It should be obvious that one can easily claim to “know” anything by an appeal to “revelation,” especially when it comes to “knowledge” of “the supernatural” and “duties” which men are supposed to adopt and follow. So the appeal to divine revelation offers absolutely zero safeguards for ensuring genuine objectivity in one’s identifications and conclusions.

Of course, apologist Dan does not anticipate this objection, for not only does he take it for granted that reason has nothing to do with moral judgment (he voices no concern over the absence of reason's mention in the presuppositionalist script), he expects his claim that moral judgments need the Christian god in order to be objective, to be accepted on faith (i.e., on the wish that it be true), essentially on his own say so. He gives no argument, so he does not even present this claim as a conclusion to prior reasoning. It’s a stipulation, not a conclusion, not a discovery one makes by applying reason to the world.

But perhaps I’m hasty in assuming that Dan means the same thing as Van Til does with the word “objective.” In that case, what could he possibly mean by “objective”? He uses this term as if its meaning were self-apparent. But going by what I understand by the concept ‘objective’, his claim that objective moral judgments need to be grounded in the Christian god is clearly false. This is because objectivity is essentially the methodical application of the primacy of existence to knowledge, while Christianity is fundamentally opposed to the primacy of existence (see here). Consequently, the apologist is using a concept (the concept ‘objectivity’) while ignoring its genetic roots (the primacy of existence) by underwriting it with a worldview which explicitly denies its roots (i.e., Christianity). In other words, we have here an instance of the fallacy of the stolen concept.

Dan writes:
The Atheist cannot logically generate the problem of evil.
What Dan means here is that, by virtue of his atheism, an atheist has no rational basis for moral concepts (like ‘good’ and ‘evil’) that is consistent with his non-belief in the Christian god. Of course this overlooks the internal nature of the problem of evil. As I pointed out above, the problem of evil is a problem within Christianity regardless of what any particular atheist can or cannot do.

Additionally, notice that Dan nowhere establishes this claim by means of proof. He simply asserts it, apparently expecting everyone to accept it on faith. After all, that’s how he accepted it. Accepting a claim on faith essentially means supposing it is true because you want it to be true. Dan wants this claim to be true, so he pretends that it is true. In this very sense, faith is a pretense.

Dan write:
Its not a problem for the believer
What Dan is really saying (without the courage to come out and say it plainly), is that the believer doesn’t have a problem with evil. He’s already conceded that, according to Christianity, his god has a cozy relationship with evil since it uses evil to achieve its purposes. Dan does not explain how this can be morally good, and apparently doesn’t see any need to. Indeed, he doesn’t see any need to explain this because he ultimately doesn’t care.

Like any believer, Dan’s concern is to be an obedient worshiper who disallows himself the freedom to judge his god as anything other than a “good” god. But by doing so, he destroys the meaning of the very concept ‘good’. Since his god is on friendly terms with evil, it is a god which deliberately chooses not to take an uncompromising stance against evil. So just by worshiping such a god and calling it “good,” the believer concedes by his own actions that he has no problem with evil. Just as the god he worships, the believer is ultimately indifferent to evil, because he’s ultimately indifferent to values, and this is because he is ultimately indifferent to life on earth. So logically, while the believer has no problem with evil, he has an insurmountable problem with good.

What should be noted here, however, is that even the believer himself is not consistent with the logical implications of his worldview’s stated position on its god and evil in the world. On the contrary, the believer routinely acts as if his own values were important. In other words, his own actions defy the moral ambivalence inherent in his theism.

Dan writes:
but it is, ironically, the problem for the unbeliever.
Not the Christian problem of evil. The atheist does not posit an “all-good,” “all-knowing” and “all-powerful” god which uses evil to achieve its own ends. That’s the problem of evil. This is a problem for the Christian worldview. As we have seen, the Christian’s “solution” to this is essentially to wipe out all rational meaning from the concept ‘good’ in order to justify his belief in a god which deliberately uses evil to achieve its ends. Notice that even when Dan repeats Bahnsen’s claim that the Christian god “has a morally sufficient reason” for evil, he does not (just as Bahnsen did not) identify what this supposedly “morally sufficient reason” might be. This only indicates that the apologist is not looking for a way to resolve the logical conflict highlighted by the problem of evil, but rather to prop up a psychological means of rationalizing belief in such a thing. He’s essentially trying to have his cake, and eat it, too. Most non-Christians should see right through this farcical distortion of morality.

Dan writes:
The Atheist need to make good on the statement that its evil first.
Again Dan ignores the internal nature of the problem of evil. It is Christianity which affirms the existence of evil in the world, regardless of what specifically the atheist’s worldview might happen to teach. Presuppositionalists guarantee us that they will continue in their failure to address the problem of evil so long as they ignore the internal nature of its critique of Christianity.

But presuppositionalists do have an incentive to ignore the internal nature of the problem of evil, namely the fact that it cannot be defeated. Christianity says that the world was created by an all-good, all-knowing, all-controlling and omnipotent god, and it also says that evil exists in the world. As an example of evil in the world, Dan himself cited the torture of children (he quoted Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov at length to give an example of this). If one accepts the premise that an all-knowing, all-controlling and omnipotent god created the world, he cannot logically escape the implication that any evil that exists in the world is ultimately there because that god put it there. Essentially, the apologist needs to explain how evil finds its source in something that is supposedly “all-good.” Bahnsen fails at this task. So does apologist Dan.

by Dawson Bethrick

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Rick Warden's Critique of Objectivism

A Christian named Rick Warden who has attempted to commandeer the comments section of my blog refuting Sye Ten Bruggencate’s “proof” for the existence of a god, posted his objections to the philosophy of Objectivism.

While the objections which Rick raises against Objectivism are superficial and reflect a profound unfamiliarity with what Objectivism actually teaches, his mistakes are common among theistic apologists attempting to debate non-believers on the topic of logic.

Rick openly admits that he is “still in the learning mode regarding Objectivism” – i.e., he acknowledges his own unfamiliarity with what Objectivism teaches. But this does not stop him from running roughshod into battle even though he’s completely unarmed. In spite of acknowledging his ignorance of Objectivism, he thinks he’s already found a bunch of fallacies in Objectivism.

I will examine Rick’s criticisms below. We will find that, as with so many critics of “non-Christian thought,” Rick has a talent for making a lot of errors in the space of just a few statements.

Rick writes:
I would be interested to know your criticisms on this response to your premise from an article:
Okay. Bring it on.

It is an undeniable fact that a subject is distinct from the objects of its awareness: a subject and its objects are not one and the same – the two are engaged in a relationship.
Rick asked:
Is it really ‘an undeniable fact’?
Rationally speaking, yes, it is. Whenever an individual perceives and/or consider any object, his action of perceiving and/or considering that object is distinct from the object he’s perceiving and/or considering. On what rational basis could anyone deny this? Even in denying it, he would be instantiating the very distinction he’s denying.

Rick wrote:
As far as we may surmise, pure, unadulterated logic does not submit into an absolute metaphysical subject/object dualism explanation.
It’s not clear what Rick is trying to say here. He introduces the notion of dualism, which has many meanings and connotations in the history of philosophy. Greater precision of expression is recommended here if Rick has a point he wants to get across.

At any rate, logic does have a metaphysical basis, and it is not consciousness in isolation from any object it’s conscious of. Rather, the metaphysical basis of logic is the subject-object relationship – i.e., the subject of consciousness engaged in awareness of some object(s). A subject’s awareness of some object(s) is a metaphysical fact – i.e., objective, since this awareness itself is not the product of conscious intentions. When we sense things, we have no choice over the fact that we sense or what it is we are sensing. Anyone who has experienced pain realizes this, at least implicitly: when one feels pain, he cannot choose not to feel it. If we could, we wouldn’t need painkillers or anesthesia, nor would we be so reluctant to go to the dentist.

Rick wrote:
Ask an objectivist: “In terms of human perception, is logic considered a subject or an object?”
The question, as I understand it, seems rather incoherent. Why specifically “in terms of human perception” here? We do not perceive logic; logic is conceptual. Also, logic itself is not the subject of consciousness: the concept ‘logic’ does not denote a conscious being. Subjects (in the sense that I use it in the passage quoted from my blog above) are conscious beings. I, Dawson Bethrick, am a subject; the reader who is reading this is a subject. Logic, on the other hand, is a set of abstract principles which regulate identification; identification is an activity performed by a conscious subject.

But without doubt, logic can be an object of awareness, but I would not say of perceptual awareness. We don’t see, feel or touch logic. Logic does not make noises, nor does it produce an odor. But we can think about logic, we can examine logic, we can write about logic, we can talk about logic, we can marvel at logic. When we do any of these things, logic is the object of our awareness. So logic can be an object of our awareness, just as it is in this very sentence – since I’m talking about logic.

Rick wrote:
If the objectivist says logic is a ‘subject’, then it is considered a part of the mind.
Actually, if one were to say that logic is a subject, he’d be saying (as I have used the terms) that logic is a conscious being in its own right. I don’t think this is the case, and I don’t see why anyone would think this. This would be an instance of personifying an inanimate object.

Rick continued:
Logic, from a utilitarian view, is a tool, an aspect of reasoning. Without a mind, logic would have no use whatsoever. This implies, from a materialist perspective, it should be a cart the horse of reason pulls. But objectivists have a problem here. While Logic is used personally, as a tool for subjective reasoning, it is not ONLY personal, it consists of universal laws, it endures from one generation to the next, as do known ‘external’ natural laws.
Let’s keep in mind what specifically it is we’re talking about when we talk about logic. “Logic is the art or skill of non-contradictory identification” (Ayn Rand, “Philosophical Detection,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 15). Logic’s very purpose is to guide man’s ability to identify and integrate what he perceives. This is entirely in keeping with the proper understanding of the nature of reason:
Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses. (Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 20)
Reason integrates man’s perceptions by means of forming abstractions or conceptions, thus raising man’s knowledge from the perceptual level, which he shares with animals, to the conceptual level, which he alone can reach. The method which reason employs in this process is logic—and logic is the art of non-contradictory identification. (Ayn Rand, “Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 62)
Only biological organisms (specifically human beings) identify and integrate what they perceive conceptually, and since logic is the method which regulates this process, it is man who needs logic (as he does not automatically identify and integrate what he perceives). Essentially, logic is to epistemology what a code of values is to morality. Since the process of identifying and integrating what we perceive is a volitional operation, we need a structured set of guidelines to guide our cognitive choices. Only where a conceptual consciousness is concerned, is logic even going to be a consideration.

Rocks do not need logic; rivers do not need logic; a pile of leaves does not need logic; shooting stars do not need logic. Given this context, then, it is definitely true that “without a mind, logic would [be of] no use whatsoever.”

Now it is true that logic as a set of principles guiding human thought endures from one generation to the next. To put it short, logic is the same for everyone. But this fact does not undermine the Objectivist position or its understanding of logic. “Logic has a single law, the Law of Identity, and its various corollaries” (“Philosophical Detection,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 15). The law of identity does not change, either from place to place, or person to person, or generation to generation. It is rooted directly on the one fact that everything in the universe has in common, namely the fact of existence: if something exists, it is what it is.

Moreover, on the Objectivist view, logic is conceptual in nature (see here), and human beings possess consciousnesses capable of the conceptual level of cognition. It is the open-endedness or “universality” of concepts, given their the process by which they are formed (i.e., by abstraction, specifically the operation known as measurement-omission), which gives logic its universal applicability. This is why a good theory of concepts is indispensable to understanding the issues which Rick has raised. Logic certainly does in fact depend on human minds, but not on their whims, rather on their essential nature as conscious subjects in a relationship with the objects of their awareness, i.e., the primacy of existence. Logic owes its stability, immutability and universality of applicability to its conceptual nature and its foundation on the law of identity.

That the nature of concepts is the key here can be demonstrated with a simple example, the concept ‘man’. We form the concept ‘man’ on the basis of just a few perceptual inputs - in fact, only two are really required. “ A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted” (Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 13). Based on those few perceptually given samples, say Jones and Smith, we omit the specific measurements of each – Jones is 6’2” tall, portly, bearded, wears glasses, dressed in a white coat, is a doctor, is 53 years old, speaks four languages, etc., while Smith is 5’8” tall, slender, clean-shaven, wears a three-piece suit, is a company CEO, is 48 years old, speaks English and a little pig Latin, etc. – and integrate them into a single mental unit – the concept ‘man’. Because of measurement-omission, we can integrate more “units” – i.e., other men – into the same concept, as we discover them. There is no quantitative limit to integration; the concept ‘man’ is open-ended – i.e., “universal” – in that it includes every man who exists, who has existed and who will ever exist. It is a universal classification.

Notice how this allows for us to communicate with each other. You have formed the concept ‘man’ based on specific individuals whom you have encountered over your life, and I have formed the concept ‘man’ based on the specific individuals whom I have encountered over my life. Unless we grow up in the same small town, the specific individuals in your encounter set are going to be entirely different from those in my encounter set. However, since we have both formed the concept ‘man’ by essentially the same process – i.e., by a process of abstraction, we can each have an idea of what the other is talking about when we speak of men.

The same is the case with the concepts which inform the principles of logic. Since they too are concepts formed by the same process, they have their analogues in every mind which has performed that process to form them, just as you and I both had sufficiently similar concepts of ‘man’ already formed in our knowledge base. Of course, it can get tricky as we form abstractions on the basis of previously formed abstractions, as we now start developing a hierarchical structure, and the need for uniform definitions becomes crucial. This is where the objective theory of concepts proves its worth. “The final step in concept-formation is definition. This step is essential to every concept except axiomatic concepts and concepts denoting sensations” (Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 96) In other words, until we’ve secured our concepts with proper definitions, our work in forming them is not finished. “A definition is a statement that identifies the nature of the units subsumed under a concept” (Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 40). It is often in the realm of definitions where thinkers encounter their greatest point of conflict with each other. This is why I urge my theistic interlocutors to make their definitions clear. They frequently have a hard time doing this, and I think a major reason why is that they simply do not have a good grasp of concepts.

Let me re-emphasize the broader point: Since existence holds metaphysical primacy, logic will always have its proper anchor: the law of identity , regardless of who is using it. Since existence exists independent of consciousness, and consciousness is consciousness of objects, there is a proper orientation between the subject of consciousness (the human thinker) and its objects (anything he perceives and/or considers). That orientation is identified by the primacy of existence: the objects of consciousness are what they are independent of the conscious activity by which the subject is aware of them.

So the answer to the supposed conundrum which Rick raises here, is supplied by Objectivism’s axioms, the primacy of existence, and its theory of concepts.

Also, a couple of other cautionary corrections for Rick here:
1. Objectivism is not a form of Utilitarianism.
2. Objectivism is not materialism.

Rick wrote:
If the objectivist says logic is an ‘object’, then it is presumed to be a part of the ‘external’ world and they have another problem.
This is a non sequitur. Logic indeed can be an object of consciousness (just as it is in the case of this discussion – it is one of the objects under our consideration), but it does not follow from this that logic is “part of the ‘external’ world” exclusively. We do have the capacity for introspection, in which case our own consciousness can become an object to itself. When I introspect, I am aware of my own conscious activity, and that conscious activity of which I am aware, is the object of my introspective awareness. When I see a ball (an object in “external reality”), I am perceiving it; when I think about my perceiving the ball, my perception of the ball becomes what is properly understood as a secondary object of my consciousness (since I had to perceive the ball first in order for my perception of the ball to be an object of my awareness).

Similarly with logic. Logic is a set of principles, informed by concepts, which regulates proper identification of objects, and it too can be an object of our awareness. An object, mind you, as I use it in the passage which Rick quoted from my blog, is anything one perceives and/or considers. It can be an extramental entity (such as a ball), or some conscious activity (such as my awareness of the ball).

So, the problem which Rick raises here does not afflict Objectivism.

Rick wrote:
No one has ever perceived logic, or its effects, with his or her senses and thus cannot ‘objectively’ account for its existence.
This is another non sequitur. It’s likely a consequence ignoring not only the conceptual nature of logic, but also our capacity for introspection.

Since, as I pointed out above, we can introspect, we do have the capacity to identify the process by which we form concepts. And here’s why: since this process of forming concepts does have identity (e.g., it works one way and not others), and we can become aware of it (by means of introspection), we can objectively identify it (by adhering to the primacy of existence). So yes, we can objectively account for it, but only if we maintain fidelity to the primacy of existence and have a good understanding of concepts. (Christianity provides for neither, which is why you think these are problems for non-Christians.)

Rick: “If the objectivist says gravity is similar because it is not seen but known by its effects, it seems to be a weak corollary.”

But the Objectivist did not say this. Next?

Rick: “What does this imply metaphysically?”

The Objectivist is beyond implications at this point, because he as the primacy of existence – i.e., he has explicitly identified the proper relationship between a consciousness and its objects.

Rick: “Therefore, if there is a question of which has primacy metaphysically, logic does.”

The issue of metaphysical primacy has to do with the proper relationship between a consciousness (i.e., a subject) and its objects. I already explained why logic is not the subject – it’s not a conscious entity. And yes, we saw how logic can be an object. But it’s only one of many objects, and it could only be a secondary object at best (since we need to introspect to become aware of it). So it would not do to say that logic specifically has metaphysical primacy; this would be too narrow, and it would fail to identify the proper relationship between consciousness and its objects in terms of essentials - i.e., consciousness and existence. Indeed, the concept ‘logic’ is not conceptually irreducible, and since the issue of metaphysical primacy must be settled at the axiomatic level of cognition, we must address it in terms of axiomatic concepts.

Rick: “If the existence of logic refutes the assumed metaphysical subject/object duality and logic metaphysically predominates over reason, then an absolute subject/object duality, strictly based on human reasoning, should not be considered a metaphysically reliable premise.”

The existence of logic does not refute the primacy of existence. On the contrary, the primacy of existence makes it possible (since the primacy of existence is its fundamental basis) and necessary (since the human mind in the effort to identify its objects is fallible).

Rick raised another criticism:
The Primacy of Existence theory supposedly disproves Theism because it assumes a single world view cannot entertain both a primacy of existence example (man) and a primacy of consciousness example (God). But there is a third possibility, based on the existence of logic, that something may, in fact, be independent of- and indefinable by the apparent subjective and object duality.
Let’s see if any of this this successfully applies to Objectivism.

Essentially, Rick’s objection amounts to the view that the primacy of existence and the primacy of consciousness are not jointly exhaustive, that “there is a third possibility” that is allegedly an alternative to the primacy of existence and the primacy of consciousness.

An argument has already been developed in anticipation of this kind of claim, and can be found here: Are the Primacy of Existence and Primacy of Consciousness Exhaustive Metaphysics? While I would phrase certain statements in this essay differently if I were writing it myself, the overall gist of this paper brings the point home rather well. The following point is noteworthy when considering Rick’s speculative proposal:
Of course, if you're a believer in the Primacy of Consciousness, you might think that there are things other than consciousness and existence, because your consciousness could create [i.e., imagine] them. In this case, you could advocate the Primacy of Something Else, although this would be highly illogical, in that you've already presupposed that your consciousness has created these new things, and that, presumably, they are existents. But besides, the Primacy of Consciousness is false.
Notice that, not only does Rick propose his alternative to the primacy of existence and the primacy of consciousness in a tentative manner (he casts it as a “possibility… that something may…” rather than an actually existing and defensible alternative), but also that he does not present any argument for his claim. In fact, his whole effort to evade the choice between the primacy of existence and the primacy of consciousness indicates that he does not understand the issue of metaphysical primacy to begin with. This is extremely common among theistic critics of Objectivism.

Also notice that, after reading my argument, Rick does not come out and endorse the primacy of consciousness, which I argue to be the underlying premise of theism. This is not unexpected. Theists typically try to distance themselves from explicitly endorsing the primacy of consciousness metaphysics once its failings have been pointed out to them. And yet, like other theistic critics of Objectivism who are reluctant to admit the subjective underpinnings of their worldview, Rick does not explain how his theism could survive without it; he does not explain how one could believe in a universe-creating, reality-ruling god without assuming the primacy of consciousness.

Given what he does write in response to my argument (Rick interacts with very little of it), it’s clear that Rick’s reading of it is faulty. This is evidenced by the fact that he wants to introduce a “third alternative” to the jointly exhaustive orientations identified by the issue of metaphysical primacy. For one thing, Rick does not seem to grasp that the issue of metaphysical primacy pertains to the relationship between a consciousness (the subject) and its objects (what the subject is conscious of). This is why there are only two perspectives to consider in weighing the issue of metaphysical primacy: the primacy of the objects of consciousness (i.e., the primacy of existence, the objective position) vs. the primacy of the subject (i.e., the primacy of consciousness, the subjective position). We are limited to these two alternatives because a consciousness and its objects are the only parties to the relationship.

Also, since the relationship between a subject and its objects is not a relationship between equals (an object and the activity by which the subject has awareness of it are not the same; the actions which produce awareness are performed by the subject, even those actions which are involuntary), it cannot be the case that both the subject and its objects jointly share metaphysical primacy. This would ignore the nature of consciousness as a faculty which must discover the nature of its objects as it seeks to identify them. Man is not omniscient, nor does he begin his awareness of the world with exhaustive knowledge of the objects which he will eventually encounter in his conscious experience.

So there can be no “third option,” as Rick would like to believe.

Another tragic mistake of Rick’s is his attempt to base the possibility of a “third possibility” on “the existence of logic.” Recall that logic is “the art or skill of non-contradictory identification.” If logic in fact exists, it can only imply that those consciousnesses which make use of it, do so because knowledge of the identity of the objects they encounter is not an automatically given, but a goal which they must pursue by incorporating logic as a method which regulates identification. In other words, logic necessarily presupposes the primacy of existence by virtue of its role in the cognitive process: to ensure the conformity of man’s mind to reality as he develops his knowledge beyond the level of perceptually self-evident facts.

That Rick thinks this “third possibility” (alternative) to the primacy of existence and the primacy of consciousness “may, in fact, be independent of- and indefinable by the apparent subjective and object duality,” could only signify its irrelevance to the subject-object relationship, if in fact such an animal were accepted as a reality. Indeed, Rick offers no reason to suppose that his “third possibility” would at all be relevant, let alone tell us what exactly it is he has in mind. Perhaps he has his god in mind here, but this would be most odd since he characterizes it as a “possibility” which is “based on the existence of logic,” which would make logic’s existence prior to and independent of his god’s existence. It is hard to see how such a view could avoid the charge of heresy within the Christian religion.

In conclusion, Rick’s criticisms of Objectivism fall flat on their face. In presenting them he demonstrates that he is not sufficiently familiar with Objectivism to critique it intelligently, and makes numerous blunders as a result. Given Rick’s lack of familiarity with Objectivism, he is in no position to raise defensible objections against its view of logic, the primacy of existence, or its arguments against theism. And as I have shown above, it is his own mistakes which supply the thrust to his criticisms.

by Dawson Bethrick

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Andrew Louis' Persisting Confusions

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

Andrew’s latest response can be found here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Dawson Bethrick

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Another Reply to Andrew Louis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Dawson Bethrick

Sunday, September 05, 2010

A Reply to Andrew Louis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Dawson Bethrick