According to Bolt, even more important than the question “Why is nature uniform?” (which I considered in the previous installment of this series), is the question “How do we know that nature is uniform?” He asks:
More importantly how do we know that nature is uniform?
Nature is uniform with itself, since to exist is for something to be itself. If A exists, it must be A. (emphasis added)
The uniformity of nature, then, is essentially the applicability of the axiom of existence to all of reality and the absolute (i.e., exceptionless) concurrence of identity with existence. Both of these aspects of the uniformity of nature are undeniable – that is, they cannot be denied without self-contradiction. Since reality is the realm of existence, the axiom of existence necessarily applies to all of reality. Since reality is the realm of existence, existence and reality are concurrent absolutely - i.e., without exception.
In this way we can confidently say that nature is inherently uniform (since existence exists, to exist is to be something, and nature, since it exists, is therefore itself), and that it is such independent of consciousness.
This is the view consistent with the axioms “existence exists,” ”to exist is to be something” (i.e., to have identity), and “entities act according to their natures” independent of consciousness.
Conveniently Mr. Bethrick merely asserts what he has already written (“entities act according to their natures” = nature is uniform) and labels it axiomatic or at least derivative of a tautological axiom.
Cognition must obey the primacy of existence. That’s a severe constraint on knowledge, on all awareness of every kind, and it’s the cause of many other distinctive characteristics. It hasn’t been explicitly articulated so philosophers feel no discomfort in straddling it. But, like Ayn Rand’s axiomatic concepts they have to assume it in every assertion. Even when denying it as well. (Ayn Rand’s Theory of Knowledge, pp. 198-199)
As I noted in my previous post, Bolt completely ignores my points about nature being uniform independent of consciousness, perhaps out of reluctance to take a stand either way (for neither alternative bodes well for his theism). Also, he resists interacting with the view that nature is self-regulating (e.g., he gives no reasons to suppose that it is not self-regulating), even though this view is anathema to the presuppositionalist “account for” the uniformity of nature which insists that a supernatural being caused it to be so. Bolt fails to interact with any of this. He doesn’t even quote it for his own readers to examine, and, having provided no link to my post from his own, he apparently intends to convey the impression to his readers that his reaction accurately characterizes my position and interacts with it on its own terms. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the case.
Bolt apparently thinks it is wrong to relate the very concept of the uniformity of nature to the axioms. He writes:
Unfortunately this appeal to alleged axioms is irrelevant to the problem.
But the point is worth pressing further. Since the truth of the axioms is a constant throughout all knowledge, they are always going to be relevant, at least if one seeks to ground his knowledge in what is real. Bolt is anxious to discount their relevance because if he were to admit the fact that the axioms actually do bear on the question, then he would have no choice but to admit that my position does in fact have a reliable answer to provide. And he will resist this precisely because it would defeat his apologetic pre-commitments. There is, of course, the additional fact that Bolt’s preferred “explanation” of the uniformity of nature involves an appeal to something which we can only imagine (for even on the Christian view of the world, human beings do not perceive the Christian god, angels, demons, devils, heaven, hell, etc.; we “learn” about these things by reading about them in storybooks written by ancient primitives who themselves lacked any explicit means by which to distinguish the real from the imaginary), and any acknowledgement of the truth and fundamentality of the axioms would directly threaten the Christian “explanation” of the uniformity of nature. So his reaction is predictable in this sense.
In addition to his ignorance of the relevance of the axioms, Bolt shows throughout his paper that he is unable to grasp Objectivism without importing his theistic presuppositions into the mix, which can only ensure that his defense does not take the form of an internal critique. For instance, he makes unargued and unexplained statements such as “Reality involves much more than matter in motion,” “God is transcendent and real,” “Nature is uniform because God created and controls it,” he asserts that appealing to “supernatural causation” as an explanation of the uniformity of nature “is an answer with no apparent problems,” and speaks of “’inside the natural order’ versus ‘outside the natural order’,” again without explanation of what any of this means or a defense of the assumed validity of such notions. He does not show that on Objectivism’s premises, the “account for” the uniformity of nature is self-contradictory, inadequate, reliant on non-Objectivist principles, etc.
Notice also that, for presuppositionalists, questions are “problems” for their opponents, not for themselves. When questions are posed to them (such as the five that I restated from my blog in the preceding section of this post), they can ignore them and pretend they were never asked (as Bolt does).
But Bolt does seem to sense a threat when it comes to the Objectivist conception causality, and rightly so. He writes:
The claim that “entities act according to their natures” does not follow from the claim that “to exist is to be something” or “to exist is to have identity”.
Curiously, Bolt has provided no argument for the view that action has no identity, and this viewpoint is in direct conflict with Bolt’s own action of identifying actions in his writings: every time he writes a sentence containing a verbal or noun construction which refers to action, he is performatively contradicting his own denial of the applicability of the law of identity to action by assuming that the actions he so names do in fact have an identity to be identified. By using concepts to identify actions such as “does not follow” (which he uses in the above quote) and distinguish these actions from other actions (such as “does follow” or “swim” or “races about”), Bolt is telling us through his own actions that actions do in fact have identity, that the law of identity does in fact apply to actions, in spite of his denial. Bolt’s actions speak louder than his protests.
Moreover, there is the inconvenient fact that action does not take place unless there is some entity which exists and performs that action. Action in this sense is not a metaphysical primary – the entity which does the action is. Action does not exist by itself, apart from the entities which perform it. And because of this, action depends on the entities which perform it. I have elaborated on and defended this conception of causality in my blog Causality as a Necessary Relationship. Thus, contrary to what Bolt asserts, it does indeed follow from the fact that “to exist is to be something” that “entities act according to their natures,” the intervening recognition that actions cannot exist apart from the entities which perform them being key to connecting these two intimately related recognitions.
Bolt made another statement which reveals how careless he’s been up to this point:
Apparently thinking that he has solved the Problem of Induction per Objectivist axioms…
Meanwhile, while I have challenged Bolt to take a stand on whether or not Hume’s argument for inductive skepticism is, on his view, sound, and even to reproduce Hume’s argument since he seems to think it’s so important, Bolt remains silent on these points, showing essentially no appreciation for questioning the soundness of an argument whose conclusion is supposed to be so secure. If Bolt believes that Hume’s conclusion is sound, and his “problem of induction” needs to be addressed on Hume’s terms, why does he make no effort to defend it?
As for the Objectivist axioms, my purpose in referencing them in my post on the uniformity of nature is to show that the uniformity of nature has a specific meaning within the context of rational philosophy and that this meaning is closely tied to the fundamental recognitions which the axioms make explicit at the base of our knowledge. It’s clear from the foregoing that Bolt’s attempts to critique all of this have fallen flat.
Stay tuned, there’s more to come.
by Dawson Bethrick