Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Peikoff on the Invulnerability of the Objectivist Axioms

Since it is inevitable that Christian apologists will, when it is expedient to do so, dispute the truth of the Objectivist axioms, I thought it might be helpful to dedicate a single entry here on Incinerating Presuppositionalism showcasing Leonard Peikoff’s mock dialogue between a defender of the axioms and someone who denies their truth.

Here Peikoff shows how a denial of each of the axioms both exposes the detractor’s own absurdity as well as confirms the inescapability of their truth.

For reference, the three axioms in view here are:
One: The axiom of existence, which states: existence exists – i.e., things exist, there is a reality. 
Two: The axiom of consciousness, which states that consciousness is consciousness of things that exist, consciousness is real. 
Three: The axiom of identity, which states: to exist is to be something specific, distinct from other things that exist, A is A, a thing is itself.
The axioms denote fundamental recognitions as formal statements of the most basic of all truths. All other truths depend on the truth of these axioms in that without their truth, there would be nothing to be true to begin with. We know these truths implicitly because they are self-evident in all experience, i.e., in all conscious interaction with reality, with our surroundings, with our daily life. As formal statements, the axioms make explicit what we’ve known implicitly all along. To deny the truth of the axioms is to commit the fallacy of the stolen concept, for the very act of denying the truth of the axioms performatively confirms their truth: one would have to exist in order to deny the axiom of existence; one would need to be conscious in order to deny anything; the axiom of identity would itself need to have identity in order to be singled out and denied as against anything else.

The following excerpt appears on pages 9-10 of Leonard Peikoff’s book Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand:
The three axioms I have been discussing have a built-in protection against all attacks: they must be used and accepted by everyone, including those who attack them and those who attack the concept of the self-evident. Let me illustrate this point by considering a typical charge leveled by opponents of philosophic axioms. 
“People disagree about axioms,” we often hear. “What is self-evident to one may not be self-evident to another. How then can a man know that his axioms are objectively true? How can he ever be sure he is right?” 
This argument starts by accepting the concept of “disagreement,” which it uses to challenge the objectivity of any axioms, including existence, consciousness, and identity. The following condensed dialogue suggests one strategy by which to reveal the argument’s contradictions. The strategy begins with A, the defender of axioms, purporting to reject outright the concept of “disagreement.” 
A. “Your objection to the self-evident has no validity. There is no such thing as disagreement. People agree about everything.” 
B. “That’s absurd. People disagree constantly, about all kinds of things.” 
A. “How can they? There’s nothing to disagree about, no subject matter. After all, nothing exists.” 
B. “Nonsense. All kinds of things exist. You know that as well as I do.” 
A. “That’s one. You must accept the existence axiom even to utter the term ‘disagreement.’ But, to continue, I still claim that disagreement is unreal. How can people disagree, since they are unconscious beings who are unable to hold ideas at all?” 
B. “Of course people hold ideas. They are conscious beings—you know that?” 
A. “There’s another axiom. But even so, why is disagreement about ideas a problem? Why should it suggest that one or more of the parties is mistaken? Perhaps all of the people who disagree about the very same point are equally, objectively right.” 
B. “That’s impossible. If two ideas contradict each other, they can’t both be right. Contradictions can’t exist in reality. After all, things are what they are. A is A.” 
Existence, consciousness, identity are presupposed by every statement and by every concept, including that of “disagreement.” (They are presupposed even by invalid concepts, such as “ghost” or “analytic” truth.) In the act of voicing his objection, therefore, the objector has conceded the case. In any act of challenging or denying the three axioms, a man reaffirms them, no matter what the particular content of his challenge. The axioms are invulnerable. 
The opponents of these axioms pose as defenders of truth, but it is only a pose. Their attack on the self-evident amounts to the charge: “Your belief in an idea doesn’t necessarily make it true; you must prove it, because facts are what they are independent of your beliefs.” Every element of this charge relies on the very axioms that these people are questioning and supposedly setting aside.
The axioms of existence, consciousness and identity are inescapable. To deny them is to performatively concede their truth.

I challenge any and all Christian apologists to make one coherent pronouncement which does not assume or concede the truth identified by the axioms of existence, consciousness and identity. Just one. You won’t be able to do it. You won’t be able to assert any statement as true without assuming or conceding the truth of the Objectivist axioms. Comments are open and apologists are welcome to post their attempts there.

by Dawson Bethrick


Robert Kidd said...

Peikoff's demonstration is really the best way to answer any objections to the axioms.

By the way, many of my criticisms in the comments section of Mr. Ayala's video that you responded to in your last post and more importantly my comments responding to people seeking to challenge me in the comments section have been removed. So much for concern about truth and "justification".


Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Robert,

You probably hit some raw nerves then.

You're always free to cross-post your comments on this blog if you like. Provide links and take names, I say! Your comments can be deleted elsewhere but still remain alive and kicking over here. If apologists are deleting comments which they find inconvenient (I've seen it happen many times), there will still be a record that you can point to in future interactions.

Another tip, in case you're not already doing it: write out your comments on a file on your own machine (e.g., a Word doc) and then copy/paste to the channel's comment section - this not only ensures that you have a copy of what you posted, but also allows you to review and edit before you submit your comment. In fact, keep a copy of the entire interaction. I started this habit back in the 1990s, believe it or not, and reviewing the exchanges over and over again really helped me sharpen my detection skills. Sometimes just a single word can give something away.

I'm working on more entries to post – it’s just a matter of finding uninterrupted time to focus on things.


Robert Kidd said...

Good morning Dawson. Thanks for the suggestions.

That is a good idea to copy and paste my posts and opponents' responses to them in a single thread in a Word document. That would make things a lot easier. I will do that from now on. I went to do that with one particular interaction and more of my comments are gone this morning. It is the responses I posted to challenges to my position that are disappearing and that pisses me off. It makes it look like I had no answer. So, yeah, I must have gotten on some nerves.

Have a productive day.

Robert Kidd

Robert Kidd said...


Here is one of the comments I left for Mr. Ayala. It is still there.

"Since the only alternative to starting with existence is to start with non-existence, what's wrong with starting with the fact of existence???? and to what could one point to to "justify existence" except something that exists? Do you understand what an axiom is now? It's not just a statement that is taken as established. It is a statement that is rationally undeniable. Hmmm... what could people deny since nothing exists to deny. And, how could anyone deny anything since people are not conscious of anything? Oh, and why should anyone deny anything? Can't two people hold two different positions on a subject and both be equally right? There you have them, the axioms, and no this is not an attempt to "justify" them, only a demonstration that the concepts existence, identity, and consciousness are axiomatic."


Bahnsen Burner said...

Good morning Robert,

Happy Friday to you and everyone!

Those are all good points, Robert, and I confess I’m not surprised that theists will ignore or even remove them entirely. They really don’t want a dialogue with non-believers on equal footing – they want to be able to control the narrative. They do not want to answer direct questions like those which you have asked – they want to be able make their assertions without challenge. They certainly do not like to witness the absurdity of their position being exposed.

It might help to state your questions individually as separate, direct, and enumerated challenges. Below are some suggested answers. Each one can serve as a conversation starter, and no doubt you could add many more to the list. Keep them on a file on your hard drive, make note of when and where you posted them, and check from time to time to see if anyone has responded to them. If they go unanswered, you could follow up, posting one or all again – e.g., “Hey, Eli, I see that you haven’t answered the questions I posted here on [date]. I’m really curious how you would address [repeat particular question from the list].” Or, just repost all the questions you had asked. Eli has an established forum now, and so long as the comments are open on his video posts, reactions to what he posts are essentially invited.

1. I begin with the fact that existence exists. How is the recognition that existence exists is not true?

2. If you don’t start with existence, you must start with non-existence. What other alternative is there to existence if not non-existence?

3. Do you believe that existence is a product of conscious activity?

4. According to your worldview, does wishing make it so?

5. Do you acknowledge that the imaginary is not real?

6. If I imagine a ball, is the ball that I imagine material, or immaterial?

7. If you believe there is a god, are you claiming that you have direct awareness of it, or that you have inferred its existence from more fundamental facts?

8. If you are claiming to have direct awareness of your god, by what means do you have awareness of it? How can we reliably distinguish the means by which you claim to have awareness of your god from your imagination?

9. If you’re claiming that you have inferred your god’s existence from more fundamental facts, what are they and how did you draw that inference?

10. When I imagine your god, how is what I’m imagining not imaginary?

Of course, another approach is to challenge the apologist to identify book, chapter and verse(s) where the Christian bible addresses the topics which they expect non-believing worldviews to address. Where, for example, does the bible address the question (which Eli raises in his video) as to whether logical principles are “material” or “immaterial”? He’ll have no answer to this, just an evasion, if he even responds. If he were honest, he should say, “I don’t believe it does,” however even then he’d likely follow that up with “but… but… but…” – so as to say: “The Word of God doesn’t tell us, but your worldview needs to!” They hold their bible to a much lower standard than they do you, which we should call out and accept as a good sign.

I’m sure there are other strategies you could explore.

I think what’s most fascinating is that Objectivism seeks to get to the bottom of the issue by way of identifying fundamentals, while the apologist’s bottom-line issue is “believe our bullshit or we’ll ridicule you and then ignore you.” They don’t truly want a dialogue with someone who’s going to challenge their position.