The apologist(s) for the Randian position have spread more heat than light on this issue of dualism, which is actually critical since it touches upon an important area of difference between those of us who are critics of Rand and those who defend the author of Atlas Shrugged. So a restatement may be in order.
There are two major forms of dualism related to this issue: epistemological dualism and psycho-physical dualism. Epistemological dualism is the view that an idea is not identical with the thing in reality that it represents. Hence the idea of a cat is different from the cat itself. The idea is a mere representation of the cat. This is a view held most famously (and in a rather crude form) by Locke and Descartes. According to the malicious critics of knowledge (i.e. idealists), this is severely problematic, because it leads to a supposedly unanswerable problem, which the philosopher Santayana introduced as follows: "How is it possible to posit an object [i.e., the existence of external object] which is not a datum [i.e., not an idea], and how without knowing positively what this object is can I make it the criterion of truth in my ideas? ... If I know a man only by reputation, how should I judge if the reputation is deserved? If I know things only by representations, are not the representations the only things I know?"
Now how does Rand answer this question? Well, she doesn't really answer it directly, but through scattered remarks throughout her works, we piece together a rather inadequate reply. She begins by accepting the idealist critique of epistemological dualism, which caricatures this dualism as a complete separation of ideas and their objects. But epistemological dualism doesn't separate objects from ideas, it merely distinguishes them. Then Rand conflates epistemological with psycho-physical dualism and dismisses the former as being tainted with the (alleged) mysticism of the latter. Then having dismissed epistemological dualism, she sets up in its stead a view that is, for all intents and purposes, a version of epistemological dualism. For she accepts nearly all the positions held by epistemological dualists. She agrees with them, for example, that ideas (or, in her terminology, concepts) are not identical with the objects in reality they stand for. She also agrees that the mind does not mirror reality. So where does she differ from epistemological dualism? She differs only in that she wouldn't agree with the inevitable conclusion of epistemological dualism. How in fact is the leap from idea to object justified? Rand actually never addresses this issue specifically. Even in IOTE she ends up, perhaps unwittingly, addressing a separate issue (i.e., the relation between sensation and percepts on the one side, and concepts on the other). She dodges the whole issue of how percipient representations "correspond" with their existential objects. It is fairly obvious why she would do so. The simple fact of the matter, there is no viable solution to the problem that Rand would accept, because Rand believed that you had to prove or validate knowledge in order for knowledge to be useful and trustworthy. This is a false ideal deriving from Rand's theory of history. Those who appreciate and understand the problem of epistemological dualism realize that the only viable solution is one that embraces the conjectural nature of knowledge. The leap from idea to object is, as Santayana put, made under the steam of "animal faith," so that knowledge becomes "faith mediated by symbols." But this is not an arbitrary, groundless faith caricatured by Rand, but a justified faith corroborated by every moment of intelligent wakefulness.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Hoisted from comments: Nyquist on the Dualism(s)
From comments on our "Double Trouble" thread below, Greg Nyquist chips in with his take on dualisms in Objectivism: