Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Objectivist Myths: 1. Rand Solved Hume's 'Problem of Induction'

A handy, ongoing list of fact-free beliefs about Ayn Rand's intellectual achievements.

Rand is widely believed by her followers to have solved most of the major philosophic questions. For example, she is thought to have answered what has come to be known as Hume's "problem of induction."

But did she in fact do this? Sadly, no:

Prof M:"The question is: where does one stop? When does one decide that enough confirming evidence exists? Is that the province of the issue of induction?

Rand: "Yes. That's the big question of induction...Which I couldn't even begin to discuss - because...I haven't worked on that subject enough to even begin to formulate it..." - Introduction To Objectivist Epistemology p304


Anonymous said...

Can you please provide us with one piece of evidence suggesting that anyone *thinks* AR solved the problem of induction? I know of none. On the contrary, there are many examples in Objectivist lecture courses when Leonard Peikoff and others say that the problem of induction was the last major problem in philosophy unaddressed by AR.

Daniel Barnes said...

Hi Anon,

Why don't you simply visit any Objectivist forum and pose the question as to whether Rand's theories answer Hume's problem of the validity of induction? I have done so myself many times. I think you will find there is a widespread, yet false, impression that Rand answered Hume. In fact people often react with some outrage at the suggestion that Rand had absolutely no answer to Hume - after all she talks a lot about how important both logic and induction are, but never discusses how they clash. And she and Peikoff regularly made various vague handwaving putdowns to Hume, perhaps giving less careful readers the wrong idea. And finally of course Hume's problem is the source of Kant.

But I invite you to try it, see how you go.

Behemoth said...

I don't know about the legacy of Rand herself on this issue, but it appears that Peikoff has claimed an Objectivist solution exists:


gregnyquist said...
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gregnyquist said...

"Can you please provide us with one piece of evidence suggesting that anyone *thinks* AR solved the problem of induction?"

I have run into Objectivists (or at least people claiming to have been Objectivists) who made that claim. But it is true that it's not a belief shared by leading Objectivists at ARI, who believe that Peikoff, rather than Rand solved (or at least adequately addressed) the problem of induction. Allegedly, Peikoff is working on a book which will contain his "solution" to this old philosophical chokepear.

Although Rand explicitly denied having solved the problem of induction, her so-called validation of man's conceptual faculty, which Peikoff claims Rand was fully satisfied with, implicitly assumes the validity of induction. If concept formation is to be valid in the Randian sense, induction must also be valid, because part of concept formation involves using induction. For example, finding what Rand labeled the "conceptual common denominator" assumes induction. And Rand herself admitted that the "process of observing the facts of reality and of integrating them into concepts is, in essence, a process of induction." But if Rand didn't solve the problem of induction, then how can Peikoff claim that Rand regarded her theory of concept-formation (i.e., her solution to the problem of universals, upon which such an immense historical burden is placed) as valid?

Daniel Barnes said...

I often find "contextual certainty" cited as Rand's alleged response to Hume (by Objectivists who don't understand the facts of the matter). But of course her theory of "contextual certainty" is merely a word-game.

Neil Parille said...

I think some Objectivists think that Rand solved the 'problem of induction' because of her view that causality is the law of identity applied to action (or however she or Peikoff put it).

Daniel Barnes said...

Hi Neil

The same argument is made in HWB Joseph's book on logic, which is Objectivist-approved. So it is certainly not original to Rand. Nick Dykes attempts the same line of criticism in his Rand-influenced and markedly inept attack on Popper. However it fails obviously because Hume's problem does not suggest that an entity has no identity, merely that even an infinite number of tests cannot confirm a universal law. Thus missing the point entirely.

Anonymous said...

For a proposed solution to Hume's Problem of Induction, see

gregnyquist said...

Anon: "For a proposed solution to Hume's Problem of Induction, see this link"

Interesting link, but from a cursory look, appears to provide but a verbal solution to the problem. The author there concludes that, while not every "inductive concept" is valid, there exists a "special class" of such concepts whose referents "undergo no nature or state change" that are valid. "This new approach to understanding how creating inductive concepts is justifiable can be used in maintaining their validity," the author asserts. "We can do this by qualifying them in such a way as to constrain them from being invalid." [Emphasis added.] In other words, it's simply an ideal case justification, true only under the special (and entirely unrealistic) qualifications provided by the theory. The author has merely defined special circumstances in which he believes induction is valid. But these special circumstances are not applicable to the real world, where referents may be subject to all manner of "nature or state" changes.