Friday, August 08, 2008

Understanding Objectivist Jargon pt 15: "Objective"

The latest in our ever-popular series translating Objectivist jargon into ordinary usage:

"Objective" = subjective

The Objectivist jargon substitutes unusual or specialised word meanings for standard ones.These specialised meanings can even be the exact opposite of the usual ones (see for example "sacrifice"). The Objectivist meanings are then either insisted upon, or inserted alongside the standard meanings and equivocated between. Thus on examination much Randian argument, especially in epistemology, consists literally of double-talk.

A key example of this is the usual meaning of the word "objective", which is redefined to include the contents of consciousness ie that which is usually called subjective. In this classic passage from "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand", we observe exactly how Leonard Peikoff engineers this rhetorical switcheroo:

"People often speak of “objective reality.” In this usage, which is harmless, “objective” means “independent of consciousness.” The actual purpose of the concept, however, is to be found not in metaphysics, but in epistemology. Strictly speaking, existents are not objective; they simply are. It is minds, and specifically conceptual processes [including their products], that are objective (emphasis DB) — or nonobjective." - Leonard Peikoff, OPAR p117

12 comments:

JayCross said...

Strictly speaking, existents are not objective; they simply are.

I don't get it. That doesn't sound like anything you or Greg would disagree with.

Daniel Barnes said...

Hi Jay,

We agree that existents simply are. But Peikoff's manoeuvre is this: saying that existents "simply are" whether we like it or not is the same as saying they are objective. They are the objects of the thinking subject's thoughts. What is happening is that Peikoff has now fudged the distinction, conveniently obfuscating the subjectivist implications of Rand's theory of concept formation. But of course, relabeling the pack doesn't change the contents...;-)


Dictionary.com
7. being the object of perception or thought; belonging to the object of thought rather than to the thinking subject (opposed to subjective).

Michael Prescott said...

It sounds to me as if Peikoff is using "objective" to mean "unbiased." He seems to be saying, "Reality is neither biased nor unbiased; it simply is. Only your thoughts about reality can be biased or unbiased."

Interpreted this way, his statement would seem pretty uncontroversial (although personally I suspect that the whole observer/observed distinction is less clearcut than Objectivism assumes).

Dragonfly said...

Looking in a dictionary, you'll find many different meanings of "objective". In science it usually means that some statement about reality can be verified by different people, that there is tangible evidence for it, in contrast to a personal opinion that is not based on hard evidence. In that sense an objective statement isn't necessarily true, but it is the best guess about reality with the knowledge that at that moment is available.

Rory said...

I think it's a bit presumptive to take anything from OPAR and say, 'Peikoff's intention in formulating this was: this!' I've followed the inductive method of understanding Objectivism, and the process isn't:
"Well, there's this word 'objective' and I want to use it for my sake".
It's actually, "What does the word objective mean? What would we have to know to come to the conclusion that something is 'objective'?"
The problem with ascribing any objectivity to metaphysical reality, is that you then have to ask, 'Objective in regards to what?'
If you say that reality is objective, then you have to answer, 'Well, objective according to whom?'. Objectivity has to be held by someone, so to say metaphysical reality is 'objective' is a bit odd.
So of course, it has to be an epistemological issue, as it is concerned with, 'Well, how can /we/ be objective? Why should we even want to be objective?' and all that flows from the recognition that objectivity is something we have to hold, epistemologically.

Rory said...

Just to clarify that a bit further, objectivity requires a standard. It requires that we have something we can point to and say, 'This follows this principle'.
Subjectivism says there are no principles, everything we perceive is discrete, everything we think is random, any judgement we make is completely disconnected from any identification of causal relationships, it says, 'Well, reality is whatever it seems at this moment'.
So you see, objectivity has nothing to do with subjectivity - unless of course you think 'I think it' means 'I chose this thought arbitrarily', but then that's your own epistemological error, not Dr Peikoff's.

The Ghost of Ayn Rand said...

Rory said...

Objectivity has to be held by someone, so to say metaphysical reality is 'objective' is a bit odd.

Ahem. As I said in Galt's speech:

"Their purpose is to deprive you of the concept on which man's mind, his life and his culture depend: the concept of an objective reality."

and

"If you wonder by what means they propose to do it, walk into any college classroom and you will hear your professors teaching your children that man can be certain of nothing, that his consciousness has no validity whatever, that he can learn no facts and no laws of existence, that he's incapable of knowing an objective reality."

and

"His lust is to command, not to convince: conviction requires an act of independence and press on the absolute of an objective reality."

and

So long as men, in the era of savagery, had no concept of objective reality and believed that physical nature was ruled by the whim of unknowable demons—no thought, no science, no production were possible.

and

You will live in a world of responsible beings, who will be as consistent and reliable as facts; the guarantee of their character will be a system of existence where objective reality is the standard of the judge.


The word "objective" modifies the word "reality" in those sentences. Are you calling what I said odd? I didn't think so.

Dragonfly said...

Interesting. So in fact Peikoff is contradicting Rand.

Rory said...

Nice work, except you forget to point out that none of those say talk about reality as being metaphysically objective.
'Objective' is a modifier of the concept reality, yes, but not of the actual nature of reality. If I say 'perceptual reality', yes, it means that reality is perceivable, but it doesn't mean that there is some innate quality in reality, that it has to be perceived for it to be real. It just means that reality is capable of being perceived. Similarly, objective reality means that when viewed by a rational being, it can be rationally identified, but it does not mean there is some kind of mystical, 'objectifying' going on independent of man's mind.

I'll close with a quote by Ayn Rand, where she expands on what she means when she says 'objective reality', then we can see if Peikoff contradicts Rand:
"Relativism" and "subjectivism" mean a metaphysical doctrine that denies the concept of an objective reality—a reality which exists independently of a perceiving consciousness and/or which is knowable to such consciousness. A "relativist" or a "subjectivist," therefore, acts without reference to or in defiance of the facts of reality."

The Ghost of Ayn Rand said...

Rory, you seem to have overlooked what I said in “Who Is the Final Authority in Ethics?” The Objectivist Newsletter, Feb. 1965, 7:

"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)."

To repeat, in case you missed it:

"Objectivity ... is the recognition of the fact that reality exists independent of any perceiver’s consciousness." (emphasis added)

Now let's look at what you said:

The problem with ascribing any objectivity to metaphysical reality, is that you then have to ask, 'Objective in regards to what?'
If you say that reality is objective, then you have to answer, 'Well, objective according to whom?'. Objectivity has to be held by someone, so to say metaphysical reality is 'objective' is a bit odd. So of course, it has to be an epistemological issue ..."


But it isn't odd at all, and to say that "reality exists independent of any perceiver’s consciousness" is to deny that "you have to answer, 'Objective in regards to what?' and 'objective according to whom?'". Reality is "independent of any perceiver’s consciousness" which in this context means "irrespective of; regardless of", in contrast to "in regards to; according to".

So it is not true that "Objectivity has to be held by someone" or that "the actual purpose of the concept ... is to be found not in metaphysics ..." Rather, objectivity is the recognition of the fact that reality exists independent of any perceiver’s consciousness, which is a metaphysical concept if ever there was one.

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Reality is "independent of any perceiver's consciousness", which in this context means "irrespective of; regardless of", in contrast to "in regard to; according to". - the ghost of Ayn Rand
___________________________________





Then how would one know what is reality?

zamyrabyrd said...

With regard to the original quote, how can anyone decide that "objective" has nothing to do with metaphysics, the study of the nature of reality, that is, if epistemology, the study of the limits of knowledge, is a subset of the former?

And WHY does one get the impression that "epistemology" a word that crops up a lot with objectivists, has more of the aura of "scient-ology", with a specialized definition for those already initiated and not mainstream users of the language.

My opinion is that there is a very superficial use of terms taken from philosophy but thrown around in such a manner that give the impression of erudition but not the substance.