Friday, August 13, 2010

Objectivism & “Metaphysics,” Part 4

Nothing is self-evident. Central to the Objectivist metaphysics is the notion that there are certain premises or “axioms” that are “self-evident.” This notion of self-evidence is at the very root of Rand’s foundationalism and must be challenged before we go any further.

Rand once claimed that, “ Nothing is self-evident except the material of sensory perception.” However, the Objectivist “axioms” are also regarded as self-evident, even though it is not clear in what sense these axioms can be regarded as “material of sensory perception” (or even what “material of sensory perception” is supposed to mean!). In dealing with the Objectivist metaphysics, “we must speak by the card, or equivocation will undo us.”

David Kelley defined an axiom as “a self-evident principle that is implicit in all knowledge.” How is an axiom “self-evident”? What does this self-evidence rest on? Objectivists resort to a rather strained argument that convinces only those who wish to be convinced. “An axiom is a proposition that defeats its opponents by the fact that they have to accept it and use it in the process of any attempt to deny it,” explained Rand [emphasis added]. In other words, according to Rand, an axiom is true and self-evident because you cannot refute it without assuming its validity. However, is this notion of how an axiom is true and self-evident also self-evident? And if it is not, how can Rand claim that her axioms are self-evident?

Here’s one problem: Rand claims that every one of her axioms are assumed in the attempt to deny them. How does she know this? Is she familiar with all the potential arguments that can be essayed against them? Of course not: she can’t be familiar with every attempt to deny them. Therefore her assertion is based on a kind of inference—namely, an inductive inference. Now whatever Rand or anyone else thinks of induction, such inferences can hardly be reckoned as self-evident. Therefore, her very belief that her axioms can only be denied by assuming them does not carry with it the stamp of self-evidence, which her axioms require to pass muster.

There’s another problem as well. It seems that Rand did not really understand extreme skepticism, that she may very well have been guilty of confusing the necessary presuppositions of her own philosophy with those of the skeptic. As Santayana noted,

The sceptic is not committed to the implications of other men’s language; nor can he be convicted out of his own mouth by the names he is obliged to bestow on the details of his momentary vision. There may be long vistas in it ; there may be many figures of men and beasts, many legends and apocalypses depicted on his canvas ; there may even be a shadowy frame about it, or the suggestion of a gigantic ghostly some thing on the hither side of it which he may call himself. All this wealth of objects is not inconsistent with solipsism, although the implication of the conventional terms in which those objects are described may render it difficult for the solipsist always to remember his solitude. Yet when he reflects, he perceives it; and all his heroic efforts are concentrated on not asserting and not implying anything, but simply noticing what he finds. Scepticism is not concerned to abolish ideas ; it can relish the variety and order of a pictured world, or of any number of them in succession, without any of the qualms and exclusions proper to dogmatism. Its case is simply not to credit these ideas, not to posit any of these fancied worlds, nor this ghostly mind imagined as viewing them. [Scepticism and Animal Faith, 15-16]


In short, Rand seems to have forgotten that denying existence means denying that the images of sense relate to an external, substantive world of fact, existing in time and space. Positing a world from the data of sense can never be “self-evident.” The only thing that is “evident” to the self is the passing rush of datum across the mind’s sentience. Yet none of these datum, taken by themselves, can be evidence of anything until we assume they are signs of outward things existing in reality. And that assumption, although true, is hardly “self-evident.”

35 comments:

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Matt Warren said...

Regarding this statement:

"In other words, according to Rand, an axiom is true and self-evident because you cannot refute it without assuming its validity."

There was a rhetorical trick that my elders used back when I was embedded in fundamentalist Christianity. They would claim that in order to disprove the existence of god, you had to implicitly accept it.

It was as though the word - the concept - had magic powers that made it instantly true for the critical examiner.

Is this the same phenomena?

Michael Prescott said...

Apologies if someone else has linked to this, but apparently a certain Nick Newcomen has found a unique way to publicize his favorite novelist-philosopher:

tiny.cc/f3ekm

You've gotta give the guy props for enthusiasm and stamina, at least!

The first entry in the comments thread is pretty funny, BTW.

Michael Prescott said...

I meant the comments thread at the linked site, not this one.

Matt said...

@Matt Warren
"They would claim that in order to disprove the existence of god, you had to implicitly accept it."
It's equivalent to saying in order to disprove the existence of a unicorn, yeti, spaghetti monster so on you have to implicitly accept it.
I agree with you the logic is obviously fallacious.

However in this case, I cannot find a refutation to existence itself.

Yes you can easily show that trying to disprove a specific thing's existence does not implicitly mean you accept its existence but we're talking about existence itself.

Quoting the blog post, "The only thing that is “evident” to the self is the passing rush of datum across the mind’s sentience".
The way I understand Ayn Rand's assertion is, existence itself exists.
This is not about a specific instance, this is about existence whatever its true form is.

For there to be this "rush of datum", it must exist right?
For there to be a mind to perceive that rush of datum, it must also exist?
So something exists at least, we haven't stated what, nor whether it's some external world or not but something does, therefore existence exists?

Where has my reasoning failed?

Anonymous said...

Two new books by Randroids.
The Logical Leap:Induction In Physics by David Harriman with an intro by Mad Lenny. It seems a worthwhile read.
Neoconservatism:An Obituary For An Idea by C. Bradley Thompson and Yaron Brook is more mixed. Brook only writes one chapter, a crazed one on foreign policy wherein his complaint is that we haven't killed anywhere near enough people in Iraq and hails the US model of the unnecessary atomic bombings in Japan and the Allied war crimes like Dresden, etc. Of course the US is still in Germany and Okinawa
(Japan) 65 years later ! Both societies are heavily regulated state controlled societies. There is one critical review of the Thompson on Amazon which focuses on the awful foreign policy chapter
of Brook's by Mike Hardesty. He points out that Peikoff, Brook and assorted ARI clones are advocating genocide in the killing of hundreds of millions,if not billions, of Arabs, Persians and Muslims.
Two Randroids, one with the contrived name of William Bucko (!)
attempted rebuttals but Hardesty destroyed them.
Anyway, an FYI for your readers.
The Thompson book does have merit in explicating the specifically Platonic-Statist rule by Philosopher Kings as advocated by Leo Strauss and Irving Kristol, the founders of the neocon cult.
David Brooks is their leading contemporary spokesman.
But still on foreign policy the Randroids are even much worse than the neocons ! This is not PC to write but has anyone noticed that both Objectionablism and Neoconism
are largely Jewish Cults ? Not that there aren't plenty of stupid goys following them.

gregnyquist said...

"There was a rhetorical trick that my elders used back when I was embedded in fundamentalist Christianity. They would claim that in order to disprove the existence of god, you had to implicitly accept it.... Is this the same phenomena?"

In some ways, yes. But in others, no. It uses the same method. However, while everyone believes in existence, for example, not everyone believes in God. Therefore, it's easy for an atheist or an agnostic to notice the fallacy in the argument for God; not as easy to notice it when Rand uses it for her axioms.

gregnyquist said...

"However in this case, I cannot find a refutation to existence itself."

It's not an issue on whether existence can be refuted. It more has to do with whether belief in existence is (a) self-evident or (b) based on some self-evident belief. Even if it is shown that both (a) and (b) are wrong, this does not amount to a refutation of existence. At most, it would merely give positive reasons for rejecting foundationalism.

"So something exists at least, we haven't stated what, nor whether it's some external world or not but something does, therefore existence exists?"

This is not in doubt (although it is not self-evident). Neither the skeptic nor the idealist (nor even anti-foundationalist) denies existence of something. The skeptic denies that existence can be known (which is different from "refuting" existence). The skeptic is wrong about this, but he cannot be decisively refuted. The idealist believes that only the rush of datum exists; he therefore denies "existence" in the realist sense of the term. The anti-foundationalist denies the significance of noting that this "rush of datum" exists, because this rush of datum, taken by itself, is meaningless, and only begins to take on significance when it is taken as a sign of the existence of real objects, existing in time and space.

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Anonymous said...

How can the Humean skeptic not be decisively refuted since he is using the concept of existence to deny existence ? And since existence is self-evident why would we have to prove anything to him ? Isn't existence the most basic of the very few axioms that exist ? We have a stolen concept going on here. Is Warren really doubting that there are axioms ?
And what does dragging his irrelevant religious background into this have to do with anything ? Talk about irrelevant nonsequiturs ! I've been rereading quite a bit of the philosophizing going on here and it all has a familiar ring to it. Very mainstream linguistic analysis with the not always acknowledged acceptance of the fashionable Humean-Kantian 'We know that we can know nothing' 'It's all relative'ad nauseum. Christ, the Thomistic Adlerians over at The Radical Academy have debunked this
nonsense decades ago. See Ten Philosophical Mistakes by the late Mortimer Adler.
Even IF you were able to refute Rand's metaphysics, epistemology,ethics, aesthetics and politics, which you haven't,
what's your replacement philosophy ? Why is Atlas still selling tens of millions of copies
while Greg's book is a vanity press operation ? I know that the real weakness of Objectivism is in the crazed (mostly)Jewish foreign policy crackpotism. And it can easily be shown that that contradicts the basic principles of Objectivism. It can be demonstrated that Rothbard's Anarcho-Capitalism is a more consistent application of Objectivism than the so-called limited government. Rand's weakness
was in history, not philosophy.She
could have benefited from the insights of revisionist historians. Hospers told me that she endorsed determinism and eminent domain up until the late 1950s. Hospers wrote that Rand also endorsed 80% taxation at the height of the cold war ! Hospers wrote that tidbit in his crazed 2004 endorsement of Bush.
So she certainly can be justly criticized but not on the grounds presented here at ARCHN.
Greg in no way proves that her philosophy contradicts human nature, which he doesn't define in his vanity book. He merely assumes
a particular view of human nature but doesn't begin to demonstrate its universality. At least Greg's making an intellectual effort, however flawed. Barnes on the other hand is simply an ad huckster
and a dimestore Popperian.Harriman briefly deals with "Sir Karl" in his new book on physics and philosophy. The old fraud doesn't deserve more.

Anonymous said...

"Even IF you were able to refute Rand's metaphysics, epistemology,ethics, aesthetics and politics, which you haven't,"

Erm...a dogmatic assertion if ever there was one...sorry but Greg has done just this...if you read this blog.

"what's your replacement philosophy ?"

I'm not sure why that is important...though in refuting objectivism I accept that this may answer itself but that is not the purpose of this blog.

"Why is Atlas still selling tens of millions of copies
while Greg's book is a vanity press operation ?"

Atlas isn't selling tens of millions of copies, it sells a lot I'll grant you but so what? So do many other books, like say The Bible, Catcher in the Rye, Dianetics, the Little Red book...what does that prove? That about 0.01% of the folks that read Altas become objectivists? Is that what you are crowing about? Sure it sells more than Gregs book, but then it's hardly a book for the mass-market now is it? In fairness to Greg, books that take a negative stance on the philosophy on Ayn Rand are not big sellers and I doubt that there are many publishing houses out there willing to bet the farm on it. Again, what is your point? Even if it topped the NY Times bestseller list it could still be awful. Though one thing I'll say in it's defence I'm sure it converts more than 0.01% of it's readers to his way of thinking...unlike some books we could care to mention. I've read it and enjoyed it, there just aren't that many times in my life where I've had the opportunity to recommend it to others. You can hardly start a conversation like this "Read any good books on objectivism lately..."


"I know that the real weakness of Objectivism is in the crazed (mostly)Jewish foreign policy crackpotism. And it can easily be shown that that contradicts the basic principles of Objectivism"

Believe me, the philosophy of Ayn Rand has bigger problems than this. But I get your point. We should be fair to Rand and see objectivism and the ARI as two seperate things.

Steven Johnston
UK

P.S. Greg has an online version of the book you can read for free, perhaps that explains why sales of the hard copy are so low.

Anonymous said...

"Greg in no way proves that her philosophy contradicts human nature, which he doesn't define in his vanity book. He merely assumes
a particular view of human nature but doesn't begin to demonstrate its universality."

More dogmatic assertions and insults...sludge without nuggets. Truly irritating. None of what he states here anon proves at all. A lot was written and it all added up in the end to nothing more than "sound and fury". Next time show us where Greg went wrong and as for Barnes, so what if he is a "dimestore Popperian"? I'm sure you'd still let him marry your daughter.


Steven Johnston
UK

Anonymous said...

Mister Limey, I hope you don't consider your rants to be a rebuttal, do you ?
You haven't presented any reasoning to refute my iteration
of a few axioms which demolish the philosophical line of argument that Greg has been unsuccessfully pushing for a decade.
Believe me, the total sales of Atlas is in the tens of millions,neither Catcher or any of the other books you listed come anywhere near close. Only the Bible is possibly more widely read
BUT no one buys the Bible, it's always given away. A big difference.
The Little Red Book hasn't sold a copy since 1970, ergo for Dianetics.
I agree with you that all of Greg's and Danny's stuff constitute a lot of sludge that has amounted to nothing in the end.
Glad we agree on something.
And NO my daughter would never marry a New Zealand slimey like Danny Barnes.
PPPPPPPPHHHHEEEWWW !!!!!
The mostly Jewish foreign policy cultism is the biggest problem in Objectivism and has been for at least 40 years.
Yes, it is legitimate to ask what alternative philosophy is being advocated here because I don't see anything other than a very stale recitation of linguistic analytic
masterbatory cliches.
I'm sure Greg has to give his book away for free because that's exactly what it's worth.

Andrew Priest said...

"How can the Humean skeptic not be decisively refuted since he is using the concept of existence to deny existence ? And since existence is self-evident why would we have to prove anything to him ? Isn't existence the most basic of the very few axioms that exist ?"

What exactly do mean by 'existence'? By itself the term is vague. It applies as easily to an idealist's views as to a materialist's. Roughly, I think there's a weak and strong version of existence.

The weak form is to merely assert that something exists. This seems undeniable. Even if I adopt solipsism of the present moment, I can not deny that something exists. Even if that something is only the barest of conscious experience, it must exist since any illusion or deception would itself be a form of existence.

The stronger form is referring to objective existence. That things exist out there in the world. The key point here is that a skeptic does not deny that there is existence, but rather argues over our knowledge of the exact nature of that existence. An idealist certainly claims to experience stimuli. When he talks with another, he is not denying that he perceives sounds and words and the like. He uses common language relative to the topic. What he is denying is that additional properties added those stimuli, namely that they represent solid things in the world with physical properties, exist or can be known to exist.

Consider a dream. In my dream I might talk with someone about this very topic. I might claim that he doesn't really exist beyond the confines of my head. He could then claim that by talking to him and using the language of existence I prove that he exists independently. Upon waking I know the truth, or at least think I do.

Anonymous said...

"Believe me, the total sales of Atlas is in the tens of millions,"

Yet the total number of objectvists is what? A tenth of 1% who read the book?

"neither Catcher or any of the other books you listed come anywhere near close."

Catcher sells 250 000 books in the US alone every year. FACT!

"Only the Bible is possibly more widely read
BUT no one buys the Bible, it's always given away. A big difference."

Books shops have shelves, nay sections devoted to the bible pal, I doubt they are sitting there gathering dust, they sell bud...by the cartload. There are even shops which sell nothing but the bible and men go door to door in the US selling it too. As for giving it away...sure that happens as it does with AR's books. Ever year the ARI buys at least $1 millions worth of them to give away free...
As for books being more widely read than AS, try the Communist Manifesto, The Quo'ran, Oliver Twist and anything by Dr. Suess to name buy a few. But why should sales mean that something is good? Or do you objectivists subscribe to the philosophy that if it's good it must be popular, if it's popular it must be good? I take it from this then that the best album ever, in your eyes, is Thriller by Jackson?

As for your assertion that Barnes is a slimey, well it takes one to know one Anon.

Steven Johnston
UK

Anonymous said...

"Mister Limey" & "...New Zealand slimey like Danny Barnes."

- Anon

"Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism"

- From Racism, by Ayn Rand (VOS)

Steven Johnston
UK

Anonymous said...

Calling a limey a limey is not racism. And Rand herself was an anti-Arab racist, see the recent Ayn Rand, Questions and Answers.
How do you get your figure on the number of Objectivists ? It's something you pulled out of your behind ? Catcher does not sell anywhere near 250,000 copies in the US every year.
Are the Bible readers only one tenth of one percent Christian ?
Hmmmmm. I don't believe that either.
Bibles don't sell at all. I know many book dealers and they won't take bibles because they don't sell.
ARI does give her books away to students but it would be only a fraction of her sales.
Let's see, I assert that Pol Pot was a mass murderer SO I must be one too. Stevie logic.
Andrew, if you can't figure out what EXISTENCE is, there's no way I can help you. I'm limited to human language and reasoning.
Sorry but your issues seem more psychological than epistemological.

Daniel Barnes said...

Steven, your ranting anon is in this case Mike Hardesty, a long-standing internet troll on various sites, including this one, where he sockpuppeted for a while before being amusingly exposed.

He comes back now and again like a bad virtual penny. Don't pay him no never mind.

Daniel Barnes said...

Re:The Logical Leap, from what I've read of it (have yet to order it), the Objectivist solution is - wait for it - "First, assume induction works!"

That is it, the some total of their argument. Neither good, nor even original, nor even far from where Hume himself ended up (he rejected his own logical findings).

Awesome!

As for NeoConservatism:An Obituary, I will have to check it out, thanks for the tip.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that Daniel. I'll ignore him from now on. As we say in Limey land, the chap has *ahem* issues!

Steven Johnston
UK

Anonymous said...

Somewhere on ARI's website, I don't know if it's still up, there's a lecture by Harriman on physics. I need to listen to the rest of it at some point, because I got about halfway through and gave up due to the baffling idiocy.

After running through a brief history of physics for a while, Harriman comes to the .. well we'll say meat of the matter out of charity. Basically he gets into the idea that quantum mechanics implies that things are causeless. He then says something like "they claim to have experimental evidence for this. But come on. We know that doesn't make sense, everything has a cause." That's his big refutation. I assume he elaborates somehow or other, but really, that seems to be his argument, it isn't commonsensical to have things without causes, so it's clearly wrong.

Anonymous said...

What would happen in the real world if you gave a lecture like, a history of physics and claiming you could refute quantum mechanics and it turned out all you said was that:

"they claim to have experimental evidence for this. But come on. We know that doesn't make sense, everything has a cause."

You'd be laughed outta town. They'd throw you to the wolves and you'd never darken their doorstep again. Harriman sure isnt a quack but he does not know what he is talking about either. So much for the philosophy of mans mind.

Steven Johnston
UK

Neil Parille said...

I have to say that orthodox Objectivists are finally getting around to publishing books.

I've started Harriman's book and it is OK. I haven't purchased the Thompson book on Neoconservatism yet.

Burgess Laughlin has what looks like a self-published book, The Power and the Glory on "faith versus reason." I did a search in it on Amazon and saw that his biographical sources for Rand are Jim Valliant (!) and Jeff Britting (author of a 100 page mini bio). Burns and Heller aren't mentioned.

-Neil Parille

Anonymous said...

"Burns and Heller aren't mentioned."

Wonder why?

If you are looking for a great book on Objectivism try LP's book. I've not read it myself but an objectivist told me it was "fantastic". That was all I got from him though, a one word review.

- Steve Johnston

Anonymous said...

Definition of a troll:someone who disagrees with you and bests you in argument.

Kelly said...

Typical objectivist, redefining already established terms . ). Although you have to give it to him, he did make some devastating arguments. My favorite was lots of people read Atlas shrugged, I mean come on guys, that's rock solid, time to pack it in. A is A after all.

Daniel Barnes said...

LOL Kelly.

And Hardesty is a well established definition of troll. Just google him.

Anonymous said...

Kelly, where's your argument ? Where's your refutation ?
for that matter, where's your mind ?
Barnesy Booby, where's your recognized definition ?
A troll is someone you disagree with and who intellectually whips your skinny tuchas.If a person agrees with you you don't care how sites they post on.
I do feel quite sorry for you, old chap. You seem to be obsessed with your many critics.
Maybe you can get Lindsay Perigo to join your circle jerk in Auckland.

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Anonymous said...

Is he the one that believes the holocaust never happened? That it is all a hoax?

- Steven Johnston

Anonymous said...

To make sure I hadn't forgotten anything, I finally girded my loins, so to speak, and sat through the entire Harriman lecture. He starts with a cherry picked set of quotes embedded in a short history of physics. Then he basically says, they say they have experimental evidence, do they? No.

Then he spends the entire rest of the lecture explaining how it's all Emanuel Kant's fault. The closest he comes to anything remotely physics-like is when he explains Bell's theorem, based on EPR I believe. So he says, Bell's two assumptions were:

1. Things are real.

2. Relativity is correct and nothing goes faster than light. That puts an upper limit on information transmition.

When Bell's theorem was violated, instead of assuming to Harriman the logical conclusion, things can go faster than light, they assumed it was more support for the typical QM interpretation, nothing is real, again according to Harriman. I haven't done any physics reading in a while, and only popular physics at that, but I'm pretty sure there are a lot more experiments that support these things, certainly experiments to support time dilation within relativity, Harriman claims this can't happen because time and space are relations of objects.

Maybe I'll track down his book. If it's anywhern near to the ridiculousness of his ARI lecture, it will be a pretty funny read.

Andrew Priest said...

"certainly experiments to support time dilation within relativity"

If anything. we're beyond doing experiments for that. GPS satellites have to compensate for time dilation in order to be accurate and particle accelerator experiments rely on extending the duration of short lived particles via near lightspeed time dilation.

"Andrew, if you can't figure out what EXISTENCE is, there's no way I can help you. I'm limited to human language and reasoning.
Sorry but your issues seem more psychological than epistemological."

Spoken with all the wit and charm of a fundamentalist run dry of arguments. I got carried away last time so I'll try and keep it real simple.

I agree that the existence of existence is fundamental. If anything is self evident, this is. That said, it proves nothing and supports no argument except that which denies existence itself. Which no one, no matter how skeptical, does. An argument which works equally well for a physicalist as for an idealist or solipsist isn't very useful.

The only way to get from existence exists to objective reality exists is via equivocation. For one debating in the field that is supposed to love wisdom, it seems rather ironic to be hanging an argument on wordplay like that.

Xtra Laj said...

I agree that the existence of existence is fundamental. If anything is self evident, this is. That said, it proves nothing and supports no argument except that which denies existence itself. Which no one, no matter how skeptical, does. An argument which works equally well for a physicalist as for an idealist or solipsist isn't very useful.

Exactly. This is part of an important broader point. For most serious thinkers, especially scientific thinkers, the difficult problems boil down to explaining how the world work and testing/validating these theories with real experiments.

For Objectivists, it's more about explaining how the world should work and validating this by insulting the world and the real people who live in it when it doesn't work according to their fantasies.

Personally, I hate it when debates rest upon things which can be shown to have differing empirical impacts for one theory or another. But Objectivists love to make mountains out of such molehills by claiming that those things are of great philosophical importance. Not that these issues ever affected Newton, Einstein etc.

Xtra Laj said...

Personally, I hate it when debates rest upon things which can be shown to have differing empirical impacts for one theory or another.

I meant *cannot*, not *can*.

Anonymous said...

"But Objectivists love to make mountains out of such molehills by claiming that those things are of great philosophical importance."

Indeed they do...and in the case of Newton molehills out of mountains. Apparently his religious beliefs hurt him and made him irrational. Yet he still managed to give us ground-breaking work on the laws of motion and optics and is considered to have been one of the greatest scientific minds ever. Whilst the 100% fully rational objectivist men and women have given us...erm...well the lady at TOC told me that she new of an objectivist that was starting a physics course at college and that was it. I wouldnt hold your breath for a similar scientific breakthrough if he graduates. Yet if an objectivist did come up with a scientific breakthough to match Newton on Einstien you can bet the farm they would crow about how their rational philosophy helped them achieve this...yet at the same time claiming that both Einstien and Newton, notwhistanding their scientific work, were irrational.

Work that one out!

- Steven Johnston

Not that these issues ever affected Newton, Einstein etc.