Notice that neither [the axiom of existence or the axiom of identity make] any specific statement about the nature of what exists. For example, the axiom of existence does not assert the existence of a physical or material world as opposed to a mental one. The axiom of identity does not assert that all objects are composed of form and matter, as Aristotle said. These things may be true, but they are not axiomatic; the axioms assert the simple and inescapable fact that whatever there is, it is and it is something.Very well. Now consider what Rand draws from these very same axioms:
To grasp the axiom that existence exists, means to grasp the fact that nature, i.e., the universe as a whole, cannot be created or annihilated, that it cannot come into or go out of existence. Whether its basic constituent elements are atoms, or subatomic particles, or some yet undiscovered forms of energy, it is not ruled by a consciousness or by will or by chance, but by the law of identity. All the countless forms, motions, combinations and dissolutions of elements within the universe—from a floating speck of dust to the formation of a galaxy to the emergence of life—are caused and determined by the identities of the elements involved.In other words, she draws from these axioms: (1) that the universe is permanent and can neither be destroyed nor created; (2) the universe is not ruled by will or chance, but by the “law of identity”; (3) everything that happens is caused by the “identities” of the elements involved. She also implies that the basic constituents of the universe, whatever they may happen to be, are non-mental (i.e., atoms, particles, or forms of energy). How does Rand draw all these things from these axioms when, according to Kelley (who, in this instance, is being entirely orthodox) these axioms only assert that "something" distinguishable exists?
Here we stumble upon another one of those equivocations that are so plentiful within the philosophical swamps of Objectivism. On the one hand, we’re told by Kelley that “The axioms and their corollaries are not rich in specific content that would allow specific inferences.” And yet Rand give us specific inferences: the universe is permanent, it’s not ruled by chance, causes stem from identities, etc.
Objectivists regard causality as a “corollary” of the axiom of identity. Leonard Peikoff defines “corollary” as “a self-evident implication of already established knowledge.” [OPAR, 15] From a logical point of view, this is all very baffling. What, after all, is meant by saying that the Objectivist axioms don’t allow for “specific” inferences? What, exactly, is supposed to be “specific” about the inference? The conclusion? The applicability of the inference? Is a corollary a "specific" inference? By not explaining clearly what he means, Kelley leaves ample room to weasel out of any logical difficulties that he may stumble into. Peikoff is no more fortunate in his formulation. His declaration that a corollary constitutes a “self-evident implication” appears to contradict Ayn Rand’s assertion that “Nothing is self-evident except the material of sensory perception.”
Since causality is not perceived, how can it be regarded as “self-evident”? Even on Objectivist grounds, this appears to be an absurdity. And so it is when we examine the Objectivist argument more closely. Rand states the “argument" as follows:
The law of causality is the law of identity applied to action [wrote Rand]. All actions are caused by entities. The nature of an action is caused and determined by the nature of the entities that act; a thing cannot act in contradiction to its nature.David Kelley fleshes this out as follows:
Causality is the principle that entities act in accordance with their natures. Because actions are aspects of the entities that act, the actions are part of the identity of the entity. But the law of causality also says an action is not a primary, independent aspect of a thing’s nature, unrelated to other aspects. The law says that any action depends on underlying attributes of the thing, such as its mass, material composition, and internal structure.The basic confusion at the root of the Objectivist view of causality is a conflation of logical identity with identification. Logical identity, as I explained in my last post, is merely the identity of a term of thought with itself. Identification, on the other hand, involves, among other things, determining which term of thought will stand as a symbol for an object, property, event or process taking place in the “real” world (i.e., the world outside of consciousness). Identification of specific entities does involve (as is suggested by Objectivism) noticing the attributes of those entities, but the ascription of an attribute to an object does not involve logical identity, it involves predication. White is not identical to swan; it is predicated of swans. As I noted in my previous post, predication does not assert that A is A, but that A is B (that is to say, A has attribute B). The phrases Swans are swans and Swans are white are not logically compatible. They use the term are (the plural of is) in different senses. To imply an equality (or, worse, an identity) is to lapse into equivocation.
I know that there will be Rand apologists who will insist that Rand does not lapse into equivocation. But in point of fact, by assuming that identity (in the logical "A is A" sense of identity) is the same as identification, she is conflating them. Since identification involves predication, it is a logical error to confuse it with logical identity. The attributes of objects, including their causal regularities, are not governed, nor can they be discovered or validated, exclusively by logic. Statements of predication, if they have any relevance to reality, are empirical through and through. The fact that dogs bark and cats meow could never be discovered by logic alone. The attribution of causation to things is no less empirical. Causation is not a logical process; it is neither governed by logic nor discoverable exclusively by logic. The fact that fire produces smoke can never be deduced from pure logic. Since causation is empirical through and through, a matter of fact rather than a matter of logic, it is pure sophistry to try to "validate" or derive it from some logical or "axiomatic" principle. As philosopher John Hospers explains:
"A is A" is ... a tautology, but an important one: every time a person is guilty of a logical inconsistency he is saying A and then in the next breath not-A. Thus "A is A" is something of which we need to remind ourselves constantly. But it is not … an empirical statement: we don't have to go around examining cats to discover whether they are cats. (We might have to examine this creature to discover whether it is a cat.) But ... statements of what causes what, such as "Friction causes heat," are empirical statements; we can only know by perceiving the world whether they are true. How ... can the Law of Causality be merely an application of the Law of Identity? You could manipulate the Law of Identity forever and never squeeze out anything as specific as a single causal statement.Unfortunately, Rand was under the illusion that her law of identity applied to the empirical world, rather than merely to formal logic or to the usage of terms. She was under that great illusion of metaphysical philosophers—namely, that matters of fact can be determined by logical constructions. They cannot be so determined. While some truths may seem so obvious as to seem necessary by logic (and therefore discoverable through logical reasoning), this necessity, as Santayana noted, merely “parades the helplessness of the mind to imagine anything different.” As Santayana explicated the point:
But ... I could see how [Rand’s] confusion might be generated. A tautology can easily look like something else. "A thing acts in accordance with its nature" might be one example. This might be taken as an instance of the Law of Identity: if a creature of type X acts in accordance with laws A, B, C, and this creature doesn't do that, then it isn't an X. If dogs bark and growl and this creature hisses and meows, it isn't a dog; that is, we wouldn't call anything a dog that did this. So we can plausibly classify the statement about what we call "a thing's nature" as special cases of the Law of Identity. But this ... tells us nothing about the world, but only about how we are using words like "dog" and "cat." [“Conversations with Ayn Rand,” italics added]
Are there no truths obviously necessary to common sense? If I have mislaid my keys, mustn’t they be somewhere? If a child is born, mustn’t he have a father? Must is a curious word, pregnant for the satirist: it seems to redouble the certainty of a fact, while really admitting that the fact is only conjectural…. Spirit [i.e., mind] was born precisely … to see the contingency and finitude of every fact, and to imagine as many alternatives and extensions as possible, some of which may be true, and may put that casual fact in its true setting. Truth is groped after, not imposed, by the presumptions of the intellect: and if these presumptions often are true, the reason is that they are based upon and adjusted to the actual order of nature, which is thoroughly unnecessary, and most miraculous when most regular. [Realms of Being, 417, italics added]Causality is neither a product of logic or necessity. In fact, it is not a product of any idea. Rand’s approach to metaphysics would only be valid if the world followed ideas by necessity, as it did according to Plato. But if ideas merely describe the world, then no matter of fact can be regarded as logically necessary. Logical necessity only makes sense if the world follows logic—and most of the evidence at our disposal suggests that logic most emphatically does not hold any sort of empire over fact, but that, rather, logic is a tool useful for testing claims of knowledge. Consideration of this issue leads to another of Rand’s errors, namely, her conviction that reality is “logical.” I will address this delusion in my next post.