Monday, October 25, 2010

Objectivism & “Metaphysics,” Part 17

Primacy of existence versus primacy of consciousness. Rand’s explicates her views on this issue as follows:

The primacy of existence (of reality) is the axiom that existence exists, i.e., that the universe exists independent of consciousness (of any consciousness), that things are what they are, that they possess a specific nature, an identity. The epistemological corollary is the axiom that consciousness is the faculty of perceiving that which exists—and that man gains knowledge of reality by looking outward. The rejection of these axioms represents a reversal: the primacy of consciousness—the notion that the universe has no independent existence, that it is the product of a consciousness (either human or divine or both). The epistemological corollary is the notion that man gains knowledge of reality by looking inward (either at his own consciousness or at the revelations it receives from another, superior consciousness).


This is one of those doctrines within Objectivism that is so enmeshed in its own confusions and inconsistencies that the critic hardly knows how to entangle its web of errors. But let’s take a stab at it.


1. To begin with, how meaningful is it to declare the “primacy of existence” against the “primacy of consciousness,” given that consciousness is itself a part of existence? Since consciousness exists, blanket statements such as “existence has primacy over consciousness” are confusing. If existence is primary and consciousness is part of existence, then consciousness is "primary" along with everything else that exists. Of course, apologists for Rand will declare that the primacy of existence simply means that consciousness does not create reality, as various forms of idealism imply. But if so, why didn’t Rand just say that consciousness doesn’t create “existence” and be done with it?

2. Rand’s primacy of existence construct is a rather confusing way of stating realism. However, Rand’s equation of the primacy of existence (i.e., realism) with the axiom existence exists leads to a palpable contradiction. According to Objectivism, the axiom existence exists does not specify what exists. As David Kelley notes, “the axiom of existence does not assert the existence of a physical or material world as opposed to a mental one.” So how can Rand suddenly equate “existence exists” with realism? How can such a leap be justified? Well, as a matter of fact, it cannot be justifed. As usual with Rand, her argument is based on leveraging the scandalous vagueness of words to equivocate her way to a predetermined conclusion. The term existence, when Rand first introduces it, is equated with the content of consciousness. Consider the following statement of Rand about consciousness: “If that which you claim to perceive does not exist, what you possess is not consciousness.” This implies that everything one perceives exists, which would only be true if existence is confined to mental content (i.e., the content of consciousness). Both the elephant at the zoo perceived by onlookers and the pink elephant perceived by the drunken sot “exist” according to the logic of Rand’s statement. The only way to escape this conclusion is through equivocation, i.e., by claiming that the drunk does not in fact “perceive” the pink elephant, but merely hallucinates it. However, this would involve an assumption which Rand’s axioms, as they are initially introduced and defended, are unable to support. Rand’s axioms make no such distinction concerning what passes or does not pass for perception. She simply states that something exists, and that consciousness is the faculty that perceives this something. From such a trivial beginning, nothing so specific and meaningful as a distinction between “valid” and “invalid” perception can logically follow.

To sum up: it is illogical, even on Rand’s premises, to deduce or infer realism (i.e., the primacy of existence) from the axiom existence exists.

3. Rand’s “primacy of existence” and it’s opposition to the “primacy of consciousness” implies materialism, which contradicts the predominant anti-materialistic tone of Objectivism. Rand defines the “primacy of consciousness as “the notion that the universe has no independent existence, that it is the product of a consciousness (either human or divine or both).” However, if the primacy of consciousness is equated with the belief that existence is the product of consciousness, doesn’t this imply that the primacy of existence should be equated with the belief that consciousness is the product of existence? Now what exactly is this “existence” that Rand declares as “primary”? Rand’s equation of the term existence with the term reality hardly improves matters, since Rand does not go on to define very clearly what she means by the term “reality." By the implications of her confusions, Rand’s reality might be equated with the non-conscious; and once consciousness is divested from reality, materialism easily follows.

The real problem here is not that Rand is an unwitting materialist, but that her metaphysical speculations are so loose that one can draw whatever conclusion one likes from them. Rand is pursuing the false ideal of trying to logically justify some of her most basic beliefs, rather than just accepting them as necessary presuppositions of practical existence, as a sort of animal faith justified over the course of one’s life. Since the type of metaphysical speculation Rand favors is so loose and vague, based, as it is, largely on trivial truisms and empty tautologies, one can draw whatever conclusions one likes from them, whether those conclusions be materialism, idealism, or Objectivism — it’s all equally “valid.”

83 comments:

Dragonfly said...

The whole notion of "primacy of existence versus primacy of consciousness" is meaningless, due to the vagueness of the term "primacy". Everything we know about the world comes to us via the consciousness, so in that sense the consciousness is primary. Now we may from that information infer that there is such a thing as an external world, the existence of which is independent of our consciousness, but of which the consciousness is a part. Seen from that perspective the existence of an external world is primary and consciousness is a secondary and contingent entity.

Therefore it's just a matter what perspective you use, the personal viewpoint (where does my information ultimately come from?), or the external, physical viewpoint (what is the most likely system that can explain all the information I get?). She probably meant with her babbling about "primacy" that there is an external, physical reality, independent of our consciousness, but she chose a confused and rather meaningless formulation.

It's also amusing to see how Rand unashamedly chose the viewpoint of the primacy of consciousness when she quoted approvingly the line "I will not die, it's the world that will end", a nice illustration of solipsism...

Xtra Laj said...

The whole notion of "primacy of existence versus primacy of consciousness" is meaningless, due to the vagueness of the term "primacy".

What's even more annoying is that when you try to engage an Objectivist in an intelligent discussion of the axioms and why they are not what they are hyped up to be, the usual result is having a bundle of epithets tossed in your direction related to your capacity for rationality.

Dragonfly said...

Xtra Laj: Yup, that's why I've given up discussions with Objectvists, it's a waste of time. An intelligent discussion with them is impossible, instead of arguments you only get ad hominems and name calling.

Xray said...

Xtra Laj said...

What's even more annoying is that when you try to engage an Objectivist in an intelligent discussion of the axioms and why they are not what they are hyped up to be, the usual result is having a bundle of epithets tossed in your direction related to your capacity for rationality.
10/27/2010 09:09:00 AM

Objectivists mostly use circular reasoning in these discussions. So instead of addressing the critic's specific points of a questioned Randian premise, they offer answers taken form the very source which is being criticized. Quotes from e. g. Galt's speech are given as if they qualified as proof of anything.

Anon69 said...

XRay said:

"Quotes from e. g. Galt's speech are given as if they qualified as proof of anything."

In Objectivism, as the saying goes, "proof left as an exercise for the reader".

A. said...

Good stuff. It's always struck me as one of the most obvious flaws of objectivism is the way the various axioms (A is A) upon which the whole lot is supposedly based are simultaneously irrefutable and meaningless. Take issue with any aspect of the philosophy and you get an answer like "but it's all based on A is A"... take issue with whether "A is A" actually means anything or not and all you get is "Are you trying to say that A is B?!"

Cavewight said...

It's easy enough to complain about the Randroids, many of whom these days haven't even read all of their own goddess's works. The movement is slowly fading into oblivion as their own ideas become more and more derivative at best, and their arguments amount to nothing more than table-pounding that "A is A, and you can't disprove it without using it."

In other words, the Randroids are in retreat, hiding behind Rand's most basic, analytical truisms that, as everybody else knows, cannot bear they weight they put on them.

Also, I agree with Dragonfly that Rand would never be able to reconcile her subjectivist "I will not die..." statement with objectivist axioms.

It is not therefore *wrong,* merely incomplete. I find in Kant's Critique of Judgment that the forms of reflection encompass both objectivity and subjectivity, thus Rand's reconciliation of ideas, however unwanted it may be by the Randroids, lies with Kant.

Xray said...

Anon69 said: 10/27/2010 06:52:00 PM
In Objectivism, as the saying goes, "proof left as an exercise for the reader". (end quote)

... and the possibility that the reader might find flaws in Galt's 'reasoning' doesn't seem to enter the Objectivist's mind.

Objectivists mostly have a 'believer' attitude.

Cavewight said...

Greg wrote:
>1. To begin with, how meaningful is it to declare the “primacy of existence” against the “primacy of consciousness,” given that consciousness is itself a part of existence?

You're begging the question. A subjectivist may believe that existence is part of consciousness. Thus "primacy of consciousness."

From this, what becomes of Rand's axioms?

"Existence exists." Of course - as part or the whole of consciousness.

"Consciousness is conscious" - of anything, whether it exists in consciousness or objectively.

"A is A" - and a quantum particle can be in two states at the same time, thus violating Aristotle's Law of Excluded Middle.

The fact is that "axiomatic concepts are the guardians of man's mind and the foundation of reason." Guardians? But who or what is guarding the guardians?

Andrew Priest said...

"You're begging the question. A subjectivist may believe that existence is part of consciousness. Thus "primacy of consciousness.""

Not really, no. Not at least if you are using the definition of 'existence' that the axiom 'existence exists' requires. In that sense, existence is the sum total of everything that happens to exist regardless of its nature.

Consider a large box. I might claim that the air inside the box is part of the whole of the box's contents. It may even be the case that the air is the whole of the box's contents. But I would never claim the whole of the box's contents is itself part of the air. That's just weird.

This is where the equivocation takes place in the original move from existence exists to objective reality exists. If by existence you mean objective reality, the 'existence exists' axiom doesn't work because it is no longer true by definition. It's something you have to actually go out and support with evidence.

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight,

Nothing wrong with disagreeing with Greg but consider being charitable when doing so. The Objectivist practice of refusing to consider meanings in contexts not amenable to their principles is not what we do on this blog.

Cavewight said...

AP and X. Laj,

I'm not quite following either of your responses. I'm not sure if I should explain my original point better, or quit while I'm ahead.

Either way, (for XL) I don't know that Greg wants me to be charitable.

Maybe my point isn't being understood, because his point (1) seemed clearly a case of question-begging to me. And I'm not understanding why this isn't *obvious* to everybody who knows what that means.

Cavewight said...

XL,

Re: your "charitable" comment: It is almost as if you're asking me to read Greg's comment like some Randroid reading Rand - eyes half glazed over, mind dimly focused, critical faculty at DefCon 5 (total non-alert).

gregnyquist said...

"You're begging the question. A subjectivist may believe that existence is part of consciousness. Thus 'primacy of consciousness.'"

A "subjectivist" (don't you mean idealist or solipsist?) may believe such a thing, but it's not clear that such a doctrine is coherent even on the idealist's premises. If "existence" (which,in this context, means: existence as a whole) is a "part" of consciousness, then what is the ontological status of consciousness? Doesn't consciousness exist as well? Isn't the "subjectivist" (or idealist) committed to the belief that consciousness exists? Isn't that what his doctrine, by definition as it were, is all about? What idealists deny is not the primacy of existence, but the primacy of matter, i.e., of a substantive realm of being existing "outside" of consciousness. And if consciousness exists, how meaningful or coherent is it to say that "existence as a whole" is merely a "part" of consciousness (which also exists!). How can "existence as a whole" be part of something else that exists? So even in the case of the idealist/subjectivist, existence (as whole) includes both consciuosness and the rest of existence (whatever that may be). The word "primacy" would only make sense if you were talking, not about existence versus consciousness, but of mind versus matter.

Cavewight said...

Greg wrote:
>The word "primacy" would only make sense if you were talking, not about existence versus consciousness, but of mind versus matter.

Interesting stuff. We know from Rand that "existence" subsumes "consciousness" (or "mind"), but "matter" does not subsume "mind," and Rand was not the Materialist who would subsume "mind" even if the latter concept were regarded by him as a fiction.

Moreover, I don't see Rand making any move from "existence exists" to "objective reality." (Did you make that point, Greg?) Rather, to be objective means that reality is not subject to my whims or to God's whims. "Existence exists" only says that it is what it is, implying identity. It's identity as objective is another point entirely.

Otherwise, Rand was putting too much weight on her axioms. She may have believed that following what she called "touchstones" of reason lead to objectivity, no argument required there. It is as intuitive as gravity. But gravity is not intuitive, delving into the question of gravity leads to all kinds of debates. So there's Rand's problem. She did not desire debate, therefore she offered no argument that "moves" us from "existence" to "objectivity."

You can even seen this tendency in Peikoff's statement that he does not wish to debate the simple facts of the McClaskey issue. This goes to the very core of what it means to be an Objectivist. And I think what it boils down to is authoritarianism.

Cavewight said...

Andrew Priest wrote:
>This is where the equivocation takes place in the original move from existence exists to objective reality exists. If by existence you mean objective reality, the 'existence exists' axiom doesn't work because it is no longer true by definition. It's something you have to actually go out and support with evidence.

I'm still trying to see where you're going with this. But I can take this last bit as a Randroid would and say that you are already assuming objective reality by your very use of the word "evidence."

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight,

I'm not quite following either of your responses. I'm not sure if I should explain my original point better, or quit while I'm ahead.

Either way, (for XL) I don't know that Greg wants me to be charitable.


Maybe I should quit while I'm ahead. Since Greg has politely responded to you, I'll let it go. My broader point was that

1) you don't have to accuse people of some kind of logical fallacy when questioning them and

2) it pays to work a little harder to test various interpretations of what people are saying and assume that your first interpretation might not quite capture their intended meaning. Sometimes, it's worth explaining what they mean to even see if you understand it so you can be clear that there's a meaningful disagreement.

Greg's point was that if you consider "existence exists" to subsume all existents and you also consider "existence exists" to be a statement of the primacy of existence, it's odd to contrast this with the primacy of consciousness because consciousness is obviously an existent! Now this doesn't mean that one can't charitably interpret Rand and arrive at a different conclusion. But Greg's point is that Rand is packing so much into the supposedly axiomatic "existence exists" that she strictly speaking should not.

Now you've started to question the use of the phrase "objective reality", when all Andrew meant was that the primacy of existence view is a claim to an objective reality i.e. an reality *independent* of the perceiver (idealists and defenders of the doctrine of internal relations debate this independence to death and I am not game for doing so).

Maybe an "objective reality" in your view requires more than that and the primacy of existence does not get you all the way there, but I find it more important understanding Andrew's intent than to get bogged down in whether his phraseology is quite right using my preferred interpretation of what he wrote.

No one is demanding passivity. One of the things we mock about Objectivists is that they are unwilling to ask questions and like to force their interpretations on others. I may be quite wrong, but I'm just calling it how I see it.

Cavewight said...

X. Laj wrote:
>Greg's point was that if you consider "existence exists" to subsume all existents and you also consider "existence exists" to be a statement of the primacy of existence, it's odd to contrast this with the primacy of consciousness because consciousness is obviously an existent! Now this doesn't mean that one can't charitably interpret Rand and arrive at a different conclusion. But Greg's point is that Rand is packing so much into the supposedly axiomatic "existence exists" that she strictly speaking should not.

I'm certainly not interpreting Rand charitably, if that's what you mean? Anyway, I read what Greg wrote and I don't see anything odd about Rand saying that existence has primacy over consciousness in the context of her belief that the only alternative metaphysics places consciousness as primary over existence. For the latter, Greg gave us the example of solipsism, among others.

Cavewight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cavewight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cavewight said...

But does the statement "existence exists" prove anything beyond that? Not at all. It does not prove that existence has primacy over consciousness. It does not prove anything about the objective, independent nature of things.

I still want to know, where does she try to prove it? She does not. All she states is that in the original quote provided by Greg: "The primacy of existence (of reality) is the axiom that existence exists, i.e., that the universe exists independent of consciousness (of any consciousness), that things are what they are, that they possess a specific nature, an identity."

If one cannot argue from point A to point B, then one can simply assert it. And why not, if its rejection is self-refuting?

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight,

Distinctions can be made between "existence", "experience" and "an external world/reality". Rand often conflated the first with the second and the third because she didn't have the temperament to deal with the distinctions and take them wherever they led her because the complexity of the problem would have vitiated her agenda (contrast that with Hume who did deal with these issues honestly and subtly and gave us great insights, no matter what we think of his ultimate answers).

Part of Rand's problem, in my assessment, is that she was unwilling to seriously deal with the fact (from various psychological experiments known as far back as at least the time of Hume) that consciousness does create experience, which is much more empirically significant than whether it creates "existence", to a degree that does not help her axiom. Of course, you should appreciate that given your familiarity with Kant.

gregnyquist said...

"I still want to know, where does she try to prove it [i.e., "objective reality"]? "

I've already discussed this in previous posts, but because Rand equivocates so many times in the course of her metaphysical rationalizations, let me try to explain it one more time. Technically, Rand's axioms don't "prove" anything. Rand accepts the view that reality, or the "objectivity" or independence of reality, cannot be logically proved. (This is a view accepted by nearly everyone, BTW.) Her axioms are merely "validated" because they are "self-evident" and cannot be denied without first assuming them. It's anyone's guess how she goes from "existence exists" to objective reality. She provides no argument detailing the logical connection. Instead, merely appeals to the instinctive realism that nearly everyone has. People tend to accept "arguments," however bad, for things they already believe. She uses several other of her stock and trade debating tricks, such as the argument ad hominem (i.e., you are evil if you don't agree with me), the argument ad consequentiam (i.e., your premises will destroy western civilization), and polarization (i.e., the only alternative to Objectivism is some form of whim-worshipping mysticism). With these tactics (and others like them), Rand attempts to intimidate her followers into agreement.

Cavewight said...

Greg:

I liked the way you expressed things in that last comment. I thought it was a much clearer presentation.

X. Laj:

I don't see anything to take issue with in your comment. I know that not enough credence is given to those experiments you referred to, and Kant mentioned 2 or 3 of them himself. His argument for space rests on the glove-in-mirror experiment, for example. But this doesn't impress Randroids with their superficial knowledge of philosophy.

Tyler said...

I am not sure if anyone's read Ayn Rand here. Or at least completely understood it. Or maybe this was just too difficult to understand. Maybe I am just an idiot.

Rand clearly states that the 3 axioms are dependent on eachother. If you take one away, everything is screwed.

If existence (of anything, which refutes the criticism that you put forth) exists, we use consciousness (whether we wanted to or not) to know existence exists. If we existence exists, we know it exists, than everything that exists has to be something (i.e. the law of identity).

The law of identity just means that everything has specific characteristics that makes that thing.. a thing.

I came here looking for good criticisms because I don't know if I believe Ayn Rand was right about everything. So far, this has proven nothing.

Cavewight said...

Tyler wrote:
>Rand clearly states that the 3 axioms are dependent on eachother.

Welcome, Tyler. I'm not surprised that you judge some of us severely, I see that quite often from the opposition. But Rand did not state, clearly or otherwise, that the three axioms are dependent on each other, only that they are irreducible.

This often confuses people who think that consciousness can obviously be reduced to existence since consciousness exists and is itself an existent.

gregnyquist said...

"If existence (of anything, which refutes the criticism that you put forth [which criticism is that?]) exists, we use consciousness (whether we wanted to or not) to know existence exists. "

The issue at stake here is not whether existence exists, but whether this axiom logically entails realism, or the view that a substantive reality exists independent of consciousness. To repeat what I've said elsewhere, the problem the Objecitivist axioms is not that they are false or "invalid," but that they are trivial and insignificant. Nothing important or interesting can be inferred from them. They are compatible with just about any metaphysical system one can imagine, including solipsism. After all, the solipsist believes in existence: in the existence of himself and his dream. He is consciousness of that existence. And the content of his dream, whatever it may be, will have an identity.

Cavewight said...

Greg,

How do you reconcile your last comment with those made by Rand in the Appendix to ITOE 2nd ed.? Or is there any need for reconciliation? Here is the specific quote from that appendix:

"Prof. K: Some philosophers treat our knowledge that existence exists as equivalent to our knowledge that there is a physical world. They hold that to know that existence exists, and is what it is independently of our perceiving it, is to know that it is different in kind from consciousness—to know that things exist which possess characteristics which no consciousness could possess—for example, spatial extension or weight. Then they claim that the propositions "existence exists" and "there is a physical world" are, if not synonymous, two perspectives on the same fact, such that if the first is an axiom, then so is the second. Is any variant of this position consistent with the Objectivist view of axioms and axiomatic concepts?
AR: The answer is: no, emphatically. Not consistent in any way whatever."

Then she went on to explain that the concept of a physical world "involves a very sophisticated piece of scientific knowledge at which logically and chronologically you would have to arrive much later."

Couldn't the same be said for the concept of a real, objective world?

gregnyquist said...

"How do you reconcile your last comment with those made by Rand in the Appendix to ITOE 2nd ed.?"

There is no need for reconciliation. The problem is that Rand is neither consistent nor precise in her metaphysical formulations. She equates "existence exists" with "reality," without specifying what she means by reality. She goes on to equate the existence axiom and "reality" with the "primacy of existence," which is basically a defense of conventional realism (i.e., the be;ef that matter and consciousness are "independent" in the sense that consciousness does not create or originate matter). Her remarks in ITOE contradict her formulations regarding the primacy of existence. If Rand had been consistent to her position in ITOE, she would have had to admit that her axioms do not rule out solipsism, idealism, or theism.

The fact that neither Rand nor her followers notice this contradiction corroborates the view that the Objectivist metaphysics is merely a rationalization, i.e., that it consists of little more than bad arguments for instinctive beliefs reinforced by the lessons of experience.

Xtra Laj said...

The problem is that Rand is neither consistent nor precise in her metaphysical formulations.

The simplest way of seeing this is to reconcile what was quoted in your (Greg's) original post with what Cavewight just quoted.

Anonymous said...

What really annoys me about Rand, apart from the many issues covered here in great detail, is her binary opposition. I quote from the Lexicon entry linked in the post:

The rejection of these axioms represents a reversal: the primacy
of consciousness—the notion that the universe has no independent existence, that it is the product of a consciousness (either human or divine or both).
The epistemological corollary is the notion that man gains knowledge of reality by looking inward (either at his own consciousness or at the revelations
it receives from another, superior consciousness).


Now let's look at a form of idealism, namely panpsychism.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/panpsychism/

Clearly there is no entailment of a dependent universe, if all matter is bound up with some form of consciousness then it can exist on its own nicely, nor is their an entailment of introspection/revelation for the acquisition of knoledge. Of course, given how often Rand herself seemed to use these, her condemnations of it seem a triffle ridiculous. Say what you like about panpsychism's viability or lack thereof, it's clearly a form of idealism that doesn't conform to Rand's description of placing consciousness is primary.

Nonhypothetical Blind Guy

gregnyquist said...

"Say what you like about panpsychism's viability or lack thereof, it's clearly a form of idealism that doesn't conform to Rand's description of placing consciousness is primary."

And neither are any of the other forms of idealism, if by "primary" we mean that reality (or "existence" in the realist sense of the term) is a "product" of consciuosness. Although certain idealist doctrines may imply such a thing, idealists usually are very keen in denying such implications; which suggests that, whatever motivations may prompt an individual to espouse idealism, it's not because he wants to believe that his mind (or as Rand might say, his "whims") can control reality. There are generally two main motivations behind idealism: (1) because idealists believe, erroneously, that consciousness is a "given" and therefore regard it as a bedrock of certainty upon which they can build their philosophical systems; and (2) because idealists think that if reality were primarily mental, that would make the universe a more hospitable place within which to reside. The first motivation stems, originally, from that sort of rationalistic frame of mind that wishes to prove and demonstrate everything, and feels uncomfortable when confronted by doubt, risk, and uncertainty. This motivation may very well have been shared by Rand. Those of us not afflicted with this mania for certainty and "foundations" have difficulty understanding what all the fuss is about, and why anyone should bother his head with "validating" vague metaphysical and epistemological assertions. Nearly all significant knowledge claims involve an element risk; and wisdom counsels us to accept this risk without getting too uptight about it.

Grayzie said...

Those of us not afflicted with this mania for certainty and "foundations" have difficulty understanding what all the fuss is about, and why anyone should bother his head with "validating" vague metaphysical and epistemological assertions.

Exactly. And the answer appears to because the human mind craves certainty. In fact needs it. It is entirely instinctual since we require it in order to function on a practical level. This makes uncertainty feel entirely unnatural and counter intuitive, but that doesn't mean the universe also feels this way. All models for viewing reality are incomplete. That raises two possibilities. Either we simply haven't developed the correct model yet, or the nature of reality is irrational. Both are equally probable at this juncture. But people will make leaps of logic to fulfill their need for certainty.

The second problem is ego. Smart people want answers, but more than that, they want desperately to be right. And so they develop systems of thought that to varying degrees are internally consistent. But it's like putting the triangle in the square hole. Sure, in a manner of speaking it fits, but to do so it has to leave a lot out of the equation.

Xtra Laj said...

The distinction might be nitpicking but I think the human mind if it craves something, craves certitude. Certainty is not as important as whether we feel justified in acting.

Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...

if any of you would like an Objectivist to answer questions directly, i'm game!

Mike said...

'Primacy' denotes the ordinal relationship between existence and consciousness qua metaphysical concepts. Here, 'existence' denotes the set of everything that exists, as differentiated from the nothing of non-existence; and 'consciousness' is a subset of existence that denotes a specific attribute of a specific class of entities—living beings. Consciousness depends on existence; it is a subset of existence and therefore could not exist without existence.

OBSERVE
(1) Before you can think about something first there must be something for you to think about, and,
(2) Whether you think about your house or your bed or your roommate does not effect its metaphysical status.

Daniel Barnes said...

Hi Mike
Happy to chat with you. We're aware of the Randian doctrine you outline, the thing is that Greg has raised above some specific criticisms of it which you perhaps might address - for example, that her arguments are so weak and confused that you can draw any conclusion you like from them. (In fact to demonstrate Greg's point, apparently Bertrand Russell once asked the famous Idealist FH Bradley what he thought of "existence exists". Bradley was fine with it, because obviously even the Platonic Forms exist qua Platonic Forms. So it can be used to argue in favour of realism, or its opposite, idealism, or anything in between. Ergo it is not much of an argument!)

Have a good look over Greg's points and you might perhaps respond accordingly? That would be interesting.

regards
Daniel

gregnyquist said...

I will gladly comment on Mike's comment. It's unfortunate that Objectivists don't seem to appreciate how vague their statements appear to non-Objectivists. I can appreciate and sympathize with the intentions behind them. But the approach seems infelicitous.

Mike seems to be saying (though his terms are so indefinite that it's hard to tell) that, because consciousness is a "depends" on existence, existence is "primary." I don't think his comment about primacy denoting an "ordinal" relationship adds anything: it's just the same point in different words. Now the difficulty is to figure out what all these words mean. If you take it to merely mean basic realism (i.e., a substantive world exists outside of consciousness), then there isn't much to argue about, since we are all in agreement on that one. I would merely note that this statement about the primacy of existence (in the realist sense of the expression) does not logically follow from Rand's axioms, and that if you really want to understand the how and why of realism, a different approach seems warranted.

As to the observations, the first one, while true, doesn't strike me as terribly significant. While there must be something to think about, the critical question is what that something is. Are we thinking about a real world, or merely a world of ideas? Noting that something exists doesn't get us to realism.

Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...

My purpose is to try to clarify the objectivist standpoint.

In Greg’s first argument, he identified twice that consciousness is part of existence—he is right—yet he fails to fully examine their relationship. The only similarity that he identifies is that they both exist. Let’s take a look at another part of the relationship between existence and consciousness. Existence is everything that there is, e.g., your thoughts, your shoes, your friendships, your feelings, etc. Existence can be broken up into three sections: things, attributes, and relationships. Consciousness is an attribute—it pertains to the class of ‘things’ called ‘living beings’. There cannot be consciousness without ‘living beings’ and there cannot be ‘living beings’ if nothing exists. Some things exist; some of those things are living beings; and one of the attributes of living beings is consciousness.

'Things' make attributes and relationships possible; existence makes 'things' possible.

This is the scale—which one makes the others possible?—that orders metaphysical ‘primacy’. There could not be ‘things' if nothing existed; there could not be 'living beings' if there weren’t ‘things’; there could not be consciousness if there weren’t ‘living beings’.

In this sense, existence has metaphysical ‘primacy’ over consciousness.

Xtra Laj said...

Mike,

I think that what could help clarify what you are saying is to use more examples. Try to be clear using an example what the Objectivist viewpoint is and how it differs from other viewpoints that you are criticizing. That way, the distinctions you are making might become clearer.

You can explicate the Objectivist viewpoint, but unless you can show where and how it is legitimately different from other viewpoints (and hopefully that this difference is a good thing), we'll just spinning wheels here.

One of Greg's point is that saying that existence is "existence exists" does not contain as much value for distinguishing between various philosophical positions as Rand's pronouncements on various occasions might lead you to believe.

Your last post seems to make all kinds of statements that have little substantiation, and that even if plausible or true, don't improve our understanding of whether "Existence exists" is a position that an idealist would disagree with or not.

Daniel Barnes said...

Mike, what philosophical problem do you think Rand was addressing with something like "existence exists"? She talks a lot about "other philosophers" who she was supposedly correcting with formulations such as this. But who were they? As you can see from my above example, "existence exists" would have been perfectly acceptable to Plato.

The point is not to simply recite the Objectivist position, which we understand very well, but to answer the objections such as the above raised.

Daniel Barnes said...

Incidentally, we are realists who, like Rand and just about everyone else on earth, believe human consciousness is a product of, or secondary to if you like, physical reality. It's the weakness of her particular arguments that we're criticising.

gregnyquist said...

Mike, thanks for the clarification of your second comment (which is much less opaque than your first comment). I still don't find this approach to particularly felicitous, and I have serious doubts about its logical coherency. You have clarified how Objectivism uses various terms; but you haven't clarified the Objectivist argument against idealism, theism, skepticism, neutral monism, etc. Saying that existence is "everything that there is" merely defines how you are using the term existence; adding that existence has three sections merely adds more hints on how these various terms are used. But the usefulness of these terms and this categorization scheme still remains much in doubt. The terms themselves, whatever clarification may have been added to them, are still egregiously loose and baggy; worse, they come perilously close to dissolving natural things into to terms of discourse, which no realist should ever do. Keep in mind, the whole point of Rand's "primacy of existence" is to refute such rival doctrines as idealism and theism. Otherwise, it's mere pedantry. But I don't see how such vague terms can be used to accomplish this task, unless the vagueness is used to equivocate from the trivial meanings of these words to more significant meanings. What, after all, are these "living beings" that have the attribute of consciousness? Are they protoplasmic animals living in a natural world made up of matter hurling through space, all confined within a dimension of time, with a receding past and an oncoming future? Or could they be merely disembodied spirits having their sentience flooded with Lockean Ideas by a Berkeleyan God? Either way, no refutation of idealism follows. If the former is Objectivism's position, then Rand and her disciples are guilty of assuming the very point at issue; if the latter, then idealism is not inconsistent with the primacy of existence.

The term "things," which is regarded as one of the "sections" of existence, is also deeply problematic. By "thing," does one mean a physical object, or merely some "object" of consciousness, such as a datum or a concept? Or both? By not clarifying this, the door is left open for equivocation. But an honest, forthright realism won't pussyfoot around this issue, since it is the chief source of conflict between realists on one side and idealists and skeptics on the other. The idealist refuses to recognize the "dualism" between ideas in the mind and the substantive or physical things these ideas represent. He believes it's more economical, more in keeping with Occam's razor, to ignore the transitive function of ideas altogether and declare that ideas are all that exist: the rest is vain hypothesis. The realist, then, must explain why this hypothesis is not in vain, why it is both inevitable and safe. I just don't see how vague remarks about existence, things, attributes, relations, consciousness, primacy and the rest contribute to this issue. A dream can contain "things" which have both attributes and relations. So why couldn't existence be a dream? The dreamer exists, his consciousness exist, as does the content of his dream. Such a position would be false and even mad; but as insane as it is, how is it inconsistent with Rand's axioms or her primacy of existence construct? Schopenhauer would occasionally claim that life was a dream. Yet, far from accepting the "primacy of consciousness," the German pessimist explicitly denies any such thing, declaring instead for the "primacy of the will." Life may be a dream, but, in Schopenhauer's view, it is the will which creates the dream, not consciousness.

Rand's primacy of existence construct seems a rather ineffectual way of criticizing idealism. Other philosophers, particularly Lovejoy and Santayana, came up with better, sounder, more effective criticisms.

gregnyquist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gregnyquist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...

Disclaimer: I will not respond to each point made by each of you. I do not have the time. Instead I will address three important points. If there is a specific point you wish me to address, try to state it concisely. If my approach is unsatisfactory, let me know why. I understand and am pleased with the depth of your knowledge of Objectivism; therefore I will try not to reiterate Ayn Rand’s position on these matters. Finally, when I say ‘you’ I mean ‘all of you’ because I think these three points address all of you in some way.

Mike said...

(1) The most important point for me to address is the purpose of Ayn Rand philosophy. The important aspect of her philosophy is highly personal, that is: ‘how does Objectivism benefit my life’? The relationship between Objectivism and other philosophies is secondary. This is not to say that objectivism should be studied in a philosophical vacuum; rather, my purpose here is to highlight the metaphysically important aspect of her philosophy—its effect on one’s life. (That being said, I am currently working on an argument of how Kant denies ‘existence exists’.)

(2) I have observed an interesting contradiction: Your words deny the metaphysical importance of Objectivism while your actions affirm it. Implicitly, you regard Objectivism as important—you spend time reading about Objectivism, writing a book about it, creating blogs about it—yet explicitly, you deny it of any importance—as evident in your arguments against it and in your humor section (Objectivist Jargon).

(3) It seems like you have already assumed that words have no meaning; therefore you do not find any meaning in Ayn Rand’s terms. It seems to me that you brush over her sentences as if they were childish ramblings; on the contrary, her sentences construct complex conceptual chains that flow brilliantly and purposefully. It seems like your epistemological presupposition that words have no meaning is the reason why you find no meaning in the one philosopher who means what she says. Now, if you disagree with my charge then answer this: ‘What gives words their meaning?’

Mike said...

Those are the three important points that I want to make at the outset of our discussion.

(1) The purpose of Objectivism is to benefit your life, not to trump other philosophies.
(2) The contrast between your explicit and implicit value-judgments of Objectivism is interesting.
(3) It seems like you have presupposed that words have no meaning; therefore you do not find meaning in Rand’s terms.

I am open to respond to any of these points, or, if you want me to address a specific point that you made, please state it concisely so that I can offer a clear response. I hope you can all appreciate the nature of my task (one versus all) in respect to my ability to respond to your points.

Michael Prescott said...

"Implicitly, you regard Objectivism as important—you spend time reading about Objectivism, writing a book about it, creating blogs about it—yet explicitly, you deny it of any importance"

I think you're equivocating on the term "important." As an example, Richard Dawkins spends a lot of time writing polemics against religion. Does he think religion is important? Yes, in the sense that it has a historical and cultural influence. No, in the sense that he regards it as foolish and worthless. His motive in writing is to persuade other people not to take religion seriously, since he sees religion as useless (at best) and harmful (at worst).

In my case, I was an Objectivist for a few years. I now regard Objectivism as an unhealthy cultlike movement. If, by occasionally commenting here and publishing a few essays elsewhere, I can perhaps help a few people to break free of the cult's influence, I think I'm performing a (small) service.

Bottom line: It's possible to regard something as important without regarding it as healthy or good. Objectivism is of some importance as a pop-cultural movement, and for the lives it has affected. That doesn't necessarily mean it's valuable or worth defending.

Mike said...

Michael, you are right. i just think that their interest in the subject is interesting; most people that don't like Rand merely pass over her. You are right though this is not a substantive point.

Daniel Barnes said...

Mike:
>(3) It seems like you have presupposed that words have no meaning; therefore you do not find meaning in Rand’s terms.

Hi Mike,

Rand often makes the peculiar assertion that those who disagree with her argue that words have no meaning. (She rarely, if ever, actually names anyone who supposedly believes this).

Do you really, really believe that people who've spent a vast amount of their lives reading, and in Greg's case writing, books, and indeed blogs with thousands and thousands of words in them, think that "words have no meaning"?

If so, why would we do any of this? Because we are insane?...;-)

i would challenge you to consider whether this assertion is supported by the obvious facts, or whether it is merely a standard-issue example of Randian argument from intimidation - a mode of argument that she once wrote an essay against, but with her striking lack of self-awareness nonetheless used constantly herself!

Anonymous said...

"In my case, I was an Objectivist for a few years. I now regard Objectivism as an unhealthy cultlike movement. If, by occasionally commenting here and publishing a few essays elsewhere, I can perhaps help a few people to break free of the cult's influence, I think I'm performing a (small) service."

Michael, in that (service) you do sterling work...but in fairness to objectivism, is it the philosophy that is unhealthy, the ARI or both?

Is there something instrinsic in the teachings of Rand that leads it's followers into a harmful way of thinking or it is just down to personalities?

I do think, like you, that objectivists are far from a joyful lot. Most of the ones I come across are pretty narrow minded and very bitter individuals but a few get the truth that just because they are objectivists, well so what? That does not make them 'better' or smarter than the rest of us.

- Steven Johnston

gregnyquist said...

Before getting to the more critical side of response, let me point out one area of partial accordance with Mike's points. He writes "my purpose here is to highlight ... [Objectivism's] effect on one’s life." My purpose is similar, but with a radically different emphasis. I'm fascinated with the question of the relation between an individual's professed beliefs and their actual behavior. My interest in this was originally inspired by Rand and her philosophy. Years ago, when I was first introduced to Rand, I found myself both attracted and repelled by her views. I sympathized with her individualism and her passionate support of realism, while deploring her cluelessness about human nature and her rationalistic "philosophy of history." I saw very clearly a disconnect between Rand's violent condemnations of "evasion" and her refusal to face up to hard facts about human nature and the human condition. Out of a need to explain this disconnect grew an interest in the psychology of belief. My continuing interest in Objectivism is largely, though not entirely, fueled by this interest. I regard Objectivism as a kind of petri dish in which to test my own conjectures about the relation between belief and behavior. The fact that many of my conclusions are unflattering to Rand's philosophy and orthodox Objectivism is purely adventitious. I am not attempting to "refute" Objectivism; nor am I seeking to convert Objectivists to another point of view. Since I hold that most ideologies are held for largely non-rational reasons, I would regard any attempt to change an individual's mind by appealing to their "reason" as a waste of time. When I appeal to the rationality of an ideologue, I do so in for scientific, rather than polemical reasons. I'm primarily interested in noting how the ideologue responds to my appeal, because that provides clues as to how his ideology affects his thinking.

In saying this, I'm not denying a secondary interest in ferreting out specific errors in Objectivism. But then it's done mostly to refine and sharpen my own ideas. The fact that my criticisms are helpful to other people seeking clues as to what is wrong with Objectivism is merely an additional bonus.

I see that Daniel has already replied to Mike's chief criticism (namely, that I deny that words have meanings). I'll have more to write of it perhaps tomorrow.

Mike said...

Daniel,
• My evidence for thinking that you think that words have no meaning comes from my own experience. When I read Rand I take a concept or a definition and I first integrate it with everything else that I know—to produce validity. Then I keep it in mind for several weeks and integrate it with reality—to produce soundness. And this has always worked for me so far. This works for me, but definitely not for everyone else. The difference is that I assumed, off the bat, that her idea is important and that it has a meaning for me to figure out—then I proceed to figure it out for myself. This is the same as Ayn Rand’s and my approach to life in general; that is, everything has meaning and our task is to figure out these meanings. This is an extremely fundamental evaluation; and it seems like only those who assume that there is always meaning can actually figure out that meaning. This is a metaphysical value-judgment: I think that everything that exists is connected to each other and that everything has a meaning to be figured out--especially the words/concepts and definitions used by Ayn Rand.
• I’ll finish with some quick examples: I watch TV, I see a commercial I consider evil, I figure out why and what the causes and consequences are. I here someone say a phrase that I consider evil…same process. I read a definition that off the bat seems to make sense…then I figure it out by checking validity and soundness.

Mike said...

Steven Johnston
• Very good point Steven. I have gone through many stages of being an Objectivist in a very short period of time. I know that there is still far more to learn. I will address the most fundamental premises that many Objectivists might miss out on. (1) Consciousness is individual: This premise leads to conclusions such as…I cannot force ideas on others. I cannot make someone else agree with me. The validity of my ideas should not depend on the agreement of others. My success should not depend on the volition of others…etc… (1) Reality is objective: This is the main point that, if understood, will lead to a ‘pleasant’ Objectivist. Neither my belief in her ideas nor my disagreements with others will lead to a successful life. An idea is valuable only if it corresponds to reality. The beauty of having an objective reality is that reality the PERFECT arbiter in all respects. So, in any dispute, as the saying goes: time will tell.

Mike said...

Greg
• In response to your comments about Rand’ ‘human nature’. I’m assuming: the difference between your point of view of ‘human nature’ and Rand’s is contained in the issue of: man-made condition versus natural state. To put its shortly and simply; There are many conditions of man (irrationality, psychological chaos, violence, anger) but these are only man-made conditions of life. The natural state of man, as a rational being, is the state of full rationality. If it is man’s rational faculty that differentiates man from all other animals, then reason is part of the nature of man, and rationality is part of his natural state.
• Finally, my purpose here is similar to yours from another angle as well. I want to soften the criticisms against Objectivism that I have seen throughout your website. There are many incorrect connections being made (as Steven Johnston points out) between the Objectivist ideas/Ayn Rand and how people interpret and apply these ideas.

Mike said...

Finally,
In her article “Apollo and Dionysus” Rand says the following about the two events (spaceship launch and Woodstock) “But if ones cares to understand the meaning of these events—to grasp their roots and their consequences—one will understand the power of philosophy…” It follows, if one CARES to understand the meaning of her concepts—to grasp their referents and observe them in reality—one will understand the power of words—and consequently, the power of ideas.

Mike said...

To summarize:
(1) A pre-requisite to figuring out the meaning of Rand’s work is the metaphysical value-judgment that everything has meaning and that these meanings are connected
(2) The two premises that Objectivists often don’t understand the practical meanings of are (A) Consciousness is individual and (B) Reality is objective
(3) What many people consider as ‘human nature’ is merely a human condition. Man’s natural state is a fully rational state.

Michael Prescott said...

"Is there something instrinsic in the teachings of Rand that leads it's followers into a harmful way of thinking or it is just down to personalities?'

IMO, there is something intrinsic in the philosophy that can damage people psychologically. This is especially true of young people, who are still in the process of forming their character.

The harmful aspects of the philosophy, as I see it, include the following:

1. Judgmentalism and moralism. Objectivists are encouraged, even required, to pass moral judgment on everything and everyone, not least themselves. This often leads to alienation from friends, family, and the surrounding culture, and to psychological repression (to avoid owning up to "unworthy" thoughts and feelings).

2. Black-and-white, totalistic thinking. Constant judging is bad enough, but it's worse when coupled with the belief that there are rarely any gray areas. Objectivists are encouraged to jump to sweeping (often negative) conclusions in the name of moral absolutism.

3. The condemnation of subjectivity. Objectivism insists that people must have valid reasons for (nearly) every like and dislike, (nearly) every offhand comment or casual act. In practice this is impossible, since much of life consists of imperfectly understood tendencies and impulses. Only a chronic policy of rationalization and repression can achieve this "ideal" (and even then, only incompletely). This is why Objectivists tend to become stilted and robotic in speech and behavior, a trait that was observed from the earliest days of the organized movement. The truth is that all experience is subjective, so any philosophy that condemns the subjective is going to severely limit one's capacity to experience life.

There are many other problematic areas, but these are the first ones that occur to me, and they are built into the philosophy at its core.

Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...

Michael,
(1) Moral judgments: The image of the objectivist you’re presenting is a common one: a stuck-up person who thinks that he knows everything and therefore it is his moral mission to explain to everyone the error of their ways. This person is NOT an Objectivist. He denies ‘consciousness is individual’: by thinking that he can force his ideas on others. He denies ‘reality is objective’: he wants people to agree with him as a means to validate his ideas—instead of validating his ideas by means of observing an objective reality. He is not selfish: he should use his ideas for himself not trade them away for nothing. The alienation you speak of is the result of offering unsolicited advice. An objectivist respects the decisions AND evasions of others; that is, he respects when someone else disagrees with his ideas AND he respects when someone else does not care about his ideas.

Mike said...


(2) Moral absolutes: Think about this statement: Happiness is the emotional state the proceeds from the constant achievement of one’s values. For example, I value ideas so I acquire them and apply them in my life. I value a family so I marry someone and have kids. I value friendship so I work to gain and keep my friends. There are many things that I can value and therefore many things that I can achieve. At any moment of my life I am either pursuing my values or not. Any actions that leads to the achievement of one of my values are good and any action doesn’t are bad. At any moment I am either pursuing my happiness or I am not. This is how it is practically helpful to think in terms of moral absolutes—at every moment I can ask myself: Am I pursuing my happiness or not? The ‘sweeping conclusions’ that you talk about are the result of an attempt to universalize moral values. This is an evasion of the fact that consciousness is individual—because consciousness is individual, morality is individual, NOT universal.
(3) Subjectivity: An objectivist realizes that he is an integration of all of his ideas, emotions, and actions. He wants to understand the reasons behind his thoughts, preferences, and behaviors. He wants to make sure that his psychology coheres with his thoughts and that his thoughts adhere to reality. He realizes that all experience is subjective—only as far as each person interprets his observations differently. Therefore, he wants to make sure that his interpretations adhere to reality—this is the only way to really make sure that what you think is true. In the way that I just mentioned, experience is subjective, but whether the sum of your experiences amounts to success and happiness is a matter determined by objective reality. The ‘limits on ones capacity to experience life’ that you talk about is the result of not having a goal-oriented life. If you think that life is about finding the joy in all of your various experiences—a subjective reality is suited to you. If you think that life is about choosing and pursuing goals—then you must adhere to an objective reality.

Mike said...

To summarize:
(1) Moral judgments are personal ideas. Objectivists respect the autonomy of others.
(2) The pursuit of happiness requires that every action is either right or wrong.
(3) Everyone experiences life differently; however, whether your actions achieve your goals is a matter of an objective reality.

Michael Prescott said...

"Objectivists respect the autonomy of others."

I haven't generally found this to be true. If you've read the various bios of Rand, I think you'll see that Rand herself didn't respect the autonomy of others. She went to the extreme of holding "show trials" in her apartment to condemn dissenters, often on the most trivial grounds. Or look at the history of Objectivist excommunications and "heresies." This is not a tolerant bunch.

"The pursuit of happiness requires that every action is either right or wrong."

I disagree. A great many actions are morally neutral or morally ambiguous.

"whether the sum of your experiences amounts to success and happiness is a matter determined by objective reality."

I think happiness is more a matter of attitude than external circumstances. Of course in extreme conditions, like a concentration camp, external circumstances can overwhelm anyone's attitude. But in the normal course of life, it's our attitude that determines how we feel. There are millionaire celebrities who are miserable, and there are minimum-wage employees who are happy. Most people's attitudes are deeply ingrained (and probably inherited to some extent). In fact, studies have shown that even people who suffer crippling accidents usually revert to their previous baseline level of happiness within a year.

The point I would emphasize is that happiness is a state of mind available to almost anyone at almost any time. It's a mistake to tie your happiness to the achievement of some particular goal. For one thing, you may not achieve it; for another, even if you do achieve it, you'll find that the satisfaction quickly wears off and you will have to fixate on a new goal. Thus happiness is always being deferred to some future day when you will "have it all." That day will never come, and meanwhile life passes you by.

I would recommend enjoying the journey and not worrying too much about the destination. A very un-Objectivist sentiment!

gregnyquist said...

I fear my suggestion that some of Mike's terms were "loose and baggy " has led him astray. He has now leaped to the radical conclusion that I deny words have any meaning at all, as if all the posts and comments I've made on this website were, as the old nominalists were fond of saying, mere "noise." Yet my intent was merely to provoke Mike into thinking more clearly about the implications of his words. The meaning of words can be scandalously indefinite. There are quite literally millions of meanings, but the average vocubulary features less than 10,000 words. How can so many meanings be squeezed into so few words? While some meanings can be expressed via phrases, in the end some words must bear the brunt of several meanings. Glance at any dictionary and what do you find? Multiple definitions for nearly every word. And it gets much worse when you get to philosophical terms. These terms, being far more abstract to begin with, can be very slippery. Their meanings are often determined by the overall context of a specific philosophy, so that meanings will change, sometimes subtly, sometimes radically, according to which system of philosophy is using them. This is why philosophers are constantly misunderstanding one another. They use the same words, but they mean different things by them. For the philosopher, it's an occupational hazard.

But the more serious problem occurs when people use terms without being too clear which sense or meaning they are using in a given instant. In other words, the fact that a word is indefinite and covers many shades of meaning is used as a means of equivocation. Even worse, this is usually done unconsciously, in complete innocence. Philosophy is full of such examples. Nor is Rand an exception in this regard.

If you examine her metaphysical axioms more closely, Rand is often guilty of taking them in different senses and then conflating the various senses. Sometimes she takes existence to mean merely, as Mike put it, "everything there is." Existence is here defined as everything that might possibly exist, but what that everything is is left indeterminate. It could be anything: matter, consciousness, God, unicorns. If such things exist, then they exist: that is all Rand's statement means (which is why it is utterly trivial). Since what exists is not specified, this meaning of existence is logically compatible with every contention about what exists that has ever been made. Not so with Rand's other meanings of existence. Sometimes (unwittingly no doubt) she conflates her first, trivial meaning of existence with other meanings. Existence becomes what realists believe exists or what Rand believes exist. Or it becomes conflated with "reality" or "the world" or "the universe as a whole." Now existence taken in these specific, non-tautological senses may be denied by rival philosophical positions. But even so, it is wrong of Rand to accuse these rival positions of denying existence in these senses, since they are peculiar to her. No other philosophers are obligated to abide by her meanings. In the first place, she never explicity defines existence in any of these novel senses (on the contrary, she explicitly defines it in the trivial sense noted above), and it seems that she herself does not even realize she has lasped, or rather equivocated, into these other senses.

gregnyquist said...

I'll just add one brief addendum to my comment on meanings. This concerns Mike's earlier explication of the primacy of existence. In his explication, Mike is invoking the Objectivist notion of the hierarchy of concepts. Existence is primary to consciousness because existence is a higher level concept. In the same sense, animals could be seen as primary to mammals, since if there were no animals, there obviously could be no mammals. Thus it could be said, "animals make mammals possible." This manner of argumentation Rand inherited from Aristotle. Hegel and his followers also argued in this fashion (as does Kant). Regardless of whether it's a good or perverse way of looking at things, it is irrelevant to the question of whether idealism is guilty of denying the primacy of existence. The idealist must (by definition as it were) believe that consciousness exists. But if consciousness exists, then existence must be primary, since consciousness is one of the things that exist. As I have noted before, what idealists deny is, not the primacy of existence, but the primacy of matter.

gregnyquist said...

Mike: "In response to your comments about Rand’ ‘human nature’. I’m assuming: the difference between your point of view of ‘human nature’ and Rand’s is contained in the issue of: man-made condition versus natural state."

I wouldn't put it that way. The difference between Rand and myself is over whether human beings have innate (or ineradicable) tendencies. For Rand, man's tendecies are of his own choosing, and can be altered (even if it is difficult). My belief is that these tendencies are not of man's choosing, and that they serve as innate bias which influences how individuals react to specific situations. For example, human beings tend to be corrupted by wealth and soft living, so that they become incapable of fighting and living by the very virtues that made them wealthy in the first place.

"The natural state of man, as a rational being, is the state of full rationality."

And what, precisely, is your evidence for this extraordinary assertion?

gregnyquist said...

"but in fairness to objectivism, is it the philosophy that is unhealthy, the ARI or both"

It's the combination of both. The philosophy, taken by itself as a mere formal system, is relatively harmless. It's when it mixes with specific type of personalities that it becomes dangerous. The philosophy does not necessarily have any unhealthy effect on introverted or passive individuals who just want to be left alone and who may be frustrated by the emotional assertiveness of religious people or left-wing activists. Matters stand differently, however, with more aggressive types, particularly those afflicted with narcisim. It's not healthy to advise a narcisist to be proud and selfish. That only encourages bad tendencies already in place.

I suspect that if an empirical "sociology of Objectivism" was ever conducted, it would be found that, over time, the narcisists tend to dominate within Objectivist social structures. The naivete about human nature fostered and nurtured by Rand's philosophy give narcist types an advantage. In the end, you get what we've seen in the latest McCaskey schism.


.

Xtra Laj said...

The philosophy does not necessarily have any unhealthy effect on introverted or passive individuals who just want to be left alone and who may be frustrated by the emotional assertiveness of religious people or left-wing activists.

I think, from my personal experience, you are underestimating the impact of Objectivism on social bonds, especially family ties. Introverted people who are excessively enervated by people may not be the greatest socializers, but encouraging introversion and its associated self-absorbed behavior and disguising it as individualistic selfishness can have dangerous effects for people who have bad people skills.

Michael Prescott said...

I agree with Xtra Laj. Objectivism can take a borderline socially phobic person and turn him into Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory. (Sheldon is sort of a high-functioning autist or Asperger's patient.)

Of course, if a person reads only Rand's fiction and gleans that it's okay to stand up for himself, there may not be any bad consequences - in fact, the effect may be healthy. But deeper immersion in the philosophy usually leads in an unhealthy direction, I think. This is true even if the person avoids the organized movement.

Xtra Laj said...

Exactly, Michael. What is particularly dangerous is that it often captures these people when they are younger and less experienced about the way the world works.

Following Objectivism even without meeting people in the movement/culture can prevent them from building the kinds of coping skills they could otherwise build as they mature and understand how best to navigate social norms. Rand makes it sound cool to be rude to people who you don't agree with - great way to learn the value of compromise and if you're a man, great way to bridge the gap between Venus and Mars!

gregnyquist said...

"But deeper immersion in the philosophy usually leads in an unhealthy direction, I think."

Perhaps so. Nearly all the Objectivists I've been personally acquainted with (this would be some years ago) were not deeply immersed in the philosophy. They were enthusiastic about Rand's novels and some of Rand's essays, but the technical side of the philosophy didn't interest them (although they tried to be interested in it). The few who showed the most passionate interest in the philosophy tended to be nerd types. I can't honestly say their immersion in the philosophy was unhealthy, but it's obviously possible.

As far as I know, many of the worst excesses of Objectivism occurred in the 60s and 70s, when Rand was still alive and was setting a particularly bad example for her followers, insisting on uniformity in the nearly everything. I'm not aware that matters are anywhere as crazy and/or dysfunctional today (or since Rand's death) as they were back then. In any case, I can't say I've seen any evidence of it myself.

AtlasAikido said...

A great deal of criticism and confusion launched at Ayn Rand had to do with the style of her description of power. It was called brutal, cold, heartless, uncompromisingly cool etc. People failed to realize she was attacking a mass and a collective that had burrowed its way into every corner of life on the planet. Collectivism had already won. It had beaten its opponents. The state of humankind was being managed in the AFTERMATH of the victory. If you were going to go up against THAT, you needed to be fully armed. You needed to see the situation with GREAT CLARITY. You needed to be ABLE TO DESCRIBE what the **FREE INDIVIDUAL was dealing with**. There was no way to short-circuit it.

More importantly, Rand was prepared to ELUCIDATE the physical, mental, and emotional DEPTH of her heroes’ commitment to their OWN choices, their OWN work, their OWN creations (not no rules, but self rule). She wasn’t merely dipping her toe in the water of that ocean.

She portrayed **obsessive social niceties (so adored by the crowd) as the stuff and substance of a whole network of compromise**, a way of surrendering to The Group. Naturally, when her critics, who were part of that system, saw themselves reflected in her mirror, they became outraged and they went on the attack. They had to. She had them in her sights.

AYN RAND AND THE MATRIX
by Jon Rappoport
MAY 2, 2012
http://jonrappoport.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/ayn-rand-and-the-matrix/

AtlasAikido said...

Why go to fiction to learn about power?

Because in art we [some of us] can see our dreams. We can see ideals and archetypes. These fictional characters have the energy we strive for.

When Ayn Rand, the author of The Fountainhead (1943), was asked whether Howard Roark, the hero of her novel, could exist in real life, she answered, with annoyance, “Of course.”

The implication of “of course” was: don’t YOU have the desire to discover your highest ideals and live them out?

HOWARD ROARK AND THE MATRIX
May 12
by Jon Rappoport
http://jonrappoport.wordpress.com/2012/05/12/howard-roark-and-the-matrix/

John Thomas said...

Thank you for posting about objectivism Ayn Rand Objectivism as Objectivism being Ayn Rand's philosophy of reason, egoism, capitalism. Read more - https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/

Daniel Barnes said...

Wow, Objecto-spam.