Any theory that propounds an opposition between the logical and empirical, represents a failure to grasp the nature of logic and its role in human cognition. [IOTE, 112]
Do advocates of the ASD really propound an "opposition" between logic and experience? Perhaps some do; but without giving examples, Peikoff is merely issuing an unsubstantiated assertion. The ASD grew out of distinctions generated by Hume and Kant. These philosophers were attacking rationalistic speculation (what Kant called "pure" reason). They were not, however, banishing logic from human cognition.
Peikoff goes on the present a brief one-paragraph digest of the Objectivist theory of knowledge:
Man is born tabula rasa; all his knowledge is based on and derived from the evidence of the senses. To reach the distinctively human level of cognition, man must conceptualize his perceptual data --- and conceptualization is a process which is neither automatic nor infallible. Man needs to discover a method to guide this process, if it is to yield conclusions which correspond to the facts of reality --- i.e., which represent knowledge. The principle at the base of the proper method is the fundamental principle of metaphysics: the Law of Identity. In reality, contradiction is the proof of an error. Hence the method man must follow: to identify the facts he observes, in a non-contradictory manner. This method is logic --- "the art of non-contradictory identification." Logic must be employed at every step of a man's conceptual development, from the formulation of his first concepts to the discovery of the most complex scientific laws and theories. Only when a conclusion is based on a noncontradictory identification and integration of all the evidence at a given time, can it qualify as knowledge. [IOTE, 112-113]
Let's examine this paragraph sentence by sentence.
- Man is born tabula rasa. Not true. See Pinker's The Blank Slate.
- All his knowledge is based on and derived from the evidence of the senses. Probably mostly, but not entirely, true. There may exist certain propensities of thought which are critical to effective cognition. For example, the tendency of the very young to conceptualize and name things might very well be an instinct of sorts. If so, it's merely a matter of semantics whether that "instinct" or propensity is regarded as knowledge.
- Conceptualization is a process which is neither automatic nor infallible. While almost everyone would agree that conceptualization is not infallible, the insistence that it is also not automatic appears unwarrented. The Objectivist position implies that very young children make a decision whether to conceptualize or not. This is grossly implausible and not consistent with the evidence presented by cognitive science.
- Man needs to discover a method to guide this process, if it is to yield conclusions which correspond to the facts of reality. Given how complex the process of conceptualization appears to be, this would seem impossible. Human cognition cannot be guided by a method. The philosopher Micheal Polanyi made a strong case against a methodology of thought in his Personal Knowledge. Subsequent research by cognitive science tends to support Polanyi's criticism of a non-tacit, consciously directed, purely "objective" knowledge.
- The principle at the base of the proper method is the fundamental principle of metaphysics: the Law of Identity. This is intolerably vague. As I have argued in a previous post, there are different types of identity. Until these different types are recognized and appreciated, talk of Law of Identity is largely wind and nonsense.
- In reality, contradiction is the proof of an error. True, but potentially misleading. Contradiction is important when making tests of hypothesis. It is also important in developing consistent theories, and in speculative hypotheses used when making educated guesses (when empirical testing is not possible). And while contradiction does constitute "proof of error," it doesn't necessarily tell you where that error resides. A contradiction could be an indication that a theory is wrong, or that there are errors in the test. Nor is lack of contradiction necessarily proof positive of truth. In pragmatic tests (where isolation of variables is difficult or impossible), success may result from factors that have nothing to do with the hypothesis being tested. (For example, if the aggresive application of the death penalty for murder led to a decrease in murder, that would not necessarily prove the thesis that the death penalty leads to a reduction in murder. The murder rate may have dropped for reasons that had nothing to do with the death penalty.)
- Hence the method man must follow: to identify the facts he observes, in a non-contradictory manner. As stated above, this is impossible. There can be no "method" of cognition (not at least in terms of consciously applied rules).
- This method is logic --- "the art of non-contradictory identification. To the extent that logic is a method, it is confined to formal deductive logic. It is unlikely that either Peikoff or Rand understands this. Formal logic is not applied, nor can it ever be applied, to all human cognition.(For more on this topic, see here.)
- Logic must be employed at every step of a man's conceptual development, from the formulation of his first concepts to the discovery of the most complex scientific laws and theories. If this were true, knowledge would be impossible. Can an infant or a toddler apply logic at every step of his conceptual development? No, of course not. We have yet another example of Objectivism's misplaced emphasis on the process of cognition. But it's not important how a man reaches his conclusions. On the contrary, what's important is whether the conclusions (regardless of how they are reached) are tested afterwards. (For more on this, see here.)
- Only when a conclusion is based on a noncontradictory identification and integration of all the evidence at a given time, can it qualify as knowledge. Complete and utter nonsense (for reasons give above). Since most of our knowledge claims are formulated unconsciously, without the aid of a consciously directed "logic," it would just not be possible to form conclusions based on the approach suggested by Objectivism. If you want to evaluate the reliability of a knowledge claim, the best way of going about it is to test is empirically. Ironically, the Objectivist method is contrary to objectivity. Other people cannot evaluate how an individual reaches his conclusions, or whether they are based on "noncontradictory identification and integretion of the available evidence." When put in practice, this approach will inevitably lead to just the sort of ex cathedra claims issued by the likes of Rand and Peikoff.