Friday, November 09, 2012

Ayn Rand & Epistemology 22

Definitions 7: Doctrine of the Homogenuity of Reality. The doctrine of essentialism, as Karl Popper has noted, regards knowledge as sort of syllogistic encyclopaedia containing the intuitive definitions of all essences. Rand's view of knowledge is not so very different. She believed that human beings "organize concepts into propositions" and that the truth of these propositions rests on the "truth and falsehood of the definitions of the concepts" used in the propositions, which in turn rests on the truth or falsehoods of the "designations of essential characteristics." Knowledge, Rand insisted, was an integrated whole, tied together by definitions:

Since the definition of a concept is formulated in terms of other concepts, it enables man, not only to identify and retain a concept, but also to establish the relationships, the hierarchy, the integration of all his concepts and thus the integration of his knowledge. Definitions preserve, not the chronological order in which a given man may have learned concepts, but the logical order of their hierarchical interdependence. [IOTE, 40]

Rand's belief the integration of knowledge into a vast inter-related hierarchy of concepts has led her most orthodox disciple, Leonard Peikoff, into an almost quasi-Hegelian view of knowledge. As Chris Sciabarra explains:

Leonard Peikoff received his doctorate in philosophy at New York University in 1964 under the direction of Sydney Hook. Peikoff's dissertation was titled "The Status of the Law of Contradiction in Classic Logical Ontologism." His mentor criticized him as "monist" and a "Hegelian," but this did not deter Peikoff from his Objectivist predilections. Yet like a genuine Hegelian, Peikoff argues that no philosophical problems can be resolved in a vacuum, since all issues are interconnected. Admitting to a tendency toward rationalism, Peikoff never tires of quoting "The True is the Whole." He repeats this credo in his books, articles, and courses, warning of the danger of "one-sided distortions." [Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, 121]

The conviction that knowledge consists in a kind of integrated, logical whole implies a specific metaphysical perspective. If knowledge exists as an integrated whole, than the world itself must be some sort of holistic, integrated phenomenon. Hence, we find Objectivists contending that reality is "logical." Peikoff himself, during his brief incursion as a talk show host, once insisted that reality was not, as some maintained, inordinately complex. For any great complexity would soon enough destroy the Objectivist ideal of knowledge as an integrated whole. As would, for example, the reality of surds. For the Objectivist view of knowledge to work, reality must be relatively simple, interconnected, intelligible, logical, and orderly. Mystifying complexities, unintelligibility, the absurd, the incalculable must be ruled out of court altogether.

The problem with this view is that it does not accord with the facts. The world doesn't have the pristine, simple homogenuity that Objectivism tacitly requires. To be sure, the opposite isn't true either: the world is not a pluralist chaos either. Again, we find Objectivism confronting us with false alternatives. The world contains both order and chaos, both intelligibility and unintelligibility, both the calculable and the incalculable. The world is intelligible enough for us to survive in it; but not so intelligible that we can fathom all its depths.

The Objectivist view of an orderly, logical, intelligible world is not consistent with a realist metaphysics or with evolutionary psychology. To declare that the world is thoroughly logical and intelligible is to suggest that the world was devised or created for the benefit of the human mind, which is hardly a view plausible to a thoroughly consistent and chastened realism. On the atheistic premises propounded by Objectivists, the mind must be a product of evolution. Under such a view, it is unlikely to assume that reality was tailor-made to fit the mind. And as a matter of fact, we don't find it to be. On the quantum level, reality baffles the mind. Nor has anyone discovered any coherent logic that enjoys empire over fact. Logic is a method of thought, not a law of matter.

The Objectivist view is only plausible on idealist premises. This perhaps accounts for Peikoff's Hegelian tendencies, and for Rand's sympathy for Brand Blandshard's book Reason and Analysis, which was reviewed positively in The Objectivist Newsletter.



Strelnikov said...

...And with the Romney-Ryan defeat the horrors of quasi-Objectivist "government" have been avoided, so now ARCHN can focus on the wonders of doorstops, drinking contests, and UFOs.

Ding-dong the witch is dead...

Dragonfly said...

Reality isn't logical or illogical, these are meaningless terms in this context. It's just like discussing whether length is red or blue. Logic is an aspect of reasoning, of deciding whether a model of reality is consistent (no matter how weird it may seem to our eyes), but applying the term to reality itself is just nonsense.

This attitude of Peikoff also explains his silly attacks on Gödel's incompleteness theorems, not to mention "refutations" of those theorems by latter-day Objectivists. Of course their rational philosophy trumps mathematics...

CW said...

I think continuing to focus on the wonders of Rand's less-than-objective Objectivism will be sufficient.

Besides, it's not as if the Randroids are going to let up.

Anonymous said...

One thing that interested me is what is the objectivist position on the dialetic are they Hegelians or Marxists? I mean do they believe that ideas shape society or that society shapes ideas?

Anonymous said...

So can anyone help me out here? Re the dialectic, Objectivists must take the Hegelian postion, that ideas influence society? Yet, if they take that position it would contradict most of her most famout work Atlas Shrugged. As people turn to John Galt due to the society they find themselves in

Francois Tremblay said...

"So can anyone help me out here? Re the dialectic, Objectivists must take the Hegelian postion, that ideas influence society?"

"Yet, if they take that position it would contradict most of her most famout work Atlas Shrugged. As people turn to John Galt due to the society they find themselves in"
You Kantian second-hander! Don't you know that John Galt is only the representation of the ideal which animates the heart of all True Objectivists and... bla bla bla.

Yea, it's the paradox of both believing in absolute total free will AND in historical determinism. To my knowledge, it's never been addressed.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I have asked and asked and never got a clear answer.
Clearly they cannot take the Marxist position but they also hate Hegel, so where does that leave them?