Thursday, May 30, 2013

Ayn Rand & Epistemology 38

Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy 11: Necessity and Contingency. After flogging the analytical synthetic dichotomy for several pages, Peikoff focuses on a new target: "the dichotomy between necessary and contingent facts." Per usual with Peikoff, he labors under the presumption that there is a kind of consensus governing contemporary philosophy on this issue:

[The necessary-contingent dichotomy] was interpreted in the twentieth century as follows: since facts are learned by experience, and experience does not reveal necessity, the concept "necessary facts" must be abandoned. Facts, it is now held, are one and all contingent --- and the propositions describing them are "contingent truths." As for necessary truths, they are merely the products of man's linguistic or conceptual conventions. They do not refer to facts, they are empty, "analytic," "tautological." [107]

Although not all or even most contemporary philosopher accept the necessary-contingent dichotomy, those that do advocate it believe in something close to what Peikoff describes. In other words, Peikoff has not grossly misstated this particular view, which is unusual for him. What, then, is his objection to this dichotomy? His main objection is the view, supposedly entailed by the dichotomy, that facts are contingent. Such a view, contends Peikoff,

represents a failure to grasp the Law of Identity. Since things are what they are, since everything that exists possesses a specific identity, nothing in reality can occur by chance. The nature of an entity determines what it can do and, in any given set of circumstances, dictates what it will do. The Law of Causality is entailed by the Law of Identity. Entities follow certain laws of action in consequence of their identity, and have no alternative to doing so. [108-109]

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Ayn Rand & Epistemology 37

Analytical-Synthetic Dichotomy 10: Peikoff's Argument. In a previous post, I criticized Peikoff's theory of meaning, which asserts that "the meaning of a concept consists of the units ... it integrates." This Objectivist theory of meaning, as I noted in that post, contains both platonist and positivistic aspects. It separates meaning from individual intent and turns concepts into quasi-platonist entities that literally transcribe the world. As a theory of meaning, it is not merely absurd according to the the standards of good sense, but even in terms of Rand's own philosophy. To be sure, Objectivism contains its fair share of absurdities. However, many of Rand's metaphysical and epistemological doctrines, if interpreted generously, have at least an aura of plausibility about them. They at least attempt to pay lip service to common sense and practical efficacy. But the Objectivist theory of meaning seems bad all the way through. It's not only bad philosophy, it's bad Objectivism as well. It is not consistent with Rand's own theory of "unit economy," or with Rand's career as a writer of fiction. Meaning cannot be confined to the literally true, as Rand's theory of meaning, if it were consistently applied, would demand.