Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ayn Rand & Epistemology 39

Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy 12: Necessity and Rationalistic Speculation. In my last post, I introduced some of Peikoff's objections to the view that all facts are contingent. Peikoff described this view as "secularized mysticism," suggesting that belief in the contingency of facts is motivated by a desire to evade reality. However, as with Peikoff's attacks on the analytic-synthetic dichotomy, we find LP once again missing the point. Historically, the contingency of facts doctrine has tended to be most popular among empiricists, not because they were fact-evaders, but because they despised rationalistic speculation. Rationalists and Idealists often use necessity to justify reasoning about matters of fact. If all you wish to achieve is to note that all bachelors are unmarried, or that all the characters of thought have identity, or that up is opposite from down, then there is no real great objection to philosophical speculation. If it is merely an explication of meanings, speculate to your hearts content. But philosophers and ideologues wish to go further. They wish to use philosophical speculation to determine matters of fact. And I'm not talking about trivial facts such as "The sun rises in the east," or "water flows downhill." No, they wish to use speculation to determine facts about the "nature of man," "necessities in nature," the usefulness and/or "validation" of inductive reasoning, and the workings of their favorite moral and  political systems. In short, they wish to determine matters of fact which, even under the most rigorous scientific standards of peer review and criticism, are not easily ascertainable, by doing little more than spinning rationalistic webs. Such a method does not provide reliable knowledge of difficult-to-know matters of fact.

How is necessity used to justify rationalistic speculation? This is perhaps best explained by necessity's most persuasive advocate, Brand Blanshard, who defined reason as "the discovery of necessary connections":

The office of reason as it works in each of us is thus to construct, or reconstruct, the rational whole. The world of common sense is the result of a long attempt at such reconstruction. The world of the sciences is the result of the same attempt, carried out more critically and resolutely. The reason at work in philosophical speculation is not something different from that of these disciplines; it is the same, but operating under a more urgent feeling for what integrated knowledge demands. The most obvious of its demands is for consistency... [Reason and Analysis, 91, italics added]

Blanshard is essentially arguing that the reason at work in the sciences is the same as the reason at work in philosophical (i.e., rationalistic) speculation. It's the same because all these forms of reason are attempting to discover "necessary connections." The world, according to Blanshard, "is shot through with filaments of necessity." This means the world is a rational, intelligible order. It also means, at least by implication, that if you can grasp one necessary connection, you can reason yourself to others. If I already have two dollars in my pocket and I add another dollar, mustn't I have three dollars in my pocket? As a matter of logic applied to an ideal situation, yes; but as a matter of fact, no. What if I have a hole in my pocket? Then I might have only two dollars or one dollar. What is true by necessity for thought is not necessarily true empirically of the material world. Truth is fundamentally factual. Facts do not derive their truth from logical tropes or ideal necessities. While reality must have some form or nature, there is no necessity that it should have the particular form that it actually adopts. That the speed of light travels at 186,000 miles per second is a fact. There is no logical necessity in it. If a fact were logically necessary, it would be true, and ipso facto discoverable, a priori. But there are no a priori facts. Facts are empirical through and through. Facts are also surds, inexplicable in and of themselves (i.e., there are no ultimate explanations for them). They are cosmic accidents.

While Objectivists don't openly argue for necessity in order to justify rationalistic speculation, it's obviously a doctrine that appeals to their zeal for certainty. "Truths about ... facts are learned and validated by ... observation; and, qua truths, ... are ... necessary," writes Peikoff, adding "all truths are [necessary]." Peikoff's main argument for this position seems to be merely that "a true proposition must describe facts as they are." [111] However, here Peikoff seems to be confusing truth with necessity. What does it mean to say that a truth is "necessary"? In philosophy, it usually means, "it couldn't be any other way." The problem is: how can we know it couldn't be any other way? If there are no ultimate explanations (and there isn't: even God's existence wouldn't constitute an ultimate explanation), then how can we know that things could not have been different? After all, we assume things could be different all the time. Objectivists admit that there is a sort of contigency in facts when it comes to human volition; but they insist that no metaphysical fact could be different.  To think otherwise, Objectivists seem to imply, opens the door to wishful thinking. But is this really true? Per usual, Objectivists provide no particular examples.

It could be argued that we don't really know whether facts are ultimately contingent or necessary. Even so, on pragmatic grounds, the contingency view appears more useful, at least for science and open-minded inquiry. It opens the door to counter-factuals, which, oddly enough, Objectivists often have trouble accepting. As Rob Bass noted:

Objectivists seem allergic to considering hypothetical or counterfactual cases. They are apt to accuse anyone who employs arguments involving counterfactuals of being “rationalistic" or “not grounded in reality." Apparently, they think this charge, which is usually unexplained, is sufficient to get them off the hook of having to actually address those arguments. The arguments are dismissed as arbitrary or meaningless or some such thing. Oddly, I find little warrant for this particular bit of lunacy in Rand’s own writings. (Is she to be accused of rationalism when she talks about indestructible robots?) Nonetheless, the attitude is quite common among Objectivists.

I could speculate that this is defensive maneuver to keep from having to deal with hard questions that Objectivism is ill-equipped to handle, but, for now, I will place little weight upon that speculation. I will confine myself to pointing out that reference to counterfactuals is nearly unavoidable if you want to think clearly about issues in philosophy of science such as causation and laws of nature. The claim, for example, that it is a law of nature that (say) unsupported rocks fall to the ground does not just report a regularity in the behavior of rocks. It also implies things like “if this rock were unsupported (which it isn’t), then it would fall ? – and that can be true even if the rock never is unsupported. Note that this is not just a material conditional (which is always true when the antecedent – the if-clause – is false) because we also want to deny claims like “if this rock were unsupported (which it isn’t), then it would turn into a bird and fly away."

A very similar point can be made about causation. To say that an event, A, causes another event, B, is not just to report that A is followed by B, but also implies (if there are no other causes of B or other possibilities for the occurrence of B about) that if A had not occurred, B would not have occurred.

Whether we speak of laws of nature or of causation, an adequate understanding of what is meant is not possible without reference to situations that do not actually occur – that is, without reference to counterfactuals. If we refuse to deal with counterfactuals, then the most that we will be able to manage in this area is some kind of Humean regularity analysis of causation and of laws of nature.

Once we admit counterfactuals, as we must to address important issues in the philosophy of science, it will be much harder for Objectivists to dismiss other arguments as merely hypothetical or rationalistic word-spinning. They will have to offer specific reasons that particular arguments that appeal to counterfactual states of affairs go wrong (if they do). General objections to counterfactual arguments won’t do the job.

Although the Objectivist "allergy" to counter-factuals is, as Bass speculates, most likely rooted in a desire to evade difficult questions which Objectivism is ill-equipped to answer, the belief in necessary facts essentially rationalizes this evasion and hardens it. The Objectivist allegation that counter-factuals are "rationalistic"  involves a misunderstanding of rationalism and empiricism. Philosophers like Hume don't criticize rationalistic speculation because its rationalistic or speculative; they criticize it because it was often used to establish matters of fact. There's nothing wrong with rationalistic speculation, provided it is recognized as speculation, rather than fact. Speculations can be the source of  rich hypotheses that can form the basis of various research programs and scientific experiments.  After all, Einstien's theory of relativity had it's origin in speculative thought; but, and this is the critical point, it didn't end merely in speculation: on the contrary, it became the basis of experiments which corroborated the veracity of its claims. Philosophers may speculate all they like; what they shouldn't do is claim their speculations are true because they are "rational" or based on "necessary" truths. There are no such necessary truths which can form the basis of true speculations about matters of fact.

Objectivists are fond of  Rand's "stolen concept" fallacy to refute views they disagree with. Couldn't Objectivists argue for necessity on the grounds that all denials of necessity must assume necessity? I'll examine this in my next post.


QuantumHaecceity said...

I'm very curious about the psychology of Greg Nyquist. What motivates a man to attack a philosophy or worldview for 8 calendar years? That is astounding.

What is Greg trying to prove? Who is he trying to convince? After a certain point, you would think the attacker would let it go. To attack and denigrate something for this long, you'd think either the person had mental problems like Obsessive compulsive disorder, or he was personally aggrieved by an Objectivist.

Like did an Objectivist spit on a family member of his? I mean seriously, who rambles on for 8 calendar years with attack after attack on a worldview or position?

The sad part is, his efforts are arguably worthless. Objectivism is by and large a very marginalized philosophy with VERY few adherents. What? Maybe less than 10,000 in the entire world(just guessing there). And Greg's efforts are arguably worthless because he doesn't seem to be reaching the people that matter, which are Objectivists who are deeply avowed and experts on it, like a Yaron Brook, or Leonard Peikoff, or Brandon Cropper, or Dawson Bethrick, or Ari Armstrong, or Fred D. Miller, Jr., or Andrew Bernstein, or Diana Hsieh, or Craig Biddle, or Harry Binswanger, or Onkar Ghate, or Joseph Rowlands, or William Thomas, or Tara Smith or George Reisman, or Jimmy Wales, or Greg Perkins.

Greg's blog attacks mainly reach fellow haters of Objectivists and Objectivism, so his efforts are worthless in the sense of only preaching to the choir. Only reaching those who already think and believe like he does. Which is arguably worthless due to redundancy.

Why? Why go on this long? What's the point? What are you trying to prove? I'd see if you were having a constant explicit, current exchange with an Objectivist that was actually taking you on in a very public manner like a Dawson Bethrick; But from what I can tell, Objectivist's by and large, completely ignore Greg Nyquist and his interminable attacks.

Why doesn't Greg take on and refute something more worthwhile to refute. Like Islam. Islam has millions and million of believers, and it has, and does, cause so much misery and repression in the world.

When have you known and Objectivist to suicide bomb someone, or shoot girls for wanting an education(which is about as evil as you can get).

Why doesn't Greg intellectually take apart Islam, and maybe convince some people to not believe in such a destructive and freedom oppressing worldview? Maybe prevent more Muslim's from dive bombing planes into buildings.

That would be of more help to the world than this mess. Maybe try to convince through reason and intellect, that Islam is wrong and flawed, so that maybe, there is one less Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the world who gets convinced of the truth of Islam, and the result is more death and destruction.

What is Mr. Greg Nyquist dumping all this contempt and castigation on? A philosophy that stands for Objective reality, reason, rational self interest, individual rights and capitalism? A philosophy that explicitly espouses virtues such as Benevolence, Rationality, Pride, Justice, Integrity, Honesty, and Productiveness?

I'm sure Greg feels comfortable belching all this hate and contempt and attack against Objectivst's because he knows, since Objectivists are well adjusted and peaceful, he won't get hurt for any of this. Is he too scared to do the same against Islam? Knowing Islam's bloody track record and that you could very much get physically hurt for even merely criticizing Islam?

Why doesn't he turns his intellectual sword upon a religion so wicked, it preaches that people who abandon it, are to be killed(which is about as evil as it gets). Which is utterly cult like. Where are the shrill, sissy cries of Islam being a cult from people like Greg Nyquist or Michael Prescott, who have no problem whining about Objectivism being such, ad nauseum.

Drew said...


Have you any rebuttals to his arguments?

I find his articles insightful and whether or not they are a sustained critique of a particular philosophical stance, they always have implications far beyond that particular philosophy.

Francois Tremblay said...

QuantumHaecceity, that was definitely an extremely stupid way of arguing against ARCHN. I don't agree with the writers on many points, but your attack was absolutely pointless, vacuous and infantilizing.

In short, you must be an Objectivist, right?

QuantumHaecceity said...

Tremblay, that was a childish, whiny, petulant post you made. In short, you must be an Objectivist hating, ARCHN fan boy right?

You lot seem to be known for being grade-A jerks, like Daniel Barnes.

Francois Tremblay said...

I am not a fanboy of this blog by any stretch. In fact, I disagree quite ardently on many points made here. But at least they make their points in a reasoned fashion that one can agree or disagree with. More than I can say for your wordy diarrhea.

QuantumHaecceity said...

I can take on Greg's arguments if presented some. That wasn't the point of the post "genius".

It tells the point of the post in the first paragraph. (rolls eyes and facepalm's on Tremblay's petulant density).

Francois Tremblay said...

Yes... psychoanalyzing. The Randian strategy for when you've been beaten. Psychoanalyze your opponent to poison the well. Now shut up and let the grown ups talk.

QuantumHaecceity said...

You come off as so whiny and butthurt Tremblay. Is Nyquist your boyfriend?

If you would like to present some arguments from this Nyquist character that is supposed to have beaten Objectivism, go right ahead.

Otherwise, sod off. All you're doing is whining like a sissy.

QuantumHaecceity said...

I'm waiting Tremblay. Where are these arguments that are supposed to have beaten Objectivism?

Oh, don't tell me you only wanted to whine and cry and throw a temper tantrum like a spoiled brat.

Gordon Burkowski said...

"You come off as so whiny and butthurt Tremblay. Is Nyquist your boyfriend?"

Hmm. A Hardesty sockpuppet?

Neil Parille said...

And Greg's efforts are arguably worthless because he doesn't seem to be reaching the people that matter, which are Objectivists who are deeply avowed and experts on it, like a Yaron Brook, or Leonard Peikoff, or Brandon Cropper, or Dawson Bethrick, or Ari Armstrong, or Fred D. Miller, Jr., or Andrew Bernstein, or Diana Hsieh, or Craig Biddle, or Harry Binswanger, or Onkar Ghate, or Joseph Rowlands, or William Thomas, or Tara Smith or George Reisman, or Jimmy Wales, or Greg Perkins.

I'm not sure Ari Armstrong or Craig Biddle count as experts on Objectivism.

Greg can speak for himself, but I'm sure he'd like to see Diana Hsieh come here and debate Objectivist ethics, but I doubt she will since she is on record as saying this site is dishonest.

Neil Parille said...

Here's the post in question:

QuantumHaecceity said...

"I'm not sure Ari Armstrong or Craig Biddle count as experts on Objectivism."

Why is that Parille?

QuantumHaecceity said...

"but I doubt she will"

Well, I consider myself an expert on Objectivism, so you can run whatever fatal flaws Objectivism is supposed to have by me.

I'll try to answer them in "real time"(I.E. in like a day or less, as opposed to say 2 weeks from now)

That goes out to the particularly irritating, intransigent, belligerent Objectivist haters like Parille, Barnes, Nyquist, and of course Prescott.

This is probably one of the few times this has, or will happen. So take advantage of it; or you can ask your questions on, and maybe they will answer your concerns.

Anonymous said...

A strawman argument that could have been condensed to 1-3 sentences. QuantumHaecceity, I salute your intellect.

It's basically the equivalent of the internet meme "You mad?".

QuantumHaecceity said...

Anonymous, you need to learn what a strawman argument is.

Anonymous said...

I know what it is. I meant an ad hominem attack though.

Andrew Priest said...

It's not really ad hominem either since since it never makes an argument against Greg's points. It's a red herring, pure and simple. Why Greg chooses Objectivism instead of Islam as his target is irrelevant. Why he spends his time on this is irrelevant. Either his arguments hold water, or they don't.

All this speculation about Greg's mental state, motivation, and relationship to Islam have no more bearing on this discussion than the price of tea in China.

Daniel Barnes said...

Yes Andrew, hopefully we will soon see how robust Quantum's arguments are vs Greg's.

Anonymous said...

Brandon Cropper is an expert on Objectivism?
I don't like to say this but judging by his youtube videos, I'd hardly say so.

Daniel Barnes said...

@Anonymous, QuantumHaecceity was outed as a troll some time ago. Brandon Cropper would have just shown up in his google searching as he posed as an "expert" in Objectivism.