Alice in Objectivist Land, part two

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Submitted by NickOtani on Thu, 2007-07-05 16:25

As Alice was making her way back to the door through which she came, she met the Red Queen again. The Red Queen, who was accompanied by a strange looking gentleman with a hat on his head, asked Alice to sit down with them for some tea, and Alice graciously accepted the invitation.

The Red Queen introduced the man with the hat as The Mad Hatter, and he greeted Alice politely and poured her a cup of tea.

The Red Queen mentioned that she had intended to bring along another guest, a certain Mr. Squiggle, but he seemed to want to opt out. She said his stated opinion of Objectivism’s theory of knowledge was that it is not very important, the least important of Objectivism’s aims.

Alice said, “Well, that’s a peculiar opinion. Metaphysics and epistemology are the foundation stones of philosophy. Before we can learn about values or rights, we need to ascertain the basic features of the world we live in and the means by which we know it.”

The Red Queen and The Mad Hatter nodded in agreement, and then Alice turned to The Mad Hatter. “Why are you so mad?” she asked.

“Well,” said The Mad Hatter, “every time I disagree with the Objectivists here on any small point about their philosophy, I am accused of being immoral. They say I am ‘denying the truth’ and violating the law of identity. It’s maddening!”

“Where do they get that idea?” asked Alice.

“Well,” said The Mad Hatter, “the Objectivist theory of knowledge is something like an edifice based on three self-evident axioms which Objectivists claim all humans know as soon as they become aware.”

“Oh, I know that,” chirped Alice. “as soon as they become conscious of something that exists, they have to know that existence exists and that they are conscious of it, so consciousness also exists. And, existence is identity. It is A is A, and all the other laws of logic, to include causation, which they claim is the law of identity applied to action.”

“Yes,” said The Mad Hatter. “even though causation is inductive while the other laws are deductive and tautologies. And they don’t have to prove all this. They simply say it is self-evident and axiomatic. These principles are used in any other proofs, and even to deny them requires their use. One has to exist to deny existence, for example.”

“That reminds me of Descartes’ Cogito Ergo Sum.” Said Alice, “To contemplate his own existence, even to deny it, he has to exist. So, ‘I think, therefore I am’.”

“Yes,” said The Mad Hatter. “But that is a rationalistic premise which is, itself, a deductive argument proving one’s own existence. The Objectivists hate it because it denies existence, the existence of existence. And it disregards sensory perception, in which Objectivists hold knowledge must be grounded. Descartes’ Cogito, they say, is like Plato’s forms. It is a floating abstraction.”

“Okay,” said Alice, “so Objectivists are not rationalists. Are they empiricists?”

“No,” The Red Queen interjected. “they don’t recognize the rationalist/empiricist dichotomy. They claim all knowledge is derived by reason grounded in sense perception. Objective reality must exist first. Then, abstractions can be formed by applying reason to experience.”

“That’s a little like what Kant does, isn’t it?” asked Alice. “He treated empirical evidence like raw data which must be processed through the machinery of reason. He saved philosophy from the schism between the rationalists like Descartes and the empiricists like Hume.”

“Yes,” said The Red Queen, “but Rand says Kant merely saved science and philosophy for religion. She blames Kant, Descartes, Hume and others for all these dichotomies; empiricism/ rationalism, mind/body, analytic/synthetic, a priori/ a posteriori. In "For the New Intellectual" Rand describes the two camps as: "those who claimed that man obtains his knowledge of the world by deducing it exclusively from concepts, which come from inside his head and are not derived from the perception of physical facts (the Rationalists)---and those who claimed that man obtains his knowledge from experience, which was held to mean: by direct perception of immediate facts, with no recourse to concepts (the Empiricists)."It was those who abandoned reality, or those who clung to reality by abandoning their mind.

“Ayn Rand thinks that Aristotle's law of identity can be applied to reality and offer us real knowledge of the real world. Existence exists, she says, and it implies a corollary of causation. There is an objective reality, she maintains, which is reachable by man's mind if he chooses to use reason. Man is such that reason is necessary for his proper survival, as man, and each individual has a natural right, which is universal, objective, to employ reason in the pursuit of his or her goals. Unfortunately, unlike other living things which have automatic functions, man has a volitional consciousness which can be deceived by influences against reason, like faith and philosophies like that of Kant.”

“And,” said The Mad Hatter, “that sounds all well and good, but it reduces everything to an integrated whole which, if one piece doesn’t fit, it violates the law of identity and the axioms on which everything is based. To deny knowledge is to be immoral. Galt said, “The extreme you have always struggled to avoid is the recognition that reality is final, that A is A and that truth is true.” So, if we disagree with Rand, then, according to her, we must be immoral.”

“Well,” said Alice, “doesn’t Peikoff say something about how we can re-evaluate after learning something more and that won’t be a contradiction, just an extension?”

“Yes, yes.” said The Mad Hatter, “tell that to the prisoner who was found guilty but, upon further evidence, was exonerated. Tell him there wasn’t a contradiction. Tell the rational man who assumed his partner who boarded a flight which crashed over the ocean died, when it was rational for him think so, how this doesn’t conflict with the rational conclusion of the partner who is bobbing up and down in the water, still alive. There is not always agreement among rational men.”

“You don’t have to tell me.” said Alice. “I’ve seen examples of the blind man, the turkey, and the frog making what they thought were rational decisions based on their perceptions, but none of them corresponded with reality.”

The Red Queen jumped in again, “Mr. Squiggle would want to know what is a better way of determining facts.”

The Mad Hatter said, “Well, at first, I would have talked about science, but science is basically pragmatic, and Rand says terrible things about pragmatism. She says that it dispenses with all absolutes or objective reality and looks only for the practical. That means, the Objectivists say, that whatever one wishes to exist does exist, provided it works or makes one feel better.”

Alice said, “I would use all rational truth tests as far as I can, but then I have to choose, and sometimes it is just a shot in the dark. Reason doesn’t cover every situation. We can’t always weigh consequences of actions. $hit happens, like me falling down the hole, like me being here talking with the two of you.”

“Well,” said The Red Queen, “for whatever reason, we’re happy that you are here. We hope you can stay awhile. It is, however, getting a little late now. Let’s get some sleep tonight here under the knowledge tree and resume this discussion tomorrow.”

To be continued...

Bis bald,


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