Alice in Objectivist Land, part seven

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Submitted by NickOtani on Tue, 2007-07-10 15:01

The judge excused Mr. Blind Man and asked Dr. P if he would like to call his next witness to the stand. Dr. P called on Professor William Thompson, a philosophy professor at the local university, Objectivist Land University.

After taking the oath and taking his seat, the professor, a distinguished looking and well-dressed older gentleman with a well-groomed gray beard and shoulder length gray hair, prepared himself for questioning from Dr. P.

“Can you tell us, Professor Thompson, about pragmatism, existentialism, and the Objectivist epistemology?” asked Dr. P.

“Certainly,” replied the professor, “Where would you like me to begin?”

“Let’s take these topics in order then,” said Dr. P. “Please tell us Objectivism’s position on pragmatism.”

The professor began quoting passages from Rand and Peikoff:

“In For the New Intellectual, Ayn Rand said:

… the pragmatists declared that philosophy must be practical and that practicality consists of dispensing with all absolute principles and standards—that there is no such thing as objective reality or permanent truth—that truth is that which works, and its validity can be judged only by its consequences,--- that no facts can be known with certainty in advance, and anything may be tried by rule-of-thumb—that reality is not firm, but fluid and “indeterminate,” that there is no such thing as a distinction between an external world and a consciousness (between the perceived and the perceiver), there is only an undifferentiated package-deal labeled “experience,” and whatever one wishes to be true, is true, whatever one wishes to exist, does exist, provided it works or makes one feel better.”

“In Ominous Parallels, Leonard Peikoff said:

In the whirling Heraclitean flux which is the pragmatist’s universe, there are no absolutes. There are no facts, no fixed laws of logic, no certainty, no objectivity.

“There are no facts, only provisional “hypotheses” which for the moment facilitate human action. There are no fixed laws of logic, only mutable “conventions,” without any basis in reality. (Aristotle’s logic, Dewey remarks, worked so well for earlier cultures that it is now overdue for a replacement.) There is no certainty---the very quest for it, says Dewey, is a fundamental aberration, a “perversion.” There is no objectivity---the object is created by the thought and action of the subject.”

“Okay,” said Dr. P. “Now, tell us about existentialism.”

The professor began quoting paragraphs from The Ominous Parallels, by Leonard Peikoff:

“…the Existentialism of the fifties and sixties, held that reality is absurd and that irrational passion is the only means of knowledge in such a world, said Sartre, man is the controller of his destiny, except that he cannot control it because his mind in helpless; so freedom is a “curse,” and man’s fate is fear, trembling, nausea---from which there is “no exit,” since thought is self-deception, system-building is self-deception, a rational ethics is self-deception. All one can do, therefore, is make a blind, activist commitment to some course, or join the Zen Buddhists in merging with a superior dimension, or praise Fidel Castro as the hero of the century, or do something else, anything else, whatever anyone chooses to feel. (This is what Existentialists described as “individualism.”

…the Existentialism of Martin Heidegger, whose major work, Sein and Zeit, appeared in 1927, Existence, Heidegger declared to his enthusiastic young following, is unintelligible, reason is invalid, and man is a helpless “Dasein”; he is a creature engulfed by “das Nichts” (nothingness), in terror of the supreme fact of his life: death, and doomed by nature to “angst,” “care,” estrangement, futility.

The novelty of this viewpoint lies, primarily, not in its content---Heidegger traces his root premises back to Kant---but in its blatancy and form (or rather formlessness). Contrary to the major line of nineteenth-century German philosophers, Heidegger does not attempt to offer an objective defense of his ideas; he rejects the traditional demand for logical argument, definition, integration, system-building. As a result, his works, brimming with disdain for the external world (and with unintelligible passages), have been praised by admirers as the intellectual counterpart of modern painting. Heidegger, it is sometimes said, exemplifies “non-representational thinking.”

As to human action, according to Heidegger, it must be unreasoned, feeling-dictated, willful. On May 27, 1933, he practiced this idea on a grand scale: in a formal, voluntary proclamation, he declared to the country that the age of science and academic freedom was over, and that here-after it was the duty of intellectuals to think in the service of the Nazi state.”

Some people in the audience and the jury shuddered when they heard this, and many seemed to stare at Alice, the alleged Existentialist.

“I know there’s much more,” said Dr. P, “but could you get into the Objectivist epistemology? Please just focus on the parts which are relevant to this case.”

“Yes,” said the professor, as he got right into it, “There are two types of valid knowledge: (1)knowledge determined contextually, knowledge which is “contextually absolute” and (2) axiomatic knowledge, which is categorically true and beyond contextual demonstration. The most objective knowledge consists of this latter, or axiomatic, knowledge.

“An axiomatic concept is the identification of a primary fact of reality, which cannot be analyzed, i.e., reduced to other facts or broken into component parts. It is implicit in all facts and in all knowledge. It is the fundamentally given and directly perceived or experienced, which requires no proof or explanation, but on which all proofs and explanations rest. –Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 55

“There are, at basis, three axiomatic truths: “existence,” “identity,” and “consciousness.” “Identity” is merely an aspect of “existence.” “Existence” is, in turn, merely the objective (or content) dimension of “consciousness.”

“As soon as a human becomes aware that something exists, he or she must be aware that existence exists, and this is essentially Aristotle’s law of identity, A is A, which implies the corollaries of non-contradiction and even causation, the law of identity applied to action. He or she must also be aware that he or she is conscious, conscious that existence exists. There is a world that exists, as it is, and a consciousness to be aware of it.

“Two fundamental attributes are involved in every state, aspect or function of man’s consciousness: content and action---the content of awareness, and the action of consciousness in regard to that content.—Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 29-30

“If reason is to be destroyed, it is axiomatic concepts that have to be destroyed.

“In the writings of mysticism and irrationalism, one finds, sooner or later, a clear, simple, explicit denial of the validity of axiomatic concepts, most frequently of “identity.”

“Since we were talking about Existentialism a while ago, I can use the example of their regarding “nothing” as a thing, as a special, different kind of existent.

“This fallacy breeds such symptoms as the notion that presence and absence, or being and non-being, are metaphysical forces of equal power, and that being is the absence of non-being. E.g., “Nothingness is prior to being.” (Sartre)---“Human finitude is the presence of the not in the being of man.” (William Barrett)---“Nothing is more real than nothing.”…”Consciousness, then, is not a stuff, but a negation. The subject is not a thing, but a non-thing. The subject carves its own world out of Being by means of negative determinations. Sartre describes consciousness as a ‘noughting nought’. It is a form of being other than its own: a mode ‘which has yet to be what it is, that is to say, which is what it is not and is not what it is’” (Hector Hawton, The Feast of Unreason, London: Watts & Co., 1952, p. 162.)—Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 60-61.

“Anyway, since all humans are both logical and apprehend the fundamental nature of objective reality, all humans unavoidably know that which is true, and those who describe reality in varying terms are guilty of volitional error (which is both self-destructive and immoral in its consequences).

“Since all humans know axiomatic truth, and since all other truths are derivative, all non-axiomatic knowledge, contextual truths, are objective in so far as they do not contradict prior axiomatic beliefs and are fully compatible with previously established “objective” conclusions. They are integrated into a systematic whole. This is the only criterion for validating knowledge.”

“Thank you, Professor Thompson,” said Dr. P. “I have no further questions.”

The judge then looked to Dr. K, who was already standing up to ask questions for the defense.

“Professor Thompson,” began Dr. K, “do Objectivists maintain the logic is the art of non-contradictory identification?”

“Yes,” said Professor Thompson, “of course. Galt said, ‘To arrive at a contradiction is to confess an error in one’s thinking; to maintain a contradiction is to abdicate one’s mind and to evict oneself from the realm of reality.’”

“Okay, Professor,” said Dr. K, “let’s look at your testimony regarding the Objectivist epistemology, specifically when you are talking about axiomatic concepts and one of those three main concepts, consciousness. Do you remember saying ‘An axiomatic concept is the identification of a primary fact of reality, which cannot be analyzed, i.e., reduced to other facts or broken into component parts.’?”

“Yes,” said the professor.

“A little later,” continued Dr. K, “you said consciousness had two attributes: content and action. Is this a contradiction, Professor?”

“Where’s the contradiction?” asked the professor. “I don’t see it.”

“First, you say axiomatic concepts cannot be broken into component parts, then you say consciousness has two attributes; content and action. Isn’t this braking consciousness into component parts?” asked Dr. K.

“No, I’m afraid you just don’t understand,” said the professor.

To be continued

Bis bald,


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