Alice in Objectivist Land, part eight

NickOtani's picture
Submitted by NickOtani on Wed, 2007-07-11 17:19

“You see,” said the professor, “condescendingly, this is the Conceptual Common Denominator.”

“Yes, yes,” replied Dr. K, “tell me why you need so many axioms anyhow. I can understand needing a starting point, avoiding infinite regress, but what’s wrong with a little infinite regress? We have it in our number system. There is no smallest number or largest number, but we have numbers in-between.”

“Numbers are abstractions from existing things, and Objectivism has to be grounded. We perceive first and then apply reasoning to form concepts and abstractions. Infinite regress is not something we can perceive, but we conceptualize it from existence.” said the professor.

“But it doesn’t exist, does it?” asked Dr. K. “Or, is it one of those things we can’t deny without affirming it, like existence and consciousness?”

“No,” said the professor. “It is not an axiomatic concept.”

“But that’s one of the characteristics of an axiomatic concepts, isn’t it, that it cannot be denied without affirming it?” asked Dr. K.

“It is one of the characteristics, but another is that it must be implied in all other proofs, which infinity is not,” said the professor.

“And it isn’t self-evident, right?” asked Dr. K, who was speeding up the questioning in rapid fire procession.


The professor didn’t have time to reply before another question came out.

“Someone could say that God is self-evident, couldn’t they?” asked Dr. K. “And they could also say one would have to affirm His existence in order to deny Him, since if He really didn’t exist, even as a concept, He wouldn’t have a referent, right?”

“There is no proof for the existence of God,” said Professor Thompson.

“And, there is no proof for the axiomatic concepts either, right?” asked Dr. K. “I mean, just because we can’t deny them doesn’t mean we can affirm them, does it? Just because I can’t prove invisible elephants don’t exist doesn’t mean they do?”

“If we deny existence, consciousness, and identity; then we can’t prove anything,” said Professor Thompson.

“Can we even prove that?” asked Dr. K.

“No,” said the professor, who seemed to be getting a bit frustrated now. “That’s why we have to accept them as self-evident axioms.”

“Do you really think that’s how kids learn?” asked Dr. K. “They become aware of something and then choose to be rational and let reason, grounded in experience, determine their actions?”

“It’s moré complicated than that,” said the professor.

“How can anyone become aware of anything in the first place if identity is implicit in all experience? Don’t they have to experience something first to be aware of something?” asked Dr. K.

“There is cognition before conceptualization,” said the professor.

“Does that mean there is conceptual thinking before there are concepts?” asked Dr. K.

“No, don’t be absurd!” said the professor.

“Well,” said Dr. K, “what came first, language or thinking? If thinking came first, in what language do we think?”

The professor didn’t answer. There was a long pause.

“By the way, Professor,” Dr. K continued, “isn’t that a nifty way to verify knowledge, to make sure it can be integrated with other known knowledge? It’s sort of self-confirming, isn’t it? It’s like saying; make sure your new evidence doesn’t conflict with what we already know. What if the new evidence doesn’t fit your system but is still true? Do you toss it out? What if it is the one piece of truth that disproves your entire structure of knowledge?”

“Your honor,” interrupted Dr. P, “Dr. K is badgering the witness.”

“Sustained,” said the judge.

“That’s okay, your honor,” said Dr. K. “I’m finished with this witness.”

“Your honor,” said Dr. P, “the prosecution rests. We look forward to seeing how the defense deals with the points about pragmatism and existentialism which they have yet to touch.”

“Your honor,” said Dr. K, “the prosecution need wait no longer. The defense is ready to proceed with its case.”

“You may sit down, Professor Thompson,” said the judge. Then, to Dr, K, he said, “Call your first witness,”

“The defense calls the Mad Hatter,” said Dr. K.

The Mad Hatter stepped-up, took his hat off, became sworn-in, and took his seat.

“Before we get into all that terrible stuff the professor said about pragmatists, can you tell us what it is you like about Objectivism?” asked Dr. K.

“I agree with rational egoism, with pursuing the goal of personal happiness. I believe in natural rights and that a capitalistic economic system is best for protecting private property relationships.” said the Mad Hatter.

“Do you think reality is logical?” Dr. K asked.

“The pragmatist is probably more committed to that proposition than the Objectivist.” said the Mad Hatter. “For Rand, the assertion that reality is logical is not a conclusion from experience but, rather, a self-evident precondition for experience itself. For the pragmatist, on the other hand, man has no certain awareness that the world is logical until the world inexorably impresses this fact upon him through behavior. In this sense, the pragmatist sees man’s commitment to logic as the outgrowth of actual encounters with a world which is objectively logical. For Rand, man is logical by edict, as a condition for encountering the world in the first place.”

“How do you think children learn?” asked Dr. K. “Don’t they have to accept that existence exists and that this is identity and that they have a consciousness?”

“Children learn through behavior, experience. They discover that the world is logical. It’s like the scientific method. There are hypothesis and tests and conclusions.” said the Mad Hatter.

“Do pragmatists ever get to the end?” asked Dr. K. “Do they believe in absolutes?”

“No,” said the Mad Hatter. “William James didn’t think the universe was a box, with limits. We keep seeing different perspectives. We find out something new, and then, like the Objectivists, we have to make adjustments. I think of it as a dragging of the pond with a net. We catch some things, which we can observe and categorize, but other things slip through the holes. Some of those smaller things may shed more light on the things we catch. So, we can use a net with smaller holes and different configurations, but some things will still slip through. This could go on forever, so we may never reach the end, but we keep trying. And we do reach enough certainty to put people and machines in space and build computers and such.”

“So, knowledge is relative to experience,” said Dr. K, contemplatively, “Isn’t this just like the Objectivists’ theory of contextual learning?”

“Yes,” said the Mad Hatter, “but the Objectivists think they get to the end when contextual knowledge is integrated with axiomatic givens.”

“That didn’t work too well for the blind man, the turkey, and the frog that Alice met, did it?” asked Dr. K.

“Apparently not,” said the Mad Hatter.

“What about the accusation that pragmatists hold that they perceive not objective reality, but only an illusion or mere appearance?” asked Dr. K.

“That’s ridiculous,” said the Mad Hatter, “The pragmatic position is that we do encounter reality and that this process of encounter is precisely what we mean by the primary reality of experience.”

“That works for me.” said Dr. K. “I think I’ll let my colleague, Dr. P, ask some questions now.”

With that, he looked at the judge who looked at Dr. P, and Dr. K sat down as Dr. P stood up.

“You seem to have this in common with the Existentialist that things are in process,” said Dr. P, “but don’t things have to have identity before they become?”

“What you are ignoring is that“ process” and “becoming” are the larger terms,” said the Mad Hatter, “‘A’ is a snapshot, a conceptual presentation of a still-picture of an entity, making something in process appear passive. It is not the case that specific natures, which are static, come first and then change. They are changing, and we give them unchanging natures for ease of communication and thinking.”

To be continued

Bis bald,


( categories: )

How much left?

NickOtani's picture

There will be two more installments, part nine and ten. ( There is an 11th chapter written by someone other than me, but I'll hold off on publishing that until I get some feedback on the first ten chapters.)I wish to finish off the pragmatist position, explain the existentialist position (actually the NickOtani'sNeo-Objectivism position), and then a hetrodox Objectivist position. Then, the two attorneys will make their brief closing statements and turn the case over to the jury. It would be nice if members of this forum act as members of the jury and discuss whether these defendants deserve punishment or not. Perhaps we can see what happens in the jury room, how you discuss, among yourselves, what the attorneys did right and wrong and what was and was not established, and then vote on your verdict.

When this series is complete, I'll respond to questions or charges and support my contentions about how some Objectivists use logic.

bis bald,


The white rabbit here must

JoeM's picture

The white rabbit here must be the energizer keeps going...and going...and going...


Spaceplayer Sight and Sound

Rev. Dodgson

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I hate to think how many more instalments there are, but a cursory glance tells me you're attributing to Objectivism a view of logic that is intrinsicist. Reality is neither logical nor illogical; it simply is. Logic is our method of identifying it.


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