Rand's Self-Estimation

Stephen Boydstun's picture
Submitted by Stephen Boydstun on Thu, 2007-11-01 16:22

In the summer of 1969, Ayn Rand wrote the Introduction to The Romantic Manifesto. She wrote:

“Mankind moves forward by the grace of those human bridges who are able to grasp and transmit, across years or centuries, the achievements men had reached—and to carry them further. Thomas Aquinas is one illustrious example: he was the bridge between Aristotle and the Renaissance, spanning the infamous detour of the Dark and Middle Ages.

“Speaking only of the pattern, with no presumptuous comparison of stature intended, I am a bridge of that kind—between the esthetic achievements of the nineteenth century and the minds that choose to discover them, wherever and whenever such minds exist.” (pp. vii–viii, emphasis added)

 

A dozen years earlier, in the presentation of her metaphysics in Galt’s Speech, Rand had written:

“Centuries ago, the man who was—no matter what his errors—the greatest of your philosophers, has stated the formula defining the concept of existence and the rule of all knowledge: A is A. A thing is itself. You have never grasped the meaning of his statement. I am here to complete it: Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification.” (p. 1016, emphasis added)

 

Everyone here knows that the philosopher to whom Rand is referring as “the greatest” is Aristotle. She elaborates her 1957 allusion to him further in the 1961 essay “For the New Intellectual,” as follows: Aristotle’s “incomparable achievement lay in the fact that he defined the basic principles of a rational view of existence and of man’s consciousness: that there is only one reality, the one which man perceives—that it exists as an objective absolute . . . —that the task of man’s consciousness is to perceive, not to create reality—that abstractions are man’s method of integrating his sensory material—that man’s mind is his only tool of knowledge—that A is A.” (p. 22)

 

Leave to the side for other occasions the question of the extent to which Aristotle, rather than successors, stated the formula ‘A thing is itself’ and the question of when the formula ‘A is A’ entered logic. [See this (#15).] I want to ask something else.

 

In 1957 Rand writes that she is completing and teaching a profound principle of metaphysics that was first stated by the greatest philosopher, namely Aristotle. In 1969 she indicates that it would be presumptuous to compare her own stature to that of Aquinas, another who embraced and elaborated Aristotle. Does the latter self-estimation set a context bounding the self-estimation in the voice of Galt’s Speech? Is there another way in which these two self-estimations fit smoothly together? Did Rand vacillate on exactly how important her innovations should be regarded in the history of philosophy?


( categories: )

Mindy

Leonid's picture

"It is a repetition, but a thing's identity will adequately differentiate it from nothing. "

There is no such a thing as nothing. To be is to be something. Your statement's actual meaning is " Existence is identity"

That answers one question.

Ptgymatic's picture

But not the final one.

To say that an infant knows existence without knowing identity is to differentiate the concepts rather than to identify them. It is a disaster to suppose existence doesn't imply identity. It is a mistake to separate them as paint and the house to which it is applied. It is a different matter to separate them as we do shape and size. I don't see how that is a philosophical mistake.

It would make sense to say that existence and identity are the same phenomenon, are the same occurrence, that existence "means" identity as smoke means fire...but not that they are the same concept...

It is a repetition, but a thing's identity will adequately differentiate it from nothing.

Mindy

From the Epistemology Workshop

Rick Pasotto's picture


Prof. B: In general, would it be true that if two different concepts have the same units, then what makes them two concepts rather than one is that in each case the units are differentiated from something else?

AR:That's correct.

Prof. B: Then is it the case that what distinguises the concepts "existence" and "identity" is that the concept "existence" differentiates this object from nothing, while "identity" distinguises this from that?

AR: You could put it that way. the distinction between these two is really an issue of perspective. "Existence" is the wider concept, because even at an infant's stage of sensory chaos, he can grasp that something exists. When he gets the concept "identity," it is a further step—a clearer, more specific perspective on the concept "existence." He grasps that if it ixists, it is something. Therefore, the referents of the concept "identity" are specific concretes or specific existents. And, you see, even though it is the same concept, the who disaster of philosophy is that philosophers try to separate the two.

"...even though it is the same concept..." == "Existence is identity."

The rhetorical purpose...

Ptgymatic's picture

of "existence is identity," may account for the problem.
It is part of Galt's speech, and it is part of an assertion about identity, rather than an explication of existence. The rhetorical legitimacy of the formulation, in that context, doesn't bother me. But if (I don't know) it is used in pedantic passages of her writing also, the problem returns.

The reason this is important is for philosophical rigor.

Ptgymatic

Leonid's picture

"Their abstract inseparability would not allow us to say "shape is size."
I'm not sure I understood your argument. Shape and size are different properties of the object and obviously could be separated-like big and round. When you remove paint from a house you don't separate it from its identity, you simply change it.

Separability no big deal.

Ptgymatic's picture

The paint may be scraped from a house, but the separation Aristotle notes in explaining abstraction is a separation possible only in the mind. It is the latter that is at issue here. Size and shape are inseparable except abstractly. That is not a special or uncommon relation. Would the inseparability of size and shape equate to the inseparability of existence and identity in the formula in question? Their abstract inseparability would not allow us to say "shape is size."

Many words, concepts, classes, and propositions can refer to the same object, event, or fact, can serve to identify it. That isn't a question I would ask. (Your paragraph 4)

It is not their existing, but their identities that differentiate all existing things from one another. Differentiation doesn't seem to carry much weight as explicating existence itself. Certainly anything's identity serves equally well as its existence does to differentiate it from nothing.

You say, "identity indicates not that it is but that it is." Very good. Existence means the former, indentity means the latter. As you say, that it is is not that it is--existence is NOT identity.

That doesn't challenge the truth that what exists has identity. It casts a shadow over the formulation in question.

Stephen

Leonid's picture

"The number 2 is that number that is equal to the number of hands I have."
True. Identity of number is its quantity. Its abstraction which achieved by omission of quality. The result is the same as in the case of omission of quantity-unit economy and quantitative common denominator. Actually there is only one number “1" which indicates that there is an existent and "0" which is not real number since it has no quantitative identity. The rest is repetition of this number by summation or subtraction. All mathematical operations could be reduced to these two actions. The concept of proof presupposes concept of identity since proof is based on non-contradictory identification.

Ptgymatic

Leonid's picture

"as you may recall, that [it is only] living things [that may] go out of existence."-only as living things. No existent can become nothing. There is no such a thing as nothing.

"Abstractions do not exist, per se, as we all know." Meaning that frienship, love, war, tree, table, animal, dog, cat, inflation don't exist?! Every single word in our language is abstraction. (except proper names). Abstractions are epistimic tools by which humans know existence. They exist as such and have their identities.

""existence is identity" is a definition of existence, as it seems to be." Not at all. This is not Objectivist definition of existence. Identity is corollary of existence. However identity cannot be separated from existence. Existent without identity is nothing in particular. Identity without existent doesn't make any sense at all-identity of what? Objectivism defines existence as:
"Existence is a self-sufficient primary. It is not a product of a supernatural dimension, or of anything else. There is nothing antecedent to existence, nothing apart from it—and no alternative to it. Existence exists—and only existence exists. Its existence and its nature are irreducible and unalterable." (Leonard Peikoff “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 148) "Existence and identity are not attributes of existents, they are the existents . . . . The units of the concepts “existence” and “identity” are every entity, attribute, action, event or phenomenon (including consciousness) that exists, has ever existed or will ever exist." (Ibid pg74)

"Fictional characters are given distinct identities, events of stories, mythological creatures, etc. We distinguish them not as being fictional, because they all are that, but as having different characteristics as the existing things they would be if they existed. They are distinguishable only because they have different identities."
Fictional characters, memories, dreams, abstractions etc.. are qualia which belong to human mind which is certainly exists and has identity-that is, rational abstract thinking. Its existence directly percieved by introspection.

Say No to Sidetrack

Stephen Boydstun's picture

The number 2 is that number that is equal to the number of hands I have. There are manifest physical exemplifications of counting numbers to get started with arithmetic. But to reach the existence and identity of that number that multiplied by itself equals 2 requires proof, and proof is sufficient.

Stephen

Leonid's picture

"The methods of establishing existence in mathematics are significantly different than the methods of establishing existence in natural science,"

What is identity of number "2"?

Not Definition

Stephen Boydstun's picture

Mindy,

You will recall that Rand’s axiomatic concepts such as existence cannot be expressly defined. Existence can be pointed out, of course, but not defined in terms of other concepts. I think what you are trying to say in asking whether “existence is identity” is a definition is whether existence and identity are identical in the logical sense that, for every true sentence in which one is used, the other can be substituted and the sentence remain true and mean the same thing. Nearly.

Here is what Leonard Peikoff wrote about the relation of concept of existence to concept of identity as these are used in Rand’s metaphysics. This is old exposition from his lectures, which Rand heartily endorsed, he later put to print in his OPAR.

“Existence is identity. [Rand] does not say ‘existence has identity’—which might suggest that identity is a feature separable from existence (as a coat of paint is separable from the house that has it). The point is that to be is to be something. Existence and identity are indivisible; either implies the other. If something exists, then something exists; and if there is a something, then there is a something. The fundamental fact cannot be broken in two.

“Why, one might ask, use two concepts to identify one fact? This procedure is common in philosophy and in other fields as well. When men have several perspectives on a single fact, when they consider it from different aspects or in different contexts, it is often essential to form concepts that identify the various perspectives.

“‘Existence’ differentiates a thing from nothing, from the absence of the thing. This is the primary identification, on which all others depend; it is the recognition in conceptual terms that the thing is. ‘Identity’ indicates not that it is, but that it is. This differentiates one thing from another, which is a distinguishable step in cognition. The perspective here is not: it is (vs. it is not), but: it is this (vs. it is that). Thus the context and purpose of the two concepts differ, although the fact both concepts name is indivisible.” (pp. 6–7)

Rand pointed out,

Ptgymatic's picture

as you may recall, that [it is only] living things [that may] go out of existence.

Fictional characters are given distinct identities, events of stories, mythological creatures, etc. We distinguish them not as being fictional, because they all are that, but as having different characteristics as the existing things they would be if they existed. They are distinguishable only because they have different identities.

Abstractions do not exist, per se, as we all know. They are distinguishable because they have different identities, not as mental events, though that is one way to distinguish them, but by their contents. The thought of a dog is different from the thought of a cat because a dog is different from a cat. It is the different identities of what is thought about that distinguishes them, and this applies whether or not what is thought about exists.

I think this squares with what Stephen is pointing out. The question is not whether or not there is existence without identity, but whether the formulation, "existence is identity" is a definition of existence, as it seems to be. If it is a definition, then to have identity is to exist. It is that that I think is not right.

Adequate Identity

Stephen Boydstun's picture

Mindy writes that “to exist is also to have identity, but to have identity is not to exist.” I would quibble over that word also, but leaving that out, there is some truth in “to exist is to have identity, but to have identity is not to exist.” The exact truth would be “to exist is to have identity, but to have identity is not always to have adequate identity for existence.”

The methods of establishing existence in mathematics are significantly different than the methods of establishing existence in natural science,* but in both arenas there can be proposed entities, attributes, and relations, having identities insufficient for existence. A mathematical conjecture can be well enough defined so that proof or disproof can be undertaken. But until a proof of the conjectural proposition is constructed, the conception articulated in the proposition lacks sufficient identity for mathematical existence. A physical conjecture, such as the existence of gravitational waves, can be well enough defined so that experimental tests can be designed. If gravitational waves exist, particular information about them will be obtained in confirmation tests that add to their specific identity in conjecture. Particular identity together with specific identity can be enough for physical existence (Note 34).

I have moved from methods of establishing existence to nature of existence. That is fine. It is the nature of existence that is the warrant for those methods.

Ptgymatic: "To exist is also

sharon's picture

Ptgymatic: "To exist is also to have identity, but to have identity is not to exist. Specific dead people are a good example."

Leonid: "How do you mean dead people don't exist? They do exist as dead people and have identity of dead people. If you have doubts go and visit mortuary. There is no such a thing as identity separated from existent.

Feels good to agree with Leonid for a change, and it is a sorry sight to see Ptgymatic slipping on the philosophical Bell Curve."

Ptgymatic

Leonid's picture

"To exist is also to have identity, but to have identity is not to exist. Specific dead people are a good example."
How do you mean dead people don't exist? They do exist as dead people and have identity of dead people. If you have doubts go and visit mortuary. There is no such a thing as identity separated from existent.

There are "things" with identity...

Ptgymatic's picture

...that do not exist. That is why I said the phrase cannot be intended as a definition. To exist is also to have identity, but to have identity is not to exist. Specific dead people are a good example.

Mindy

Ptgymatic

Leonid's picture

This is Objectivist view on identity

"To exist is to be something, as distinguished from the nothing of non-existence, it is to be an entity of a specific nature made of specific attributes...Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification." ( Galt’s Speech, For the New Intellectual, 125)

"A thing is—what it is; its characteristics constitute its identity. An existent apart from its characteristics, would be an existent apart from its identity, which means: a nothing, a non-existent." ( Leonard Peikoff “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy,”Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 142)

"The concept “identity” does not indicate the particular natures of the existents it subsumes; it merely underscores the primary fact that they are what they are." ( Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 78)

"Let us note . . . the radical difference between Aristotle’s view of concepts and the Objectivist view, particularly in regard to the issue of essential characteristics...Aristotle regarded “essence” as metaphysical; Objectivism regards it as epistemological." ( Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 68)

In Addition

Stephen Boydstun's picture

By the formula “existence is identity” Rand does indeed mean that to exist is to have an identity. That is a very significant fact about existence (A, B).

There is yet more to the claim “existence is identity” than that. Where there are existents, there are entities. There is no such thing as an entity without an identity. There is no such thing as an entity without a specific nature, without attributes or without relations in which the entity stands. Furthermore, there is no part of any entity that is without identity, without attributes or relations in which the part stands. To consider an entity apart from any of its identity is to consider nothing at all. Moreover, there are no attributes that do not inhere in some entity, and there are no relations not tied to some entities.

I have noted before precursors in Aristotle of Rand’s conception “consciousness is identification.” Here I should mention a precursor in Aristotle of Rand’s conception “existence is identity.” “Each thing then and its essence are one and the same in no merely accidental way” (Metaph. 1031b18). A thing and its essential identity are one and the same.

The nature of essential identity according to Rand and according to Aristotle coincides partially, but the difference in their views is substantial. On this see this note.

"Existence is Identity"

Ptgymatic's picture

That is not meant as a definition of existence, certainly. "To exist is to have identity," is, I presume, the literal meaning of "existence is identity?"

Thanks!

Stephen Boydstun's picture

Thanks for the note, Leonid.

I remember this now. Rand's remark about the three A's was at those 1976 lectures. It would be her considered view concerning true philosophy. The remark is noted also in Sciabarra 1995, page 12.

In a 1970 essay "The Chickens' Homecoming" Rand complimented the dedicated pursuit of truth evident in full measure in Aristotle and, in notable measure, in Plato, Aquinas, and Spinoza.*

The three As

Leonid's picture

Leonid

"She did answer decidedly, in 1976 in an oral exchange, what she saw as her most important philosophical achievements, but she ventured no placements in comparison to achievements of other philosophers, so far as I recall."

From "AYN RAND ANSWERS" ( pg 148-149,PO6 76)
Q: Besides Aristotle and Ayn Rand have any philosophers identified important philosophical truths?

A:In a sense,there's only one philosopher:Aristotle-he covered essentials...So if you speak in big terms,I'd rather Dr.Peikoff said it,but since I'm his stand-up tonight,take the three As: Aristotle,Aquinas,and Ayn Rand.

Some Ideas

Stephen Boydstun's picture

I have a few ideas on the questions I posed, but no settlement of them.

Rand has Galt say: “A thing is itself. You have never grasped the meaning of his [Aristotle’s] statement. I am here to complete it . . . .” She has crafted Galt’s voice in his speech to be more Promethean than would be her own. So we have the fictional Galt saying “the greatest of your philosophers,” rather than simply “the greatest philosopher.” That being understood, it is nonetheless reasonable to suppose that when Rand has Galt say “I am here to complete it,” the first-person pronoun goes not only for Galt speaking of himself, but Rand speaking of herself.

Saying that she is completing a profound principle of metaphysics (and epistemology) that was first stated by Aristotle, the greatest philosopher, says little to nothing about how important she thinks her innovation—Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification—should be regarded in the history of philosophy. I suggested that we may have been told an upper bound on Rand’s self-estimation concerning her philosophical innovations beyond (what is admirable in) Aristotle when she made her remark on Aquinas in the Intro to RM.

There is an ambiguity in my phrase “should be regarded in the history of philosophy” in the preceding paragraph and in the original post. I do not mean: What was Rand’s assessment of what importance would likely be given to her innovations in the future history of philosophy? Rather, I mean an assessment on a more analytical and less historical plane.

That same ambiguity is one of the difficulties of interpreting Rand’s remark in RM. Aquinas “is one illustrious example: he was a bridge between Aristotle and the Renaissance, . . . .” Rand is speaking in that statement of the social course of intellectual history and the important role Aquinas had in it. But that is not all she means by choice of the term illustrious. For she has informed the reader, in the preceding sentence, that she considers Aquinas to have had a remarkable intellect, capable of grasping Aristotle’s intellectual achievement and extending it.

Then comes the sentence “Speaking only of the pattern, with no presumptuous comparison of stature intended, I am a bridge of that kind . . . .” At this point, Rand could be leaving behind thought of the intellectual achievement of Aquinas and estimation of its analytical place among philosophical achievements. She could be now intending the reader think only of his role in the social course of intellectual history. I don’t think so, because of the choice of the term stature. In this sentence, Rand seems to be still carrying together both threads of thought.

Now to consider the last-quoted RM sentence in its entirety: “Speaking only of the pattern, with no presumptuous comparison of stature intended, I am a bridge of that kind—between the esthetic achievements of the nineteenth century and the minds that choose to discover them, wherever and whenever such minds exist.” In the context of the sentences preceding this one, I think Rand is here stating a relation between relations. A placement of Aquinas concerning philosophy is being related to a placement of Rand concerning Romanticism. There is present the complexity of relations between relations, like the complexity we have in saying that the ratio of 2 ounces to 3 ounces is greater than the ratio of 3 inches to 5 inches. To be sure, Rand expressly did not want to be taken as saying “as Aquinas’ place in the propagation of Aristotle, that large is my place in the propagation of Romanticism.” An additional complexity enters on the possibility that a secondary message is being telegraphed, a message to the effect, “I do not presume that my intellectual accomplishments are of the stature of those of Aquinas (let alone Aristotle).”

Perhaps Rand has other texts I have not recalled in which she indicates, obliquely or straight-forwardly, how important her innovations should be regarded in the history of philosophy. She did answer decidedly, in 1976 in an oral exchange, what she saw as her most important philosophical achievements, but she ventured no placements in comparison to achievements of other philosophers, so far as I recall.

"“Speaking only of the

Newberry's picture

"“Speaking only of the pattern, with no presumptuous comparison of stature intended, I am a bridge of that kind—between the esthetic achievements of the nineteenth century and the minds that choose to discover them, wherever and whenever such minds exist.” (pp. vii–viii, emphasis added)

"In 1969 she indicates that it would be presumptuous to compare her own stature to that of Aquinas..."

Stephen,

I don't agree with your conclusion above. I read Rand's comment literally. Meaning she is speaking of the pattern, and doesn't want the reader to think she is talking about her stature. She says nothing, positive or negative, about her stature in regards to Aquinas.

Michael

My Guess...

James S. Valliant's picture

Rand, I think, is imputing the whole of the Aristotelian tradition to Aristotle himself (with some justification) and suggesting that her own addition is a only a clarification -- but an important one.

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