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Ayn Rand and Objectivism, Lecture 2 with David Gordon - Mises Academy
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Ayn Rand and Objectivism, Lecture 2 with David Gordon - Mises Academy


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  • 1. Ayn Rand Lecture 2 Metaphysics and Epistemology (2)
  • 2. Summary of Basic Principles ●Objectivism stresses the primacy of existence over consciousness. ●I know that I am conscious. ●Consciousness is directed outward at the world. Whatever I think of that isn’t an external object is derived from perception of the external world.
  • 3. Theory of Concepts ●All concepts are derived from the empirical world. There are no innate ideas. ●The senses perceive similarities and differences among entities. ●The mind grasps what the entities have in common through “measurement omission.” ●The result is an abstract idea, a concept. Higher level concepts can be derived in a similar way.
  • 4. The Law of Identity ●A = A is the fundamental metaphysical principle. ●Causal properties of an object are part of its identity. If something causes something else on one occasion, it will always do so under the same conditions. ●Except for human choices, all properties of an object are necessary. They couldn’t have been otherwise. ●Nothing comes into existence without a cause.
  • 5. Free Will ●Human beings have free will. Our choices aren’t the inevitable results of previous conditions. ●Free will is given in experience. We know that we have free choice. ●To deny free will results in a contradiction. Our denial of free will is also determined, so we couldn’t have reason to think our denial of determinism is true. ●The fundamental choice is the choice to think or “focus”.
  • 6. The Basic Problem With Objectivist M & E ●In trying to evaluate the views that we have just covered, we face a basic problem. Objectivists offer very few arguments to support what they say. Instead, they simply state their position. Peikoff and Kelley spend a great deal of time showing that Objectivism can be presented systematically. But what if one rejects the entire system?
  • 7. The Primacy of Existence ●The Objectivist position that an external world exists seems right. We know that it exists. ●This can be called a Moorean fact, after the British philosopher G.E. Moore. He said that our certainty that the world exists outweighs any skeptical arguments to the contrary. There must be something wrong with these arguments, even if we don’t see what is wrong with them.
  • 8. Problems With Primacy ●Objectivists read too much into the existence of the external world. ●It doesn’t follow from the fact that the world exists that we directly grasp it with the senses. Indirect or critical realism might be true rather than direct realism. ●The Objectivist belief in direct realism doesn’t commit them to saying that perception is transparent. On the contrary, they reject this view.
  • 9. More Problems With Primacy ●The external world confronts us. We can’t change the world just by changing our thoughts. ●Nothing follows from this about the nature of the external world, i.e, what it consists of. The external world might be mental or partly mental. Primacy doesn’t imply that the world is composed of matter. ●Related to this, primacy doesn’t rule out creation of the world by God.
  • 10. An Objectivist Response ●Objectivists would respond that the criticisms just given rest on misunderstanding. ●Their view isn’t that the facts that the world is composed of (non-mental) matter and that the world hasn’t been created by God are logical deductions from an axiom called “the primacy of existence”. Instead, the primacy of existence is an inductive generalization of these and other facts. ●But then the question is, do we in fact know these facts?
  • 11. Another Problem With Primacy ●Even if we accept the existence of the external world as a Moorean fact, this doesn’t tell us what is wrong with skeptical arguments. ●Some skeptical arguments are very challenging, because they start from commonly accepted premises and don’t have obvious flaws. E.g., suppose we were nothing but brains in a vat being manipulated by scientists to have exactly the experiences we now have. How do we know this is false? The Objectivist response is that such thought
  • 12. Does A = A ? ●The logical law of identity says that a = a. It does not follow from this law that everything has a fixed nature, in the sense of a persisting identity in time. ●Suppose everything kept changing randomly. If you say that change presupposes that something remains the same, imagine that momentary existents were constantly, and randomly, replaced.
  • 13. More Problems With Identity ●The Law of Identity tells us that if something has causal powers, then it has these powers. It doesn’t imply that objects have causal powers. ●If an object has causal powers, these need not be such that they always operate the same way. Suppose an object a had the power either to cause b or c, and which one happened was random. What rules this out? ●A world without causation at all is consistent with the law of identity.
  • 14. Principle of Sufficient Reason ●Objectivists say that nothing can come into existence without a cause. Why not? What is the contradiction? ●They would answer, for this question and our previous suppositions of random change, that without constant properties and causation, there would be be no reason that events would take place. Our hypotheses involve random occurrences. ●But this is Leibniz’s Principle of Sufficient Reason, not the Law of Identity.
  • 15. How Would Objectivists Answer? ●Objectivists would respond that I am using an incorrect “rationalist” conception of philosophy. The criticisms are based on asking what deductively follows from the formal principle , a = a. ●Objectivists don’t view axioms this way. The Law of Identity is an inductive generalization. But, once more, why should we accept it?
  • 16. Disproof of God? ●Suppose we accept that all entities have a fixed nature. Does it follow that God doesn’t exist? ●Peikoff says that God is an infinite being. But an infinite being has no fixed nature. Therefore, God cannot exist. ●Why should we say that God doesn’t have a fixed nature? A fixed nature need not be one that is limited in power or knowledge.
  • 17. Necessity ●Again, let’s accept that all entities in the world have a fixed nature. They have essential properties. Let’s even accept that all of an entity’s properties are necessary, i. e., they couldn’t have been otherwise. It’s a defining characteristic of light that it travels at 186,000 mps. ●This says that it couldn’t be the case that light travels at a different speed. But it doesn’t follow that light had to exist. Objectivists think that light must exist, because everything that exists must exist, except human choices.
  • 18. More Necessity ●Objectivists think that the actual world couldn’t have been otherwise; the actual world is the only possible world. ●This seems implausible. Do we really want to say that it logically required that what in fact exists must exist? Is it senseless to say, had things been different, the earth might not have
  • 19. Necessary and Contingent Properties ●Let’s stick to the actual world. Many philosophers think that entities have some essential properties, but that not all of the properties of an entity are essential. ●Objectivists make all properties part of an object’s definition. It’s part of the definition of a cat, e.g., that it likes milk.
  • 20. Why Objectivists Hold These Views ●The Objectivist views on necessity are at odds with those of most people. Why, then, do Objectivists adopt them? ●I think the key is Rand’s theory of concepts. We don’t have a concept of a possible world different from the actual world. How could our senses put us in touch with anything other than the actual world?
  • 21. Problems With the Theory of Concepts ●But this raises a new problem. Why should we accept Rand’s theory of concepts? Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology and other Objectivist works don’t offer arguments for the theory. They simply present it and respond to criticisms of it. ●What is the argument that we don’t
  • 22. More Problems ●There appears to be a big problem with Rand’ s theory of concepts. First, if we can grasp similarities and differences among entities, don’t we already have the relevant concept? ●Rand seems to be giving us a way to get from a more complicated concept to a simpler concept. But how did we get the more complicated concept?
  • 23. The Objectivist Answer ●The Objectivists answer that this objection rests on a mistake. We don’t need concepts to grasp similarities and differences. This is done though the senses. ●Kelley stresses that similarities must be perceived in contrast to differences. ●But even if this is right, how do we get a concept out of all this?
  • 24. Concepts and Truth ●Sometimes Objectivists say that if we don’t adopt their theory of concepts, then we have no guarantee that our concepts agree with reality. If we don’t get concepts by abstraction from the senses, how do we know that they are true? ●But it isn’t concepts that are true; it is propositions. So long as we can find out if a proposition is true, that’s all we need. We don’t need to ground concepts in percepts to guarantee truth.