Ayn Rand and Objectivism, Lecture 2 with David Gordon - Mises Academy
Ayn Rand Lecture 2
Metaphysics and Epistemology (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.
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
The Law of Identity
●A = A is the fundamental metaphysical
●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
●Nothing comes into existence without a
●Human beings have free will. Our choices
aren’t the inevitable results of previous
●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
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?
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.
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
More Problems With Primacy
●The external world confronts us. We can’t
change the world just by changing our
●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.
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
Another Problem With
●Even if we accept the existence of the
external world as a Moorean fact, this doesn’t
tell us what is wrong with skeptical
●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
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
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
●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.
Principle of Sufficient Reason
●Objectivists say that nothing can come into
existence without a cause. Why not? What is
●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
●But this is Leibniz’s Principle of Sufficient
Reason, not the Law of Identity.
How Would Objectivists
●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?
Disproof of God?
●Suppose we accept that all entities have a
fixed nature. Does it follow that God doesn’t
●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.
●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
●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.
●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
Necessary and Contingent
●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
●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.
Why Objectivists Hold These
●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
Problems With the Theory of
●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
●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
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
●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?
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
●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