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Free will and the law of identity

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In Objectivism, doesn't the law of identity (A is A) contradict free will in humans? That is, if a human being can decide to do either A or ~A, does he then not have a specific nature, as is specified by the law of identity?

If the law of identity then does not apply to humans (which Rand would have denied), what is to keep the law of identity from being a meaningless tautology? (A side note: isn't saying 'something will always act according to its nature' a worthless truism? That statement just makes a claim that is true by its definition, but it is something so clearly true that it is just a trivial word-game.)

For instance, say I decide not to jump (~J) in the air. If I have no pre-set determined behavior, which is the doctrine of free will, it can either be my nature to J or ~J, it is whatever I chose to do that is my nature.

It is then to Objectivism to say that what I do is my nature, which contradicts the law of identity of me having a specific nature.

Edited by Voice(of)Reason

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The Law of Identity as applied to choice says you can choose to jump (jump=jump), or not to jump (no jump=no jump), but you cannot choose to jump and not to jump (jump < > not jump).

Your nature is not defined by what you're doing.

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Isn't the nature of the balloon defined by what it's doing (i.e. rising in the air, or falling to the ground)?

No. That's the nature of the balloon's actions. It can fall,stay level, or rise. It cannot do all three thigns at once.

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Isn't the nature of the balloon defined by what it's doing (i.e. rising in the air, or falling to the ground)?
It's the other way around: what the balloon does is defined by its nature. Different balloons have different natures, and some have a nature that dictates that they can't rise in the air (fill one with CO2, for example).

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No. That's the nature of the balloon's actions. It can fall,stay level, or rise. It cannot do all three thigns at once.

So the law of identity can be applied to choice and action?

I fail to understand why the law of identity (of choice) shall be used for human entities and then the law of identity (of actions) shall be used for non-human entities.

I understand that the balloon has a specific nature and it must act upon it, by its definition. But the human being, if he has free will, cannot be forced, as the balloon, to a single choice. He may choose against following his specific nature, that is.

Or is man's specific nature his ability to choose?

Edited by Voice(of)Reason

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It's the other way around: what the balloon does is defined by its nature. Different balloons have different natures, and some have a nature that dictates that they can't rise in the air (fill one with CO2, for example).

I understand, my mistake. But applied to free will: is what the human being does defined by his nature? Such is determinism. "Different (humans) have different natures, and some have a nature that dictates that they can't (decide to jump in the air)."

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Yes. That is not the whole of his identity, because man is a conceptual being.

And yet, if his ability to choose is his specific nature, he can act against this ability. Examples include intoxication, drug abuse, hypnosis. In these circumstances, the human being has chosen to relinquish his specific nature, the ability to choose. This may be a contradiction for the choice to not choose, but it is not a contradiction for subsequent actions.

If an animal is nothing but a balloon (and this is what a "non-conceptual" man is described as, Rand's Virtue of Selfishness, pg. 17) in that it lacks volitional consciousness, man no longer has the ability to choose in his "animalistic" state. But to call a man "an animal" when in this animalistic state does not offer support to a fact that he is no longer human. To deny that this "semiconscious" human being is a still a human being is to impose a conscious essence (or specific nature) on what it is to be a human being, as opposed to a biological essence.

(A note about definitions. "To choose" here implies rational choice at a "human" level. An animal can choose between two alternatives, but not at the same level as a rational human being. A "semiconscious" human being, talking like Rand, may possess the "choosing power" of an animal, and act while choosing with this limited capacity, in this state.)

As far as I understand it, a human being, in a "semiconscious" state, can be acting against his specific nature (in that he lacks the ability to choose, in the sense that a somewhat sober human being can choose rationally), yet still be, biologically, a human being.

Edited by Voice(of)Reason

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And yet, if his ability to choose is his specific nature, he can act against this ability. Examples include intoxication, drug abuse, hypnosis.
None of these invalidate man's ability to choose. Has someone been selling you bad sci-fi? There is no mechanism for suspending volition. You can suspend consciousness by knocking a person out or him sleeping. Is that what you're thinking of? That doesn't affect his ability to choose. Also, being drunk impairs your judgment, but it does not make you a non-volitional bot.
If an animal is nothing but a balloon (and this is what a "non-conceptual" man is described as, Rand's Virtue of Selfishness, pg. 17) in that it lacks volitional consciousness, man no longer has the ability to choose in his "animalistic" state.
You must have a rather rare edition of VOS. There's nothing like that anywhere in the writings of Ayn Rand that I can find. There are no non-conceptual men.

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None of these invalidate man's ability to choose. Has someone been selling you bad sci-fi? There is no mechanism for suspending volition. You must have a rather rare edition of VOS. There's nothing like that anywhere in the writings of Ayn Rand that I can find. There are no non-conceptual men.

I'm sorry, I created the concept of "non-conceptual" men in reading the following (Virtue of Selfishness, pg. 17):

"When man unfocuses his mind, he may be said to be conscious in a subhuman sense of the word, since he experiences sensations and perceptions. But in the sense of the word applicable to man—in the sense of a consciousness which is aware of reality and able to deal with it, a consciousness able to direct the actions and provide for the survival of a human being—an unfocused mind is not conscious... Existentially, the choice “to focus or not” is the choice “to be conscious or not.” Metaphysically, the choice “to be conscious or not” is the choice of life or death."

I take "unfocus" here (which, like "non-conceptual" men, is not a real word) to signify diluting one's mind with agents which take the "human" ability to choose away—unless I am missing the dictionary definition for a word that does not exist. I take "conscious" here to signify having "a 'focused' mind", that is one that is not diluted with inhibiting agents. I take "volition" to signify the capability of conscious choice and decision and intention. Notice conscious choice. Rand says that man can chose "to be conscious or not", or in other words, non-volitional. The "mechanism to suspend volition" is volition itself, initially, and then man acts against his nature in not being able to choose consciously, volitionally.

You can suspend consciousness by knocking a person out or him sleeping. Is that what you're thinking of? That doesn't affect his ability to choose. Also, being drunk impairs your judgment, but it does not make you a non-volitional bot.

I am not talking about a state of unconsciousness. Obviously, there are no actions being made within consciousness in such a state. I am speaking of animalistic states, that is, severe intoxication, "unfocusing" the mind, where rational decisions are impossible and choosing at a human level is impossible, the equivalent, mentally, to being an animal. Conscious, as some animals are, but not living up to the specific nature of a human being.

Edited by Voice(of)Reason

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In Objectivism, doesn't the law of identity (A is A) contradict free will in humans? That is, if a human being can decide to do either A or ~A, does he then not have a specific nature, as is specified by the law of identity?

Several people have answered you already, but the thread seems to have stopped, so I'm going to add in my reply.

Man's nature is such that he has free will, which means that he can consciously choose among alternatives considered rationally. In Objectivism, free will is reason; to abdicate one's free will is to become non-rational or even irrational. Man does not have what animals have -- a kind of hard wired knowledge of what is good for him and what is bad for him; his senses alone do not tell him much except that a thing exists, but it doesn't give him information about whether or not something will harm him; whereas animals seem to have the ability to tell if something is good for them or not on the perceptual level, at least enough for them to survive.

Because man does not have any automatic guidance, to abdicate on reason is to become not only less than man, but also less than an animal. Basically, man cannot survive without the guidance of his faculty of reason. So, those drugged out or dead drunk people you refer to later are, in a way, choosing not to be man; and they have no other guidance, so they just kind of stumble along as brutes.

But they have chosen this; because for man, he has the choice to be a man or to be less than a man. If he does not voluntarily use his reasoning faculty, it will not work for him automatically. As an analogy, it would be like a bird cutting off it's own wings, and then wondering why it can't fly.

It is not a violation of A=A for him to have free will, because it is man's nature that he has a rational faculty that must be used by his volition -- that is his nature. To abdicate the use of his reason by choice is a violation of A=A. So, it is not a violation to say man has free will, but it is a violation not to use it. Man, among all of the living beings can choose to act against his nature; that is a man does not have any automatic knowledge even as to when to use volition and when not to -- it is his choice, because that is his nature.

A=A for man as well as everything else.

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I'm sorry, I created the concept of "non-conceptual" men in reading the following (Virtue of Selfishness, pg. 17):
Okay; p. 22 in ordinary editions.
I take "unfocus" here (which, like "non-conceptual" men, is not a real word) to signify diluting one's mind with agents which take the "human" ability to choose away—unless I am missing the dictionary definition for a word that does not exist.
The problem with "non-conceptual man" is that the term has no referent. There can be no such thing. BTW dictionaries don't generally list phrases. Unfocus is a real word, but you've simply mischaracterised it. It doesn't mean anything about "diluting" or using "agents"; it's the opposite of "focus". It might be worth discussing the nature of "focus", but perhaps for now we can assume that the term is fairly clear, and perhaps we can just define it as "to move something up the mental hierarchy in importance, excluding lesser considerations". That doesn't mean "taking the ability to choose away". There is of course a connection between focus and choice, but being unfocused does not mean being unable to chose.
I take "conscious" here to signify having "a 'focused' mind", that is one that is not diluted with inhibiting agents.
No, that is not what "conscious" means.

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If "to focus one's mind" is the point of contention here, then I think it would be a good idea to discus it; especially since it is possible to be unfocused without being on drugs or alcohol. I double checked my dictionary and "focus" has no mention of mental activity, but that is because Objectivism is a new philosophy and the dictionary hasn't caught up with some of Miss Rand's terminology. Focusing one's mind is something that must be done volitionally, by one's own free will. If one does not focus one's mind, one does not lose free will, one is simply not using free will to consider something sharply. Like one's eyes or a glass lens, "to focus one's mind" means to bring that which is under consideration into sharp clarity.

From the Ayn Rand Lexicon under "focus" (available on-line):

In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort. Thinking requires a state of full, focused awareness. The act of focusing one's consciousness is volitional. Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality—or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make.

Which, by the way, is the paragraph just before the one quoted earlier.

The point is that just as one must focus one's eyes to see things clearly, so one must focus one's mind to understand things clearly. "To focus" here means to have an active mind directed at considering existence sharply and distinctly, but this must be done via free will, it does not happen automatically.

To focus one's mind is something one must discover introspectively, by actively considering something with one's consciousness, by directing one's mind to an aspect of existence by one's own choice.

As an example of this, when you are reading this post are you directing your attention to it, or are you directing your attention to something else? Are you considering what is written here totally, or are you watching TV or listening to the radio and only considering the topic in brief snatches? It is possible to multitask, but that really comes down to focusing one's attention on different things at different times, like having the TV one while you are reading this and directing your attention from the essay to the TV and back again. But this is done via free will, of consciously directing one's attention.

It is possible to be unfocused -- of not considering something by directing one's mind -- without being on drugs or alcohol, because it takes an act of free will to readily focus one's mind; and if one doesn't do that then one is not focused.

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