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Nihilism

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I suppose the whole entire point of me investigating Objectivism was to find a guide to living. I didn't start looking into it because it was a defense of capitalism or atheism or any such thing, but because at first it seemed like the only group of ideas actually meant for practical use in the real world. Even though I have been aware of it for about three years, I have only begun to understand it recently. In the last three years I have made many mistakes intellectually. For the most part, I never really bothered to deal with Objectivism by means of integrating it with the rest of my knowledge.

My general approach was for the most part 1) Find a conclusion 2) Argue for it until I find a conclusion with better arguments. This has caused a great amount of chaos mentally. At this moment I think that this is because I never understood Objectivism, and therefor was never able to argue for it. I have seen so many people make this mistake and it is very troubling. In the context of the internet, I have seen many people who start out as "Objectivists" who then turn into people who say things like "anything goes as long its is within the non-aggression principle", and then they turn into people who say "ethics is magic just like the state and god".

Fundamentally, the source of this is a particular kind of rationalism, which puts importance on argumentation, not knowledge. That knowledge only exists if it can be expressed well. Now while someone who claims to know something should be held to that standard, it is a reversal of cause and effect to say "I think Objectivism is true, I need to start looking for arguments for it". This can't be done, one needs to first spend the time to actually learn an idea and convince one self of it before they can start worrying about how they should be expressing themselves. They want to express themselves first, and be validated by the fact that no one has any retort, then be comforted by the fact that they have knowledge.

This leads to intellectual decay, as one stops thinking about the world, and keeps himself busy with the nuances of debate. An approach to learning based on argument leads exclusively to the upholding of deductive logic over inductive logic. This is extremely problematic because deductive logic isn't sufficient for all cognitive tasks (neither is inductive logic).

An argument based on induction requires a massive dedication of time and energy. This is illustrated by the fact that a good rationalist argument is about a thousand pages of covering one's ass. No one even bothers to prove an idea in fullness with inductive logic. Ayn Rand didn't, and even Peikoff, who organized and elaborated on her views didn't attempt to organize all the information required to validate her views. This isn't a bad thing either, people can only think for themselves, and do not need to be provided with ever aspect of an argument in order to see if it is true or not.

Rand's epistemology is based primarily on induction based on perception, with deduction playing important roles in certain contexts. What follows from this is a view of consciousness that has all aspects of it explained by how someone chooses to think. Do they context drop? Do they reverse hierarchy? Are they emotionalist? These sorts of questions can explain ultimately every aspect of someone's consciousness, including what they value.

Ayn Rand looks at the function of value in nature (what value does for people). The discover that not only do values exist because people are alive, that people are alive because they have values. This allows her to identify values as something cognitive. They are not primarily emotional (subjective, preferences). This allows us to trace all values back to methods of thinking. Values follow the same rules as concepts, because they are concepts, implicit or explicit, conscious or not. They aren't "preferences" that magically appear from no where, or that are left to be explained by Freud or Skinner. They are concepts that are developed by how one thinks. This means they can be analyzed logically.

This conclusion is only possible based on inductive logic. Nihilists are stuck with a given "preferences" with they are completely unable to explain, and have to say "they are just there, maybe it has something to do with how you were raised".

To sum up my points:

1) Many people believe in knowledge through argument.

2) These people in the end rely to heavily on deductive logic, floating abstractions, and arbitrary "givens".

3) This leads them to become incapable of understanding Objectivists ideas unless they put a huge amount of effort into them (like I have).

4) Many people who start with Objectivism, but do not integrate it, treat it as a floating abstraction, usually end up becoming anarchists, and then nihilists (As I have in the past).

As a side note: The idea that one needs to be able to completely prove (I might mean explain here) an idea to hold it as knowledge is bullshit anyways. For instance, there are many concepts and rule in mathematics that I know, use, and manipulate, that I could not prove. The same is with Objectivism. I don't know everything about it, and if put to the task, I could not prove every point of it, but when I apply its ideas, it works. Maybe I am wrong on this, but if you can apply the idea consistently, over time, and get results, it is knowledge.

Question: Thoughts?

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This is a response to the rationalism that argument-based learning can produce. I don't discuss Nihilism...

Sorry to add to your woes, but you need to add to your excellent reflections here that as you have been introduced to philosophy by reading Rand, you assume most of the ideas she espouses are original with her. Your statements on "Rand's epistemology" are one example. In fact, what you stated of "Rand's epistemology" is ancient Greek philosophy.

This problem is pervasive with "Objectivists". That is not to say that Rand/Peikoff, etc. have created the problem. It is part of the growing-pains of having one's eyes opened to philosophy. (It is actually a kind of subjectivity, as people are introduced to the idea by Rand, and just assume she introduced it to the world.)

I believe the fastest, and maybe the only remedy to the sort of rationalism you are describing, your knowledge-by-argument, is to take up a reflective discipline that is urged, usually, to writers. As you talk, read, write, and think, be sure you know exactly what you mean by each word you use. Could you have done without it? Is there a better word, a more precise one? Can you defend why you used exactly that term?

In the beginning, this is like learning to walk, and seems an overwhelming task. It does require a lot of attention, and maybe it would work better to begin doing it with your writing only. It builds on itself very effectively, so pretty soon it is mostly modifiers and the higher abstractions that require attention.

You may have to look up a lot of words. Take the time. Own a good dictionary and the thesaurus. Look at both. Every effort of this sort is money in the bank, paying you back with compound interest, margined to the hilt, and rewarding you in confidence and effectiveness. You will be right when you say something. You will gain insight when you reflect on a subject. You will see implications everywhere. Explanations will be easy. Most of all, your efforts of all kinds will be more creative! (Wish I could bottle this and sell it!)

-- Mindy

Edited by Mindy

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Well I don't have a problem with knowledge-from-argument anymore. I will say that dealing with words and asking if something was the best way to say something does not help. Most of the people who suffer from this are obsessed with word usage and rephrasing something. Not that being able to say something differently is bad though. The point of my post is "don't worry about expression until you have learned something".

I really don't know what you mean, I don't think any Greek philosopher had similar ideas to her in epistemology. The closest to her, Aristotle was an intrinsicist. Of course, all due credit to those people who discovered great things like Archimedes, Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato. However, I can't think of anyone who actually said anything close to Rand's ideas on epistemology.

The general pro-induction conclusion however was reached by many Greek philosophers. I mean, I never assumed that because Rand reached a conclusion, that she was the first person to reach that conclusion.

For instance whole bunch of philosophers from Aristotle to Schopenhauer think A is A. However, put in the context of the rest of her ideas, A is A has different implications than those who preceded her.

Her ethics for instance, she was an Egoist, but so was Max Stirner, Spinoza, Nietzsche, and arguably many of the Greek philosophers. Her Egoism is very very different than the above because her epistemology (focusing an the concept of "Objectivity") makes it extremely different.

So yeah I am aware that

Metaphysics - Reality - Aristotle

Epistemology - Reason/Sensory Empiricism - Many Greeks, Aristotle

Ethics - Egoism - Spinoza, Stirner, Nietzsche, arguably Aristotle

Politics - Capitalism - Founding Fathers, the classical school, the Austrian School, ect.

Aesthetics - Romanticism - there were plenty of romanticists.

Doesn't matter though.

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Well I don't have a problem with knowledge-from-argument anymore. I will say that dealing with words and asking if something was the best way to say something does not help. Most of the people who suffer from this are obsessed with word usage and rephrasing something. Not that being able to say something differently is bad though. The point of my post is "don't worry about expression until you have learned something".

You can't really say you learned something if you can't express it, at best you could only say "I think I learned something because it feels like I did." Expression is essential, which is different than knowledge-from-argument. The mentality you are describing seems to be more a problem of excessive reliance on deductive logic OR the idea that if you can't be refuted than you must be right. So, I don't quite agree with Mindy; the "fix" would be practicing inductive logic. I am not exactly sure how to go about doing that.

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This is your statement, to which I replied. Mentioning induction, saying conceptual knowledge is based on perception, and something to the effect that deduction is also important offers nothing new in philosophy! I believe Rand herself offered her idea of measurement omission as her most original single idea, but there are very strong precursors to that, also.

I don't want to trouble to argue what is original to Rand. Still, I find it hard not to point out specific references that credit Rand with ideas that aren't original to her.

-- Mindy

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However, I can't think of anyone who actually said anything close to Rand's ideas on epistemology.

Measurement omission was her most original idea as far as I know, but its a big one. Someone (I cant remember who) came up with "context omission" before her, quite different though.

I agree with the premise of your essay, especially this

....it is a reversal of cause and effect to say "I think Objectivism is true, I need to start looking for arguments for it".

This deductive approach is common, I'll admit I was guilty of this reasoning to a certain extent at the onset of my study. The question is: whats the best way to integrate new ideas into the full scope and heirarchy of our knowledge?

j..

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I am actually working on a blog post that has to do with this. I may post it here, when I'm done.

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