Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum
Sign in to follow this  
lex_aver

A fair warning and four questions

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

A fair warning is due:

  1. I'm an ex-Objectivist. Back when I liked Rand's ideas, I didn't have enough money to read her seminal non-fiction works, so I'm going by bits and pieces here. Also, I've only recently have overcome the shame I used to feel for having been a randroid (in the worst way possible), so if you look up my messages on other resources, you will see a lot of inflammatory comments. I'm sorry I've made them, I made a promise to be more considerate in the future.
  2. As you can see, I'm a veteran of this very forum. In case you're interested, here's a thread which started my divergence from Objectivism. It was a product of reading a small yet really great, concise and highly mathematical exposition to a simplified version of Keynesian general equilibrium, its applications to international trade and optimal economic development. As you can see, I've made some erroneous claims there, but by large it represented the shift in my thinking: from largely rhetorical and imprecise philosophizing (even where it was inappropriate) to rigorous and highly mathematical, using mathematical models where they can be constructed.
  3. The following is patched together from my Reddit posts. The discussion there didn't take off, and eventually I was redirected to objectivistliving.com. It didn't take there, either. Here are the topics where it was going on: (1), (2).
  4. My goal is to "scientifically" break down Objectivism to see what it's made of and how the pieces fit together; I'm doing it to get some closure for myself.
  5. These questions are debate-ish. While I honestly don't know the Objectivist position on them, I may challenge it when I learn it, so you can view this topic as an invitation to a debate. I'll try to keep it civil, but may fail to do so (ask Boydstun). I'll heed warnings, and will leave if asked by the moderators. I don't mind this topic being moved to another subforum if it'll be more appropriate there.
  6. I will not buy Rand's books unless I have compelling evidence that my questions are answered there and that a small summary or quotation will not do.

I'm starting this thread to ask for some clarification and hopefully to start an interesting discussion. Here is my parsing of the description of Objectivist Metaphysics on Wikipedia:

  1. Existence (the sum of everything existing) is non-trivial, which is self-evident.
  2. To be conscious is to be conscious of existence
  3. Existence is composed of entities, which are completely defined by their attributes.
  4. There are no contradictions in reality.
The first two statements are the familiar cogito ergo sum, told backwards. That is, where Descartes used deduction to arrive from (2) to (1), Rand simply posited both separately as self-evident. While (1) and (2) are easily understandable, (3) and (4) give me trouble.
 
On the subject of (3).
 
(Question 1) What are attributes? Suppose we have an entity X, and an attribute P. How does P work? Is it akin to a logical predicate that we can evaluate at X to get some truth value P(X)?
  1. If so, can we apply it to another entity, some Y, to get P(Y)? From Rand's description it seems that we shouldn't be able to. Firstly, P is something X has, but this description suggests that P exists independently of X; for example, should X cease to exist, P may still exist if it is applicable to some Y. Secondly, if P is applicable to more than just X, then the sum of all entities to which P is applicable - what is it? Is it a concept? But we haven't described epistemology yet. Is it a Platonic ideal? Rand doesn't describe such a thing. Is it yet another entity? And is P then an entity in and of itself? Does it, in turn, have attributes?
  2. Suppose, on the other hand, P is not something that can be applied to other entities (we'll denote it X.P then). Then what is it? Consider two attributes of X: X.P and X.Q. What distinguishes them?
On the subject of (4).
 
(Question 2) What exactly is a contradiction? I'm serious. Contradiction is usually defined as a part of some logical system (like natural deduction). But Rand doesn't specify how any logical system is connected to reality. We could try and save contradictions by using (4) as a definition, but there is something in the way: while it makes sense to say that contradiction is something that cannot exist in reality, it is clearly not enough to say that contradiction is something that doesn't exist in reality. To be able to say the former, we have to introduce the notion of possible reality (something that could exist, but doesn't). And if in the discussion of (3) we decided that an attribute is not something that can be applied to multiple entities then such a notion is impossible, because if we replace one entity X with another entity Y, how do we compare their attributes if not by applying them to both X and Y?
 
The last two questions were originally from another Reddit discussion.
 

How does Objectivism address the following issues with the free will hypothesis:

  1. The free will theorem states under very mild conditions that if humans are indeterministic, then so are elementary particles.
  2. Humans have evolved biologically from more primitive species. Also, studies of animal intelligence show that other mammals have (limited) capacity for abstract thought.

Both facts highly suggest that if free will is there, it's not limited to humans. In particular, if one wants to maintain "human exceptionalism", the following questions need to be answered:

  1. (Question 3) What is the difference between simple indeterminism and free will?
  2. (Question 4) What human ancestors had free will? By which process had free will evolved?
Edited by lex_aver

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Existence (the sum of everything existing) is non-trivial,"

Could you explain what you mean by "non-trivial" here?

 

"The first two statements are the familiar cogito ergo sum, told backwards."

Although I think I get what you mean to say here, "I think, therefore I am" reversed would be "I am, therefore I think" and that's not exactly right in the implication that just because something exists it must think. Plenty of existents don't think.

 

Oh fragnabbit. D: It hate when people set these things up in math-like terms without giving example demonstrations of the formulas using specifics in addition to the general format using variables.

 

Alright, so, attributes. Attributes are not existents, they are aspects of existents and as such cannot exist independently. "Hot" is a type of attribute for example. Lots of things are capable of having the attribute of hotness - a frying pan that's been on the stove for a while, the sun, lava, et cetera. Note though that hotness never exists by itself. The reason we have a concept for attributes such as hotness without always and only mentioning it as part of something else in particular though is due to our ability to narrow down what we're paying attention to and focus on some things while disregarding others for the moment. We could touch or put a thermometer on lots of things and find similar results to varying degrees. Some things may be hot enough to burn us, others may be hot enough to hurt, but not to burn. Some things will measure 120 degrees F. and others may measure 500 degrees F. or more based upon how much they make mercury or some other liquid expand upon contact. There is something in common among these various objects we have surveyed even though they obviously have a large number of differences too. We can't physically separate this common element out from these different objects, but we can make note of them independently in our thoughts. I would gladly go on about this, but I'm not so clear on what other information you are looking for on this subject since I'm not very familiar with how logic is formally described and dealt with in math formatting. In short, I don't quite understand the question as phrased.

 

The basic way we'd describe what a contradiction is is it is any case of something going against its identity. A "married bachelor" can't exist and is a contradiction because being married is contrary to the nature of being a bachelor. Being a bachelor means not being married, but being married (obviously) means being married. Married and bachelor are mutually exclusive things.

 

"But Rand doesn't specify how any logical system is connected to reality."

The connection between logic and reality is that logic is derived from how reality works. Specifically, it is the systematic application of identification without contradiction. Contradictions go against the law of identity, that a thing is itself basically, a fundamental part of the nature of existence. More on logic here : http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/logic.html :)

 

"What human ancestors had free will? By which process had free will evolved?"

That one is something that would need to be figured out by going out and observing things related to our ancestors. That one can't be figured out by just applying logic to deduce an answer by starting from an axiomatic base. Once we've got a bunch of evidence from observation then we can start applying logic to it and making conclusions, but as far as I'm aware of we just don't have all the necessary evidence to work with yet.

 

"What is the difference between simple indeterminism and free will?"

Not positive what you mean by "simple indeterminism" as opposed to free will, but here's some stuff on what we mean when we talk about free will. http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/free_will.html What we mean by free will is indeed rather different than what most people mean when they use the term. The differences in what we mean versus what others mean is why I contend that many problems with free will as usually posited don't apply here and thus don't lead us to conclude we're purely deterministic.

 

As for humans versus other living things, I think you probably are interested in things like rights. There's a page on that in the lexicon too that you can check out. Those lexicon entries are quoted sections from some of Rand's writing and some other writing she specified that she agreed with while she was alive. They aren't sufficient on their own to provide the entire logic and proof for her conclusions usually, but they're a good start for reference.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm an ex-Objectivist.

...

I didn't have enough money to read her seminal non-fiction works, so I'm going by bits and pieces here.

You're not an ex-Objectivist then.

My goal is to "scientifically" break down Objectivism...

I will not buy Rand's books unless I have compelling evidence that my questions are answered there and that a small summary or quotation will not do.

Yeah, you're being real scientific, I can tell already.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the background info about your earlier "stance".

As for your question, Rand did not have any unique way to conceptualize the things you ask about: "attributes" and "contradictions". She uses the common meanings for both terms.

What are attributes?

A ball may be blue and round and soft and bouncy. Those are attributes: just the way regular folk use the term.

What exactly is a contradiction?

A contradiction is when two ideas are opposed to each other in that they cannot both be true. So the idea that I am fat and that I am thin can both be true under certain different interpretations and standards, but cannot both be true when used in the same sense and with the same standard.

I took both the above from a dictionary, not from Rand's work, because she uses the ordinarily used concepts for both.

Rand addresses these types of topics in "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology".Though you say you're not interested enough to buy it, perhaps the lead will give you something to go on.

(Question 3)What is the difference between simple indeterminism and free will?

I'm not sure what that question means, so I'll leave it to someone else.

(Question 4) What human ancestors had free will? By which process had free will evolved?

Rand and Objectivism is hardly able to answer a question like that: it is for biologists and some genre of historians. It is possible that the mechanism behind what we call free-will is something that humans have to a certain degree, that certain other animals have to a lesser degree, and so on...down to amoeba.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

> My goal is to "scientifically" break down Objectivism to see what it's made of and how the pieces fit together; I'm doing it to get some closure for myself.

 

If you want to do that, one of the things you need to do is grasp its foundations in metaphysics and epistemology.  You're asking some questions about logic, which is a small part of that step. 

 

But if you do not know what the non-fiction books have said about the metaphysical and epistemological foundations, a series of questions and answers won't be enough.  There is material across thousands of pages to clarify, connect, classify, explain, unite by means of concepts, assign level of importance to. 

 

For any idea in an abstract system of thought, you need to know examples, problems, identifications of factual relationships, identification of corollaries, integration of new knowledge with a familiar context, and what conditions any attempt at applying the idea to reality. 

 

A definition may help clarify the content but only after you have the content.

 

A series of syllogisms may give you some sense of organization but only after you have something to organize.

 

What you need is context.

 

You say:

> that a small summary or quotation will not do.

 

That is because you wouldn't have the context for understanding or judging the summary or quotation.

 

The only way you can understand Objectivism without spending money is to obtain a copy from someone who has one.

 

If none are conveniently available, I don't see a way to resolve your conflict.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Existence (the sum of everything existing) is non-trivial,"

Could you explain what you mean by "non-trivial" here?

That at least something exists.

 

"The first two statements are the familiar cogito ergo sum, told backwards."

Although I think I get what you mean to say here, "I think, therefore I am" reversed would be "I am, therefore I think" and that's not exactly right in the implication that just because something exists it must think. Plenty of existents don't think.

Descartes said: "cogito ergo sum". Rand said: "Sum, cogito".

 

Alright, so, attributes. Attributes are not existents, they are aspects of existents and as such cannot exist independently. "Hot" is a type of attribute for example. Lots of things are capable of having the attribute of hotness - a frying pan that's been on the stove for a while, the sun, lava, et cetera. Note though that hotness never exists by itself.

I'll elaborate a bit. It seems that treating attributes as predicates implies that they exist independently of existents. For example, consider a sentence "our sun is hot, and this area of lava is hot". Are the two instances of "hot" here referring to the same attribute?

Suppose that "hot" in the above sentence refers to the same attribute for both sun and lava. Then "hot" doesn't seem to depend on either one of these existents. It may in some way depend on all existents it's applicable to, but not a single one in particular.

Suppose now that "hot" refers to different attributes for sun and lava. Now, let's introduce another attribute of lava: "liquid". Consider the following sentences: "lava is hot", and "lava is liquid". Is there a difference between them? It seems not: both these attributes are unique for lava, so I can't see any distinction one can draw between them.

 

The basic way we'd describe what a contradiction is is it is any case of something going against its identity. A "married bachelor" can't exist and is a contradiction because being married is contrary to the nature of being a bachelor. Being a bachelor means not being married, but being married (obviously) means being married. Married and bachelor are mutually exclusive things.

The problem here is that "identity" is a very opaque concept: to my knowledge, Rand never elaborates on what it is, except by saying that it's related to attributes. So until we clear up the mess with attributes, your explanation is really meaningless.

 

The connection between logic and reality is that logic is derived from how reality works. Specifically, it is the systematic application of identification without contradiction.

And what is identification? In the lexicon quotations it's never given a definition, or any kind of explanation, really.

 

That one is something that would need to be figured out by going out and observing things related to our ancestors.

Fair enough. Then I'll replace the question with a related one: how could non-determinism, in principle, could have evolved? How does it fit our understanding of physics, by which process could it have been acquired, and what possible evolutionary advantage could it have provided?

 

Not positive what you mean by "simple indeterminism" as opposed to free will

I'll rephrase: what is the difference between the propositions "humans are indeterministic" and "humans have free will"?

 

As for humans versus other living things, I think you probably are interested in things like rights.

No :) Edited by lex_aver

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Vik, I don't want to give money to people who may spend them on furthering Rand's political agenda. And she's a terrible non-fiction writer (as I can see from the lexicon quotations), so I don't want to subject myself to slogging through hundreds of pages of her writing while I have better things to read.

Edited by lex_aver

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

sNerd, are "folk meanings" really enough? Rand was claiming to have an axiomatic system capable of justifying laissez-faire capitalism, yet people can honestly disagree on what they mean. Doesn't it concern you? Doesn't it warrant some elucidation of these basic concepts?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You don't want a summary.  Ok.

 

You don't want to borrow a book from someone. Ok

 

I already pointed out the problems of relying on a limited format such as Q&A

 

I'm not sure what you want.

Edited by Vik

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I once had a classmate who didn't want to read a textbook for lack of time.

 

He also didn't want anyone to give him the fundamental principles because he had no context for understanding them.

 

Yet he expected that asking questions and working through examples would be enough.

 

He didn't do very well in the class.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You don't want a summary.  Ok.

 

You don't want to borrow a book from someone. Ok

 

I already pointed out the problems of relying on a limited format such as Q&A

 

I'm not sure what you want.

He wants to troll. Edited by Nicky

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Vik, you may disagree, but for now it's my method of choice. You don't have to participate in this discussion if you don't want to.

 

Nicky, your animus is amusing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 I'll elaborate a bit. It seems that treating attributes as predicates implies that they exist independently of existents. For example, consider a sentence "our sun is hot, and this area of lava is hot". Are the two instances of "hot" here referring to the same attribute?

Suppose that "hot" in the above sentence refers to the same attribute for both sun and lava. Then "hot" doesn't seem to depend on either one of these existents. It may in some way depend on all existents it's applicable to, but not a single one in particular.

Suppose now that "hot" refers to different attributes for sun and lava. Now, let's introduce another attribute of lava: "liquid". Consider the following sentences: "lava is hot", and "lava is liquid". Is there a difference between them? It seems not: both these attributes are unique for lava, so I can't see any distinction one can draw between them.

 

 

  Those attribute are only the same in the sense that they have similar phenomena that produce them. That is, their identity at some level is similar enough that both traits exist in different entities. However without that identity the trait wouldn't exist in either.

  

  Blue doesn't exist separately from any entity and you can't find an example of it doing so. 

 

  Lava as a liquid and lava as hot just describes two aspects of the same thing. Lava is hot because its atoms are moving at a higher rate than our body temp. Lava is liquid because lava is hot.  When we understand these attributes and how they relate to one another, it allows us to have a guess about how other entities functions. 

 

  The relationship between phase and temperatures however only make sense when you are talking about entities.though.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Those attribute are only the same in the sense that they have similar phenomena that produce them. That is, their identity at some level is similar enough that both traits exist in different entities. However without that identity the trait wouldn't exist in either.

 

What is this "identity"? The way you're talking about it makes me think about Plato's forms, but clearly this isn't what you mean. And how do you define similarity of entities? The only way I can think about is by seeing how many attributes they have in common, but then your argument becomes circular - that is, if you can even define what it means for two entities to have an attribute in common without treating attributes as predicates.

 

Lava as a liquid and lava as hot just describes two aspects of the same thing. Lava is hot because its atoms are moving at a higher rate than our body temp. Lava is liquid because lava is hot.  When we understand these attributes and how they relate to one another, it allows us to have a guess about how other entities functions.

 

This is just one example, consider "this lava is hot" and "this lava is in Europe". Your argument doesn't apply in this case. Also, I asked about difference between attributes if we consider them unique to entities, I can't see how your argument would address that.

Edited by lex_aver

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just a few minor things...
 

I'm an ex-Objectivist. Back when I liked Rand's ideas, I didn't have enough money to read her seminal non-fiction works, so I'm going by bits and pieces here.

 

I think Nicky hit the nail on the head here.

Without taking the trouble to read the "seminal non-fiction works" that explain Objectivism, I don't know how you concluded that you were an Objectivist originally.

 

Vik, I don't want to give money to people who may spend them on furthering Rand's political agenda. And she's a terrible non-fiction writer (as I can see from the lexicon quotations), so I don't want to subject myself to slogging through hundreds of pages of her writing while I have better things to read.

 

If you're truly investigating Objectivism to determine its, uh, "scientific" accuracy (or what-have-you), I'm not sure how important avoiding "giving money" to Objectivists ought to be. After all, absent the information that you need to decide one way or the other, Objectivism may well be correct. It seems bizarre to want to avoid supporting something before you've determined whether it ought to be supported or not.

On the issue of the quality of her non-fiction writing? I find your conclusions to be spectacularly wrong... but I guess that, as I've read her writings and you have not, there's not much real discussion we can have on the subject.

But again, if it's coming to understand Objectivism -- if that's your honest aim here -- then how important is avoiding some unpleasant writing? If I want to understand Freud, I'm going to read Freud. If I want to know what's in the Bible, I read the Bible. None of that is particularly pleasant, but it's the price of admission. Much of what you're currently questioning can probably be found in the Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (or, at least, that material will help you frame your questions should they persist), which really isn't that long of a read, and is certainly no slog. But you know, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

 

sNerd, are "folk meanings" really enough? Rand was claiming to have an axiomatic system capable of justifying laissez-faire capitalism, yet people can honestly disagree on what they mean. Doesn't it concern you? Doesn't it warrant some elucidation of these basic concepts?

 

I don't believe that Rand's primary aim was justifying capitalism, for what it's worth. But anyways, when you ask whether "folk meanings" are "enough," I guess my first thought is "enough for what?" Rand's end was communicating her ideas. I suppose you should read what she wrote to judge whether she did that or not; it seems sloppy to ask others for their interpretations of what she wrote, given that she wrote as she did because she judged those particular words, phrasings, subjects, etc., necessary to convey her meaning.

 

Vik, you may disagree, but for now it's my method of choice. You don't have to participate in this discussion if you don't want to.

 

Yep, no one has to participate. But if you actually want answers, then maybe you should be open to the idea that people will give you their sincere beliefs on how best to get those answers.

Or not. You don't have to do anything you don't want, either, but I can't pretend like your "method of choice" is necessarily going to work out for you.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Vik, I don't want to give money to people who may spend them on furthering Rand's political agenda. And she's a terrible non-fiction writer (as I can see from the lexicon quotations), so I don't want to subject myself to slogging through hundreds of pages of her writing while I have better things to read.

If Rand was anything, she was a great non-fiction writer. She used precise language and really strived to cut the fluff and get right to the meaning. If you knew anything about her, you'd know she considered all angles of an issue to get to the core truths -- this is the essence of her philosophy. It is ironic that you have conclusively written Rand off while admitting having never read her body of work. If she means nothing to you now, why have you returned to a forum dedicated to her ideas, in order to pit your own views against hers? What do you hope to gain, if you have judged there is nothing for you to gain?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Lex, you've posted at Objectivist living and here, asking the same abstract questions.  People are trying to answer on both forums.  All you do is argue.  If you don't want to buy AR's non-fiction books, then please don't argue with the people who have.  Either make an effort to understand or don't keep repeating the same thing, please.  It's annoying.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If Rand was anything, she was a great non-fiction writer. She used precise language and really strived to cut the fluff and get right to the meaning.

"Psychologically, the choice “to think or not” is the choice “to focus or not.” 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 . . . ."

 

Yeah, right, no fluff at all...

If she means nothing to you now, why have you returned to a forum dedicated to her ideas, in order to pit your own views against hers?

To clarify certain things. I'm certainly not interested in them enough to read hundreds of pages of what seems to be a sub-par assertions gallery from what I've seen in the links to the lexicon.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Lex, you've posted at Objectivist living and here, asking the same abstract questions.  People are trying to answer on both forums.  All you do is argue.

Question 1 is the one I'm most interested in, yet I haven't been given a straight answer to it yet. How hard can it be?

If you don't want to buy AR's non-fiction books, then please don't argue with the people who have.

Don't tell me what I can't do :)

Either make an effort to understand or don't keep repeating the same thing, please.  It's annoying.

I'm trying, Ringo, I'm trying real hard...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm certainly not interested in them enough to read hundreds of pages of what seems to be a sub-par assertions gallery from what I've seen in the links to the lexicon.

They may seem like assertions because they are stated so simply, but upon stewing in the ideas over time, their truth just becomes more obvious. You are just grabbing "sound bytes" from the lexicon site, and proudly saying you won't try to understand them further. Of course they seem like fluffy assertions to you!

 

Rand discussed ideas endlessly in her life. She considered things from angle after angle. Her articulate summations are made ONLY AFTER countless hours of mulling over, and over again. If you're pulling excerpts of hers from a website and not even considering a context, you're not taking ideas in general very seriously, much less Rand's.

 

 

Edit: A wise old OO.net poster once said (rephrased), "We can't do your thinking for you." If you have time to come to two forums regularly and post, you have time to read more of the subject matter before you do the posting. Try this: for every four posts you were going to make, read the material being discussed in place of three of those posts.

Edited by JASKN

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...