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William O

Do Objectivists see self evidence differently from academic philosophers?

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The way contemporary academic philosophers usually think about self evident truths, as opposed to Objectivists, is:

  1. They are a priori and independent of experience.
  2. They are abstract "truths of reason," not on the perceptual level.
  3. Often they are regarded as defeasible in principle.
  4. Their truth is not necessarily immediately obvious to everyone. For example, an academic philosopher would say that it is self evident that first cousins have a pair of grandparents in common.

I'm taking these claims from Audi's introduction to epistemology (p. 94-96).

It seems like Objectivists don't regard anything as self evident in the sense most academic philosophers use that term. There are axioms in Objectivism, but they are grasped by perception, not by seeing intrinsic connections between concepts. However, that is how Audi seems to characterize the academic concept of self evidence.

Am I correct in drawing this conclusion?

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I think, generally speaking, that Western philosophies (and philosophers) can be seen as falling into one of two camps:  the dialectic of Plato or the realism of Aristotle.  Most are mixed, so I don't know that a broad claim can be made about contemporary academic philosophers much beyond that.

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2 minutes ago, New Buddha said:

I think, generally speaking, that Western philosophies (and philosophers) can be seen as falling into one of two camps:  the dialectic of Plato or the realism of Aristotle.  Most are mixed, so I don't know that a broad claim can be made about contemporary academic philosophers much beyond that.

Can you clarify? Dialectic is an epistemological approach, and it was endorsed by Aristotle as well as Plato. I'm not sure why you're contrasting it with realism, which is a metaphysical position.

Can you give some examples of contemporary philosophers who see self evidence differently from how Audi describes the concept?

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34 minutes ago, William O said:

Can you clarify? Dialectic is an epistemological approach, and it was endorsed by Aristotle as well as Plato. I'm not sure why you're contrasting it with realism, which is a metaphysical position.

Can you give some examples of contemporary philosophers who see self evidence differently from how Audi describes the concept?

Is he more speaking of the deductive approach of Plato versus the inductive approach of Aristotle?  Do we figure out truth before applying it, or do we figure out truth by applying it?

So recognizing axioms is deductive and Platonic, in that axioms are understood apart from experience, application, or testing.

To your first question, yes, it does seem to me that Rand takes "A is A" and "A is not non-A" more as a guide to wisdom and not a formal logical axiom--that Objectivism is more inductive than deductive.

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1 hour ago, William O said:

Can you clarify? Dialectic is an epistemological approach, and it was endorsed by Aristotle as well as Plato. I'm not sure why you're contrasting it with realism, which is a metaphysical position.

Dialectic can be "epistemological" in the sense that it is a method of discourse, but it can be understood more broadly as having arisen from the contemplation of the correspondence between Plato's archetypes of Form(s) and our knowledge of their particular manifestations in everyday life.

This "dialectic" between "what a thing is" and our "knowledge of it" is a theme that has been replayed down through the ages of Western Philosophy since Plato.  Much of Christian theology was a continuation of Greco-Roman Neoplatonism and has had a huge influence on Western thought, of course.

2 hours ago, William O said:

There are axioms in Objectivism, but they are grasped by perception, not by seeing intrinsic connections between concepts.

Axioms in Objectivism are very broad generalizations/concepts arrived at through a long chain of inductions/concept formation (abstractions-from-abstractions). Axioms are not grasped as perceptually self-evident from first-level concepts (abstractions-from-concretes) although the process of forming them does start from there.  Axioms are implicit in perception but are grasped conceptually.

1 hour ago, William O said:

Can you give some examples of contemporary philosophers who see self evidence differently from how Audi describes the concept?

I haven't read his book so I'm not sure what he means by contemporary.  Are we talking in the last 100 years? or what is being published in philosophical journals in 2017?

Edited by New Buddha

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Is there even a concept of the "self-evident" in Objectivism?  I cannot think of a statement which would be truly "self" evident and yet also relevant or substantive or informative.

A statement like: "If we take the word 'Bachelor' to only mean an unmarried man, then all Bachelors are unmarried men." is vacuous.  It counts as a "truth" because it is not a self contradiction, but it is not a statement which requires any verification whatever.  A statement like "If we take the word 'unicorn' to mean a horse with a horn coming out of its forehead, then all unicorns have horns coming out of their foreheads" is equally "self-evident" and even more vacuous, as unicorns actually don't exist.  The statement says nothing about reality and in the realm of knowledge means nothing.

Most other statements "Dogs have four legs" are simply not "self" evident because they require verification and evidence i.e. require a test of truth with reality.

Since all knowledge is based on other knowledge, I wonder if any non-vacuous statement can be truly "self" evident.  I tend to think no... even the axioms, as pointed out by New Buddha are not self evident.

Self evidency is either useless or a myth... agree ?

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There are so many good quotes on the CD containing "self-evident." Here's one selected from The Art of Nonfiction, 3. Judging One's Audience (pg. 21):

An important principle here is that man is born tabula rasa. Writers often assume something is self-evident, since they themselves now take it for granted, when in fact it is complex. Nothing is self-evident except the evidence of your senses. Therefore, when you write, assume nothing is self-evident but logic. (Logic is actually not self-evident, but in order to communicate, you must assume a person knows how to make logical connections.) For the rest, since no knowledge exists at birth, you must judge what acquired knowledge is necessary to make your point understandable—and then you must communicate it.

The evidence of the senses, properly identified, is comprised of both existence and consciousness in every moment of awareness. The concepts of existence, consciousness, identity, are only derived from the self-evident much later.

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I think there are things that are self-evident.  My amateur philosophy may fail me and others may correct me, but an axiom is a claim whose inverse is self-contradictory.  For example, I can say "I exist" is an axiom, because I assuming that I don't exist, I would not be able to say "I exist", so therefore that assumption must be false, so therefore I must exist.  Does this qualify as a meaningful self-evident truth?

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On 7/25/2017 at 0:25 PM, New Buddha said:

Dialectic can be "epistemological" in the sense that it is a method of discourse, but it can be understood more broadly as having arisen from the contemplation of the correspondence between Plato's archetypes of Form(s) and our knowledge of their particular manifestations in everyday life.

This "dialectic" between "what a thing is" and our "knowledge of it" is a theme that has been replayed down through the ages of Western Philosophy since Plato.  Much of Christian theology was a continuation of Greco-Roman Neoplatonism and has had a huge influence on Western thought, of course.

Okay, but how is that relevant in the current context? We are comparing Rand's concept of self evidence to the contemporary academic concept.

Quote

Axioms in Objectivism are very broad generalizations/concepts arrived at through a long chain of inductions/concept formation (abstractions-from-abstractions). Axioms are not grasped as perceptually self-evident from first-level concepts (abstractions-from-concretes) although the process of forming them does start from there.  Axioms are implicit in perception but are grasped conceptually.

Thanks, that's helpful.

Quote

I haven't read his book so I'm not sure what he means by contemporary.  Are we talking in the last 100 years? or what is being published in philosophical journals in 2017?

I don't know what he means by contemporary. He mentions Mill, so a reasonable assumption would be that he means since 1800.

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On 7/25/2017 at 2:08 PM, StrictlyLogical said:

Is there even a concept of the "self-evident" in Objectivism?  I cannot think of a statement which would be truly "self" evident and yet also relevant or substantive or informative.

A statement like: "If we take the word 'Bachelor' to only mean an unmarried man, then all Bachelors are unmarried men." is vacuous.  It counts as a "truth" because it is not a self contradiction, but it is not a statement which requires any verification whatever.  A statement like "If we take the word 'unicorn' to mean a horse with a horn coming out of its forehead, then all unicorns have horns coming out of their foreheads" is equally "self-evident" and even more vacuous, as unicorns actually don't exist.  The statement says nothing about reality and in the realm of knowledge means nothing.

Most other statements "Dogs have four legs" are simply not "self" evident because they require verification and evidence i.e. require a test of truth with reality.

Since all knowledge is based on other knowledge, I wonder if any non-vacuous statement can be truly "self" evident.  I tend to think no... even the axioms, as pointed out by New Buddha are not self evident.

Self evidency is either useless or a myth... agree ?

Can you clarify what you mean? I don't mean to be rude, but I would think it obvious that Rand accepted the concept of the self evident. At the very least, if you're going to interpret her that way then you need to explain how you interpret passages like those quoted in the Lexicon under "self evident."

aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/self-evident.html

Also, haven't you essentially reinvented the analytic - synthetic dichotomy here?

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Maybe I need to clarify the goals of this thread.

Goal 1: Clearly identify how Ayn Rand thought about self evidence, using primary sources.

Goal 2: Clearly identify how most academic philosophers think about self evidence, using reputable secondary sources.

Goal 3: Compare the two and identify similarities and differences.

That is all I am trying to do in this thread. I would appreciate any help from knowledgeable forum members.

Edited by William O

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On 7/25/2017 at 7:30 PM, dream_weaver said:

There are so many good quotes on the CD containing "self-evident." Here's one selected from The Art of Nonfiction, 3. Judging One's Audience (pg. 21):

An important principle here is that man is born tabula rasa. Writers often assume something is self-evident, since they themselves now take it for granted, when in fact it is complex. Nothing is self-evident except the evidence of your senses. Therefore, when you write, assume nothing is self-evident but logic. (Logic is actually not self-evident, but in order to communicate, you must assume a person knows how to make logical connections.) For the rest, since no knowledge exists at birth, you must judge what acquired knowledge is necessary to make your point understandable—and then you must communicate it.

The evidence of the senses, properly identified, is comprised of both existence and consciousness in every moment of awareness. The concepts of existence, consciousness, identity, are only derived from the self-evident much later.

That's a great quote, thanks.

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On 7/25/2017 at 9:58 PM, Szalapski said:

I think there are things that are self-evident.  My amateur philosophy may fail me and others may correct me, but an axiom is a claim whose inverse is self-contradictory.  For example, I can say "I exist" is an axiom, because I assuming that I don't exist, I would not be able to say "I exist", so therefore that assumption must be false, so therefore I must exist.  Does this qualify as a meaningful self-evident truth?

Objectivism holds that the denial of any true proposition is self contradictory. Read Peikoff's essay on "The Analytic - Synthetic Dichotomy."

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It appears that propositions are only self evident in a derivative sense, for Rand. By contrast, academic philosophers, in my experience, only regard propositions as self evident (e.g. 1+1=2).

Dr. Binswanger identified a fallacy in How We Know called the fallacy of retroactive self evidence, which is basically when we get so used to a claim that we start to call it self evident even though it wasn't originally. The discussion so far in this thread, then, seems to have a striking implication: If Rand is right, then every usage of the term "self evident" in contemporary academic philosophy commits the fallacy of retroactive self evidence.

What are your thoughts on my reasoning here?

Edited by William O

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1 hour ago, William O said:

It appears that propositions are only self evident in a derivative sense, for Rand. By contrast, academic philosophers, in my experience, only regard propositions as self evident (e.g. 1+1=2).

This is not usually the sort of discussion I try to get involved in -- for a variety of reasons. But in this case, I wonder what you mean that "propositions are only self evident in a derivative sense, for Rand," when it seems to me that Rand is stating directly that propositions are not self evident:

"Nothing is self-evident except the material of sensory perception."

and "Nothing is self-evident except the evidence of your senses."

Perhaps there's some other quote which speaks to this directly that I'm missing? But otherwise, and bearing the above in mind, what is the "derivative sense" you're preserving for the self evidence of propositions?

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Just now, DonAthos said:

This is not usually the sort of discussion I try to get involved in -- for a variety of reasons. But in this case, I wonder what you mean that "propositions are only self evident in a derivative sense, for Rand," when it seems to me that Rand is stating directly that propositions are not self evident:

"Nothing is self-evident except the material of sensory perception."

and "Nothing is self-evident except the evidence of your senses."

Perhaps there's some other quote which speaks to this directly that I'm missing? But otherwise, and bearing the above in mind, what is the "derivative sense" you're preserving for the self evidence of propositions?

That's a good distinction, I'm glad you posted this. I need to figure why I thought that and whether I had any evidence for it.

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2 hours ago, William O said:

Dr. Binswanger identified a fallacy in How We Know called the fallacy of retroactive self evidence, which is basically when we get so used to a claim that we start to call it self evident even though it wasn't originally. The discussion so far in this thread, then, seems to have a striking implication: If Rand is right, then every usage of the term "self evident" in contemporary academic philosophy commits the fallacy of retroactive self evidence.

What are your thoughts on my reasoning here?

Do you have the page numbers for this?

Again, on the research CD, I scrolled thru some more passages that appear using "self-evident" and found this from The American School: Why Johnny Can't Think by Leonard Peikoff.

on the perceptual level, there is no need of logic, argument, proof; a man sees what he sees, the facts are self-evident, and no further cognitive process is required. But on the conceptual level, we do need proof. We need a method of validating our ideas; we need a guide to let us know what conclusions follow from what data. That guide is logic.

Miss Rand stated "(Logic is actually not self-evident, but in order to communicate, you must assume a person knows how to make logical connections.)"

Establishing the relationship between the perceptual and the conceptual is the logical connection which facilitates us in being able to identify and thus communicate our identifications, and why the assumption another person knows how to do likewise is needed: for it is they that need to perform that step as well, you cannot perform it for them.

Edited by dream_weaver

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He's using the fallacy of retroactive self-evidency in conjunction with concepts of characteristics. There are concepts formed in youth that become automatized by years of usage. When asked what is meant by "white", "round", "long", or "roll" (as in a ball's act of rolling) many tend to refer to them as self-evident, rather than derivative abstractions from the entities which possess them.

For first level concepts, the self-evident percepts are the what to which their respective concepts refer to. Per Dr. Binswanger, to refer to anything beyond first level concepts as self-evident would be fallacious.

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On ‎7‎/‎29‎/‎2017 at 7:49 AM, William O said:

Can you clarify what you mean? I don't mean to be rude, but I would think it obvious that Rand accepted the concept of the self evident. At the very least, if you're going to interpret her that way then you need to explain how you interpret passages like those quoted in the Lexicon under "self evident."

aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/self-evident.html

Also, haven't you essentially reinvented the analytic - synthetic dichotomy here?

Hey WO

Just wondering if my post still needs clarification. I see much has been dealt with by the ensuing conversation.

BTW - I was talking about so called self-evident "statements" not about the "self-evident evidence" of the senses (which would be a funny kind of redundancy)

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On 7/29/2017 at 8:59 AM, William O said:

I need to figure why I thought that and whether I had any evidence for it.

I think I thought that propositions can be self evident for Rand because I was under the impression that axioms like "existence exists" and "A is A" are regarded as self evident in Objectivism. I can find a lot of blogs and websites by non-scholars saying that online, but it's difficult to find a place in the primary sources where Rand actually says that. (The other reason is that, well, these propositions do seem self evident, and I would expect - rightly or wrongly - that Rand would agree with me about that.)

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On 7/31/2017 at 3:31 PM, StrictlyLogical said:

Hey WO

Just wondering if my post still needs clarification. I see much has been dealt with by the ensuing conversation.

BTW - I was talking about so called self-evident "statements" not about the "self-evident evidence" of the senses (which would be a funny kind of redundancy)

This part has been cleared up, I would say:

Quote

Is there even a concept of the "self-evident" in Objectivism?  I cannot think of a statement which would be truly "self" evident and yet also relevant or substantive or informative.

However, this part could use clarification, since it seems like a version of the analytic - synthetic dichotomy:

Quote

A statement like: "If we take the word 'Bachelor' to only mean an unmarried man, then all Bachelors are unmarried men." is vacuous.  It counts as a "truth" because it is not a self contradiction, but it is not a statement which requires any verification whatever.  A statement like "If we take the word 'unicorn' to mean a horse with a horn coming out of its forehead, then all unicorns have horns coming out of their foreheads" is equally "self-evident" and even more vacuous, as unicorns actually don't exist.  The statement says nothing about reality and in the realm of knowledge means nothing.

 

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45 minutes ago, William O said:

This part has been cleared up, I would say:

However, this part could use clarification, since it seems like a version of the analytic - synthetic dichotomy:

 

Nothing looks wrong with analytic and synthetic as long as you focus on whether the statement revolves around observation or not. It doesn't need to be about a metaphysical distinction between them. So with bachelors, it's just defining a category of the man-made, as opposed to defining a category of metaphysical givens. Peikoff seems to be addressing how the distinction tends to be used in a pointless way or used to establish metaphysically distinct categories of "knowledge".

Related: http://www.johnmccaskey.com/analytic-statements/

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Replying to the initial question, Binswanger's How We Know says: Self-evident means "available to direct awareness. "Self-evident" is not a synonym for "obvious." To one who has learned arithmetic, it is obvious that two plus two is four, but that truth is not self-evident; it is inferred by a process of comparison and counting. But that the page you are reading exists is not an inference; it is self-evident. The data of sensory perception are self-evident."

More can be seen on Amazon's "Look Inside" feature on pages 22-3 (link).

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