Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum


  • Content Count

  • Joined

  • Last visited

Everything posted by cmdownes

  1. cmdownes

    Stolen Land

    I'm interested in this community's thoughts on the demands of some Amerindian groups to have vast tracts of stolen land returned to them. Do you think that claims of this sort are ever justifiable? I would assume that at least in some cases they are. If a clear title can be established and it is clear that force or fraud were used to steal land from its rightful owners, it seems that the state has an obligation to restore it - even if the theft occurred a hundred years ago, and even if different people are the nominal owners now. I can't see how it's ethically different from any other form of larcency.
  2. If this is the piece of this you're really interested in, check out the literature on emergentism, specifically emergentism about phenomenal consciousness. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/properties-emergent/ is as good a place to start as any. It's a position fairly close to what you describe here. Specifically, that article makes reference to a book: "Hasker, William (1999). The Emergent Self." - which sounds like it largely agrees with you.
  3. If you agree with his major premise that "it is the part of prudence not to place absolute confidence in that by which we have even once been deceived", then this commits you to the view that we are never deceived by our senses. Your (and Peikoff's, presumably, though like you I haven't read the article in question) reply then seems to hinge on this notion that our post-hoc ability to distinguish dream states from non dream states means that dreams aren't genuine instances of being deceived by our senses. But then I don't know what to make of this pair of claims: You concede that there are cases where we can't distinguish dreams from reality. But then you use as a premise the claim that we CAN tell if we are in error about our senses - that is, that we are dreaming. And Descartes anticipates something like this line anyways, when he says that, "...the occurrences in sleep are not so distinct as all this. (But) I cannot forget that, at other times I have been deceived in sleep by similar illusions; and, attentively considering those cases, I perceive so clearly that there exist no certain marks by which the state of waking can ever be distinguished from sleep...". You can disagree with the claim about phenomenal experience here, I guess, and just say that we can always retrospectively distinguish dream experiences from waking experiences, but that seems plainly false. I can think of a number of instances when I couldn't recall if a given conversation I remembered had actually happened or had been a dream. This seems like a distinct argument from what you've outlined so far. One need not know the necessary and sufficient conditions for being in error to be able to identify instances of being in error - much less just to acknowledge the possibility of being in error. I'm not sure which of these two you mean by "having certainty about what not being in error means". But the claim that "to be in error means to have certainity about what not being in error means" is just false. I obviously don't need a rigorous understanding of what mathematical error is to, for instance, fail my calculus final today. I can do that just fine without any additional philosophical equipment.
  4. Peikoff is not offering a satisfactory answer to skeptical claims here, mostly because of his absurd misreading of skeptical argumentation. If you look to Descartes, he's not saying that because one person can be in error, all of them can be in error - which is what the example from Peikoff about the crippled guy seems to point at. He's not even saying that because error is possible in one circumstance, it's possible in all circumstances (which is maybe a more charitable reading of Peikoff on this point). Rather, Descartes says: All that I have, up to this moment, accepted as possessed of the highest truth and certainty, I received either from or through the senses. I observed, however, that these sometimes misled us; and it is the part of prudence not to place absolute confidence in that by which we have even once been deceived. (from the first meditation) There's two premises. Your senses sometimes mislead you. You shouldn't trust absolutely that which has deceived you even once. The argument does not rely on generalization to every instance of a species as some kind of logical truth as per Peikoff's reading, but rather on the strength of that second premise. There are definitely strong replies to Descartes on this point (you can just deny one of the premises), but Peikoff's is just silly. And since nobody actually answered the OP's real question: YES. There's a huge literature on possibility and conceivability, going back centuries. Some crucial issues in contemporary philosophy of mind hinge on this question. Here's some places to start if you want to check out some of the lit: Chalmers has an interesting paper: http://consc.net/papers/conceivability.html And here's a reply: http://neologic.net/rd/chalmers/phillips.html Gendler edited a collection of essays entitled "Conceivability and Possibility": http://books.google.com/books?id=fNkA0qN2-...ary_s&cad=0 Frege famously argues for the claim that the impossible is conceivable in "On Sense and Meaning" Just check the works cited in all of these if you want more.
  5. BrassDragon 'Still, it would be nice to have some sort validation for choosing life -- a more absolute reason to say, "life is good" -- rather than just saying, "you either choose life or you don't; if you choose life, ethics proceeds from that point." This makes it seem like the choice is almost arbitrary.' It would be really nice. But Rand doesn't give one. You just have the choice between existence and non-existence - if you choose existence, well, then you've chosen life and Rand continues on from there. If you don't choose existence, you don't need a code of values, because non-existence doesn't require goal directed action to achieve. That's it. If you find this unsatisfying, you're not alone. It's noted in (King, 1984) and (Robbins, 1974). brian0918 'Isn't life supposed to be the ultimate value, the value that is not the means to any other value, but an end in itself? Here you say that life is the means to having any values at all, such as happiness.' This isn't a justification for choosing life though - you don't decide to live and pursue your rational self interest as a means to various OTHER things you happen to value, like happiness, or seeing sunsets, or eating strawberries. "The Objectivist viewpoint... is not that life is a precondition of other values - not that one must remain alive in order to act. This idea is a truism, not a philosophy" (OPAR 213).
  6. cmdownes

    Life and Value

    First, I apologize for the crappy syntax. It was written in haste, I'll rewrite it in the morning. But anyways - I read Rand as thinking that if you do not choose to exist, then you choose not to exist. If you don't make the basic pre-moral decision to value your own life, you wont act to preserve it, and you'll cease to exist. But, if you're right, then it's really unclear how Rand is motivating her claim that a person's life is an end in itself for that person. Because you're right, that revised premise isn't terribly helpful for the proof. The possibility of a genuine third option other than choosing existence or non-existence (just refraining from choice) is going to undermine her argument to the extent that her argument relies on confronting us with something like: You can live or die! Oh, don't want to die? Well then you must want to live. Welcome to egoism. If I can just not choose either of those things, then that lets me have essentially arbitrary values. That fundamental dilemma wont take logical priority on my other decisions and life wont be an end in itself.
  7. cmdownes

    Life and Value

    Hm - this is actually a tricky point that I'm not clear on. Rand says value is what you act to gain or keep - I had interpreted that to mean that "things I value" and "things I act to gain or keep" refer to precisely the same thing. Under your reading, there are things we act to keep that we don't value. But then I think we're getting away from the empirical notion of value that Rand is articulating. That is, we can look at something, watch what it acts to gain, and from that we can infer what it values. Your reading would make that kind of reasoning invalid, because it could always be the case that whatever we see somebody acting to gain isn't *really* something he or she values. I'm genuinely unsure of whether the alternative you're suggesting can capture what Rand is arguing.
  8. cmdownes

    Life and Value

    They don't start from nowhere. The premises of the argument are the ones Rand adduces in her text, and which she argues for elsewhere. I'm assuming their truth and seeing if the conclusions she derives from them follows. It's not rationalistic to say, "Assuming for the moment the truth of A, B and C, does D follow?". I'm not saying, "OMG the fact that value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep IS AN A PRIORI TRUTH WHAT CAN I FIND OUT NOW". I'm just trying to see if Rand's premises validate the conclusion she derives from them. Then it's a jolly good thing I'm not trying to deduce Objectivism from axioms, but rather reconstruct an argument of Ayn Rand's. I'm not spewing quadratic equations at you, I'm trying to do LOGIC. The fact that I write (X) C(X) -> K(X,f(X)) instead of, "For any X, if X chooses to live then X values their own life" is just a different symbolic expression that has precisely the same semantics. It happens to be a convenient one that allows quick and accurate determinations about the validity of arguments.
  9. cmdownes

    Life and Value

    But this isn't algebra or number crunching - this is formal logic. It's another beast entirely. It's the symbolic representation of propositions in natural language. I'm not trying to derive volition from algebra or anything similarly loony, I'm converting English sentences into a symbolic form that let's me determine their consequences and locate contradictions more easily. That's it.
  10. I think this is really the root of the misunderstanding here. When Ayn Rand talks about absolutes, she just means objective truths. That's it. It's no more complicated than that. She's not appealing to a notion of absolute truth that has anything in common with a Platonic or Kantian notion of inaccessible ultimate truths (things in themselves or what have you). Nor is this anything to do with a Hegelian notion of the absolute as the ground of being. Absolutes are just objective truths. Rand isn't even making a substantive claim by using the word "absolute" in this way, let alone conflating anything at all. She just doesn't have a notion of the absolute in the way you seem to be trying to employ it.
  11. cmdownes

    Life and Value

    It is only an ultimate goal, an end in itself, that makes the existence of values possible. Metaphysically, life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself: a value gained and kept by a constant process of action. Epistemologically, the concept of "value" is genetically dependent upon and derived from the antecedent concept of "life." To speak of "value" as apart from "life" is worse than a contradiction in terms. "It is only the concept of 'Life' that makes the concept of 'Value' possible. Why is life the only candidate for an end in itself? Presumably the answer is the claim exemplified by this line from Galt's speech: "There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or nonexistence—and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms." Value is by Rand's definition "that which one acts to gain and/or keep". Rand further claims that non-existence doesn't require action, whereas continued existence does (Anyone have a citation for this? I don't have access to my books, I'm finding these quotes online). It follows (at least, I think Rand says it does) from these premises that we have to choose life to have value. I want to try and outline this rigorously, and see if we can get Rand's conclusions to follow. I'll bracket all my concerns about the truth of Rand's premises and save that for the debate forum. Here's a first stab at reconstructing the argument. V(ab) = a values b K(ab) = a acts to gain or keep b B(a) = a is a volitional being C(a) = a chooses to exist N(a) = a chooses not to exist f(a) = a's life (P1) (x)(y) V(xy) <-> K(xy) (value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep) (P2) (X) C(X) -> K(a,f(a)) (If someone chooses to exist, they value their own life) (P3) (x) B(X) -> C(X) v N(X) (If someone is a volitional being, they either choose to exist or choose not to exist) (P4) (X) ~(C(X) & N(X)) (One can't both choose to exist and choose not to exist) (C1): (x) (Ey) ~ (V(xy) & ~(V(x,f(x) & B(x)) (It cannot be the case that someone is a volitional being, they value something, and they do not value their own life.) Only problem is that I don't think this follows from the premises as I've outlined them. I've been trying to do a proof with this premise set for a while, and I don't think one is possible. So have I gone wrong in translating one of Rand's premises? Do I need an additional premise? The main problem is that it doesn't follow from "X values something" that "X values their life" - at least not with the premises Rand supplies. And we can't just supply it as a premise, because that would amount to assuming our conclusion (namely, that life is an end in itself). Any thoughts?
  12. "So a priori knowledge is deductive reasoning." It's very important - especially in the context of Kant, which the OP is referring to - to keep the differences between the a priori, the analytic, the necessary and the deductive clear. The a priori/a posteriori distinction is an epistemic one. A priori knowledge is knowledge which can be gained independently of experience. A posteriori knowledge is gained through experience. The deductive/inductive distinction is a distinction between types of arguments. A deductive argument is an argument such that neccessarily if the premises are true, then the conclusion is true. An inductive argument is one such that if the premises are true, than the conclusion is unlikely to be false. Deduction and induction refer to the relations between premises in different types of arguments. A concrete example of the difference. Bill can have a posteriori knowledge of the fact that it rained April 6th in Seattle, but have it because of a deductive argument. The argument that gives him this knowledge might look like: P1: It has rained every Sunday in Seattle for the last 10 years. P2: April 6th was a Sunday. C: Therefore, it rained in Seattle on April 6th. That's a deductive argument. If the premises are true, the conclusion is necessarily true. But because Bill's knowledge of the premises relied on experience (He's been looking out his window every Sunday for 10 years, he looked at a calendar, etc), the knowledge that he derives deductively from those premises is a posteriori knowledge. These two should further be distinguished from the analytic/synthetic distinction, which is a semantic distinction between different sorts of propositions.
  13. I agree with neither, though unfortunately the rules of this forum prohibit me from explaining my own (non-Objectivist) views on the matter. Feel free to drop me a line by private message if you're interested in continuing this conversation!
  14. Pirsig thinks that a rock I observe as I walk to class is - like every other inorganic thing - "a pattern of static quality". He also thinks that "value" is a synonym of "quality". That rock, therefore, has value independent of whether I "act to gain or keep" it (the Objectivist notion of value). Under the former view, the rock has value. Under the latter, it does not. It follows that their accounts of value disagree. QED. Look, Pirsig's stuff is fun and he may even have a real insight or two. But no good will come of trying to shoehorn it into Objectivism, which is firmly rooted in the so-called "subject-object metaphysics" that Pirsig complains about. Ayn Rand would probably give Pirsig a tongue-lashing and accuse him of embracing the primacy of consciousness and being a crypto-kantian, mystic, witch-doctor, evader, and all kinds of other unpleasant things. Pirsig would probably think Rand was stuck so far up Aristotle's rear end that she'd never appreciate his grand rethinking of western metaphysics. About all they have in common is a disdain for the academic philosophical community, a disdain that is returned to both in kind.
  15. Pirsig posits that values - quality - exist independently of valuers. That is, some things are intrinsically valuable, not valuable in virtue of their relationship to a rational, volitional being engaged in goal-directed action a la Rand. That's going to be a tough bridge to cross.
  16. How does physicalism fail to take into account the possibility of existents having emergent or relational properties, that is, properties stemming from the "organization" of the physical simples some composite existent is reducible to/supervenes on?
  17. cliphex, Appeal to the law of the excluded middle is begging the question against the dialetheist, whose thesis is precisely that a proposition can be both true and false - that contradictions exist. The liar paradox is used by dialetheists as a consideration to motivate their position, as a purported example of a true contradiction. ctrl y, That's not an adequate answer to the dialethist. First, DavidOdden is right - it really is a sentence of English. Second, the dialethist will argue that the sentence does, in fact, represent the world. Under their view, the proposition that "this sentence is false" really is false - because it is both true and false. Third, saying that utterance of a sentence is affirmation of a representation of the world isn't as uncomplicated as you make it sound. You need to make sense of sentences about fictional beings, like "Howard Roark laughed", as well as lies, sentences which the speaker does not intend to represent the world. Not to say that those things can't be done - folks make a living off these kinds of problems - but you can't just go around making expansive claims about the nature of language without negotiating past these sorts of issues.
  18. You have to define your terms first. The way Objectivists use the term word nature - to mean that which exists - clearly the answer is no. Nothing exists beyond what exists, as David points out. If by supernatural you mean an entity which can't be described by the natural sciences, then the answer is less clear and the debate is more interesting. Most Anglo-American philosophers of science deny the existence of the supernatural, and hold to some kind of materialism or physicalism. There are a few folks in philosphy of mind who hold still maintain that the mind isn't physically constituted - David Chalmers notably. And there are number of metaethicists who think value is a non-natural property of objects/states of affairs/people/whatever. Admittedly, Objectivists are going to want to have nothing to do with most of these folks, but that's where you'll find arguments for and against the supernatural in the broader contemporary philosophical literature. Simple. For any posited entity or property that somebody argues is supernatural, show how it can be accounted for by the natural sciences (at least in principle) or does not exist. The burden of proof is on the person proposing that some entity exists and has a non-natural property, I should think. Alternately, you can argue that the methodology of the natural sciences is superior to methodologies that admit the supernatural into their ontology. This'll probably involve some argument from the exceptional utility of methodological naturalism and all the cool things that science let's us do - like live in cities instead of in caves. Or, you can argue from parsimony and say that methodological naturalism is more likely to be right because it has the fewest ontological commitments. Or, you can try to show that the second definition of nature above makes "supernatural" contradictory in the same way that the first did. But an argument that'll do that will have to show that the methodology of the natural sciences is inclusive of all things which exist, probably requiring you to show one of the above arguments. Those are the lines of argument that spring to mind.
  19. Objectivist positions often have a Parmenidean air to them - existence exists, that which is not, is not, etc - so I'm interested in hearing particularly Objectivist responses to the arguments that initiated western metaphysics. "It is necessary to speak and to think what is; for being is, but nothing is not." -P Rand agrees so far, as I read her. Existence exists, "nothing" is a contradiction in terms. Ok. But from this premise, Parmenides deduces frankly bizarre conclusions. "Either being exists or it does not exist. It has been decided in accordance with necessity to leave the unthinkable, unspeakable path, as this is not the true path, but that the other path exists and is true. How then should being suffer destruction? How come into existence? If it came into existence, it is not being, nor will it be if it ever is to come into existence. . . . So its generation is extinguished, and its destruction is proved incredible." -P Coming into being or being destroyed imply not-being. Since not-being is impossible, coming into being and destruction are likewise impossible. Therefore change of any sort is impossible, because any change whatever must be a kind of coming into being or destruction, even if it's only the coming into being of relational properties of entities or something. It gets even odder from there in. Parmenides concludes that movement is impossible (it'd be a form of change), that there is only one being (for two objects to be distinct there must be something separating them, either "nothingness" or another object. Nothingness doesn't exist - see above - and another object just passes the problem up a level - now there's another object to explain the distinctness of), and that this being is spherical. And thinks. Also, this is all written in Attic Greek and in dactylic hexameter. Like I said, it gets absurd fast. But this is hardly some silly rationalist puzzle that can be handwaved out of existence. Plato and Aristotle both spilled a lot of ink answering the argument. Heidegger's entire philosophical project can be read as a reaction to it. What might Rand have to say?
  20. Sure, I understand, and I'm not trying to push some reading of value that doesn't take into account the fact that I just prefer salmon to french fries on the basis of nothing more than bare taste or my feelings or what have you. But there really do exist cases where even with a full and rich understanding of value, sometimes I can't discern a difference in value. I really have flipped a coin in a restaurant on occasion, because the veal marsala and the salmon both seem equally appetizing. While I was being flippant, your reply seems to basically be the position I caricatured, that I'm just not seeing the difference that's really there. Why should this be the case? What reasons do you have for thinking there are no morally neutral choices, when the evidence of my senses and mind seem to say otherwise? Come on now! The link I provided has Rand showing that there exists at least one choice such that the Objectivist ethics wouldn't be able to tell you which alternative to choose, namely a choice made when under the threat of force.
  21. Perhaps for some extraordinarily straitjacketed notion of "choice". I can think of loads of morally neutral choices. Shall I have the chicken or the steak? Shall I play chess or scrabble this afternoon? Shall I listen to Bach or Sigur Ros in about 10 seconds after finishing this post? In all these cases, I have basically no dominating preference in the matter, and neither choice would seem to do me more harm or bring me greater value. It just doesn't matter. I get the same value regardless of which option of choice. I'd be perfectly happy flipping a coin or using some other arbitrary decision procedure for these decisions. Please. I can apply the same standard or rule and find two options, both of which maximize value. The choice between them would be morally neutral. Unless you're saying I just can't realize the vast impact on my life that choosing the steak over the chicken is going to have. http://www.jeffcomp.com/faq/murder.html is the source for the Rand quote. It's from a radio interview with her.
  22. That's not really a helpful standard. A moral system doesn't need to be able to give you guidance on every choice - there may be morally neutral choices. Heck, Rand loses out on this standard too, as she doesn't think any "...exact, objective morality can be prescribed for an issue where a man's life is endangered." Moral systems need to have a certain degree of generality to be convincing, but failure to give guidance on every conceivable choice isn't that big a deal.
  23. Ayn Rand and many Objectivists seem to have a problem with counterfactual hypothetical statements and questions. This becomes particularly evident in discussions of normative ethics, where Objectivists often dismiss the usefulness of the intuition pumps/thought experiments that are the bread and butter of the field in contemporary philosophy. My question is, what's the reason for this attitude? Is it a semantic issue with counterfactuals, an epistemic heuristic, or something else?
  24. "Come now, listen, and convey my story. I shall tell you what paths of inquiry alone there are for thinking: The one: that it is and it is impossible for it not to be. This is the path of Persuasion, for it accompanies Objective Truth. The other: that it is not and it necessarily must not be. That, I point out to you, is a path wholly unthinkable, for neither could you know what-is-not (for that is impossible), nor could you point it out. ... The same thing is there for thinking of and for being." Whether "nothing" can exist or not is an old, old, question. The quote above is a fragment (well, a pair of fragments) from Parmenides, a pre-socratic philosopher. It's still convincing, a couple millenia later.
  • Create New...