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cmdownes

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Posts posted by cmdownes


  1. Distinguish between inanimate objects and living beings on the basis of the union of 'goal-directed' and 'self-generated' applying to the same actions. The term 'self' is derivative from the entity perspective, so it is epistemological. 'Self-generated' is internal causation as opposed to external causation. Entity-based causation certainly applies inside among the parts of an organism as well as outside between organisms, so this is no violation of causality.

    Values are necessary for living organisms to continue to exist, where 'exist' means remaining an active process as opposed to inertly disintegrating.

    The alternative is located in the relationship between the organism and the environment. A simple organism does only one or a very few actions. Those actions may or may not be suited to the environment it finds itself in, 'suited' meaning they result in obtaining what is necessary for continued existence. The way an organism will necessarily act if it fails to obtain the values it needs is to die. Life and death are equally necessary as far as causation is concerned and yet they are different states, different arrangements of the multiple internal parts of certain entities, or in other words alternatives.

    I think you stated most clearly what some other posters were driving at. Can you expand a bit on the distinction between internal causation and external causation? That is, how do we distinguish empirically between the two, identify processes as products of one or the other? The reason I'm interested in this is that given the way Peikoff articulates the nature of value in OPAR, these questions about life appear epistemically prior to ethical reasoning. Rand's ethics is grounded on some level in a philosophy of biology, in a series of propositions about the nature of life its relationship to agency.


  2. This is an area of confusion regarding Objectivist metaethics that has vexed me for some time. I'm going to refer a bit to OPAR to unpack it a little. Let me preface this by saying that I'm posting this in M&E because I think it is properly a question of metaethics or perhaps the epistemology of value, not a normative ethical question per se.

    My issue is that I don't have a clear understanding of what Rand/Peikoff mean by goal-directed action. The working definition given in the text is "Action toward an object" (209). But on its face, this isn't terribly illuminating. Falling objects seem to act in a way which is directed towards an object (namely the ground). Melting ice acts in accordance with its nature to transition into a liquid, given appropriate conditions. Even stars are born, go through various processes of growth and change, and then collapse into some final state. But presumably these aren't goal directed actions in a Randian sense. I tend to think Peikoff would put the entities I described in the same category as "desks and pebbles," entities that "we do not observe... pursuing goals" (209).

    Why is this important? Because for Rand the term, "value," is defined empirically on the basis of, "the fact of goal-directed action," as, "that which one acts to obtain or keep" (208). Rand writes that value "presupposes an entity capable of generating action towards an object" (209). So the answer to Rand's question of what kind of entity needs values - and what those values are for - is at least partially dependent on unpacking what we might call Rand's account of agency. Rand/Peikoff maintain that only living organisms are "capable of self-generated, goal directed action - because they are the conditional entities, which face the alternative of life or death". Importantly, Rand is not talking here about what she argues is the exclusively human property of volition. "Goal directed behavior is possible only because an entity's action, its pursuit of a certain end, can make a difference to the outcome. 'Alternative' does not imply choice; it means that the entity is confronted by two possible results: either it acts successfully, gaining the object it seeks, or it does not (and thus fails to gain the object)" (208). This confuses me more than it clarifies the issue. I don't understand how a non-volitional organism is ever confronted by two possible results. Like all entities in the Objectivist metaphysics, it can only act in accordance with its nature. For non-volitional entities, this means that it necessarily acts in a particular way given a particular set of circumstances. Where is the alternative? What does Peikoff mean by saying that there is an alternative without choice?

    For instance, let us say that I leave some algae in a petri dish with bright lights and some food. Overnight, the algae consumes the food and the number of organisms doubles. At least intuitively, this seems like it should be a decent example of goal-directed action. But what's the alternative confronted by the algae? They certainly can't choose not to consume the food. The alternative seems to just be the truth of the counterfactual hypothetical sounding something like: Well, if it had failed to eat the food, it wouldn't have doubled in number. But the algae could only have not consumed the food and doubled in number if its nature were different than it is. It seems unlikely that what Peikoff means by possessing an alternative, however, is that an entities nature could be other than it is.

    Without a clear notion of goal-directed action, we can't identify what kinds of entities need values and what those values are for. The upshot of the issue I'm outlining is that from an Objectivist perspective (1) I can't figure out a rigorous way to distinguish between inanimate objects and living beings in terms of the goal-directedness of their actions, which threatens to make the category of entities which possess values over-inclusive, and (2) I can't understand the criterion put forward by Peikoff to answer this concern in a way which does not contradict the Objectivist account of causation. I'd be interested in hearing clarifications from y'all.


  3. Let us provide som further context for the bizarre suggestion that Kant was in any relevant sense "pro-happiness". Because, in fact, when Kant says that it is our duty to pursue happiness, then that is actually, within the larger context, proof of how depraved Kant's moral philosophy is. After all, what he is saying is that if you do not pursue your happiness INDIRECTLY, then you will not be eager to do your duty. Why would one not be eager to do one's duty? Because it is in conflict with one's happiness.

    I certainly don't disagree with the point that the Kantian duty to see to one's happiness is mediated by one's obligation to do their duty as such. But Nicko was saying that a Kantian isn't permitted to do anything that benefits themselves. This isn't what the text bears out.

    The only way you can be sure you are acting from duty is through your own suffering.

    But Kant doesn't think that if you are suffering, then you are doing your duty. He's making the epistemic point that we can't determine the moral worth of actions that comport with duty and with our inclinations. This is not a normative obligation to make oneself suffer.

    And I know that everybody, who are honest, and who spend some time to study Kant, in original, will come to the same conclusion.

    I have a lot of respect for you if you've studied Kant in the German. I'm told it's very difficult going.

    On the other hand - if you meant to impugn my intellectual honesty, I prefer that you do it directly.


  4. Nicko0301

    "I don't see the distinction."

    Really? BogG's reading ("You receive no benefit at all from doing your duty. This includes even a feeling of satisfaction or fulfillment. You will feel nothing.") entails that no action of a moral agent which is required by duty can be beneficial to that agent. But Kant isn't saying that doing your duty can't benefit you. In fact, in the Groundwork he explicitly mentions a case where one could act in a way that benefits oneself and be moral: a shopkeeper who offers inexperienced customers the same prices as experienced customers has two possible motivations - he may be acting out of duty to his fellow man or he may be worried about losing customers if he takes advantage of their ignorance. If the shopkeeper is fully motivated by his duty to his fellow man, then his actions express moral worth, regardless of the fact that he accrues some benefit by his actions.

    "Kant is still attacking the notion of self-interest."

    I'm making a point about the content of what Kant is saying, not about the truth of what Kant is saying. That Objectivists will disagree with Kant's view regardless of whether one accepts my reading or BobG's isn't really relevant.

    "I mean, can you imagine living a life wherein you did absolutely nothing for yourself?"

    Kant doesn't argue for this. It is entirely permissible in a Kantian framework to do things that are in your own interest. In fact, Kant writes in the Groundwork that "To secure one’s own happiness is a duty". It's just that such acts usually aren't expressions of moral worth because they generally aren't undertaken out of duty. That doesn't mean they're forbidden. Kant even writes that "we should praise and encourage" actions that comport with duty but which are undertaken for selfish reasons.

    BobG

    "If your purpose is to understand Kant a mainstream history does not necessarily give you an accurate view. Dr. Peikoff does give you an unadultrated view as close to Kant as is possible."

    If your purpose is to understand Kant as opposed to strawmanning him, the work of somebody who basically considers Kant a proto-Nazi is not the best place to begin. Even if Peikoff were somehow right about Kant, it would be better to begin with a more charitable reading. That's just a principle of good philosophical scholarship.

    "If I was talking about actions performed from your own motivation you would be right. Since I was referring to Kant's view of ethical actions you have misread my statement."

    I'm not quite sure I understand your counterclaim here.

    "Yet, I am quite sure that Kant explicitly said that a moral action should elicit no emotion in the actor."

    Kant does not say this. Kant says that to the extent that one acts on the basis of desires and preferences rather than out of respect for duty, one's actions are not expressions of moral worth. (http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/pdf/kantgw.pdf p10) You can have emotions, it's even permissible to act on the basis of them so long as you are also acting in accordance with duty. It's just that to the extent you act on the basis of those emotions, your actions don't have moral worth.

    "A moral action would be performed solely because it is moral and have no consequence for the actor."

    The first half of this sentence is true, that actions which express moral worth are those actions performed solely because of duty. But the not having any consequence stuff isn't in the Groundwork. Kant flatly doesn't care about the consequences of actions, and he repeats over and over again the Groundwork that they are irrelevant to determinations of the moral worth expressed by actions. What Kant cares about is the reasons for action.


  5. A history of philosophy will also give you some context. Dr. Leonard Peikoff's tape series will do an excellent job. Start with Descartes to see what Kant started with.

    I'd suggest using a text somewhat closer to the philosophical mainstream as an introduction to the history of philosophy.

    To understand Kant's ethics the book I think you have to read is Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. It discusses the categorical imparative and duty. Freedom for Kant is that your moral choice is not tied to the object or the physical world. It is also cut off from yourself. You receive no benefit at all from doing your duty. This includes even a feeling of satisfaction or fulfillment. You will feel nothing.

    You cite the right text to go to, but you grossly misread it. Kant doesn't thnk that "you receive no benefit at all from doing your duty" but rather that actions that you perform motivated by your own benefit don't express a good will or moral worth.


  6. The thing we observe is the entity that gives rise to our experience of it. There is no "thing-in-itself" as Kant used that terminology. There are entities, and we observe them with our senses. He gave no facts to back up his claim that there was something else there, and he wasn't referring to, say, wider frequencies that we cannot observe directly. If you believe Kant was right about this, then you are illogical and irrational because you have no evidence for something other than the way we perceive or observe it.

    I'm not going to argue that Kant was right, but you're being overly hasty in assuming that Kant assigns an ontological status to things in themselves. It's not like he's pointing to some set of purportedly noumenal entities and then telling us a fantastic story about them. Kant's point is that our perceptions and lived experience are pre-structured by a priori intuitions. To say that we never perceive a thing in itself is merely to say that we can't perceive things except in relation to our intuitions about space and time etc, the pre-structure of our consciousness. It's an entirely plausible reading of the Critique to say that when talk about things in themselves, we are employing a methodological abstraction of the object away from the epistemological conditions through which we come to know them (the pre-structure). This doesn't commit Kant to thinking that there are magical, unobservable entities hiding behind appearances. Henry Allison pursues this reading of Kant in "Kant's Transcendental Idealism" - which, to speak to the OP's topic, is a very comprehensive analysis of the first critique, albeit from a sympathetic perspective.


  7. A true materialist doesn't believe that consciousness even exists (#1), that it is a product of material functioning (#2) and has no existence.

    That's two separate claims. Eliminative materialists might agree with #1, but are a distinct minority of materialists. Materialists broadly taken will agree with #2, but I don't understand how believing that consciousness is the product of material processes makes one "anti-consciousness". A sentence like: "This awareness, while made possible by our means of awareness (which are material) is not itself something that is material. Consciousness is not a thing but rather more like an ability -- the ability to be aware," is something a lot of materialists could get behind - note that you haven't actually proposed the existence of a non-material thing as such. Consciousness doesn't have to be a material thing for a materialist to talk about it coherently. An abstraction from the dispositional and relational properties of material things will do just fine.


  8. Would I be able to buy my fishing and hunting rights, or build my railroad on unowned land or land I purchased from whoever owned it, or would I get tied to a pole, scalped and killed?

    I submit that it's the latter, and faced with that, I would have the right to do whatever it takes to establish a society which allows me to do all that. Indians were nowhere near peaceful: not with each other and certainly not with European settlers.

    And I submit that your claim is unsubstantiated eurocentric nonsense. Want to trade more warrantless claims?


  9. Even if certain indigenous groups didn't have strong conceptions of land ownership, they definitely had an idea of joint, tribal ownership of hunting, fishing and rights in particular areas. Certain tribes even distributed these kinds of rights internally, so a certain family group would own exclusive rights to particular hunting grounds. Land itself may not have been carved up and owned privately by indigenous North American groups, but other kinds of rights to natural resources definitely were. And those rights were substantially infringed upon by the appearance of white settlers and their government backed claims of land ownership.

    The apologist claim that "the count" of the indigenous population was quite low actually feeds this argument. Clearly each indigenous inhabitant of North America didn't own hundreds of thousands of acres of land The low population meant that land simpliciter wasn't a scarce resource and explains WHY indigenous groups didn't have strong conceptions of land ownership. They didn't need them. But other resources - like animal populations and fishing areas - were scarce, and frequently property rights regimes were developed and enforced. These regimes were pretty much uniformly destroyed by European settlers.


  10. So, can you offer better the circular see/touch and made off criteria or the useless "self evident primary"?

    I'll give you the last word with regards to our discussion.

    I'm wary of making positive claims about the nature of objects, on account of them probably not comporting with Objectivism. The mods get unhappy with that.


  11. I think I'm quite finished here. These eight absurd implications of your view:

    1. Proper nouns and definite descriptions never refer to actual entities unless those entities are objects of perception at the time of utterance.

    2. The dots left on my eyes by staring at the sun are entities in a metaphysically strong sense.

    3. There does not exist an entity such that it has parts.

    4. Objects are incapable of changing shape.

    5. Things don't have color, duration, mass, motion or texture when we look away from them. But they have shapes.

    6. Shape is an objective property. All other properties are irreducibly subjective.

    7. Entities have no properties other than shape.

    8. Vast amounts of our everyday discourse are wholly meaningless.

    ...are in themselves sufficient reason to discard your epistemology. I don't think we'll get any closer to agreement by continuing to hammer back and forth.


  12. You need to distinguish between the concept of a keyboard, something this long, this color, this shape, etc. and *this* keyboard on my desk. When you simply utter "the keyboard on altonhare's desk", unless you perceive it, you're not referring to *this* keyboard on my desk.

    Stunning. So when I say "The current president of the United States", it doesn't actually refer to Barack Obama unless I'm in his physical presence. You can add this to the list of objections to your epistemology - it totally disconnects the referents of concepts from reality.

    Since 2 and 3 contradict 1, we must discard 1. It is not possible to doubt if a particular object exists since I am perceiving it.

    Thank you for the substantive answer. One man's modus ponens is another man's modus tollens, I guess. The question is which set of premises we should give up. You can refer to the discussion of illusions I had with Grames (and if you're reading this, I promise I'll return to our discussion after this business with altonhare winds down. I just can't keep up this volume of posts with my schedule right now). It seems manifestly true that we can doubt the existence of objects we perceive, for instance the illusory lake on the horizon in the desert. Your reply will probably be something like: since it has shape it's an object, I just happen to be misidentifying it conceptually as a lake instead of something else. But this just shows how wrongheaded this reduction of objecthood to shape is. If I close my eyes, I see shapes. Clearly defined shapes against my field of vision. But to say that I am perceiving existents/objects when I do is an absurdity. At best I'm perceiving objects whose existence I doubt. So simply perceiving a shape cannot be tantamount to directly perceiving an object's existence. Given that, we should endorse (1) and reject either (2) or (3).

    First of all, color is an awful counterexample. Color is a dynamic concept, it requires motion to observe and conceptualize color. Since no object IS what it DOES, we immediately discard all dynamic attributes as primitive, intrinsic characteristics common to all objects.

    I don't see any reason to reject all dispositional properties as necessarily not common to all objects. "No object IS what it DOES" - that's a slogan, not an argument. Regardless, what an objects DOES is completely dependent on what it IS. Like Rand says, things act in accordance with their natures. Even if I only come to know some fact about an object's nature via the manifestation of dispositional properties, that doesn't somehow make that fact illegitimately derived.

    Admittedly, duration is the better counterexample. Which is probably why you don't address it.

    How is there color without a consciousness to name something yellow and another thing blue? How is there color without a consciousness to conceptualize "color"? Certainly you don't propose that one atom identifies another as blue.

    Of course I don't. But objects reflect light in different ways, and this is an objective feature of the world. This is the property which undergirds our phenomenal experience of color. The fact that we identify certain ranges of this difference with measurements and terminology doesn't mean that somehow color is all in our heads.

    Shape does not require a consious observer.

    CERTAINLY YOU DON'T PROPOSE THAT ONE SHAPE IDENTIFIES ANOTHER AS TRIANGULAR! I really just don't see how you're distinguishing between shape and other properties in a meaningful way.

    Shape, in the primitive sense, has nothing to do with conscious identification or comparison. Objects have shape whether you're looking or not, even if all humans (or life for that matter) die off. With no life, no consciousness, there is no "color" or "rough". There are only shapes at locations.

    Existents would have properties - even properties other than shape - in the absence of human interaction with them. Without humans to measure mass, massive objects would still attract other objects through gravitation. Without humans to measure heat, stars would still incinerate anything that fell into them. And if a tree falls in the forest, but nobody is around to hear it, it still makes a sound. You're committing a deep error, that of thinking that our descriptions and conceptualizations of properties are somehow totally disconnected from reality. Admittedly, they are abstractions from reality. That this apple is red isn't some objective feature of the universe per se. But it does MAP ONTO objective features of the universe (in this case the particular way in which the object reflects light) which we identify via reason, which our conceptual faculties allow us to grasp and articulate. And shape is exactly the same.

    What I'm not getting from you is an argument for the special status of shape. You just keep asserting that it doesn't require conscious identification and every other property does.

    The distinction is not artificial in the least... Do you really propose everday, casual speech as the standard by which we should decide the matters we are debating? If it leads to an absurdity in everyday speech, no good, not allowed?

    There should be a presumption in favor of the notion that people say meaningful, intelligible things most of the time. After all, communication happens. Obviously our ordinary ways of speaking about things can be flawed, but to show this you need to provide, you know, arguments. Honestly, looking back at our discussion, in every single dispute we're having you justify position via your fetishization of shape. The special metaphysical/epistemic status of shape is at the basis of your claims about groups, your account of the distinction between concepts and objects, and your description of perception.

    boundary, as a synonym of shape, has nothing to do with an interface between two objects. With shape, there is no comparison taking place. Certainly an object doesn't spring into being when another object comes along.

    In order for something to be demarcated with a boundary, there must exist something that it is demarcated from or against. If the universe consisted of just a single shape, it would be without boundaries.

    (1) Either there is something outside of a bounded space/shape x, or there is nothing outside of a bounded shape x.

    (2) "There is no nothing."

    (3) There is some object y outside of any bounded shape x. (by 1 & 2)

    (4) Assumption: Object y is bounded shape x.

    (5) Bounded shape x is outside of bounded shape x. (an absurdity which follows from 4 & 1 and falsifies assumption (4))

    (6) Object y is not bounded shape x. (5 & 4)

    Therefore if there exists one object, there must exist at least one other object.

    You're saying an object has no shape, no extent, unless we're looking at it!? Does my infamous keyboard disintegrate when I leave then reform when I come back?

    I said objects aren't identified as extended in space without a consciousness to do so because identification is by definition a conscious act. I'm not saying that an object has no shape when you're not looking at it - I'm saying that objects have color, tastes, textures etc even when we're NOT sensing them. YOU'RE the one who thinks that objects lose practically all of their properties when they aren't being perceived. Though I suppose that it's more accurate to say you don't think they have any of those properties even when they are being perceived, since those properties belong to concepts and not objects.

    Whether you name the object before you with the same name that you used before is irrelevant.

    It's not about the name. It's about it being the SAME OBJECT - despite the change in shape.


  13. You tell me there is something round and hard in my front yard at home you call X... I did not know what it was, because I had not yet perceived it.

    Trust me, I get it. I understand your claim. But you aren't responding to my counter-argument, that there is a class of unique, particular objects - those identified via definite descriptions like "the keyboard on altonhare's desk" - which can't be captured by your account. If I go to your desk and see your keyboard, I've verified the existence of "the keyboard on altonhare's desk". Usually your answer is, no, you just had some set of properties that you threw together and found an object that resembles them, you didn't identify some particular object. But this object's particularity IS one of the properties it has by definition. If I find a single keyboard on your desk, then I've verified it's existence and it is "the keyboard on altonhare's desk", not something resembling a mental object I've been carting around.

    It does change. Determination is different than observation. Very different. I observe that which exists. I do not determine that what I am observing exists.

    Just answer the argument as amended.

    This is wrong, I admit. I didn't think this through enough, what I should have said is that whatever I conceptualize or observe is, of course, something particular. So X is always something particular. However X is either something I observe or something I conceptualize. I don't verify whether each of these exists. One I am conceptualizing already and the other I am observing already.

    OK, so you admit that there can be particular things which are not the objects of observation or conceptualization, yes?

    Objects move. What's the big deal?

    "My senses tell me that the object on the table has nothing in common with the object I put into the fire, but my reason tells me that it's the same one. Because I changed all my percepts of the object, but maintained my awareness of the same object's existence, I must not grasp the object's existence as a perceptual determination, but rather as a rational determination justified by percepts."

    Your theory about what's happening is totally non-responsive to this argument.

    I still disagree with (2). I observe objects that exist. I do not grasp, determine, conceptualize, etc. their existence.

    Uncertainty argument. v.1.2

    (1) It is possible to doubt whether or not an object exists.

    (2) One comes to know that an object exists directly via perception.

    (3) It is impossible to doubt that which one comes to know directly via perception.

    (4) It is impossible to doubt whether or not an object exists. (2&3, contradicts 1)

    The terminology here is really unimportant. I'm trying to find an expression that matches your notion that the observation of an object's existence isn't a rational or intellectual process. I invite you to respond to the content of the argument.

    Any definition besides "shape" for entity qua entity cannot be used consistently. An object has shape all on its own. Other properties such as color, sharpness, roundness, roughness, etc. require the comparison/conceptualization of a conscious observer. An object in the primary sense just has shape, it is intrinsic.

    That seems both arbitrary and plainly false. I might as well pick any other random property, say color or duration, and assert that it is REALLY what is primary about entities. How does color require the conceptualization of a conscious observer in a way which shape does not?

    I am not saying that an entity such as a music box is not made of entities.

    Now you're just flagrantly contradicting yourself. You said before that an entity qua entity doesn't have parts. Earlier in discussion you said: "Groups of entities" do not consist of entities. I have no idea at this point what you're arguing for. And in the rest of this paragraph you answer my argument about the equivocations you generate in natural language by saying that you're distinguishing between different senses of the same word. But that's the problem. The distinction you're arguing for (or at least your articulation of it) creates an artificial distinction between objects qua things which have shapes and objects qua things which have all the other properties we care about which generates absurdities like my inability to kick pieces of furniture (since being a piece of furniture is a property of concepts and not entities).

    It identifies the most primitive, intrinsic quality common to all objects.

    That's just question begging.

    It makes the word "object" unambiguous.

    As noted earlier, it actually makes everyday speech ridden with ambiguities and equivocations.

    It prevents absurdity like asserting that the Eiffel Tower and my left toe are 'a' object.

    Only by taking the nuclear option of saying that NO groups of objects are objects. Under your account "eiffel tower + my toe" is no more absurd than "table leg + table top".

    The shape criterion It is free of observers, other objects and "proof". Whether an object is big, heavy, red, soft, smooth, rough, etc. is a matter of a person's perception and comparison.

    How are mass and the frequencies of light reflected by objects somehow less objective features of the universe than shape? These aren't things that require differences or human perceivers, and they are the physical characteristics of the universe that underlie color and heaviness.

    Shape, on the other hand, an object has shape even if it is the only object in the universe.

    The hell it does. Things have shape because they have edges, boundaries. If there were only one object in the universe, there wouldn't be any boundaries between objects and hence, no shapes.

    You say that "An object is not identified as rough unless there is another object to compare it to that is not rough." But objects aren't identified as extended in space unless there's some consciousness to do the identifying. All of the qualities you discuss are equally dependent for their identification on the existence of a conscious mind. Shape isn't somehow special in this way. But they all also refer to objective features of the world around us. Objects REALLY ARE colored, rough etc. Now, they are are colored and rough with respect to human standards of these things, but that doesn't mean that these terms aren't referring to underlying objective physical properties - like frequencies of reflected light in the instance of color.

    What I am presenting is not as bizarre as it sounds.

    No, it's substantially wierder than it sounds.


  14. I'm making the distinction between verifying the existence of a particular thing and simply observing that which happens to share conceptual characteristics with things you have already observed.

    OK, this wasn't a distinction I understood you to be making in earlier posts. Looking back now, I understand. But remember how this all got started: "Science will never answer whether an object such that it is the sum of the Queen of England, the Washington Monument and the quarter in my pocket exists. It's an issue of conceptual analysis". And then you say: "[That's because] it is fallacious to attempt to verify whether this or that entity exists". The problem is that the object I describe in the original passage isn't ostentively identified like *this keyboard* or *that elephant" with lots of pointing and whatnot. Instead I give a definite description of the particular object identifying its salient properties, like "the queen of england", "the keyboard such that it sits on altonhare's desk" or "the man with a glass eye who lives on 42nd St". You're basically just saying that I can't point at something and deny that it exists at the same time - fine. But how is the at all responsive to cases like the ones I've given here? Why can't I verify whether or not "the keyboard that sits on altonhare's desk" exists or not?

    First off, I don't really understand the distinction you're trying to draw between us. I take in direct percepts that define my ontology and then draw deductions/conclusions from that. You construct your ontology from percepts. So we both build our ontologies from percepts.

    You seem to think that our ontology is something pre-rational, that we grasp immediately via perception. I think that our reason uses percepts as data with which to construct an ontology. You don't think that constructing an ontology is a rational process and I do. I don't understand your confusion.

    Second off, I agree that existence is not a perceptual determination. I've been pounding on that, in fact. I observe that which exists. I don't determine, verify, etc. if *this* thing exists. I observe it.

    Fine, whatever. I was trying to use terminology you'd find acceptable. Just replace every instance of "perceptual determination" in my arguments with "perceptual observation". This doesn't change the actual force of the arguments in the least.

    That's my whole argument against people talking about verifying whether X exists. If they have not observed X then X is not something particular and since everything that exists is something particular, they are not verifying whether X exists.

    (1) "If they have not observed X then X is not something particular"

    (2) "everything that exists is something particular"

    (3) If something hasn't been observed, it doesn't exist. (follows from 2&1)

    Unless you're willing to endorse something like Berkeley's immaterialism you need to take a step back. You literally just endorsed the notion that if I don't observe something, it doesn't exist. And (1) is just plainly false as the example of definite descriptions shows - "the keyboard such that it sits on altonhare's desk" is a particular object, even if I never see it.

    And you don't ever speak to the wax argument, btw.

    2 is absolutely not my claim. Entities exist whether we perceive them or not. I observe that which exists doesn't mean that which I don't observe doesn't exist.

    First of all, you basically just implicitly endorsed before that what you don't observe doesn't exist. I don't get why you're hesitating now. And second, don't be intentionally dense. Here's the slightly edited version of the argument:

    Uncertainty argument.

    (1) It is possible to doubt whether or not an object exists.

    (2) One grasps the existence of an object directly via perception.

    (3) It is impossible to doubt a perception.

    (4) It is impossible to doubt whether or not an object exists. (2&3, contradicts 1)

    Now the intended, epistemic reading of (2) should be plain.

    Your first statement is misconceived. You are misusing the word "consist". 'A' group is a concept, a mental construct, and cannot be said to "consist" of anything...

    Aight. Ditch (1). Now nothing exists which has parts. I hope you're happy. This is a perfectly acceptable position in mereology referred to as mereological nihilism. Of course, combined with your notion that the only entities are those directly grasped by perception, you put us in the remarkably awkward position of saying that all of the objects we interact with on a daily basis don't have parts. See below.

    The problem here is the way you're using the word "object" or synonymously "entity"... In the primary sense "entity" encompasses a single distinguishing characteristic, shape.

    But you don't justify or provide an argument for ANY of this! Why should I make this bizarre distinction between the table qua entity, which doesn't have parts, and the table qua furniture which does? What philosophical work does this do or what explanatory power does it have? You wriggle out of the argument by making your notion of "entity" so epistemically thin that all it consists of is the direct perception of shape. This has all kinds of peculiar implications. For instance, per you, we never see pieces of furniture, swarms or bags because those are all CONCEPTS and not ENTITIES, and don't perceive concepts. You say in a different post that "You can kick the entity, the man or the bee or the dog" - but you can't even kick the dog, just the entity, the shape which you have associated conceptually to a bunch of dog-like attributes. And I can't even say that I see entities with properties other than shape, if shape is the only content entities qua entities have. If I say "I see something sharp", I can't be referring to an entity. After all, entities just have shape, not properties like sharpness. But I can't see concepts. So I can't ever see anything sharp. Given the outlandish implications of your distinction, why should it be preferred over the common sense notion that there are a bunch of objects out there in the universe, some of which have parts which can in turn be objects? Your reply to the music box business perfectly exemplifies what I'm driving at here.

    This is an equivocation between music box the object and music box the concept.

    The fact that your distinction generates equivocations like this in everyday speech, that is, that I can't speak univocally about the thing I perceive and the thing which has parts, is a prima facie reason to reject it.


  15. The solid and the liquid are in a sense different objects, which is why we refer to one as solid and one as liquid. The difference is plain, as is the similarity. The stuff that was solid was turned to liquid by melting it. The persistence of the stuff is the similarity, or underlying unity. That persistence was perceived, not reasoned. In this example, if one stood by and witnessed the entire process of melting then even that causation was perceptually determined. There is no need for, and no room here for rationality to determine anything, or do anything at all.

    I don't think you're grappling with the main thrust of the argument, which is that if we change all of the perceptual qualities and still know it's the same object, that knowledge can't be a perceptual determination. Take a more radical example, boiling water. We know the water and the steam produced by boiling are the same material, but this isn't something we become aware of automatically. We need to reason about it.

    No, that is an incomplete description of what is happening...Perception is not fallible because it isn't rational, it isn't volitional, it is automatic.

    I still don't understand. I'm not arguing here that our perceptions are fallible or whatever, just that I can doubt the veridicality of something's existence - not my perceptions in general - which you seem to agree with albeit in a limited way. Really, it seems like you're denying (2): "Whether or not an object exists is a perceptual determination," insofar you talk about doubting the existence of a pool of water on the horizon as a rational determination. Which is what I'm trying to motivate with this argument.

    Whatever the material neurological analog of a concept might be in the brain(2), it is not identical with the epistemological use to which a concept is put (4) which often refer to entities outside the brain. Or perhaps the equivocation is the phrase "exists in the mind". Concepts exist in the mind but they 'consist' of referents (often entities) which usually do not.

    I mean, if Altonhare wants to adopt the position that concepts refer to things outside the brain which are entities, have parts etc etc, then that's fine. The problem is that denies all this. So under his views, the reading you give (4) - an epistemic one that refers to the referent of the concept in question - is impossible. I'll grant that under your reading this argument is no good, because your reading tacitly acknowledges the conclusion that there really are groups of things in the world.


  16. No, the object's existence was a perceptual determination at every step. It is the object's identity as a solid and the object's identity as a liquid being causally related by time and heat that is rationally determined. Consciousness is identification.

    But to talk about THE object's existence, to grasp that underlying unity, is a rational determination. If existence were purely perceptually determined, then we would instead interpret the liquid and the solid different objects at time t and time t+1 which are causally linked.

    Man's perceptions are finite. He does not perceive everything, it is only possible to doubt the existence of objects that are not perceived. (1) and (2) do not apply to the same object at the same time. Of course you could insist on doubting the existence of an object that is in front of you, but that would merely demonstrate volition.

    Volition doesn't undermine the argument in any way I can see. I don't understand. Also, it is most certainly possible to doubt the existence of things I perceive - I doubt the existence of the pool of water I see on the horizon on hot, sunny days.

    Crudely equivocates the referent of the concept of "concept" with the referent of a different concept.

    Since the only premises which employ the term "concept" are :

    (2) Concepts exist in the mind; and,

    (4) Concepts cannot consist of entities,

    The equivocation has to take place here.

    Explain how I'm equivocating on "concept" between (2) and (4), and why both aren't true of one or the other senses of "concept" you think I'm employing.

    Again, crudely equivocates the referent of the concept of "conceptual grouping" with the referent of a different concept.

    (2) Sums of parts are conceptual groupings.

    (3) Conceptual groupings exist in the mind.

    Same for this.

    This is not a contradiction.

    Of course it isn't. But altonhare denies (4), and (4) follows from 1-3.

    Thanks Plasmatic, that's the most direct treatment of this issue I've ever seen in Rand's corpus. What's the source?


  17. It's not a matter of "following". It's a simple matter of logic.

    "I will verify whether X exists"

    Since X is a specific entity, i.e. *this* keyboard, it makes no sense to say I will "verify" its existence. It's this keyboard. I don't see how this can be debated with Oists, since existence is the first axiom, and Ayn Rand makes it clear that we don't "verify" or "prove" the axioms.

    The form of one of these existential claims is more: "I will verify whether there exists an X such that it has such and such properties." When I ask, "does my keyboard exist?", that's what I'm asking: Does there exist an object such that it is a keyboard and it belongs to me? This is an important semantic distinction between your reading of existential claims and mine, I think. To verify the existence of the object I go out, look for an object that satisfies those criteria, then pat myself on the back. Note that this is not trying to prove "existence exists". There is a distinction between the fact of existence as such and the existence of individual existents which you don't appear to be making.

    Maybe I imagine something in my head, and think (for whatever reason, insanity, delusion, religion, prior experience with something similar to it) that something like it exists. One day I stumble upon something that resembles what I imagined. Did I "verify" that the entity *in my head* exists? The entity in my mind is mental, it doesn't exist, it lacks location. I cannot "verify" if it exists because it doesn't exist by definition. I didn't "verify" whether the entity I stumbled upon existed either, I just observed it. Nobody has ever verified an entity's existence, we just discover entities that exist.

    Well, you're right - we don't carry around objects in our heads. So I'm not comparing two distinct objects and fallaciously identifying like in your example. Rather, I carry around the criteria for applying a predicate, and when I observe an entity that satisfies the criteria for the predicate, I've verified the existential claim that there exists an X such that (whatever the predicate specifies).

    When you point to blood and name it, without identifying any other parts, you are treating it as a single independent entity not comprised of parts. As soon as you point to cells and define "blood" as "group of these entities" then "blood" is referring to a conceptual grouping.

    My claim is that we use reason to construct our ontologies from percepts. Yours seems to be that our ontologies are direct, perceptual determinations on top of which we build an apparatus of hierarchical conceptual groupings via reason. I have three objections.

    I. Existence is not a perceptual determination.

    Wax argument (paraphrasing Descartes)

    Take a piece of wax. Melt it. It changes in color, shape, extension, smell, texture temperature, etc. But I know that it's the same piece of wax. My senses tell me that the object on the table has nothing in common with the object I put into the fire, but my reason tells me that it's the same one. Because I changed all my percepts of the object, but maintained my awareness of the same object's existence, I must not grasp the object's existence as a perceptual determination, but rather as a rational determination justified by percepts.

    Uncertainty argument.

    (1) It is possible to doubt whether or not an object exists.

    (2) Whether or not an object exists is a perceptual determination.

    (3) It is impossible to doubt a perceptual determination.

    (4) It is impossible to doubt whether or not an object exists. (2&3, contradicts 1)

    You have to reject one of the premises. (1) is obviously true, so that means either we reject your claim (2), or the veridicality of our perceptions, something Rand refused to give up.

    II. Groups of entities are not concepts.

    (1) Groups of entities consist of entities.

    (2) Concepts exist in the mind.

    (3) That which exists in the mind cannot consist of entities.

    (4) Concepts cannot consist of entities. (2&3)

    (5) Groups of entities cannot be concepts. (4&1)

    III. Some objects are reducible to their parts.

    (1) There exist entities that are nothing more than the sum of their parts.

    (2) Sums of parts are conceptual groupings.

    (3) Conceptual groupings exist in the mind.

    (4) Sums of parts exist in the mind. (2&3)

    (5) There exist objects which exist in the mind. (4&1)

    Again, you have to reject a premise, since you explicitly deny (5). (1) is just manifestly obvious (see below), while 2 and 3 are your claims.

    lol, of course, no object IS two objects, much less the "sum" of two objects (whatever that means). That would be a contradiction. An object is an object is an object. "The sum of" objects is a conceptual grouping of objects.

    Why is this contradictory? There are objects which have parts, which can in turn be objects.

    (1) A music box is an object.

    (2) Gears are objects

    (3) A music box is composed of gears.

    (4) An object is composed of objects.

    I don't understand how you can deny (4) with a straight face. It forces you to deny one of the trivially true claims in 1-3. Such an implausible position really requires some actual argument - because despite complaining about my apparantly unjustified skepticism, you haven't actually provided a single warrant for your epistemology. You've just asserted its truth.


  18. I wasn't trying to refer just to the symbolism, but like higher mathematics, the symbolism shows that it is a special science. Neither mathematics nor mereology are aspects of philosophy. Just because you are using logic, that doesn't make it an aspect of philosophy. Besides, logic is non-contradictory identification of the facts of existence as given by observation. In order to validate any of those claims of mereology, you would have to observe what the relationship of the parts to the whole are. "Logic" apart from confirming it with observation is rationalism, not rationality. And I think the example given of one's left toe nail and the top of the Eiffel Tower is pretty well evident that it is rationalism.You can't just go around arbitrarily clumping things together and say it is now a whole of which the things clumped in together are its parts.

    How is mereology neccessarily logic without observation? "Mereology" is part of the class of terms that includes "ethics" or "metaphysics". It's an area of inquiry with different approaches, some "rationalist" in your sense of the word, some more empirically oriented. To say "you can't go around arbitrarily clumping things" shows that unrestricted composition is false, not that mereology is rationalist.

    Also, warrant the argument. Why does having a symbolism show that it is a special science? This is an unsupplied premise of your argument that you haven't justified. Taking time and effort to understand or having a technical language doesn't neccessarily mean that its subject matter isn't philosophy.


  19. Science will not answer this question because it is fallacious to attempt to verify whether this or that entity exists. An entity exists independent of your belief or attempt at verification.

    Huh? Objects exist independently of belief THEREFORE one cannot verify whether or not an entity exists? That doesn't follow in the least. I don't see how you get total epistemic agnosticism about the existence of objects on the basis there being an objective reality.

    Additionally groups, groupings, and group hierarchies are conceptual, and concepts are not objects. Each object is an object, you might point to each one, but the association you have between them is entirely conceptual. A grouping or listing of objects is not an object (except trivially insofar as the symbols on the page which refer to those objects and the page itself are, themselves, objects).

    This just seems pigheadedly silly. I can point to a swarm of bees and say "swarm". Oh look, an entity, an object. But the swarm is composed of parts, namely individual bees. Lots of objects are like this - in fact, almost every object you interact with on a day to day basis from pizza to particle accelerators. The objective existence of an object isn't impugned by saying that it is composed of parts. Your argument seems to be that somehow bees "really" exist but swarms don't. I invite you to give a warrant for thinking that our understanding of swarm is "conceptual" whereas our understanding of bee is "ostentive". Or the same trick for leg and table.

    It is irrational to talk about combinations of objects "existing". An object is an object is an object. Each entity exists. A combination, group, or listing objects is a list of symbols enumerating entities that exist. You might, conceptually, associate one with another but this concept is of course not an entity.

    As above, I don't see how you can meaningfully distinguish between entities and "conceptual associations". Which is the cloud of atoms I call my body? The group of cells I call my blood? Which is the association of gears I call my grandfather clock? Which is the association of letters I call a word, or words I call a sentence? I think these kind of cases show why the retreat into the self-evident existence of some limited class of objects is problematic.

    It also makes no sense to talk about "what can be said to legitimately exist". Existence is self-evident and axiomatic. There is no provision for proof, verification, or testimony. I point at something, I recognize that it exists.

    This seems the most obviously false thing you write. The first counterexample that comes to mind is the search of physicists for black holes. We have some entity we think exists, that our working model of the universe predicts exists, so we go out and look to verify its existence. The second is, well, the everyday experience of accepting through testimony the existence of things that aren't self-evidently obvious, like atoms or Somalia. And third, you've inadvertently answered the question in arguing that its incoherent. Your answer is that only self-evidently existent objects exist, and that there do not exist any objects such that they are the sum of two or more distinct objects.

    The problem is you went from simply pointing at the quarter and naming it to describing it. A description is a conceptualization. The moment you point at it and say "quarter" it is an object. Then when you say it is shiny, round, etc. you are conceptualizing it. You're dealing with the *concept* "quarter". When you say it is made of atoms this is a description, and you must first tell us what an atom is, i.e. you will have to point at an atom or a model of an atom. If you can point at an actual atom then now we realize that the quarter was a concept integrated by our brain by the perception of multiple entities, which our brain automatically subconsciously grouped. The atom is an entity, the quarter is a concept. If you cannot point at what you're talking about (an atom), but only a model of it, you're now asking us to assume something like what you're pointing at exists in reality. You will not, and indeed cannot, verify this assumption. This is a hypothesis, an assumption you ask us to take at face value in order for you to explain some phenomenon involving the quarter. At the hypothesis you do not describe the object. You just point to it and name it. Why does it break, bend, etc? When you're done we can choose to believe your explanation, thus believing in the existence of atoms, or we can choose to disbelieve it.

    We live in a radically impoverished universe if this is accurate. But more to the point, you don't actually argue for why any of this is so. You just assert it.


  20. If mereology is a legitimate field of research, it would be a special science and not an aspect of philosophy. I say this because of the special characters used to set up the axioms and such in the Wikipedia article. I have a math background and have done differential vector calculus, but that stuff under mereology doesn't mean anything to me at all. So, it is a specialization, and it evidently uses a specialized notation for compactness, which means it is not a part of philosophy, despite the fact that Aristotle and other philosophers ventured into it. Ancient philosophers were into all sorts of special sciences, but it wasn't philosophy they were doing at that time. Philosophy deals with generalized abstractions from observations, and there terms must be available and understandable by any man who can read the language of the philosopher -- i.e. it must be clearly stated in English, or Greek, or Spanish, or French, without specialized notations that in and of themselves requires having had a specialized study in order to comprehend.

    This is simply ridiculous. The only symbolic formalisms used in the wiki page are sentences from first order predicate logic. The characters you didn't recognize are shorthand for propositions used for the sake of brevity and rigor. Instead of writing "For any object x, for any object y and for any object z, if x is a part of y and y is a part of z then x is a part of z", you can just write Pxy & Pyz -> Pxz. Predicate logic is a language contemporary anglo-american philosophers frequently employ in all areas of investigation, not just mereology.

    And even if this is somehow too much for your notation averse sensibilities to handle, how does your argument follow? Why does the particular notational expression of the same set of facts affect whether or not they are philosophical in content? That's like saying that a testimony recorded word for word in stenographer's shorthand has different content then the words of the original speech because shorthand is a specialized notation. Serious category error.

    In other words, yes the study of the relationship of the parts to the whole can be a legitimate field of study, but if you are going to be arbitrary about what you are combining together, I don't see how that will serve your mind well.

    The point is to find out what makes one combination arbitrary and another rational, not to justify absurdities.


  21. They are scientific questions--there's no way to determine the answer to any of them without extensive scientific knowledge and experimentation. Hell, you can't even *define most of those terms* without extensive scientific knowledge and experimentation.

    Mereology in general and the question of unrestricted composition in particular is not a scientific concern. Science will never answer whether an object such that it is the sum of the Queen of England, the Washington Monument and the quarter in my pocket exists. It's an issue of conceptual analysis, how we understand parthood and composition, what sorts of combinations of objects can legitimately be said to exist.

    For example, I'm holding my quarter. Does this quarter exist? Sure. Even though that quarter is the mereological sum of a bunch of metallic particles. So how about the funky object I described above? We want to say it doesn't exist because it seems like an arbitrary grouping of objects. But how is it any less arbitrary than the group of metallic particles that constitute the quarter?

    The issue goes a lot deeper on both sides of the unrestricted composition debate, but it should be clear that this isn't a problem for SCIENCE! to answer for us.


  22. If you're talking about just the syntax, the idea of "Objectivist modal logic" is meaningless. Anyone can posit whatever formal postulates they want. If you're talking about semantics, you'll need to do some serious recasting, since there are no "possible worlds" in the Kripkean sense.

    Huh? Why would Objectivism reject possible world semantics? It's not like just using possible world semantics entails the truth of modal realism.

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