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Eddie

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  1. Agreed. But your comments imply that “existence” is equivalent to “the world”. The world in this instance is the material world, since you have contrasted it with perception, ie consciousness. And consciousness is also an existent, so is therefore included under the concept of existence. As a concept, “existence” is undifferentiated and makes no claim about the types of things that exist, in which case it cannot claim primacy for one type of thing over another.
  2. Depending on what you mean by “conscious process”, the infant’s “sensory chaos” surely qualifies as an existent, or series of existents. Let’s take the sense of sound. When the infant hears a sound, the sound will be a specific sound from a specific source, at a certain pitch and loudness. That is, it will have identity. Regardless of whether the infant undergoes a conscious process of identifying the sound or its source, it will experience the sound as something existing, ie as an existent. Otherwise, you would have to argue that it is possible to have an experience that lacks sensory content. You have agreed that it is misleading to speak of the primacy of existence over identity. I contend that in the context of the Objectivist primary axioms it is also misleading to speak of the primacy of existence over consciousness. If existence includes consciousness, it is not obvious that existence could have primacy over itself. In this regard, it’s interesting that there is no primary axiom for the material world. If “existence” were equivalent to “the material world”, one could claim that existence has primacy over consciousness, since the material world would be existence less consciousness. Rand does seem to use the term existence in this way when she speaks of the “primacy of existence”. But the primary axiom means “all existing things”, not “the material world”. In other words, in the case of existence in relation to identity, Rand uses two terms for the same concept. However, in the case of existence in relation to consciousness, she uses the one term, “existence”, for two concepts: “all existing things” and “the material world”.
  3. This is not clear to me. If, at the stage of sensory chaos, if such exists, the infant grasps that “something exists”, he would seem to be grasping the concept of identity, since everything that exists, exists as something. It does not seem possible that the infant could experience existence without experiencing specific existents. My understanding would seem to be confirmed by: 1. Existence is identity; that is existence is identical to identity; 2. The referents of existence are the same as the referents of identity: all existing things. 3. A concept means all its referents. In that case, the concepts existence and identity are in fact the same concept, and the only difference is the labelling. It is not therefore clear that existence has primacy over identity. In addition, since existence subsumes all existing things, including consciousness, it’s also not clear that existence has primacy over consciousness.
  4. In common usage, the word ‘selfish’ is wholly pejorative. It is a term that is used to condemn others. It is very seldom used in a neutral, technical sense, and to my knowledge is never used as a term of praise. Gathering evidence for this common usage would be a time-consuming business, but I have no doubt my claims would be vindicated. In the meantime, a list of synonyms might he helpful in providing the range of meanings commonly associated with the term ‘selfish’. Webster’s Thesaurus says thus: “illiberal, narrow, self-centred, self-seeking, mercenary, stingy, ungenerous, greedy, mean, miserly”. Most of the attributes denoted by these words are regarded as undesirable and not worthy of emulation. That said, the meanings of words do change over time, and it may be possible to persuade others that selfish should undergo a 180 degree turn. I just don’t think it’s very likely. Eddie
  5. Eddie

    "Bad" Writing

    Thanks for the vote of confidence, but we should also remember AisA’s contribution. I think your last point is very important, that the ability to convey greater detail and meaning in fewer words is the hallmark of a great writer. As for whether “looked as if they were the fury of the wind made visible” is a description rather than a simile, I take your point, although I think it’s a rather fine one. I agree that technically, a simile is a type of metaphor. What I had in mind with the above passage is that Rand is drawing a likeness between the sweeping of the branches and the “fury” of the wind. But wind is not literally furious, so this passage seems to be more a simile that a description. But I don’t want to belabour the point, since it’s a minor one. And if Rand had been a more skilful writer, she would have come up with a less clumsy construction. Eddie
  6. Eddie

    "Bad" Writing

    I don’t recall suggesting that the passage should read like anything. But now that you’ve taken on an editing role, what you suggest is a definite improvement, although you could include a similar précis of the other thought about “the fury of the wind made visible.” The problem here is that “made visible” is a mild, passively constructed phrase. That’s fine in some contexts, but not when teamed with “fury”. A furious wind doesn’t quietly make itself visible; it erupts into one’s senses. And then there’s the problem of the vanishing – the branches are said to be both vanishing and visible. So I’m not sure how one could reconcile these two factors, but now that we’re on an editing kick, we could apply it to the whole passage: “Francisco looked out at the darkening plain. The fire of the mills was dying down. A faint tinge of red touched the edge of the earth, just enough to outline the scraps of clouds ripped by the storm. The wind howled. Branches swept and vanished.” Not Nobel stuff, but a sight crisper. As for the use of similes, I made no judgement on them, since I have no problem with them. My comment was a correction of your misunderstanding, when you said: “Why is it okay for your author to say ‘something looks like something else’ , i.e. why is it okay for your author to use a metaphor…” Now, of course, when one says that “something looks like something else” one is not using a metaphor, one is using a simile. My correction wasn’t a judgement on the use of similes. Eddie
  7. Eddie

    "Bad" Writing

    As I say, my aim is to talk about the quality off the writing. Let’s check out the passage in question. “Dim shapes kept sweeping through space and vanishing, shapes which were branches, but looked as if they were the fury of the wind made visible.” The construction “kept sweeping…vanishing” is stylistically weak, especially when compared with the more active “swept”. If Rand is trying to convey the urgency of a storm, she’s going about it in a very relaxed way. She also tells us these shapes are sweeping through “space”, a superfluous and unremarkable fact. But Rand needs “space” to go with “sweeping”. Then we have a repetition of those formless “shapes”, which we only now learn are branches. This delay dulls the image, but Rand obliviously meanders on with “but looked as if they were the…” In effect, Rand is diluting the impact of her writing by spreading her meaning and imagery over too many words. As for “something looks like something else”, that’s a simile, not a metaphor. My author doesn’t say that something looks like something else. He says something is something else: “a round full-bodied moon – a vivid confirmation of victory”. By comparison, Rand’s “…but looked as if they were…” is wordy and flaccid. While “my” writer is actually showing us something, Rand is still warming up. And of course my views are my opinion. I‘ve never pretended otherwise. More importantly, you haven’t attempted to show why Rand’s passage demonstrates skillful writing. Eddie
  8. Eddie

    "Bad" Writing

    That’s fine. It’s not to everybody’s taste. I’m not entirely sold on this author myself, but he can write well, and so act as a point of comparison. In regard to the storm metaphor in Atlas Shrugged, metaphors don’t have to have single meanings – that’s what makes them powerful literary tools. As for your other points, in general you’re talking about the appropriateness of the metaphor, whereas I’m talking about the quality of the writing, as requested by the original poster. In order to assess writing quality, you need to analyse its parts – that is, its use of words – as I have done. Eddie
  9. Eddie

    "Bad" Writing

    It’s not a matter of either metaphor or description, but both. Rand is using a visual metaphor, just not very well, because her description relies heavily on telling rather than showing. In answer to your question, I agree with (1). In the second passage, the moon is a metaphor for the hero’s state of mind, and it’s an active and visual metaphor: “…the moon emerged from behind the angular black twigs, a round full-bodied moon…”. The metaphor carries the meaning, without losing its visual impact. Rand does OK with her “…scraps of clouds ripped…”, which is visual enough, if somewhat passive, but then she really drops the ball by over-dosing on the adjectives, while her other imagery is opaque. Also, “…scraps of clouds ripped…” does not convey the metaphor, which is why Rand has to add something about a storm. Whereas the other writer’s metaphor is the brief but opulent “round full-bodied moon”. Also compare “dim shapes” with “black foliage”. The latter is more concrete, and therefore more sharply visual, which adds substance to the metaphor, while also helping to illustrate the meaning, that of the moon being ensnared by something sinister. Also compare verbs: 1. “looked”, “was”, “dying down”, “was…left”, “outline”, “ripped”, “sweeping”, “vanishing”, “were”, “looked as if”, “were”, “made.” 2. “stood”, “looked”, “was”, “disengaging”, “emerged”, “left”, “stepped”, “lay”. Rand is heavy on superfluous words – two “was’s” and two “weres” against the second writer’s one “was”; too many of these sorts of words reveal a writer who is struggling to put her vision on paper. The second writer’s verbs are also more active than Rand’s – and there are fewer of them in a passage that is slightly longer. So again, Rand’s writing doesn’t bear comparison with at least one other 20th century writer. Eddie
  10. Eddie

    "Bad" Writing

    Rand can be a competent writer, especially – as mentioned -- of dialogue. But she can also be terribly clunky. I guess it’s obvious, but good writing is a matter of using words that most effectively convey one’s meaning. To show this, one could compare one writer’s expressions with another’s. Below are two pieces of fiction writing: 1. “Francisco looked silently out at the darkness. The fire of the mills was dying down. There was only a faint tinge of red left on the edge of the earth, just enough to outline the scraps of clouds ripped by the tortured battle of the storm in the sky. Dim shapes kept sweeping through space and vanishing, shapes which were branches, but looked as if they were the fury of the wind made visible.” 2. And: “On the eve of his departure Luzhin stood on the tiny balcony of his room in his long nightshirt and looked at the moon, which was tremblingly disengaging itself from some black foliage….. But the moon emerged from behind the angular black twigs, a round full-bodied moon – a vivid confirmation of victory – and when finally Luzhin left the balcony and stepped back into his room, there on the floor lay an enormous square of moonlight, and in that light – his own shadow.” Both these passages appeal to natural imagery in order to convey their respective themes. In (1), the theme is the collapse of civilisation, in (2), the theme of a man on the threshold of major changes in his life. The question is: which passage provides the more memorable images, which passage best illustrates its themes, and why? In the Rand passage, there are three images: the faint tinge of red, the scraps of clouds and the sweeping branches. If she had made use of these images to convey her theme, to show rather than tell, the passage may have had some visual force. But she is not a skilled enough writer to make effective use these images. For example, “There was only a faint tinge of red” is a plodding and fuzzy way to introduce an image, because Rand clearly didn’t – or couldn’t – think of a way to show this in a more convincingly dramatic way. So she tells us about this faint tinge of red, rather than showing it to us. Which means that when she wants to express something strongly – a mighty storm perhaps -- she resorts to the purple prose of “ripped by the tortured battle of the storm in the sky”. This doesn’t show us anything. It merely tells us that there was this storm, and it was really, really bad. The second passage tells of foreboding and/or promise. The hero is about to experience two life-changing events, and he has mixed feelings about the future, which are shown via homely but visually dramatic touches. In the way that the storm acts as a metaphor for Rand’s scene, the moon here acts as a symbol of the hero’s feeling about his destiny. He feels trapped – “tremblingly disengaging” – but while he’s standing on the balcony he considers his situation, and in the concluding paragraph he feels confident about his future, forcefully conveyed through “vivid confirmation” and visualised in the “enormous square of moonlight”. The second passage also shows a skilled use of visual touches. Where Rand says that something looks like something else -- “but looked as if they were the fury of the wind”, the other writer describes what something actually looks like – “angular black twigs”. He is also sparing but effective in the placement of adjectives – the “tiny” balcony”, “long” nightshirt”, “round, full-bodied” moon. These constitute small domestic strokes, in contrast to Rand’s Wagnerian habit of piling description upon description. . I think this brief analysis shows that while Rand has some skills as a writer, they are insufficient to place her in the top ranks of writers. Eddie
  11. As I understand it, A is A in Objectivist parlance expresses the concept of identity, and a concept ultimately refers to or means all its referents in reality. In the case of “identity”, that means all tables, chairs, trees, mountains etc. The validity of the concept is also justified by “reducing” it to the observation of specific things, or existents. In that case, “A is A” ultimately refers to each and every existing thing, in which case it seems quite acceptable to say “A is A” can be expressed as “this table is this table”. Eddie
  12. Is the statement “everything that exists” a fact of reality, or is it that all existing things are facts of reality? Previously, you said “Moreover, A is A is not to be "resolved" to "this table is this table"…” So you clearly believe that some facts of reality have nothing to do with A is A. In that case your claim that A is A is justified by reference to all of the facts of reality cannot be the case. Why don’t you present an argument – ie a series of connected statements – that demonstrates your understanding of this subject? Show how A is A is justified by reference to “everything that exists”. Eddie
  13. And what are these facts of reality? They clearly cannot be such facts as: "a thing is itself", or "a thing is neither more nor less than what it is", or "a thing has only the properties which it has, and has none of the properties which it does not have". These are merely synonyms for A is A, and to appeal to these facts would be to beg the question. You also seem to have ruled out appeals to objects, such as “this table”, so I’m not sure which “facts of reality” you have in mind. You may wish to clarify what you mean here. Eddie
  14. Strictly speaking, yes, but I was trying to relate my comments to the way Ayn Rand uses the term axiom, which as I understand it is a claim about some fundamental aspect of the world, rather than a proposition within the context of a proof. As for the axiomatic status of “A is A”, or more accurately, A=A, that type of statement can also only be regarded as an axiom within the context of a proof. But Rand doesn’t seem to be using it in that way. She’s using it more in the sense of a self-evident proposition, so in that sense it is a tautology. But I take your point. It would have been more accurate to say that an axiom is a statement for which no proof is required, and that a tautology is true regardless of the meanings of the component terms (assuming the connectives are fixed). Eddie
  15. A proof is an argument consisting of several connected statements leading to a conclusion. Axioms by their nature cannot be proved, but I wouldn’t call A is A an axiom. It’s a tautology, and nor is there any need to “prove” a tautology, since it’s a statement that is justified by reference to the meaning of the component terms. Tautologies are logical rather than factual truths. For A is A, you can substitute anything for A -- table, chair, rainbow, unicorn – and it will always be at least valid, regardless of factual content. Eddie
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