Objectivism Online Forum

# dougclayton

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152

1. ## "A priori" in the scientific vs. philosophic case?

I suspect, without being an expert in this area, that the terminology is the same because those who called some formulas "a priori" and others "empirical" accepted the a priori/a posteriori dichotomy and thought this was a case of it. In fact, as you suggest, they are not the same at all. Both types of formulas come from reality; the difference is that empirical formulas rely on some attribute that simply has to be observed on its own, rather than being computed from more fundamental elements. For instance, sliding frictional force is the coefficient of friction multiplied by the force perpendicular to the surface. Why is that number required? Where does it come from? No one knows--but that linearity approximates reality very well. So we determine coefficients for various materials by actually measuring the force required to move an object as well as its weight, computing the ratio and documenting it in a table for future reference. All such equations with "coefficients of x" in them have the same characteristics. It is a perfectly legitimate practice--even if we don't know why friction depends on this coefficient, we know that it does. So "empirical" is an acceptable usage as long as it doesn't reinforce the a priori/a posteriori dichotomy. I'd be interested in hearing from scientists who have thoughts on this.

3. ## How are concepts of measurement formed?

The answer is simple: you are omitting all the measurements of the thing that is an inch long, and focusing solely on the attribute length. Just as in your table example, the location of the thing that is an inch long is omitted, as is its color, weight, orientation, material, etc. Consider an interim concept you have to form before forming "inch": that of length. "Length" is a concept formed by focusing solely on one attribute (namely, length--linear extent in space) and omitting the "measurements" of every other attribute of things. Well, inch has a similar omission, although it has the further specification that the length is a fixed measurement. So there is not "one inch" any more than "one table." That would be Platonism.
4. ## What is the nature of the axioms of Objectivism?

This is a misunderstanding of the Objectivist axioms. They are most certainly not "assumed propositions for purposes of argument" (as you said in an earlier post). They are not a convention; they are irrefutable. Try it--you'll have to grant their validity to make any meaningful assertion.
5. ## Thoughts on my view of induction and deduction?

Fair enough: induction itself is not true or false, but valid or invalid, etc (it is the conclusions arrived at through induction that are true or false). I was being sloppy in my choice of words. As for your other points, I will have to think about them and get back to you. I do have one question, though: you say arguments supporting inductive reasoning rely on induction, and fall to question-begging. However, arguments against induction also rely on induction, and thus fall to self-refutation. So clearly one of these points is wrong, or there is no way to know anything about the validity of induction at all.
6. ## What is the nature of the axioms of Objectivism?

(emphasis mine) I'm not sure what your intent is here, unless it is to set me straight on a pet subject of yours. Given that the original poster offhandedly posited Occam's Razor as an axiom, and I summarized it informally to show it wasn't, and you haven't disagreed with that analysis, I wonder where all this objection is coming from. Did I err in concluding it wasn't an axiom? Did the difference between how I summarized it and how you do affect that analysis at all? This isn't a general discussion on the utility of Occam's Razor, nor is it a philosophical treatise on all its implications, nor have I attempted to claim there was anything wrong with it--only that it is not an axiom. So unless you want to tell me how I arrived at the wrong conclusion regarding it being an axiom--which I would definitely like to hear--I have to say your objection is just nitpicking. Let me state for the record that you are superior to me in wisdom regarding Occam's Razor, and I will hereinafter quote it exactly as "Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity" so as not to make any more silly formulations.
7. ## What is the nature of the axioms of Objectivism?

Fine, I will quote from two sources on the web: From http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/OCCAMRAZ.html: From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam's_Razor: How is my summary essentially different from those? Furthermore, even in any of those forms, how is it an axiom?
8. ## Thoughts on my view of induction and deduction?

That's not a bad summary, although there are some errors. I disagree about the term "universal" though (by which I presume you mean "absolute"--the word "universal" traditionally refers to concepts or abstractions like "table"). Dr. Peikoff makes the distinction between the traditional notion of "absolute" (that is, out-of-context) and "contextually absolute." Like the word "individual" in "individual rights," "contextually" is redundant--there is no other kind of absolute. Regardless, it is necessary for exactly the reasons that lead you to reject the notion that truth can ever be "universal." Good point. In fact, Betsy Speicher has made a compelling argument that all you really need is one ball to observe. Every ball after that serves to confirm your understanding, but adds nothing new to it. (Of course, you need more than one observation of a ball to form the concept of, roughly, "a round object" so you can say "all balls roll," because concept-formation involves grasping similarities between instances. Grasping causality--the essence of induction--doesn't require the same comparison of two instances.)
9. ## Thoughts on my view of induction and deduction?

The purpose of induction is not to predict the future, per se. (This is another strawman used to attack induction.) Obviously you cannot predict the future with 100% certainty (that would require omniscience--and who knew last year that New Orleans would be flooded this September?). Remember, the purpose of induction is to establish the principles that arise from the nature of reality, not to "predict the future." No principle will allow you to say "the sun will definitely rise tomorrow, no matter what"--that would be predicting the future, and how do we know that something won't actively knock the earth off its axis? What a valid principle (reached through induction) does allow us to say is that if the forces remain as they are, then it will always result in the sun rising (technically, appearing to rise) every day. This seems obvious and circular--"of course it will do the same thing unless it something makes it stop--what good is that?" You have to realize that to Hume, the earth literally could stop spinning tomorrow. He recognized the insufficiency of the fact that it has spun all this time, but could not seem to grasp the causality that is causing it to rotate. Thus for him, it could stop without reason. (And, of course, this same view is held by those who believe in miracles.) However, for us non-Humeans, the principle of the earth's rotation applies in a context (recall my previous post on context, which you thought was irrelevant to this discussion). That context is, "given the conditions we have stated." Those conditions exclude "a wave of energy hitting the earth," for instance, but do not exclude "people moving around and satellites being launched," which we know will not affect the earth's rotation significantly. Furthermore, even granting that causality is key, this alone still does not give us the knowledge to say the earth will keep rotating forever, without the contribution of many physicists since Newton. What if the earth loses energy due to friction every day? (I suspect this is the case, but then I am no physicist.) In that case, the principle we would reach is "the earth will rotate twice as slowly approximately N billion years from now." Suppose instead that the solar system is a perpetual motion machine (which I doubt). In that case, we could say that it will rotate forever. (A more real-world example is the realization that the sun is burning down, and thus will not burn forever, past behavior notwithstanding.) The point is that inducing a principle correctly requires sufficient knowledge of the subject to understand the underlying causes and their effects. Armchair philosophy or a simple "it has always been that way" approach is not valid induction. Here's the payoff: to an Objectivist, the failure of something we expected (the sun to rise tomorrow) proves there is an unknown cause at work, one that we do not understand (and should go investigate). To a Humean, it proves nothing (except that we can know nothing)--nothing had caused the earth to rotate, and so nothing caused it to stop. No need to feel embarassed. Everyone is ignorant at the start--I certainly was (and am). Now you have the advantage of a better understanding, which you never would have if you had not "sounded like an idiot" as you put it and learned what mistakes you were making. And, as always, thanks for giving me a chance to improve my own thinking. By the way, I cannot recommend highly enough the clarity of Dr. Peikoff in OPAR on this matter (p173-175, primarily). I am definitely standing on the shoulders of giants.
10. ## Predation: Virtue Or Vice?

If you steal someone's property, he will no longer have it. That is tangible and unequivocal. (Of course, the relevance of that depends on the validity of property rights, but then the relevance of someone's death depends equally on the validity of the right to life.) If property rights are derived from honesty, then cheating certainly is as well: why should you care whether your grade reflects reality unless you're honest? Why should you care if some item is someone else's property unless you are honest? Isn't that the argument you two are making--that one only needs to recognize property if one is honest? I quote from hunterrose: Property is part of reality--it is a least as much a part of reality as "academic integrity." Where in my argument for property rights (link) did I mention honesty? I'm serious: please tell me exactly how that argument relied on honesty. We can't proceed effectively without that.
11. ## Predation: Virtue Or Vice?

Let me ask a follow-on question so I can make sure I understand your position. Does your worry about a non-empiricist argument apply to life itself, so that you would argue the following? 1)"Taking a man's life is an act of irrationality, because I should respect another's man's right to life." The problem with saying such is that 2)"I should respect another man's right to life, because taking a man's life is an act of irrationality" would then be circular, wouldn't it? And, outside of rights per se, do you also worry how to ground the immorality of cheating on an exam? 1)"Cheating on an exam is an act of irrationality, because my grade should reflect what I know." The problem with saying such is that 2)"My grade should reflect what I know, because cheating on my exam is an act of irrationality" would then be circular, wouldn't it? I ask these questions because I can find nothing essential to property rights in your objection, and thus logically it should apply to more than just that. Seeing it applied in other contexts might help me understand your argument, because frankly so far I have been unable to.
12. ## What is the nature of the axioms of Objectivism?

Absolutely not. "When there is more than one explanation, the simplest one is correct" is in no way an axiom. Why can't the complex explanation be true? How do I rely on the fact that the simplest explanation is true when I claim that a complex explanation is true? To be a philosophical axiom, it would have to be used in any attempt to refute it (for examples, see my previous post). How do I rely on the truth of "the bible is always true" when I say "the bible is not always true"?

14. ## Predation: Virtue Or Vice?

Actually, it is primacy of consciousness if there is any aspect of "if I think it, it will be true," and I detected a strong hint of it in hunterrose's post. It's possible that wasn't hunterrose's intention, or that I misinterpreted it, which is why I qualified my conclusion with "I think." Also, you might be misunderstanding the primacy of existence and the primacy of consciousness. The primacy of existence doesn't say "rocks will exist even without a consciousness"; it says, "rocks [and all other facts of reality] will be what they are regardless of what anyone thinks." Correspondingly, the primacy of consciousness says, "The nature of this rock [and all facts of reality] depends on what I think it is." Given that, which premise do you think is behind hunterrose's claim that the nature of property is dependent on someone's rationalization? Using an example is useful, because it makes abstractions concrete. Unfortunately, I think your example brings in unrelated aspects and can confuse the issue. The fact of whether a rock is mine could very easily die with me, leaving an alien no way to know whose rock it was. This is what your example shows. However, what we are talking about is the nature of property itself, and that a rational alien would understand just as a human would. Observe that hunterrose's Artful Dodger is not claiming he can't know whose property he is taking--he is claiming nothing could ever be anyone's property. On the other hand, your alien that says, "Wow, I don't know which humanoid this belonged to, if anyone," is affirming the concept of property, not denying it. Does that make the difference clear? Please do. I am just beginning to understand some of these issues myself and working to express my understanding precisely is rewarding.
15. ## Thoughts on my view of induction and deduction?

I'll have a go. First, this is much more clear than your previous email. However, I still noticed some issues. Unfortunately, if you limit your statements to what you've already observed, it isn't induction. Neither "all the ravens I've ever seen are black" nor "the sun has risen every day of my adult life" are examples of induction. The "problem of induction" doesn't come in until you generalize to predicting unknown situations (i.e., the next raven or the sun's action tomorrow). Furthermore, concluding "all ravens are black" from "all ravens I have seen are black" is not induction, because 1) there is no known cause-and-effect relationship between the species of raven and the color of their feathers, and 2) it's an unwarranted generalization because most animals show color variation. Remember that a conclusion cannot contradict any existing knowledge. On the other hand, the earth going around the sun is a cause-and-effect relationship, and thus a true instance of induction. I am not clear on what "exist qua existing" means. If this is essential to your argument, it would help me to know what you mean.
16. ## Predation: Virtue Or Vice?

I've been thinking about your post, and I think I figured out the fundamental error you are making: the primacy of consciousness. The truth of the matter does not depend on what the Artful Dodger thinks in any way, yet this is what your statement means. It means that if he pretends to himself ("rationalizes") that stealing is honest, then there's no way to know that it isn't.
17. ## Predation: Virtue Or Vice?

But this is exactly your problem: you can't stop there. Your point comes in at #4 in my condensed argument--issues of whether or not one is honest when one steals depends on both the nature of honesty and the nature of property. You can know what "honesty" is without reference to property rights, you know. In general, first you understand the facts, then you can identify what is honest. I can't quite put my finger on the error you're making, but you definitely are approaching this wrong. When one debates the nature of property, one doesn't worry about whether or not the people in question are honest--one takes it for granted they will be. In other words, I don't intend to convince the Artful Dodger to be honest by convincing him I have property--I intend to assume he's honest and convince him it's my property. If he's not honest I won't be able to rely on him accepting any given fact of reality, because that's what it means to be dishonest. Let me draw an analogy: you have to be honest to recognize that 2+2=4. Now, given the facts of mathematics, one can discuss how to balance your checkbook. It goes without saying that you will have to be honest to balance it properly--this is simple deduction from the principle of honesty. It doesn't mean that mathematical rules in any way depend on people being honest. But this is what you say: "If the Artful Dodger cooks the books and rationalizes this action as no different from standard accounting methods, what makes one action honest, and the other dishonest? Variants of accounting carry the spectre of circularity." It should be clear that an accountant can know that "cooking the books" is fraudulent, and thus that it is dishonest for an accountant to do it. That isn't a circular argument. No one says, "wait a second--you can't know it's dishonest until you know what proper accounting method is, and you can't know what proper accounting is without knowing what's honest. Accounting is circular."
18. ## Predation: Virtue Or Vice?

You can be dishonest about many things besides property rights. Dishonesty is not about property rights (or any another particular facts, per se); it is about your recognition of any facts. If you want the argument in abbreviated form, I'd put it like this: 1. You should be honest in all things; that is, you should not pretend things are otherwise than they are. (This is an inductive step Don covered extensively, with no reliance on property rights.) 2. The issue of property falls under "all things", so you should not pretend property is otherwise than it is. (This is deduction.) 3. Property consists of material goods that rightfully belong to the person who expended the effort to create them. (This is an inductive step I attempted to cover earlier, with no reliance on honesty.) 4. You should not pretend that those material goods belong to someone else. (This is deduction.) Of course, you have to be honest to discover the truth of #3, but then you have to be honest to discover the truth of anything. As Don said, it's not circular, it's consistent.
19. ## Thoughts on my view of induction and deduction?

Calm down. You might get an analysis on the limited part of your email that you are interested in if you acknowledged the truth that others have pointed out regarding your repeated, mistaken claims about deduction and context. Speaking personally, I offered an in-depth analysis of your post on two separate points and you pretty much brushed off both of those without even a "thanks." I'm not sure why I should offer more analysis. And if we point out any problems in your proof of induction, will those too be called "semantics"? Just what were you looking for by posting here?
20. ## Thoughts on my view of induction and deduction?

Speaking only for myself, I did read your title, and then I read this (emphasis added): As I said at the start of my post: I responded to what you wrote, not what you wanted to write, and the fact remains that your claims about deduction are false. I think Burgess gave you the best answer to that: are "new relationships" not new knowledge? Or did you mean "principles" when you said "knowledge"? If so, this is an indication of the need for meticulous care when writing about philosophy. (Incidentally, Burgess deserves praise for his precise use of language; he regularly distinguishes between such near-synonyms as "attribute, aspect, and quality.") * Edited to fix a typo. I need more meticulous care myself.
21. ## Predation: Virtue Or Vice?

This is a good example of the need for context-keeping. The argument I gave demonstrated objectively (that is, by reference to the facts of reality) that property must be produced before it can be consumed and that it is the means of ensuring one's life (and ethics is concerned with life as "man qua man," not bare survival). But one cannot throw out everything else known about man and ethics and act as if that argument contains everything relevant to the issue of property. In particular, the nature of "value" cannot be ignored. Since a value is that which one acts to gain or keep, all property is intended "to support his life." If it weren't a value, it would be discarded or given away (note: not traded away). Thus you make a false dichotomy: stuff I need vs. stuff I would prefer to keep. In truth, there is only: stuff I value (whether it be to live through the night or to buy my 11,008th painting). Now, it is true that some particular man will choose poorly, and thus acquire items that he stockpiles for no purpose. But who is someone else to tell him what he may and may not value? And if someone else has that right, what does that do to the right to life? And he is using it in defense of his life: in defense of the time he spent in creating the value that someone else will expropriate. He paid for that value with a portion of his life, so acting to keep it is most assuredly acting "in defense of his life." Consider it with a concrete example: if someone works his whole life for some goal (say, to collect all of Thomas Kinkade's numerous paintings), only to have someone else take them because "he doesn't need them to survive," what has become of his life? That person has literally stolen his life from him, by stealing his life's purpose. What is the significance of "independently"? Independently of what, exactly? This confuses several things, due to the frozen abstraction of "force" you are using. The right to use force is not identical to the right to shoot people. The example should have said, "do I have the right to stop him?" Whether you have the right to stop someone from stealing something is not the same as whether you have the right to shoot someone to stop them. This is the same reason the police will not just shoot a burglar on sight. To answer the amended example, yes you have the right to stop him. Well, for my part, I can say it's good to discuss this with someone who seems to be actually concerned with understanding the nature of reality. These discussions can often be a waste of time.
22. ## What is the nature of the axioms of Objectivism?

Well, those aren't statements, and thus can't be axioms**. But if I made them into statements, you'd have "I perceive a blue desk," which clearly relies on all three. Even "I am feeling happy agreeableness" does (to be a consciousness capable of any emotion, you'd have to a consciousness of some existence, and to be feeling "happy agreeableness" instead of "sad miserableness", emotions would have to have identity). **Don't forget that "existence, identity, and consciousness" are shorthand for the actual axioms, roughly: "existence exists and has identity and I am conscious". This is not the same as the axiomatic concepts of existence, identity and consciousness. The point of axioms isn't to tell us what we can and cannot doubt. That is a wholly Cartesian approach that you seem to be taking. The purpose of axioms is to tell us the starting point for knowledge (which means, in effect, the ending point for tracing something back to reality). And to serve this purpose, they must be the widest abstractions (which rules out your examples, although not Descartes' cogito) and relied on by everyone at all times.