Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Anomalous monism and Rand

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

In a philosophical issue, it is ill-advised to enter a discussion without defining key terms, which includes "physical" in this particular case. Sorry I can't be a little more helpful, but if you want an answer from these guys, you should be kind enough to clarify key terms which a proper answer depends on, such as "physical."

Frankly, this question is only relevant to those who are aware of Donald Davidson's work and his theory of anomalous monism, or those who are curious enough to read about it from external sources, because I cannot explain the entire theory on these boards. It requires a bit of intellectual commitment to truly understand what he is saying and what the implications of the theory are. But Davidson explains precisely what is 'physical' and what is 'mental', and any reputable source for describing the theory will include said definitions.

Think of this as an optional in-class discussion on a reading assignment that was due as homework.

Edited by The_Rational_Animal
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Think of this as an optional in-class discussion on a reading assignment that was due as homework.
That's fair. I presume you also understand Rand's theory, and you did your homework in that class, so as long as you haven't screwed up your understanding of Objectivism and especially "physical", you ought to be able to sort this out yourself.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

it won't convince you because you probably memorized the Objectivist Epistemology cover to cover, probably not questioning if what you're reading is intuitively reasonable.

<snip>

And if you have nothing more to say on the topic as indicated by the title of the thread, please go to your local university and ask any of the science faculty what physical is (if you're looking for a technical definition) and why everything must be physical.

First of all, if you are going to be rejecting Objectivist epistemology, that means you are rejected integration by similarities and measurement omission, and you are rejecting the evidence of the senses as valid. But, I've already gone into why the rationalistic approach doesn't tie in with reality the way it really is. One has to make observations before one can make assertions about what something is and what it is made of.

Second, I don't know why you would have to conclude that everything must be physical -- again, without even indicating what you mean by that. As far as we know, magnetic fields are not made of electrons, protons, and neutrons; and yet, a magnetic field can influence the path of a moving charged particle. If you want to say that, well then, those electrons and protons made ultimately be made of the same stuff as whatever a magnetic field is made of, then you need to produce the evidence.

Third, if you are going to bring up a topic in front of intelligent people and claim or ask about the relationship between anomalous monism and Objectivism, then you ought to expect to get some kind of response. My response, in case it is not clear is that, NO, there is no relationship between any form of monism and Objectivism. Objectivism does not go around making claims about the ultimate constituents of existence; but it does say one ought to go by the facts and integrate according to similarities -- but you have rejected that approach, so what method are you using? It sounds like rationalism to me or some form of a priori pseudo-reasoning from some premise which you can't confirm or deny.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

First of all, if you are going to be rejecting Objectivist epistemology, that means you are rejected integration by similarities and measurement omission, and you are rejecting the evidence of the senses as valid. But, I've already gone into why the rationalistic approach doesn't tie in with reality the way it really is. One has to make observations before one can make assertions about what something is and what it is made of.

I'm sorry, I decided to raise this point on the basis that somebody told me to read it, when I have, to "discover" arguments against physicalism. I am not rejecting Objectivist epistemology, only questioning whether Peikoff or Rand knew that it is possible to have a different kind of monism, one that does not reject the possibility of consciousness, one like anomalous monism.

Second, I don't know why you would have to conclude that everything must be physical -- again, without even indicating what you mean by that. As far as we know, magnetic fields are not made of electrons, protons, and neutrons; and yet, a magnetic field can influence the path of a moving charged particle. If you want to say that, well then, those electrons and protons made ultimately be made of the same stuff as whatever a magnetic field is made of, then you need to produce the evidence.

A magnetic field is a process. It may supervene upon a magnet just as a mental state supervenes upon a physical state. The magnetic field is dependent upon the magnet just as a mental state could be dependent upon a physical state. To say that magnetic fields exist independently from any causal source is mysticism.

Third, if you are going to bring up a topic in front of intelligent people and claim or ask about the relationship between anomalous monism and Objectivism, then you ought to expect to get some kind of response. My response, in case it is not clear is that, NO, there is no relationship between any form of monism and Objectivism.

Back to the first point, not all monism is the same. A basic understanding of anomalous monism would show this. What Rand and Peikoff took to be monism is "the doctrine that all things are forms of one ultimate reality". But this is not Davidson's view. His view is a neutral monism, a dual-aspect, a third substance which is neither completely "mental" (as it is defined) or "physical" (as it is defined, by Davidson himself, a definition I should not be required to describe in full). This third substance is capable of both body and mental functions. This is the view of Benedict de Spinoza (whom Rand admired), Bertrand Russell, Alfred Ayer, William James, and, Donald Davidson. The monism of "anomalous monism" is really a misnomer and an obvious source of confusion here.

In this neutral monism, there is only one. This is Wittgenstein's non-reductionism of the mind/body. My question is if this is Rand's non-reductionism of the mind/body. The question, although it requires familiarity with the topic, is not too terribly difficult.

Objectivism does not go around making claims about the ultimate constituents of existence; but it does say one ought to go by the facts and integrate according to similarities -- but you have rejected that approach, so what method are you using? It sounds like rationalism to me or some form of a priori pseudo-reasoning from some premise which you can't confirm or deny.

What am I reasoning or claiming here? I am asking a question. I am not asserting the truth of physicalism, I am merely showing that the definitions of monism being used here are outdated and quite frankly ridiculous, they're the ones that Rand and Peikoff used twenty to sixty years ago, and since (most) Objectivists do not make note of the mind/body discussion, I provided links to appropriate pages.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What am I reasoning or claiming here? I am asking a question. I am not asserting the truth of physicalism, I am merely showing that the definitions of monism being used here are outdated and quite frankly ridiculous, they're the ones that Rand and Peikoff used twenty to sixty years ago, and since (most) Objectivists do not make note of the mind/body discussion, I provided links to appropriate pages.

Your remarks point out some of the implicit Spinozism in Objectivist metaphysics, and the quaintness with which its terminology has already become saddled.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What Rand and Peikoff took to be monism is "the doctrine that all things are forms of one ultimate reality". But this is not Davidson's view. His view is a neutral monism, a dual-aspect, a third substance which is neither completely "mental" (as it is defined) or "physical" (as it is defined, by Davidson himself, a definition I should not be required to describe in full).

From the web page:

Neutral monism is a monistic metaphysic. It holds that ultimate reality is all of one kind. To this extent neutral monism is in agreement with idealism and materialism. What distinguishes neutral monism from its better known monistic rivals is the claim that the intrinsic nature of ultimate reality is neither mental nor physical. This negative claim also captures the idea of neutrality: being intrinsically neither mental nor physical in nature ultimate reality is said to be neutral between the two.

What I'm asking is:

Where is the evidence for any kind of monism? And where is the evidence of this non-physical, non-mental stuff?

Just to give you more of the Objectivist view as I understand it: Consciousness is an axiom, that means that epistemologically it is non-reducible qua axiom. One cannot get beneath the fact that one is aware of existence and that one is aware of one's awareness of existence and awareness that we have free will.

What does this mean?

It means that any other knowledge cannot supersede these fundamental facts about human existence. And more, it means that any other knowledge on has about what man is made of does not come before our knowledge that we have consciousness and free will. Whatever it is discovered that we are made of and whatever is discovered about how it all works -- all of that knowledge -- is epistemologically dependent on the fact that we have consciousness and free will. In that sense, consciousness and free will are fundamentals that we cannot get beneath, epistemologically.

All of the knowledge that we have about psychotropic drugs helping people with mental illnesses does not get beneath the fact that we have consciousness and free will; because this knowledge comes after the realization that we have consciousness and free will. Likewise for any knowledge about synapses and neurons in our brains; this knowledge is hierarchically higher -- or come after -- the discovery that we have consciousness and free will.

Likewise, whatever it is that we are ultimately composed of (with no implication whatsoever that it must be all one type of stuff) -- whatever that is does not supersede our knowledge that we have consciousness and free will.

We may discover some day, for example, that we have free will because of the functioning of the frontal cortex, but that knowledge comes after -- long after -- our discovery of consciousness and free will.

And there is no mind / body problem to be resolved, because there is no problem, there is not anything to be explained before we can be comfortable with the fact that I am typing because I choose to type and that my body (my fingers) are following the will of my mind. So, there is no need to postulate some sort of third stuff as an intermediary between our consciousness and our body. We are one entity -- we are not a body entity somehow implanted with a consciousness entity with maybe a third entity in there as a moderator. In other words, there is no need to postulate that everything must be made of this neutral monad stuff in order to resolve the mind / body problem, because there is no problem.

Miss Rand was asked about this at one point, that is: How does one resolve the mind / body problem? You know what her answer was? She raised her arm and said, "What is the problem?"

In other words, I think you are looking for a solution when there isn't even a problem.

And, besides that, what evidence do you have for this third type of stuff?

And besides that, I don't really consider consciousness or aspects of consciousness (such as thoughts, emotions, memories, etc.) to be a type of stuff. Via introspection they are what is on our mind. In other words, they are existents because they do exist, but I don't think they are entities, except to say that they are distinct introspectively. If one is really careful about what one means one can call them mental entities -- or entities within consciousness, but by that one does not mean that they are a type of stuff -- as in literally things on our minds.

There is some kind of connection between the physical brain and aspects of consciousness, brain damage and psychotropic drugs have definitely shown us that, but what that connection is has not been discovered enough for us to say definitely that, for example, our memories are such and such a function of our such and such part of our brain. We need certain parts of our brain to have memories, but nobody really knows how that works, yet, so that we can say, "Oh yes, my memories of Joe are stored as this chemical in this part of the brain." We are getting close, but we are not there yet.

But, again, none of that gets beneath the fact of consciousness. One might be able to say this and this part of the brain are necessary for consciousness and free will to be evident, but that doesn't mean that it is the same thing. In other words, we have means of awareness extrospectively, but we also have means of awareness introspectively. But just as the eyes and optical pathways are not sight, so too can we say that the frontal cortex is not free will or consciousness -- it might make it possible, but that doesn't mean that consciousness is those material things, such as neurons and synapses; let alone thinking one has to postulate -- without evidence -- that there must be some other type of stuff to make it all work.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Rand talks about this in Ayn Rand Answers, I believe. I remember reading that she did not think that all of existence was either matter or spirit, but that it was both. Coupled with her distaste for materialism, and I would say that her philosophy was definitely not any kind of monism or physicalism.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ayn Rand...did not think that all of existence was either matter or spirit, but that it was both. Coupled with her distaste for materialism, and I would say that her philosophy was definitely not any kind of monism or physicalism.

I think it must also be kept in mind that matter or the existence of matter is not an axiom, whereas consciousness is. There is something there that I am aware of. That is all three axioms in one statement, and neither existence nor something implies matter. That is a later discovery. I think it takes a little while for a baby to realize that he cannot control aspects of existence that he perceives with his mind; that is, it is only after realizing this that he can begin to conceptualize matter; and that it is different than, say, his imagination. Certainly, it takes a lot longer for him to grasp modern physical concepts, such as mass and momentum; which is how any modern adult living in western civilization thinks of matter, if they have had any high school physics. Matter also takes up physical dimension, which, while we can have big thoughts, our head doesn't get any bigger, taken literally.

So there is no denying that consciousness exists (thoughts, emotions, memories, etc.), and there is no denying that physical things exist (rocks, trees, dogs, cats, etc.). But whether or not one ought to think of them as different kinds of stuff is what I think is open to question.

I used to think there had to be mind stuff, material stuff, and space stuff; but going by the evidence and being introspective, I have changed my mind. Those items of consciousness definitely exist, I just don't think of them as a type of stuff. I don't know, maybe it is because I have a physics background, and I have a very definite conception of stuff -- material stuff -- and things of consciousness just don't come across that way.

Some people would say this demands a sort of dualism -- consciousness exists and matter exists. But there also is no consciousness apart from a material living entity; like a man, a dog, or a cat; at least none that we have ever discovered.

So, I come back to what Aristotle wrote, and that is that we are so comprised as to have consciousness (and free will). Does it take a special substance for us to be conscious? something that is different from neuro-chemicals and neurons and synapses? Not that we have discovered.

In other words, just as there is no vitalism -- a special stuff that makes us alive -- so I think there is no consciousism -- a special stuff that makes us conscious. We are conscious because we are what we are, and we have to discover what we are scientifically.

Philosophy can say without a doubt that consciousness is an axiom; but I think what we have or what we are made of that makes that possible is a special science quest and not a philosophic quest.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In other words, just as there is no vitalism -- a special stuff that makes us alive -- so I think there is no consciousism -- a special stuff that makes us conscious. We are conscious because we are what we are, and we have to discover what we are scientifically.
I agree with you, but I was just saying that Rand thought there was a special stuff that makes consciousness.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree with you, but I was just saying that Rand thought there was a special stuff that makes consciousness.

Can you site a reference for this? My understanding is that Ms. Rand thought consciousness was an attribute possessed by certain entities, not something constituted by a "special stuff".

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...