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Induction of "The Arbitrary as Neither True Nor False&quo

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The aim of this essay is to induce the Objectivist principle that arbitrary claims are neither true nor false, but are in a third class: non-cognitive. Ayn Rand said in regard to arbitrary assertions that, “it is as if nothing had been said, because nothing of cognitive value or validity has been said.”

The outline of this essay consists of three inductions and two clarifications:

(1) The arbitrary has no connection to evidence or anyone’s cognitive context.

(2) The arbitrary is detached from thought and even the possibility of thought.

(3) Arbitrary claims are neither true nor false.

(4) How do we respond to arbitrary claims? And,

(5) What do we do in the face of an arbitrary claim that has evidence in its favor?

The Arbitrary is Disconnected from All Evidence and Cognitive Context

How do we reach the idea of the arbitrary in the first place?

People make many claims on a daily basis. What we need to keep in mind is an idea that anyone in our modern times would know: some ideas can be proved; they have a basis in fact. This is the context we need to understand certain things about arbitrary claims, this idea that some ideas are validated, proved, have a basis.

Here’s some examples of contrasting “ideas with a basis” from arbitrary claims.

1. “You are reading an essay right now.” The basis for believing this is perception.

2. “There’s a gremlin in the room.” When no one sees it, and asks what is the basis for the claim, the asserter says, “I simply believe it; he’s unknowable with your limited senses, and can’t be interacted with your meager abilities, but I can perceive and deal with this gremlin. Prove that he isn’t there.” The asserter claims whatever he wants, and when a basis is asked for, he essentially replies, “because I say so.”

(1) “That man’s violent behavior is caused by abnormally high testosterone levels.” The basis? The results of medical diagnostics and tests, proof that the man’s genetically predisposed to high testosterone levels, the fact that the man had no reasons for becoming angry and violent, and reports by others that he is generally peaceful, and the scientific connection between high testosterone and aggressiveness in men.

(2) “This man’s violence is due to him being possessed by a vile demon.” What’s the basis? Well, there are reports in the Bible about demonic possession, it’s a field of study that people are currently researching, and there have been other reports of demonic possessions and exorcisms in the city that this man resides in.

1) “I’m compatible with my wife.” What’s the basis? The person says, “Our careers are in the same field, we have many of the same hobbies, and we’re attracted to each other. I love her, and she loves me.”

2) “I’m compatible with my husband.” The basis? “Well, we have compatible zodiac signs, and the descriptions of people who are born under those signs match us perfectly.”

So, from examples like this, how do we reach a definition of the arbitrary? We have examples that have something to say, and statements that don’t really have anything to say. In other words: when does a series or progression of words become a basis for something else, and when isn’t this the case? The inductive question is: what is not present in every instance of the arbitrary that allows us to say that they have “no basis”?

There are no observations in the assertion of the arbitrary. There’s no logical argument, because arguments for the arbitrary are fallacious in one way or another, whether circular reasoning (“I say so, because I say so”), a non sequitur, based on no reasoning whatsoever, etc. No integration with past knowledge or a person’s cognitive context.

We have a word that ties all of these observations together. And it is “evidence,” specifically “probative evidence.” Probative evidence means: “an item of knowledge tending to establish or prove an idea.” When we say that a claim has “no basis,” we mean: no evidence. No perceptual evidence, because there’s no observations. No conceptual evidence, because there are no logical processes of deduction or induction used. (We’re indebted to Aristotle for first remarking that these are the two means of reasoning.) The conclusion about this that we have to reach is that there’s no relationship between the claim and any cognitive evidence, whether you consider what observations and facts are in its favor, what past knowledge the person may possess that is relevant, or what argument the person can adduce to support his claim.

(This isn’t a linguistic issue: it doesn’t matter what the asserter of the arbitrary claims, but the evidence for what he says, and whether it is available or not. The arbitrary is something that is detached from any rational, available evidence.)

Saying that a claim is arbitrary is to mean that it transcends the current context and available evidence, dismissing them as irrelevant. It also transcends future evidence, evidence that a person would have to search for and that isn’t immediately in one’s face (like a police detective). If the claim was related to our context, our knowledge and definitions for terms, then we could check the evidence and come to a logical decision about whether it is true or false, but that is not what the arbitrary does.

To understand this point about the arbitrary and evidence more clearly, we can integrate into the discussion what we’ve learned about objectivity from Aristotle and Ayn Rand. We found out that Aristotle taught the method of using observations and logic, and that these were necessary to reach the idea of a “proved statement,” which we needed to reach our idea of a baseless statement. We learned from Ayn Rand the importance of context and integration of all of our knowledge. So we have a wealth of complicated information pertaining to gaining valid knowledge that we can now apply to the arbitrary.

The result is that we learn that the arbitrary goes against everything we know about gaining knowledge. No observation; no logic; no evidence; no context; no integration. It isn’t any form of cognition, but is anti-cognition. Arbitrary claims being anti-cognition is a deductive conclusion from what we know about the arbitrary and the nature of knowledge-acquisition.

The Arbitrary is Detached from All Thought and the Possibility of Thought

What is another thing that all arbitrary claims have in common?

Is there anything that we can do cognitively with instances of the arbitrary? Can we reason one way or another about them? Can we prove or disprove them? Assign some degree of probability to its truth or falsehood? Can we even hypothesize any of them? When you examine the cases, you’ll realize that it is impossible to perform any form of cognition in regard to the arbitrary.

Will you try to disprove Astrology? Or demonic possession? What about the alleged Zionist conspiracy that intends to install a Jewish New World Order? If you make the attempt, its advocates will say, “well, I’m not the only one who believes this; a large percentage of the world believes this, there have been many reports, etc.” You literally cannot refute something that has as one of its characteristics that it can’t be considered in relation to anything that you know.

This means that you can’t prove the claim (like those of Astrology), either—it has no relation to the facts. You can’t reason about it—it has no relation to evidence, no observations or premises. (People may say things, but there’s no evidence backing it.) You can’t even hypothesize the arbitrary, because even hypotheses have at least some basis in evidence, some facts, but the arbitrary, by its nature, has nothing in its favor whatsoever. It is literally impossible to think about such claims. A rational mind stops in its tracks when it comes to processing the arbitrary, because it can’t be done. The mind becomes functionally paralyzed if it attempts to process it; since the mind can’t move anywhere cognitively with the arbitrary, the mind will just sit there until it changes its attention to a reality-oriented subject.

The Arbitrary is Neither True Nor False

The first induction was that the arbitrary is detached from any evidence or cognitive context.

The second induction was that all arbitrary claims are detached from thought and the very possibility of thought, that thought is impossible in regard to the arbitrary.

The next step is to combine the two: If you only reach the second induction, then you won’t be able to reach the necessary conclusion about the arbitrary being anti-cognition. It’s improper to dismiss something just because you can’t think of it; it may be a highly abstract theory in a field of science that you haven’t studied at all, or a very complicated technique for fighting a war and you might be a novice as a military strategist. There are things that can be thought about, that aren’t arbitrary, but will nonetheless paralyze the mind of someone who isn’t familiar with the subject, like explaining advanced mathematics to a kindergartener. The advocate of the arbitrary could say the same thing: “you didn’t take classes in exorcism, or follow the literature on Zionism, or take Astrology classes, so that’s why you can’t think of these things.” It’s when you connect this second induction with the first, that the arbitrary is inherently detached from evidence means that it is impossible to think about an arbitrary subject because it has no relation to human cognition, that no one can think about it, that you realize how important your mental paralysis is in this case. With these two insights together, you’ll arrive at a very important epistemological fact, and a formal, deductive conclusion:

A claim that is inherently detached from thought cannot have a relationship to reality. If it transcends the domain of cognition and our ability to think about it, we cannot legitimately claim that it has a basis in reality or that it opposes reality: we have no idea what relationship it has to reality. We can’t connect the arbitrary to any facts, whether in correspondence to reality or in contradiction to it. The same point applies to “possibility”: no one can figure out whether the arbitrary subject is possible in reality or impossible, because there is inherently no basis in evidence for any statements about it in relationship to reality; it is beyond human processing.

Here is where the concepts of “true” and “false” come in. Everyone in the civilized world learns these concepts very early—true means that something accords or corresponds with the facts, and the false is something that contradicts or goes against the facts. When we say that a statement “corresponds,” we merely mean that we recognize its relation to reality, not that the statement itself does anything. The methodology in this designation of “true” and “false” is that you establish or point out some positive relationship between your claim and reality, and then call that “true,” and the opposite happens in regard to the “false.” Both truth and falsehood have some sort of relationship to the reality, but the arbitrary does not.

This is the reason why the arbitrary is neither “true” nor “false.” As far as human cognition goes, it is like a parrot making a memorized noise, or someone suffering a mild stroke or someone who’s high as a kite. Noise has no cognitive status, it isn’t “true” or “false.” In a sense, then, when someone says that your claim is false, it is a complement because they mean that it contradicts reality at one point: they don’t mean that your claim is a complete break from reality and is totally disconnected from it. By the same token, if someone says that your claim is arbitrary, then it’s a much greater insult if that isn’t the case.

What Should I do about Arbitrary Claims?

We’ve reached the idea that arbitrary can’t be processed by a human mind, so what should we do when confronted by an arbitrary claim that we know to be such? We should not talk about it, and dismiss it without any thought.

When it comes to arbitrary claims, like the belief in the afterlife, reincarnation, Gods, etc., you shouldn’t give in to despair and think: “I can’t unravel this claim, there’s too much complexity or information.” That could be legitimate in a difficult court case, or assessing competing scientific theories, where the evidence can become very complicated, but not with the arbitrary. In the case of the arbitrary, you have to decide and make a definite stand: since there’s no evidence either way, the claim is unthinkable, inadmissible, and can’t be discussed.

Though you cast out the arbitrary in your mind, a negative aspect of the arbitrary influences your decisions when it comes to actions. You act, in regard to the arbitrary, as if nothing had come up, as if it wasn’t there. If someone simply asserts with no evidence that your food was poisoned, or that your house is going to collapse, and you’ve taken all the normal precautions and don’t observe anything out of the ordinary yourself, you don’t analyze that person’s claim: you eat the food, or enter your house, etc. If there’s no available evidence, then “there is no poison,” or “my house won’t collapse” must be the conclusion you reach. In a sense, it’s reality that makes that conclusion necessary for you to reach, because there could conceivably be billions of things that aren’t in your food presently, or billions of things that aren’t wrong with your house’s construction at the moment, so you can’t spend your days checking out every conceivable thing that could be put into your food, or that could destroy your house. You only check for poison when there’s evidence for poison or check for your house being on the verge of collapse when there’s evidence of that: if there isn’t, then you ignore the person’s claim totally.

How to Handle “Arbitrary Claims with Possible Evidence”

Now, here’s a “hard case”:

(This example is based on Dr. Peikoff’s example in the “Objectivism Through Induction” course, in which someone asserts that “Harry Binswanger gave a 3-hour seminar in his New York apartment on Hegel’s logic for his bachelor party, and it started at 4:00am EST with 50 Objectivists present to hear it.”)

Someone, let’s call him “Tim,” says that your friend has been lying about his anti-Astrology beliefs for years—he advocates Astrology and takes classes on Astrology every Thursday afternoon at 5:00pm with 20 other students at a well-known Astrologer’s private residence.

You ask: “What’s your basis for that?”

Tim says: “Because I say so. That’s my view.”

That statement from Tim is completely, absolutely arbitrary, but there seems to be abundant evidence available, enough to be probably decisive one way or another, if you take the time and effort to find it. You could ask your friend, his girlfriend, or ask all of the students and the Astrology teacher; you could track your friend on Thursday and see if he goes to the Astrologer’s house some time before 5:00pm, or check your friend’s house for any Astrology books or other signs of interest in Astrology.

The question that must be asked is: what can we do about this?

Can we pronounce it true? No, we haven’t checked it out, yet.

Can we say that it is false? No, we haven’t assessed it, or tried to refute it. There seems to be abundant evidence available, so if it is false, we should have the means to refute it. Well, the question now becomes: should we expend the time and energy to find the evidence to decide one way or another?

What’s the reasonable action in this case?

All he said to back it up was “I say so,” but there appears to be plenty of evidence to decide one way or another. What should a rational person do? Should we examine an arbitrary claim if it is actually possible to do so?

Dr. Peikoff said that his answer to this question changed. Historically, he always answered “no, we shouldn’t examine such a claim.” Peikoff argued that the person making an arbitrary statement is holding a direct contradiction. By saying that “maybe X happened,” he’s hypothesizing the existence of something without any evidence, that’s there is evidence for the existence of X, but with no evidence in support of that judgment. Since there’s no justification for the claim, it is non-cognitive, and therefore there’s no justification at all for checking out the claim. It’s irrational and immoral to check it out, but it is possible.

But since then, his answer has changed in an important way. Since I thought it would be helpful to the readers of this essay, I’ll present my own version of his new, “Objectivism Through Induction”-inspired answer.

The answer I would give to that question is: How did we even get into this kind of dilemma at all? We’ve already induced that the arbitrary is devoid of evidence and produces mental paralysis. Given that, how can there be an arbitrary claim that can be checked out by reference to perceptual and conceptual evidence? We’re in this predicament because we’re confronting a solid contradiction.

There is no such thing as an arbitrary claim that has possible evidence. There is no way to check out if your friend believes in Astrology or attends Astrology classes; that claim of Tim’s can never be verified or refuted, except if you give up reason.

The trap is set by slipping a contradiction into your mind by setting up a concrete, particular fact in your mind without reference to any principles. The scheme is set up so that you effectively must become concrete-bound, which leaves the asserter of the arbitrary, like Tim, free to be completely unprincipled, because the unsuspecting rational person will be so busy studying the concretes. Here is a description of the “concrete-bound mentality”: “This is the man, who, as far as possible to a conceptual being, establishes no connections among his mental contents. To him, every issue is simply a new concrete, unrelated to what came before, to abstract principles, or to any context…” [Leonard Peikoff, “Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand,” p. 127.]

Let’s keep in mind something that we learned in the induction of egoism: when we discussed altruism, I warned not to let an opponent limit, circumscribe or constrain his theory. You shouldn’t let him say: “a dime for the poor, the rich dutifully give for the sake of the world’s poor, etc.” If your goal is to assess altruism as a way of life and as an inductively reached universal principle of ethics, and afterwards apply it to a wide range, then you should take altruism in the same manner as we did with egoism.

Bob the altruist says: “Mr. Alms will be at your front door shortly. He just needs 10% of your silverware: hand that over to him as your duty, but don’t give him your bed, chairs, fans, etc. you have some rights and protections, too. A little sacrifice is good, but complete sacrifice is absurd: we would all die. So there are times when some selfishness is good.”

If an altruist said all of that, it’ll be the greatest subversion that he’ll be capable of achieving. If you agree with him, then he’ll sabotage your mind by completing the banishment of principles. The only issue then becomes concrete-bound: “who gets the silverware?”

But what if you were to respond to him at an abstract, principled level: how can you reconcile these opposing ethical approaches?

Bob’s answer simply brushes your view off: “This isn’t a matter of theory, it is ethics, the field of practical decision-making. Don’t you feel that the silverware is enough for Mr. Alms? I’ve already discussed this with everyone else in the community, and they feel that it is enough—what do you feel? (The principled person sees that his answer reduces to ethics being a matter of obeying the intuitions or feelings of others.)

The frosting on the altruist’s cake happens when Bob is able to convince you of this: “Mr. Alms will be grateful for your alms-giving, so you will get his good will and support out of performing this duty. See? There’s no real contradiction between the views of selfishness and sacrifice. You can have both, and by sacrificing just a little bit, you can become more selfish.”

Now, to apply this kind of example to our own case of the arbitrary statement with “evidence”:

The advocate of the arbitrary says: “Mr. Conspiracy will visit you. Just accept the first arbitrary claim that he makes. After all, you’re a reasonable man—some arbitrary claims make life interesting and open possibilities that we wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. Too much, of course, is ridiculous, as we’d never get anywhere. Sometimes, we need real evidence, too.”

No attempt is made to reconcile or make compatible in any way these two completely opposite principles of epistemology. One arbitrary claim, he tells us, and then reason all the way from then on. You’ll become confounded if you don’t answer, “I refuse to say anything about this, I’m leaving this discussion.”

Let’s suppose that you do try to prove that your friend doesn’t believe in Astrology and doesn’t attend classes on it: 23 affidavits, from your friend, his girlfriend, the Astrology professor, and his students, all together prove that he doesn’t attend classes on, or believe in, Astrology.

“Aha,” Tim gleefully exclaims, “Roderick was wrong! I suppose that the arbitrary isn’t so “arbitrary,” in the end. Perhaps the arbitrary can be rationally proved, as well!”

I then lose my cool and say, “Your fact-gathering and 23 affidavits don’t prove anything! If they were supposed to prove that arbitrary claim about your friend, then I might as well say that your 23 affidavits are a part of a cunning conspiracy by a group of liars—prove that it isn’t. This is what I mean when I say that it’s impossible to refute the arbitrary. You can’t do anything cognitively with the arbitrary.”

Tim, the advocate of the arbitrary, would then remark: “There’s no need to be such an extremist about this: everything cannot be arbitrary. So let us all decide this issue communally (intuitively): 23 affidavits sounds like pretty convincing evidence to me. If we allow Roderick’s objection, then we’ll be overwhelmed with the arbitrary. It will be far too much, just like if Mr. Alms were to ask for your bed, too; we need to draw the line somewhere.”

Now, Tim’s acting like he’s the defender and spokesman for balance, moderation, and level-headedness.

Tim finally says: “who here feels with me that, leaving aside all technicalities, 23 affidavits proves something? Do we have a court system with valid affidavits, or are we going to live in some fantasy world like Roderick here?

Then the debate turns into: just accept the first arbitrary statement, or the 20th, or only once a week, or only in our constitutional laws, or only in Astronomy.

So, here’s the layout of the whole racket: If the arbitrary were fully advocated as a principle, the advocate of such a view would look ridiculous, and that viewpoint destroys all cognition. By the same logic, if a person advocated altruism as a principle, the person would look medieval and sociopathic, and the viewpoint destroys our capacity to survive. So what certain people do is they covertly slip in irrational principles only now and then, as a guise; they don’t want to be perceived as extremists, so they only ask that people follow their principles a little bit. They conceal their principle and make it appear to be its opposite, and then go on to proclaim that they are the real defenders and champions of reason, proof, selfishness, human decency, justice, etc.

What, then, causes the belief that you can prove an arbitrary claim? The failure to think in principles. The failure to insist upon inductive generalizations when confronting an issue. The willingness to discuss or allow anything into your thoughts that is disconnected from any principles that you know. The cause is the unprincipled acceptance of some other person’s irrationality, even if for a few moments, and even if it was hypothetically, just to entertain his argument.

The conclusion of this case is: there is no case at all in which you can objectively process an arbitrary claim, not if you uphold reason as a principle and as an absolute.7360316141951760499-5622725819441233817?l=inductivequest.blogspot.com

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