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DoxaPar
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Greetings,

I'm new to Objectivism, as a formal philosophy, but not in belief and practice.

Since become familiar with the formal philosophy, Ayn Rand and others I've been reading more on the subject. Two issues in particular have really bugged me as I've read through the online and printed material. I was hoping that folks could provide some insight on the positions, the justifications for the position and any links, quotes, etc that may be helpful.

Item 1

I've come across this quote in a few places and it really is bugging me - although I can't figure out who wrote it.

"Reality, the external world, exists independent of man's consciousness, independent of any observer's knowledge, beliefs, feelings, desires or fears. This means that A is A, that facts are facts, that things are what they are—and that the task of man's consciousness is to perceive reality, not to create or invent it." Thus Objectivism rejects any belief in the supernatural—and any claim that individuals or groups create their own reality.

I'm completely comfortable with the first two sentences (ending with ".. not to create or invite it"). However, two items are particularly frustrating in the last sentence. The first is the use of the word "thus". In this context and use the author is saying "for this reason" or "in light of the previous two sentences". Yet, the conclusion reached is a leap of logic that, coming from an author who obviously esteems logic as much, if not more than me, is very hard to understand.

Rightly, the author states "the task of man's consciousness is to perceive reality". I can only assume that the author believes that this is done through man's natural senses, cognition, reason, logic, etc. Yet, all of these things are natural (i.e. of nature) and are limited in their ability to perceive what is even here referred to as "above natural". In other words, if man's perception, cognition, reason and logic is limited to the natural, what use is it in the determination of the supernatural? It's a bit like saying "If my thermostate cannot detect the barometric pressure we reject any belief in barometric pressure". Or, it is very much like a fish declaring that a world outside his tank does not exist simply because the fish has not (and is incapable of) perceiving it.

Of course, the affirmation of the supernatural is equally problematic on these grounds.

Moreover, there is the difficulty related to proving a negative here.

Thus, does logic not demand agnosticism, not atheism?

Item 2

Secondly, I've always been pro-life on the grounds of what most here identify with objectivist core beliefs. Yet, I read that Rand supported abortion. I'm not really interested in debating abortion but more concerned with what I see, again, as a failure of logic. Rand seemed to side-step this issue by identifying the unborn baby / fetus as only a "potential" human and gives several, very weak arguments why. Any thoughts on this?

Thanks in advance!

DoxaPar

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For the first question: think about what the term supernatural refers to, in essence. If something is beyond natural, and Nature is that which exists, then something that is beyond nature by definition couldn't exist. The concept doesn't refer to anything in Reality, therefore anything supernatural can be known to be false.

The other part of the answer rests upon the idea that positive claims have the burden of proof; it's not up to anyone else to disprove that the supernatural cannot exist... If you think it exists, then you need to provide good evidence as for why that is the case. In the absence of this evidence, any statement saying that supernatural could exist is arbitrary and has no basis to be considered. That explanation depends on a good understanding of how a person can be certain, and what possible means (rationally speaking). But that is probably a separate discussion in itself.

Edited by Maarten
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Thanks Maarten,

I believe I understand the argument of your first paragraph - that you're attempting to disprove the existence of the supernatural based off the meaning of the word "natural". I can see the argument, I think, but am also not completely comfortable with that type of argument, after all, we all know and recognize the inadequacies of words and their meanings. If words are symbols for concepts, and we are willing to argue so heavily on the meaning of words someone who disagrees could just as easily make the same argument with another set of clever words. It's a bit like saying, "God is the greatest being ever and a being that exists is better than a being that does not exists so therefore, God exists".

The second paragraph is helpful, and I agree that the burden of proof rests in the affirmative.

Ultimately though, this doesn't zero in on my question (or what I see as a problem of the logical assumption demonstrated by the author I quoted). Your second paragraph is a good reason for the rejection of the supernatural, the original author's reason is not.

I hope that makes sense! :-)

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Thanks Maarten,

I believe I understand the argument of your first paragraph - that you're attempting to disprove the existence of the supernatural based off the meaning of the word "natural". I can see the argument, I think, but am also not completely comfortable with that type of argument, after all, we all know and recognize the inadequacies of words and their meanings. If words are symbols for concepts, and we are willing to argue so heavily on the meaning of words someone who disagrees could just as easily make the same argument with another set of clever words. It's a bit like saying, "God is the greatest being ever and a being that exists is better than a being that does not exists so therefore, God exists".

The second paragraph is helpful, and I agree that the burden of proof rests in the affirmative.

Ultimately though, this doesn't zero in on my question (or what I see as a problem of the logical assumption demonstrated by the author I quoted). Your second paragraph is a good reason for the rejection of the supernatural, the original author's reason is not.

I hope that makes sense! :-)

You're welcome. It'd probably have been better for the original quote to have included another sentence or two linking the thoughts. I think the quote you gave is correct, but it relies upon quite a bit of pre-existing knowledge on the part of the reader for it to truly make sense.

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You're welcome. It'd probably have been better for the original quote to have included another sentence or two linking the thoughts. I think the quote you gave is correct, but it relies upon quite a bit of pre-existing knowledge on the part of the reader for it to truly make sense.

I think that's right. Which is also the main reason I balked at the word "thus" (as if what the author just said provides reasonable logic for the conclusion). I guess I wouldn't care if it wasn't already published in most of the Rand material I own. It makes it feel very much (when it is quoted so oft) that this is the apex of Objectivist thinking/logic, which leaves much to be desired.

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Thanks Maarten,

I believe I understand the argument of your first paragraph - that you're attempting to disprove the existence of the supernatural based off the meaning of the word "natural". I can see the argument, I think, but am also not completely comfortable with that type of argument, after all, we all know and recognize the inadequacies of words and their meanings. If words are symbols for concepts, and we are willing to argue so heavily on the meaning of words someone who disagrees could just as easily make the same argument with another set of clever words. It's a bit like saying, "God is the greatest being ever and a being that exists is better than a being that does not exists so therefore, God exists".

The second paragraph is helpful, and I agree that the burden of proof rests in the affirmative.

Ultimately though, this doesn't zero in on my question (or what I see as a problem of the logical assumption demonstrated by the author I quoted). Your second paragraph is a good reason for the rejection of the supernatural, the original author's reason is not.

I hope that makes sense! :-)

Words are the symbols for concepts, but rather than being the inadequacies of words and their meanings, it is precisely the understanding of the relationship between the concepts and the words that provide the meaning for the words. Concepts are an integration of the perceived similarities identified by the mind from the data provided by the senses.

Words in themselves are not clever. In the example provided, the invalid concept of 'God' relies upon the acceptence of the concept of "God" as 'valid' in order to be provided the sanction of the victim.

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Words in themselves are not clever. In the example provided, the invalid concept of 'God' relies upon the acceptence of the concept of "God" as 'valid' in order to be provided the sanction of the victim.

I completely agree. Which is why I used that example. It's the artificial association of a concept with the word that causes the issue - in the same way that the artificial association of "non existent" is applied to "supernatural". Supernatural does not linguistically imply "non existent". There are other presuppositions going on there.

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I had the same kind of discussion on a skeptic’s board. I finally quoted a post by RationalBiker that I found on this site i.e.

'No "leap of faith" is necessary to accept reality. Rather, a "leap into the arbitrary' IS necessary to entertain any other possibility for which absolutely no evidence exists.'

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  • 3 weeks later...

In answer to the question on abortion. Potential for human life does not entail a right to it. Every sperm in your body has the potential to become a baby but that does not mean you are a muderer when you don't have sex. It is the prescence of a rational mind that entails men to human rights. If you got a collection of chemicals that make up a man and put them in a jar it would not be entitled to rights. IT is the same with zygotes and fetuses, they are not consiecse, they could become consiece but so could the jar if it went through an infinte amount of time (being ingested and turned into DNA and such.)

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Item 1

I've come across this quote in a few places and it really is bugging me - although I can't figure out who wrote it.

I'm completely comfortable with the first two sentences (ending with ".. not to create or invite it"). However, two items are particularly frustrating in the last sentence. The first is the use of the word "thus". In this context and use the author is saying "for this reason" or "in light of the previous two sentences". Yet, the conclusion reached is a leap of logic that, coming from an author who obviously esteems logic as much, if not more than me, is very hard to understand.

If you are completely comfortable with the first two sentences (ending with ".. not to create or invite it"), then you ought also to be comfortable with "Thus Objectivism rejects ... any claim that individuals or groups create their own reality." The real question is what is the basis for equating a belief in the supernatural with creating a subjective reality.

I have searched for the quote, it is from this page on the ARI website: Essentials of Objectivism. You are correct that it is a non sequitor. No argument is given because the page is a "cheat sheet" listing of conclusions. The argument can be found in voluminous detail in chapter one of Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. From the table of contents of OPAR:

Chapter 1: Reality

• Existence, Consciousness, And Identity As The Basic Axioms

• Causality As A Corollary Of Identity

• Existence As Possessing Primacy Over Consciousness

• The Metaphysically Given As Absolute

• Idealism And Materialism As The Rejection Of Basic Axioms

The arguments against the supernatural (it is a manifestation of Idealism) are in the last section and rely on the preceding material. The whole chapter is about 35 pages.

Edited by Grames
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