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(On The Definition of Thought)- An Excerpt From "An Epistle To Dr.

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Your essay “The Contradiction of Determinism” taught me a lot.

Before I share with you all that I have learned from that essay I have one very important point to make regarding a matter on which we seem to disagree. I shall preface this by stating that there are only a few things you have written that I disagree with. I am aware of the meaning of the context here; a young man writing to one of humanity’s most profound geniuses, in fact, his hero, and addressing a disagreement with his hero. You have stated however, that “If someone wants to challenge my theory of self-esteem, I will welcome the opportunity to learn. But first, let’s be clear on what I’ve said and not said.” ( “For The Record”) I assume that this is your principle for discussing disagreements in general. I have immense respect for the optimism and confidence in that statement, sir! Some people are so frightened of the prospect that someone might identify a contradiction they hold that they evade any comment that challenges their convictions. You revealed this implicitly about Ayn Rand when you pointed out that she ultimately encouraged dogmatism. You demonstrate your commitment to reason; to truth. As I submit this to you I want to emphasize that I value your judgement very highly and also, if you disagree with my judgement, if you want to challenge my idea, hopefully it is obvious that “I am open to learning”. Now. I must convey to you as explicitly as possible that the following assertion is a product of my reason; it is not in anyway a pretentious, disrespectful game of semantics. In fact, those who evade word choice and definition are literally doing just that; evading. You have said yourself, definitions are crucial.

The issue here is the exact definition of the concepts “think” and “thought” and thus the use of these concepts.

In your genius essay “The Contradiction of Determinism” you quote from Atlas Shrugged: “the question ‘to be or not to be’ is the question ‘to think or not to think’”. I submit that the question ought to be “to think logically or not to think logically?”. Here is why: what does it mean, in the clearest terms possible, to think? To the full extent of my awareness, the accepted Objectivist definition of “thought” is “drawing conclusions from evidence”. This is the implied definition when Ayn Rand writes in her book Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology : “when he stops to watch her and draws conclusions, from the evidence about her character, age, social position, etc., the action of his consciousness is thought” (p. 30) I note however, that “thought” can be even more explicitly defined as “a distinct connection of concepts and/or anti-concepts”. In reference to this definition it could be noted then that there are two types of thoughts: logical ones, and illogical ones.

I shall offer my reasoning.

We humans do on occasion, illogically connect concepts by mistake, or, if we are in the process of logically connecting concepts, within that process, we have in our minds; our consciousnesses- fragmented sentences or visions composed of connected concepts /anti-concepts; fragments not yet perfected, not yet clear, and thus illogical. In the most fundamental- metaphysical-psychological- cognitive sense a human’s primary “action of consciousness” is connecting concepts, and to call that “thinking” provides us with the most precise abstraction of what a thought qua a thing is. Without this explicit definition, when someone says that we should “think” that use of “think” is ambiguous.

How does one “draw conclusions from evidence”? What is the precise mental action? Suppose I want to “draw the conclusion” that “I love this hotel”. What on the metaphysical and psychological level does the product of the drawn conclusion and sentence “I love this hotel” consist of? Concepts. We can break this content down bit by bit, piece by piece, and see it, as if examining under a microscope. I: the concept I use in reference to myself. Love: the concept I use in reference to how highly I value this hypothetical hotel (where I wish I was as I write this!). This: the concept I use in reference to pointing out the particular hotel I am referring to. Hotel: the concept in reference to the place accommodating thousands of tourists and I. Whether that connection of concepts is logical is a different story, but qua an entity, qua a thing which merits a concept referring to it, a distinct connection of concepts and/or anti-concepts must be identified and to the full extent of my awareness no word in the English language is closer to this exact thing in reality than “thought”.

In response to the charge that “to think” necessarily implies a logical act of consciousness, what is it someone is doing when he or she thinks that a “god” exists, i.e., connects the concepts, and the anti-concept “there- is- a- God”? If you would say that that is not a thought but rather a connection of concepts and an anti-concept based on the absence of thought, which concept refers to isolated, consciously/ subconsciously connected concepts and anti-concepts? If I understand you correctly, you would call this an “evasion” however when one evades, one is consciously refusing to acknowledge a fact and this is quite different than somebody who fails to understand a fact. As ironic as it is, a simple axiom like “existence exists”, and all of the implications of “existence exists” can be quite challenging to grasp. If somebody believes that a God exists because he or she doesn’t understand why that is impossible, but consciously, and earnestly contemplates and debates the argument, then we can be certain that he or she is striving for truth. If we were to refer to that as evasion (and thus immoral) we could not prove it.

To be fair, I have considered the issue of subconsciously evaded facts however there are two distinct considerations here. 1)Subconscious disinterest in the truth about something (and thus truth as such) and 2)Subconscious disinterest in learning a particular but non-essential idea or skill. The implication, if we were to assume that both circumstances constitute evasion, would be that the nature of evasion is rooted in subconscious disinterest in anything. If this were the case then, if you tried to teach me how to play the piano, but in all honesty, I told you, “I’m not interested in playing the piano, I don’t want to learn, it’s not in my self interest, I would rather write”, that would have to then be classified as “evasion” which it is not; it is merely preference- personal value judgement-personal meaning- personal priorities...

(You may read the entire epistle at http://seanoconnorli...haniel-branden/)

Edited by Sean O'Connor
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I submit that the question ought to be “to think logically or not to think logically?”

I ask a slightly different question: To observe thought, or not to observe thought? ...because there is that which thinks... and then there is that which observes thinking.

Edited by moralist
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moralist,

That is an excellent point and really provides clarified insight into an ideal thought process. I really like the image that comes with "observe thought" as it implies more than just arbitrary thinking. I had written a previous comment here but omitted it because I wasn't clear. I want to give a better response. In regards to describing types of thoughts, speaking on the most basic level, there are logical thoughts and illogical thoughts- but then beyond that, as we advance our study of thoughts qua entities we can identify all the various types of thoughts, two of which you have implicitly identified: "introspective thought" and "intellectual thought". I do love that especially because it clarifies the contrasting images of passive, elementary thought- that which would stream through the mind of an apathetic- and logical, constructive thought and not only that, but thought of other various thoughts. Ultimately my favorite thing here is the treatment of thought qua an entity as far too many people think thoughts do not even exist (and yet hypocritically use the term!)

Thanks for your comments!

Edited by Sean O'Connor
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moralist,

That is an excellent point and really provides clarified insight into an ideal thought process. I really like the image that comes with "observe thought" as it implies more than just arbitrary thinking. I had written a previous comment here but omitted it because I wasn't clear. I want to give a better response. In regards to describing types of thoughts, speaking on the most basic level, there are logical thoughts and illogical thoughts- but then beyond that, as we advance our study of thoughts qua entities we can identify all the various types of thoughts, two of which you have implicitly identified: "introspective thought" and "intellectual thought". I do love that especially because it clarifies the contrasting images of passive, elementary thought- that which would stream through the mind of an apathetic- and logical, constructive thought and not only that, but thought of other various thoughts. Ultimately my favorite thing here is the treatment of thought qua an entity as far too many people think thoughts do not even exist (and yet hypocritically use the term!)

Thanks for your comments!

You're most welcome, Sean. :)

I believe that the power of logic is derived from the ability to observe thought, and it is through this self reflective observation that we acquire the power of reason to act contrary to thought. Hey, it we acted indiscriminately upon every thought that went through our heads, everyone would either be in jail or dead! :lol:

And that alludes to a fascinating point to ponder: Which one am I? The one who originates the broadcast?... or the one who is listening to the radio?

Edited by moralist
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moralist said

Hey, it we acted indiscriminately upon every thought that went through our heads, everyone would either be in jail or dead! :lol:

You are christian very christian , why would every thought be automatically deprived?

Could you explain what you mean by thought being "automatically deprived"?

I just want to be clear on exactly what you mean before I respond. Thanks.

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You said if we acted on every thought... that implies every thought is 'automatically deprived, irrational, immoral, no ? Oh and you said every thought and everyone(all?)yes?

In my post where I doubled up on the christian thing, that was a typo but I think it stands anyway, maybe depending on your response.

Edited by tadmjones
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You said if we acted on every thought... that implies every thought is 'automatically deprived, irrational, immoral, no ?

Oh, you meant depraved, and not deprived. Ok, now I get your meaning.

The answer would be no.

Not every thought is automatically depraved, irrational, or immoral... however, if we acted on every thought, it would include acting on all of the thoughts that were depraved, irrational, and immoral.

Oh and you said every thought and everyone(all?)yes?

Yes. My point is that it's for our own good that we have the ability to choose to act contrary to our thoughts. And that ability to override thought arises from the fact that we can observe thoughts from the point of view as if we are not the thinker of those thoughts.

In my post where I doubled up on the christian thing, that was a typo but I think it stands anyway, maybe depending on your response.

No offense taken, Tad. It's likely that I don't believe in what you define as "Christian" any more than you do.

Edited by moralist
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Mea culpa deprived/depraved (thanks btw)

moralist

Yes. My point is that it's for our own good that we have the ability to choose to act contrary to our thoughts. And that ability to override thought arises from the fact that we can observe thoughts from the point of view as if we are not the thinker of those thoughts.

By' for our own good', do you mean to suggest that it(volition) is beneficial to humanity by some purpose, or design?

Edited by tadmjones
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No, it's just a hypothetical that doesn't exist. I only referenced it as a comparison to the reality that we do have volition.

So, you were just asking for the consideration of a hypothetical which does not exist to be used as a reference for a comparison to reality.

So, a volitional being can ascertain that particular actions can bring about conditions necessary to freedom or life and that other particular actions can bring conditions resulting in jail or death. A volitional being can ascertain a goal, purpose, or design a course of action which can possibly result in freedom or non-freedom, life or death. Do you perchance think a rock can do likewise? Or a planet? Or the sun?

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So, you were just asking for the consideration of a hypothetical which does not exist to be used as a reference for a comparison to reality.

It is a hypothetical which others believe exists. I just don't. Many people equate humans with animals and use animal behavior as a model for human behavior.

So, a volitional being can ascertain that particular actions can bring about conditions necessary to freedom or life and that other particular actions can bring conditions resulting in jail or death.

Yes.

A volitional being can ascertain a goal, purpose, or design a course of action which can possibly result in freedom or non-freedom, life or death.

Yes... except it is more like following a design rather than creating a design.

Every event carries with it the seeds of future events which will unfold from it. People have the rational ability to consider the potential of those seeds and to make choices before they sprout. If our lives were novels, that phenomenon would be known as foreshadowing.

Do you perchance think a rock can do likewise? Or a planet? Or the sun?

No. This ability is peculiar to humans.

Edited by moralist
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No offense taken, Tad. It's likely that I don't believe in what you define as "Christian" any more than you do.

I just noticed this part of the comment, by christian I mean the belief that some omnipresent consciousness created the universe, are you saying you do not believe that to be the case, too(or either)?

Edited by tadmjones
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I just noticed this part of the comment, by christian I mean the belief that some omnipresent consciousness created the universe, are you saying you do not believe that to be the case, too(or either)?

That doesn't define a Christian. That could be a Jew, or a Catholic, or a Muslim or any other number of religions.

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Precisely my point.

Do you believe in what ,you think, i would call the supernatural?

That would depend on what you mean by supernatural. That means a great many different things to different people. So I'll be more specific: Something greater than us to which we are morally accountable... regardless of what we believe or don't believe.

And if you think I believe, then the answer is no. I don't believe. I know.

Edited by moralist
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Moralist, just pointing out that by claiming you "know" you are certainly using some other sense of what it means to know according to Oist. The referents of the concept you are espousing certainly cannot be reduced through the chain of reasoning that results in what Oist call knowledge, let alone certainty.

Edited by Plasmatic
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Exerpted from An Epistle to Dr. Nathanial Brandon:

I also agree with your point that Objectivism encourages dogmatism. You wrote: “Ayn always insisted that her philosophy was an integrated whole, that it was entirely self-consistent, and that one could not reasonably pick elements of her philosophy and discard others. In effect, she declared, ‘It’s all or nothing.’ Now this is a rather curious view, if you think about it. What she was saying, translated into simple English, is: Everything I have to say in the field of philosophy is true, absolutely true, and therefore any departure necessarily leads you into error. Don’t try to mix your irrational fantasies with my immutable truths. This insistence turned Ayn Rand’s philosophy, for all practical purposes, into dogmatic religion, and many of her followers chose that path.”

It is not Objectivism which encourages dogmatism. Those who treat ideas dogmatically reveal how they have been taught to think. The fact that many of her followers chose that path is simply reading the literature does not inculcate proper thinking methods. The power and presentation of her reasoning resonates with them, and the shortcut to accepting those ideas as written at face value is akin to the method of faith. Religion is dogmatic for this very reason. Because the ideas of religion cannot be arrived at by a proper application of reason, they must be accepted and spread by dogmatic means. Because the proper application of reason is not widely adhered to, most default to the method of accepting ideas on the basis of authority, popularity, and even whim.

Edited to add link to article.

Edited by dream_weaver
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Moralist, just pointing out that by claiming you "know" you are certainly using some other sense of what it means to know according to Oist.

When I say I know... it is by the direct first person person experience of direct observation of how the consequences that unfold from my own actions are completely consistent with a moral law which is greater than me.

The referents of the concept you are espousing certainly cannot be reduced through the chain of reasoning that results in what Oist call knowledge, let alone certainty.

You can easily prove for yourself that you are completely subject to moral law. Just do something which you know is wrong and observe the consequences that your own actions set into motion. Moral law is as impersonally universal as the law of gravity from which no one is exempt. And like the law of gravity, moral law does not require your belief in it for you to be subject to it.

So give it a try... and discover for yourself how utterly helpless you are at escaping causality.

Edited by moralist
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Moralist,

Do you hold that even the ideas one comes to accept, and the method by which one comes to accept them are an issues of morality?

To the extent that those ideas become manifest by your actions... yes.

But the ideas themselves and how you come to accept them... no.

I couldn't care less why a person does good... because it is only our actions which make the world what it is, not our ideas.

Edited by moralist
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Moralist I responded to a response from you to a question on the "supernatural". How your response is relevant to this,I have no idea.

Understanding the relevance of that comment is dependent upon the willingness to reflect upon your own actions and to observe the consequences they spin into motion.

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