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How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation

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Aw ya got me all excited, I thought you were going to say it's out.


Some of us are checking the net every day to see if it's out yet.


I heard a rumour that the schedule got expanded a little and it will be out at the end of the summer.

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Chapter outlines read:
"Fact 4: Consciousness is not reducible to matter"
Cant wait to see this chapter...... This is NOT a philosophical question according to Peikoff in The Philosophy of Objectivism.

There is no basis for the suggestion that consciousness is separable from matter   OPAR

Edited by Plasmatic
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He suggested in a lecture sometime after The Metaphysics of Consciousness that he had erred in a previous lecture, inviting inquiry to the matter during the Q & A if anyone were interested. He mentioned it as an aside during the presentation. The question of the nature of the error was not raised.


Perhaps he has augmented his position since then.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I emailed him asking whether the book would be available outside of OCON when ARI announced that he would be signing it at the conference. He said, yes that it would be widely distributed (read: Amazon.com) afterwards.


Just before the conference, the book signing was cancelled and he posted to HBList that he wasn't able to get it to the printers on time. Since then, I have been checking Amazon and http://hblist.com/ every day.



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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 2 months later...
  • 2 weeks later...
  • 2 months later...

HBL update said:

An oft-raised question is: what is the relation between one's conscious mind and one's physical brain? There are a variety of theories, most of which--maybe all--are wrong. Here's a sampling. (Incidentally, "mind" here is used simply to mean "consciousness," not, as normally is the case, to mean only the conceptual faculty of consciousness--it's just that "consciousness is too long and awkward a word sometimes.)

Materialism: consciousness does not exist. All that exists is what is physical, material. Since consciousness (e.g., your thoughts on this subject) is not physical, it does not exist.

The Identity Theory: consciousness and the brain are one and the same thing. This is usually advocated by materialists, but it carries the surprising implication that the brain is a phenomenon of consciousness. For if A and B are identical, not only is A really B but also B is really A.

The Dual Aspect Theory: consciousness and the brain are two different perspectives on one and the same thing, just as you viewed from behind and you viewed from the front are one and the same person. Usually, this view is understood as: what we call "consciousness" is how brain events appear "from the inside"--to introspection. Of course, this is circular, because "appear" is a concept of consciousness. So the theory is: consciousness is how brain processes appear to consciousness.

Cartesian Dualism: mind and matter are two separate entities. Problem: mind is not an entity.

The Dual Property Theory: this is the best one so far. It holds that the mental and the neural are two different properties of the same entity (the whole person). In some sense, this is clearly true, but the problem is that the sense in which it is true is unenlightening. And how can the mind act on the brain, on this theory? That may be an artificial question, but the other cases of dual properties are things like size and color, and neither acts on the other.

Now the question I want to raise here is not "What is the answer?" because I don't have one and I don't think anyone else has one either. I wanted to raise a higher-order question: is this a philosophic question or a scientific one?

I do not recall Ayn Rand ever saying it, but it is common to hear in Objectivist circles that this is a scientific question, not a philosophic one. I'm open to that, but dubious. For one thing, it's hard to envision what a scientific solution would even look like, so to speak. All that science will discover is more causal connections between mind and brain. No doubt someday we will discover that when there are physical, neural components of a certain sort and of a certain complexity, consciousness results. But that doesn't answer the question of the mind-brain relationship.

Perhaps there is no genuine question here, but deciding that there isn't would be a philosophic conclusion, not a scientific one.

Here are the facts that any theory must accommodate:

1. Matter exists independently of consciousness.

2. The brain is matter. Brain processes are (qua brain processes) physical goings-on.

3. Consciousness exists. I see, hear, think, remember, feel, imagine. And so do you.

4. Consciousness is dependent on the material world. If there were nothing to be aware of, one could not be conscious.

5. Consciousness has causal efficacy. The actions and content of your mind cause your (voluntary) actions. The actions of my mind are causing my fingers to move on the computer keyboard and explain why they are moving the way that they are (to hit the exact keys I'm hitting). As I have said in lectures, this means that consciousness has the power to cause physical changes in the nervous system--not only the physical changes that result in impulses going down my nervous system to activate the muscles in my fingers to type this, but also the physical changes that are involved in the storing of memories in the brain.

6. Conceptual consciousness is volitional. Man has free will. He can focus his mind and think or not. But matter, at least outside the brain, is deterministic: same conditions, same outcome.

7. Man can introspect. Man can be conscious of the actions of his consciousness. I am aware that I am now thinking about the mind-brain issue.

8. Actions on the brain produce changes in consciousness. Perception is a major case in point: patterns of photons strike the retina and the ultimate result is that we see. But also, drinking liquor has effects on consciousness, and so does a blow to the head. When the brain dies, consciousness ceases. So the functioning of the brain is a necessary condition of consciousness, and, in perception, it is a sufficient condition of conscious content.

Any theory of the mind-brain relationship must square with all these facts.

I notice he didn't mention Searle's biological naturalism:


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This HBL enticement post should be its own topic.

What I will call the "Noun-Verb Theory" is my take. The brain is the noun, mind is really a verb. Note what the concept of mind or consciousness actually refers to as Binswanger listed them: "I see, hear, think, remember, feel, imagine." Those are all actions, not entities. It is a misleading feature of our language that consciousness is interpreted as a state, and static. Mind should not be reified.

Binswanger himself once used the analogy that the brain was like a hand and its actions similar to grasping. That is a very good analogy. There is no corresponding mystery about the relation between hand and grip. edit , and therefore nor should there be a mystery about brain and mind.

Edited by Grames
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This was sent out to those who pre-ordered:



Thank you for your pre-publication order of How We Know.


My best estimate is that your copy will ship from the printers (in Tennessee) by Friday, February 7th.


Note: I am printing a special edition of 100 autographed and hand-numbered copies to be sold at $100 each. If you want to change your order to get one or more copies of that special edition, just let me know in a reply to this email.



Harry Binswanger


(As a side note, the Amazon page was a mistake and a new one will be created by the publisher once the Amazon distribution is firmed up. Kindle might be a few months.)



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  • 2 weeks later...

This is a work articulating and elaborating Rand’s thought in epistemology, and in some metaphysics too. One will not find the term corollary in the Index. Some starts of Rand are dropped in this comprehensive vista of Dr. Binswanger. Axiomatic concepts and axiomatic propositions are here, as in Rand, but here evidently doing without Rand’s talk of corollaries (beyond occurrence in quotation of her).


Under the indexed Fallacies, one finds familiar ones from logic, familiar ones peculiar to Rand’s epistemology, and a delightful fresh one called the fallacy of retroactive self-evidence. It is straightforward from Rand’s epistemology and the role of automatization. One of the pages listed for this entry is off by one. Just look to nearby pages, as usual. The material quality of the book is excellent.


The writing of the book is easy reading, widely accessible, and stands on its own for the reader, without prior reading of Rand. Binswanger’s treatment of self-evidence, Rand’s notion of it, in the first chapter, may be characteristic of most of the topics treated in this book. Objections to the notion are raised and answered, but the objections are of an elementary sort. The objections formulated by Peirce, Schlick, or Burge are not raised. Good work remains for others to stand up Rand’s conception of self-evidence facing the more challenging objections afoot in philosophy since Peirce.


No doubt I shall find good work, accomplished and helpful, as I read this book. In-house work in philosophy can have its own insights and delights. This work acknowledges only some workers in the house; it omits mention of the work of David Kelley in epistemology on an Objectivist foundation. That is a bit of smallness, hopeless smallness. On to the substantive issues.

Edited by Boydstun
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The objections formulated by Peirce, Schlick, or Burge are not raised. Good work remains for others to stand up Rand’s conception of self-evidence facing the more challenging objections afoot in philosophy since Peirce.




Has any Objectivist ever refuted their arguments or do they just say that they won't respond because they don't want to "sanction" them? -_-

Edited by thenelli01
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Nell, the answer to your first alternative is No, and the answer to your second alternative is also No. On the first alternative, that sort of sophisticated scholarly work on the epistemology and metaphysics of Objectivism has only begun. You can check out what was written about self-evidence in connection with Rand's epistemology and with some historical context in Objectivity here.


Peirce’s characterization of self-evidence and his attack on it can be found here, as well as my line of rebuttal at that time (2009):

To the contrary of Peirce’s sweeping thesis, I say as follows. In one’s present perception is this text. That one perceives these marks now, perceptually knowing their existence and character, is self-evident. They are not only perceived as present, but as having the particular character they have. Furthermore, they are not only perceived as present, but as self-evident. Their status as self-evident does not require they have no connections with previous cognitions. Then too, the judgments that these cognitions are perceptions, self-evident ones, merely acknowledge as fact what is known in perceptual experience.


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