Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Thoughts on Ayer's elimination of metaphysics?

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

I'm a bit confused.  I am getting my names from A World without Time by Palle Yourgrau.  The direct quote is:

This is all under the chapter "Vienna:  Logical Circles" which details Godel's relationship in the Vienna Cirle.  The book seems to imply that these were members of the Circle, but does not state it out-right so you very well may be correct.  But elsewhere Wittgenstein is mentioned as the very center-piece of the Vienna Circle, and mentions at least one time that he was amidst them so I take it he actually was a member.

Wittgenstein was invited to participate as a very honored guest (since the Vienna Circle especially admired the Tractatus). They later found he understood it rather differently from them and branded him a "mystic".

They also didn't like it much when he read some of Tagore's poetry to them.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 months later...
  • Replies 68
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Ayer and the Logical Positivists consider metaphysics as a field of pseudo-knowledge based on sentences which, by their obedience to grammatical rules appear to convey knowledge, but actually don't because they are not verifiable. An example would be the sentence "existence exists". It is held by many philosophers that existence is not a predicate. Ayer explains:

Thus, when Professor Moore suggests that to say that existence is not a predicate may be a way of saying that there is some very important difference between the way in which "exist" is used in such a sentence as "Tame tigers exist" and the way in which growl is used in "Tame tigers growl", he does not develop his point by giving rules for the translation of one set of sentences into another. What he does is to remark that whereas it makes good sense to say "All tame tigers growl" or "Most tame tigers" growl it would be nonsense to say "All tame tigers exist" or "Most tame tigers exist". Now this may seem a rather trivial point for him to make, but in fact it is philosophically illuminating. For it is precisely the assumption that existence is a predicate that gives plausibility to the ontological argument; and the ontological argument is supposed to demonstrate the existence of a God.
Alfred Jules Ayer, Language, Truth, and Logic, page 24-25

And going further, I personally find it impossible to imagine how to set up any sort of experiment which would indicate whether or not existence actually exists, or not. Therefore I conclude that the sentence carries no empirical information about reality, although it may appear to. Perhaps someone more acquainted with its purport can explain it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

An example would be the sentence "existence exists". It is held by many philosophers that existence is not a predicate.

....

And going further, I personally find it impossible to imagine how to set up any sort of experiment which would indicate whether or not existence actually exists, or not.

The problem is that you don't understand what it means. This expression comes from Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, and is part of what's know as "Galt's Speech" (Part 3, Ch. 7). Specifically,
"Existence exists—and the act of grasping that statement implies two corollary axioms: that something exists which one perceives and that one exists possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists."

"If nothing exists, there can be no consciousness: a consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms. A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something. If that which you claim to perceive does not exist, what you possess is not consciousness."

Remember that Rand was an author, not a Logical Positivist academic philosopher. Ayer's beliefs on whether existence is or is not a predicate are irrelevant to what the truth of the fact that "existence exists". It is self-evident that something exists. The concept of verification presupposes existence, identity and consciousness (and a lot of other things). The fact that you can't imagine how to grasp the fact that there is something doesn't make a statement about that thing meaningles. Of course, the Logic Positivists were just plain crazy when it came to meaning, but we're not here to discuss Logical Positivism.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've recently ordered and listened to Harry Biswanger's "Abstractions from Abstractions" course from AR Bookstore. Interestingly, at one point in the lecture, Biswanger makes the point that "existence exists" is a meaningless statement. I'm sorry I can't relay the exact context, but it wasn't meant in a derisive way, he was just illustrating how it fits (conceptually) into abstraction from abstractions.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

And going further, I personally find it impossible to imagine how to set up any sort of experiment which would indicate whether or not existence actually exists, or not. Therefore I conclude that the sentence carries no empirical information about reality, although it may appear to. Perhaps someone more acquainted with its purport can explain it.

"Existence exists." means "Existents exist." which means "Some things exist." or "There are things.".

The experiment: Select one of the objects one observes (such as the table on which one's computer rests). Reach out and touch it. Was it there, i.e. did one make contact?

When I did this experiment, my answer was -- yes, it is there. Thus existence exists.

Just because the experiment is trivial does not mean that it is not real.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Existence exists." means "Existents exist." which means "Some things exist." or "There are things.".

The experiment: Select one of the objects one observes (such as the table on which one's computer rests). Reach out and touch it. Was it there, i.e. did one make contact?

When I did this experiment, my answer was -- yes, it is there. Thus existence exists.

Just because the experiment is trivial does not mean that it is not real.

What result or experience could I interpret as disproving or falsifying "Existence exists"? (An experiment that can only conceivably turn out one way doesn't really qualify as an experiment.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What result or experience could I interpret as disproving or falsifying "Existence exists"?

The absence of any sensations, i.e. nothingness. Or a dream-like (or Alice-in-Wonderland-like) condition where things do not behave consistently (i.e. lack identity). In particular, if my hand had not touched the table, but had gone thru it (interpenetrated); or if either my hand or the table had disappeared; or if the distance between them had suddenly and inexplicably increased; etc..

An experiment that can only conceivably turn out one way doesn't really qualify as an experiment.

What do you mean by "conceivably"? What do you mean by "really qualify"?

If you mean that the experiment does not tell you anything which you do not already know, then I would point out that:

You already know that existence exists. So why would you expect any other result?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What result or experience could I interpret as disproving or falsifying "Existence exists"?
The question is irrelevant, because existence isn't a scientific hypothesis, it's a self-evident fact. Falsifiability is relevant as a criterion only for unproven scientific hypotheses (and at that, only for Popperians).
Link to comment
Share on other sites

What do you mean by "conceivably"? What do you mean by "really qualify"?

If you mean that the experiment does not tell you anything which you do not already know, then I would point out that:

You already know that existence exists. So why would you expect any other result?

Experiments select which of multiple conceivable possibilities are actually true. If only one possibility is conceivable, then no experiment is conceivable, and no phenomena can be taken to verify the statement. Popper aside, where denial is impossible, the notion of confirmation is meaningless.

If someone claims that nothing exists, it says nothing about the region of the universe they're inhabiting, and all about the speaker's less-than-serious attitude towards the conversation.

"Existence exists" doesn't carry a single bit of data. It is beneath the proper scope of language, which is a tool for expressing observations. It is a sentence expressing pseudo-concept that cannot be conceived of as distinct from its negation because its negation is absolutely inconceivable by any honest mind.

Since "Existence exists" is not a fact about reality, and carries no information, I don't see how can it be used to imply any facts of reality.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Experiments select which of multiple conceivable possibilities are actually true. If only one possibility is conceivable, then no experiment is conceivable, and no phenomena can be taken to verify the statement.
No, all phenomena verify the statement, and none falsify it. In the case of existence, all phenomena verify that something exists.
Popper aside, where denial is impossible, the notion of confirmation is meaningless.
Why do you say that? Confirmation / verification simply refers to the process of showing that the statement is true. Even though it's not possible to even conceive of an experiment that shows that nothing exists (it would be a self-refuting experiment), you can always show that the statement is true. That is why "existence exists" is axiomatic.
"Existence exists" doesn't carry a single bit of data.
It does: it asserts that something exists. If you want a more specific data point, you'd say "I exist".
It is beneath the proper scope of language, which is a tool for expressing observations.
Even though you can use language to express observations, you can use language to do many other things, like tell lies. The "data-reporting" view of language is wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Really, it is mistaken.
It is a sentence expressing pseudo-concept that cannot be conceived of as distinct from its negation because its negation is absolutely inconceivable by any honest mind.
Who claimed that "Existence exists" expresses a concept? Nobody that I know of who is claiming to be an Objectivist. You are quite correct that an honest mind cannot claim that "nothing exists", but that doesn't have any impact on the fact that "existence exists" is both true and meaningful.
Since "Existence exists" is not a fact about reality, and carries no information, I don't see how can it be used to imply any facts of reality.
It is a fact of reality that something exists, and "Something exists" is a way of conveying that fact. "Existence exists" is a particular literary way of expressing "Something exists". It does not "convey information" since nobody could possible be unaware of the fact. I assume you're working from the POV that "information" is something like "a symbolic representation of reality, with all redundancy removed". Truth isn't based on how informative a statement is, it's based on whether a proposition correctly describes existence.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

So how can an information-less statement be used to imply any facts about reality?

It states an aspect of reality that is implicit in the nature of being conscious. Its utility is therefore in making this heretofore implicit truth explicit, so you can deliberately avoid contradicting it. And although it is implicit in every statement ever made by anyone, it nonetheless deserves an explicit formulation, which cannot be condemned because it is "obvious."

In truth, I am not sure what your point is. You don't seem to be saying that nothing exists, so why are you so convinced that "something exists" is meaningless? You imply that the claim that "nothing exists" is wrong, so doesn't that mean the claim that something exists is right?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So how can an information-less statement be used to imply any facts about reality?
I would simply say that it doesn't imply anything, it asserts something. The statement "This is an apple" doesn't imply anything, it asserts. If I'm talking to someone who speaks English I probably wouldn't bother to say such a thing, unless I had some subtle agenda. If I were speaking to a person who didn't know English, I might say that. If you read Galt's speech, the statement "existence exists" wasn't set forth as a fast-breaking scientific discovery. It was a dramatic way to make a point about relations between certain philosophical principles (basically a way of saying that existence is the philosophically fundamental fact that needs to be grasped, rather than consciousness as Kant and Descartes felt).
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think that a line of pseudo-reasoning that concluded that nothing exists could be safely discarded as erroneous by absurdity without the explicit assertion that, in fact, existence exists. And I think that the insistence that existence really exists would fail to convince someone who stubbornly refused to "believe in existence".

An information-less statement cannot legitimately be used to arrive at conclusions about reality. And it has here been agreed that the statement under question carries no information. Therefore its deliberate expression is fruitless. Why then is it ever uttered? Is it ever used in chains of reasoning that do arrive at conclusions about reality?

I would simply say that it doesn't imply anything, it asserts something.

You've agreed that it carries no information, yet it asserts something. But an assertion is an assertion about reality. (If you want to challenge that, you'll have to point to some chunk of non-reality that can be asserted about.) Can a statement make an assertion about reality but not convey any information? Can a statement have meaning but not have meaning about anything in particular?

Edited by Park Zoo
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think that a line of pseudo-reasoning that concluded that nothing exists could be safely discarded as erroneous by absurdity without the explicit assertion that, in fact, existence exists.
That's clearly true. It is pretty rare that people really believe seriously that nothing exists. However, metaphysical nihilism is an actually existing philosophy (this said by someone utterly outside of the tradition). I don't think that anybody outside of Pyrrho really solidly believed that nothing exists. But people do have these rhetorical quasi-beliefs, which amount to uttering inane declarations like "nothing is real" which then leads to absurd conclusions, most frequently some kind of epistemological or moral nihilism. So a reminder that there really is a world outside your skull (not to mention a "world" inside your skull) is a valuable point.
An information-less statement cannot legitimately be used to arrive at conclusions about reality. And it has here been agreed that the statement under question carries no information. Therefore its deliberate expression is fruitless. Why then is it ever uttered?
I assume that you accept my characterisation of your concept "information". Then the answer is, simply, that while the statement "Existence exists" does not itself contain any new information, the combination of that plus the other elements in Galt's speech does. Every self-evidently true statement contains the conclusion that whatever it is saying, is a fact. So that kind of statement doesn't lead to a conclusion, is states a conclusion. In particular, the relationship found in Galt's speech between certain fundamental statements does convey a lot of information. The hierarchy itself, the fact that existence is primary, is "new information". Whereas "existence exists" is clearly old news, it is not old news that this statement is the most basic metaphysical axiom. The whole "primacy of consciousness" school didn't see existence as being the most basic fact.
Can a statement make an assertion about reality but not convey any information?
Most certainly, assuming as we have, that information is "news". Some news is old news, and well-known. It still states facts
Can a statement have meaning but not have meaning about anything in particular?
Of course not, but now you're on a totally different topic, namely meaning.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

In particular, the relationship found in Galt's speech between certain fundamental statements does convey a lot of information. The hierarchy itself, the fact that existence is primary, is "new information". Whereas "existence exists" is clearly old news, it is not old news that this statement is the most basic metaphysical axiom. The whole "primacy of consciousness" school didn't see existence as being the most basic fact.

Do you realize that information selects between different possible states of reality? The smallest unit of information is the bit, which tells which of two possible states of reality are true. If only one of those states is conceivably possible, there is no information. This is my fundamental problem with the pseudo-statement "Existence exists", and I fail to see how information could be contained in the structure between a set of statements none of which carry any information.

Is this hierarchy a logical proof that can convince a "primacy of consciousness" exponent of their error? Or are they like arguments based on God's Word: sound reasoning to those who already believe, and utter rubbish to those who don't? Galt compounds his error by continuing with "If nothing exists...", for if nothing exists, Galt doesn't exist, and neither does his argument. This does nothing to convince anyone of anything.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Do you realize that information selects between different possible states of reality? The smallest unit of information is the bit, which tells which of two possible states of reality are true. If only one of those states is conceivably possible, there is no information. This is my fundamental problem with the pseudo-statement "Existence exists", and I fail to see how information could be contained in the structure between a set of statements none of which carry any information.

Is it conceivable that there could be a largest prime integer? (The notion of 'conceivability' is tricky here; what exactly does it mean to 'conceive' of something like this? Is it like some strange kind of mental picture, or just an understanding what the sentence means? And what is it to understand a sentence?). There is certainly no possible state of reality in which we could find a largest prime integer, yet we would not say that the proof of this statement gives us no information.

Edited by Hal
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Do you realize that information selects between different possible states of reality? The smallest unit of information is the bit, which tells which of two possible states of reality are true.
I now realize that this is how you've defined information -- I wish you had been clearer on this point before. Anyhow, this is the same as saying "tells you nothing new". Consider the nature of the "bit". It is not possible for something to be both A and non-A: "possible" refers to "unknown". If you know that something is A, then it is not possible that it is non-A. Since "existence exists" asserts one thing, and that thing is known to be definitely true, then it is not possible for the statement to be false. So it isn't "information", it's just a statement of a fact. All statements known to be true are "non-information. I hope we're clear on that.
This is my fundamental problem with the pseudo-statement "Existence exists", and I fail to see how information could be contained in the structure between a set of statements none of which carry any information.
Does that mean you don't understand the speech? The information is in the relationship between simpler self-evident statements, and what statements follow from those relationships. I should say that the speech is not immediately obvious so non-comprehension on your part is not a sign of evil or stupidity -- it took me quite a while to get the import of what she's saying there
Is this hierarchy a logical proof that can convince a "primacy of consciousness" exponent of their error?
That's hard to say. I think they are so committed to the "it's all in your mind" perspective that they cannot be reached by reason. Sometimes though they are just spewing junk that they've been told, without having carefully thought it through. The nihilists are unreachable, as far as I have been able to determine.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I now realize that this is how you've defined information

Well, existence exists really does provide no information, no matter how you want to define 'information". "Existence" isnt a thing, so talking about it existing or not-existing is nonsense. Therefore Peikoff in OPAR (and presumabley Ayn Rand too, although I'm not sure where) defines existence to be the 'everything that exists' (I'm quoting from memory here, this may not be the precise formulation). So 'existence exists' really means 'everything that exists, exists'. But once its phrased like this, its hard to say what the statement is meant to mean; it has the same form as "everything that glarks, glarks", or "everything that smoogens, smoogens" - ie it is a trivial truth of grammar rather than a metaphysical statement (some philosophers would use the term analytic here).

You dont need to understand what the word 'exists' means to know that "everything that exists, exists", just like you dont need to know what 'glark' means to know that "everything that glarks, glarks". Its not possible that "something that glarks doesnt glark" by basic logic, and its similarly not possible that "something that exists doesnt exist" (although these statements arent completely identical in structure since existence isnt a logical predicate).

The problem with existence exists shows up as soon as you try to write it in formal logic; its impossible to get it precise enough for it to have a satisfactory formulation. You want to just write (exists(x)), which is nonsense. This isnt to say that "existence exists" is false; of course its true, in as much as it makes sense. Its just a completely trivial truth from which nothing follows.

I would say that "existence is identity", properly understood, is the real core of Objectivist metaphysics. I dont think that "existence exists" is even worth saying. Noone would ever deny it ever, under any conceivable circumstance. If you ever heard anyone saying that it was false then you'd know that they were either joking, or interpreting it to mean something completely different from how AR meant it.

edit: strictly speaking, "existence exists" just means "there is at least one thing that exists" ('the set of existing things is not empty'). And since another Objectivist axiom states that "consciousness exists", this automatically implies that "existence exists". So you dont even need to include it as an axiom.

Edited by Hal
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, existence exists really does provide no information, no matter how you want to define 'information".
Sure it does. If you define "information" as "describing a fact", then it does provide information. Also, you should re-read the recent part of the thread -- it doesn't mean "everything that exists, exists". It means "Something exists". However, it is true that you're following the common though incorrect interpretation of "existence exists". I used to think that was what it meant, but looking at where it is actually used, it's clear that that is the wrong interpretation.
I would say that "existence is identity", properly understood, is the real core of Objectivist metaphysics. I dont think that "existence exists" is even worth saying.
I think that you're wrong. The core is "existence exists", and the second most important statement would be "identity", since the latter presupposes the former but not vice versa. I'm familiar with this Occam's Razorish "axiom reduction" approach you're suggesting, and I'm just saying that it's wrong. There is no argument against stating such an axiom, and it is required in order to even make a statement about the relationship between existence and identity.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sure it does. If you define "information" as "describing a fact", then it does provide information. Also, you should re-read the recent part of the thread -- it doesn't mean "everything that exists, exists". It means "Something exists". However, it is true that you're following the common though incorrect interpretation of "existence exists". I used to think that was what it meant, but looking at where it is actually used, it's clear that that is the wrong interpretation.
The problem with this interpretation is that its difficult to see how the distinction between 'primacy of existence' and 'primacy of consciousness' can be formulated. If "existence exists" just means that something exists, and we are also told that consciousness exists, then there doesnt seem to be any axiomatic reason for preferring the primacy of existence to that of consciousness. If consciousness is the only thing existing, then it is still true that 'something exists' and hence there is no violation of the axioms.

I think that you're wrong. The core is "existence exists", and the second most important statement would be "identity", since the latter presupposes the former but not vice versa. I'm familiar with this Occam's Razorish "axiom reduction" approach you're suggesting, and I'm just saying that it's wrong. There is no argument against stating such an axiom, and it is required in order to even make a statement about the relationship between existence and identity.

Well, fair enough. But I think that if a statement is incredibly obvious to the point where noone has ever denied it, ever, stating it as an explicit axiom is redundant (especially when it can be derived from the rest).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I now realize that this is how you've defined information -- I wish you had been clearer on this point before. Anyhow, this is the same as saying "tells you nothing new". Consider the nature of the "bit". It is not possible for something to be both A and non-A: "possible" refers to "unknown". If you know that something is A, then it is not possible that it is non-A. Since "existence exists" asserts one thing, and that thing is known to be definitely true, then it is not possible for the statement to be false. So it isn't "information", it's just a statement of a fact. All statements known to be true are "non-information.

A statement known to be true carries information when the listener can conceivably imagine alternatives. If you tell us that you're wearing a hat today, or that it is snowing in Tampa, that is information to anyone that can conceive of alternatives. If you tell us that 4 = 4, or that every green hat is a hat, that is not information because anyone that understands your language will agree. An exception could be made for complicated mathematical theorems that are not obvious; however, we are not discussing one of them here.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The problem with this interpretation is that its difficult to see how the distinction between 'primacy of existence' and 'primacy of consciousness' can be formulated. If "existence exists" just means that something exists, and we are also told that consciousness exists, then there doesnt seem to be any axiomatic reason for preferring the primacy of existence to that of consciousness. If consciousness is the only thing existing, then it is still true that 'something exists' and hence there is no violation of the axioms.

It seems to me that the statement "existence exists" must logically come first because in order for there to be consciousness (which itself is an existent), one must be conscious of something. From OPAR: "Existence" here is a collective noun, denoting the sum of existents. This axiom does not tell us anything about the nature of existents; it merely underscores the fact that they exist. This axiom must be the foundation of everything else. Before one can consider any other issue, before one can ask what things there are or what problems men must face in learning about them, before one can discuss what one knows or how one knows it - first, there must be something, and one must grasp that there is. If not, there is nothing to consider or to know."

Although the statement "existence exists" is so obvious that it's almost ridiculous to even say, David had it right when he said: "It was a dramatic way to make a point about relations between certain philosophical principles (basically a way of saying that existence is the philosophically fundamental fact that needs to be grasped, rather than consciousness as Kant and Descartes felt)." In response to Kant, it is entirely appropriate and important to make the point that existence exists independent of our consciousness.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The problem with this interpretation is that its difficult to see how the distinction between 'primacy of existence' and 'primacy of consciousness' can be formulated. If "existence exists" just means that something exists, and we are also told that consciousness exists, then there doesnt seem to be any axiomatic reason for preferring the primacy of existence to that of consciousness. If consciousness is the only thing existing, then it is still true that 'something exists' and hence there is no violation of the axioms.
I don't seem to have any problem in distinguishing 'primacy of existence' and 'primacy of consciousness'. For example, of someone advances the argument "if you can't know that X exists, then X doesn't exist", you don't have any problem in knowing whether the person is a POC or POE advocate.

One thing to note is that for very many years, existence existed without consciousness existing. That has changed recently, but back in those days when the temperature was everywhere a million degrees, there was no recognition of the fact that existence exists. But still, it was a fact. You can have existence without consciousness, but not the other way around. Given that, can anyone seriously hold that consciousness is primary?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A statement known to be true carries information when the listener can conceivably imagine alternatives. If you tell us that you're wearing a hat today, or that it is snowing in Tampa, that is information to anyone that can conceive of alternatives. If you tell us that 4 = 4, or that every green hat is a hat, that is not information because anyone that understands your language will agree.
This definition of "information" amounts to saying that facts are only facts if they are non-obvious, i.e. only if they are not self-evident. It also means that a statement offered with proof of its truth is not information. Informantion, then, becomes only that which is asserted without proof of its truth, i.e. information is only that which we do not know to be true. I cannot imagine a more thorough negation of a concept than that.
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...