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Epistemologies Of Kant (cpr) Vs. Rand (ioe)

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BurgessLau
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PROPOSED TOPIC

I am proposing a debate. The general subject is epistemology. The particular topic is a comparison of Ayn Rand's epistemology (as shown in her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, whole second edition), and Immanuel Kant's epistemology (as shown in his Critique of Pure Reason, second ("B") edition).

I propose to take this side of the debate: Immanuel Kant's epistemology is opposed to Ayn Rand's epistemology in every essential characteristic.

DEBATERS

I say "debate" with great hesitation. Ordinarily the only people who should debate a subject are those who have mastered their subject. I have not mastered either Ayn Rand's epistemology or Kant's extraordinarily difficult to understand epistemology. I have read several of Kant's works, but I have studied only CPR-B. Even then, my study has been shallow, for three reasons:

- I was looking only for his positions on a few issues (though they are key to CPR-B).

- I found his presentation (in English) to be the second most difficult philosophical text I have ever examined.

- I have gone through the text only one and a half times (that is, once through, and back again, but focusing only on certain parts of interest to me, not on the work as a whole).

I know of no one in this forum who has mastered Kant's epistemology. (I will gladly step aside if someone else steps forward as knowing Kant's CPR-B epistemology.) Others in this forum know Ayn Rand's epistemology better than I do. However, I may be the only one who has a special interest in IOE as, in effect, Ayn Rand's "book of reason." Again, if others are more qualified, I will gladly step aside.

In the current "Kant" thread, Hal has said, in my words, that Ayn Rand's epistemology is more similar to Kant's than different from it (especially when compared to other Enlightenment philosophers). So, I nominate Hal to be the other debater/discusser.

Though neither Hal nor I have mastered our subjects, I suspect both of us will greatly benefit from this opportunity to debate, discuss, and do more research.

CONDITIONS

1. I would like to make this proposed thread, in part, a debate in format -- having set rules, with only two participants (to begin with) -- but also, in greater measure, a discussion in purpose. A debater's purpose is to win; a discussion member's purpose is to uncover answers to problems, partly by asking questions, partly by challenging, and partly by suggesting intermediate answers that might lead to a conclusion.

2. This topic fits in very nicely with a long-term project I am doing, but I am very busy with other aspects of that project. So, I must insist on having a lot of time to respond -- up to a week. I think that is appropriate because this debate/discussion must reference IOE and CPR-B, as proof statements. That takes time (especially for CPR-B).

3. We will use the Guyer and Wood English translation of CPR-B. (I know no German.)

4. We will limit the discussion to epistemology and its foundation in metaphysics (ontology). (Strictly speaking, "epistemology" arose after Kant; his work is a mixture of ontology and epistemology, as is IOE.)

5. Each debater can reply to the other debater's post with up to three posts of his own. (I think we should encourage more, but shorter, posts rather than single, all-inclusive responses -- for easier reading.)

6. At the end, when we are both exhausted or agree we are going in circles, each debater/discusser will very briefly summarize his position.

7. At the beginning of the debate/discussion, each participant will state his degree of agreement with Ayn Rand's philosophy overall, and her epistemology in particular.

Questions? Comments?

I am prepared to be pummeled and bruised. I know that is sometimes part of the learning process. And I do want to learn more about Kant's epistemology, especially his view of reason.

Edited by softwareNerd
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For the record, I would like to note my capitalization of the title and subtitle for this thread was: Epistemologies of Kant (CPR) vs. Rand (IOE), Proposed Debate.

The OO.net software seems to have mangled the capitalization.

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I accept Burgess' invitation with the reservation that my knowledge of Kant is quite modest - my close reading of the CPR is limited to the Transcendental Analytic, with my knowledge of the Dialectic being largely based on secondary literature, notably the work of Henry Allison which has been very influential at shaping my interpretation of the Critique as a whole.

With regard to how much of Objectivism I agree with - all of the politics, most of the ethics, some of the aesthetics. However with the metaphysics and epistemology it's more difficult to say, since I find a lot of Ayn Rand's remarks to be quite vague - especially when compared to a philosopher like Kant who believed in spelling things out in painstaking detail, and essentially created a new philosophical vocabulary in order to frame his ideas. IOE is, in ARs own words, an introduction to Objectivist epistemology - a "summary of one of the cardinal elements of Objectivist epistemology - the theory of concepts" (OPAR 1) rather than being a lengthy treastise. Despite this, a good general picture of ARs views does emerge, although perhaps more from the appendix and Peikoff's elucidations in OPAR than from the text itself. I have no disagreements with what I see as being the major elements of this picture, and claim that it has a lot more in common with Kant's outlook than it does with the other Enlightenment philosophers whom Kant was opposing, although there are still many important points on which they differ. However I hold that the major objections Ayn Rand had to Kant's work - that he claimed we could never know reality and that 'consciousness didnt possess identity' - are largely misinterpretations that are incapable of being supported by close reading of the CPR.

I like Burgess' proposed guidelines for this discussion, including allowing up to a week for replies - the CPR is a phenomenally difficult work, and it has been some time since I last read it. Having time to reread critical sections in between posts will be important.

I think this discussion would work best if Burgess started by describing what he believes to be the main points on which Ayn Rand and Kant are in opposition.

Edited by Hal
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With regard to how much of Objectivism I agree with - all of the politics, most of the ethics, some of the aesthetics. However with the metaphysics and epistemology it's more difficult to say, since I find a lot of Ayn Rand's remarks to be quite vague - especially when compared to a philosopher like Kant who believed in spelling things out in painstaking detail, and essentially created a new philosophical vocabulary in order to frame his ideas. 

 

AGREEMENT WITH OBJECTIVISM

I now agree with every element of Ayn Rand's philosophy as far as I have studied it. I have not always agreed with every element. For example, at the beginning of my study, 43 years ago, I was shocked to learn that, at least in implication, Ayn Rand opposed laws against adult prostitution and adult use of street drugs. As time went by, and I slowly learned the principles involved, my objections disappeared.

I have not studied every branch of her philosophy with equal interest. My main interest in studying her philosophy (and her life) is learning better methods of thinking and acting. The payoff will be, I believe based on experience so far, greater happiness, all other factors being equal.

Perhaps I disagree with her views in some nonphilosophical areas -- such as whether a woman would want to be president of the U. S. or whether homosexuality is morally wrong (or a sign of mental defect). I say "perhaps" because I have not studied her views on those issues. Since I am neither a woman nor homosexual, I don't much care. I also question some of her conclusions about history, but those too are questions about a specialized science and not philosophy.

MY CENTRAL PURPOSE IN LIFE

My central purpose in life -- the work I love to do, as the core of my life -- is telling success stories from history. History is my field, not philosophy. My interest in other philosophers besides Ayn Rand is mainly historical. I am fascinated, not so much with what they believed, as with what they did about it. Specifically, my field of interest is socio-intellectual history -- that is, intellectual activism and all the real-life drama associated with it.

Hal, I hope you will respond with a context-setting statement about your CPL. But it isn't a requirement for my participation in this discussion.

(More to come in response to Hal's last post.)

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I think this discussion would work best if Burgess started by describing what he believes to be the main points on which Ayn Rand and Kant are in opposition.

I disagree (and we have just started!).

SUGGESTED PROCEDURE

An inductive approach would be better in this discussion. The first step should be to identify what each philosopher's epistemology is (as presented in the selected book). The next step is to set them side by side and see whether they are essentially the same or essentially different -- or some mixture of the two. In other words, the procedure should be:

1. What is X?

2. What is Y?

3. Are X and Y essentially alike or unlike?

DIVIDING UP THE WORKLOAD

I don't want to hog all the work. I will share. I will take half, Ayn Rand's epistemology, and you can take half, Kant's epistemology. Since each of us will be characterizing the epistemology he favors, each characterization is more likely to be complete and positive. If you choose not to characterize Kant's epistemology as a whole, I will do it, but I must have at least one week for each epistemology. This step may be the most difficult of the whole discussion -- but the most rewarding to each of us as a learning experience.

I volunteer to go first. It will take me up to a week to think through and write up my brief summary of Ayn Rand's epistemology as presented in IOE-2.

(Already I can see that I will be learning more than I had initially expected: I have never considered Ayn Rand's epistemology as a whole. However, I do have an approach in mind that will simplify my task. If there is no such approach for Kant, then that raises questions about the nature of his epistemology.)

SUMMARY QUESTION

Do you agree that we should split the assignment -- first identifying the nature of the two epistemologies -- before we compare them? If not, let me know within a few days, and I will begin work on characterizing Kant's epistemology too, after I finish doing so for Ayn Rand's epistemology.

P. S. -- If either of us decides the two epistemologies are not comparable, for any reason, then we need to discuss that too. In fact, I hope we will discuss any issues about the difficulties in interpreting and comparing philosophers, in general, not only these two.

Edited by BurgessLau
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BIBLIOGRAPHY

For the record, here are the two texts that Hal and I will be citing as evidence of our statements about Kant's and Ayn Rand's epistemologies:

1. Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, second edition, expanded, editors Harry Binswanger and Leonard Peikoff, Meridian (Penguin), 1990.

2. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, translators and editors Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood, Cambridge University Press, 1998. (This volume interweaves the first [A] and second editions, but Hal and I are using only the second edition for citations.)

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BACKGROUND: EPISTEMOLOGY IN GENERAL

Before I tackle the question of the essential nature of Ayn Rand's epistemology, I would like to spell out my understanding of epistemology generally.

1. What is epistemology?

a. Etymology. Epistemology is the systematic study (-logy) of knowledge (episteme in Greek). The English term itself was first used c. 1855. It is a made-up, pseudo-Greek term. Note that the term came into use about one philosophical generation after Kant (1724-1804). (Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, second edition, 1987; the OED would be a better source, but I don't own one.)

b. Episteme. In some English-language philosophical works that I have seen, a common translation of the Greek term episteme is "understanding." In Greek, episteme can casually mean acquaintance with something. A little more narrowly, and technically, it can mean knowledge. (Liddell and Scott Intermediate Greek Dictionary.) Still more narrowly and technically, it can mean understanding as knowledge not only of what a thing is but why it is what it is. This last use means "science," in its highest meaning.

c. Purpose. "Epistemology is a science devoted to the discovery of the proper methods of acquiring and validating knowledge." (IOE, p. 36, but also see her list of the main tasks of epistemology on IOE, p. 74.) The central question of epistemology, Ayn Rand holds, is this: What is the nature of concepts, as a product of a certain mental process? (IOE, p. 11.) Ayn Rand's Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology is thus mainly an introductory answer to that question. Nevertheless, IOE does shed light on her epistemology as a whole, as well as on her metaphysics (ontology). Primary philosophers (Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Ayn Rand) are like bonfires; they provide a lot of light directly, but they also throw off many sparks that may lead to advances later in related philosophical fields.)

d. Place in Philosophy. In my own summation, I would say philosophy is a systematically acquired set of ideas that provide a foundation for all other knowledge, and thus for all actions. Philosophical ideas apply to everyone, everywhere, at all times. The primary methods of philosophy are observation, thought, and logic. The products of philosophy are concepts, principles, and theories basic to understanding the world and what we should do about it. (See "Philosophy," The Ayn Rand Lexicon, for many brief descriptions and leads to further reading -- for example, in the introductory essay in Philosophy: Who Needs It.)

Epistemology answers the second main question of philosophy. The first question is: What is the basic nature of the world? (This is the domain of metaphysics, which Aristotle called "first philosophy," but some philosophers call "ontology," the science of being.) Epistemology then asks and answers this question: How can I know the world? (Ayn Rand, "The Chickens' Homecoming," The New Left, p. 107, as excerpted in ARL, p. 359.)

2. What are the essential, defining characteristics of an epistemology?

I would characterize any epistemology -- whether Rand's, Kant's, or Augustine's -- by answering the following questions:

a. What is its starting point(s) of knowledge (sense-perception, innate ideas, God's light, or a mixture?).

b. What are its methods of developing knowledge (abstraction from sense-perception, intuition from external and internal sources, acceptance on faith, wishful thinking, or a mixture?).

c. What are its forms of knowledge (Platonic "forms," concepts, or other mental entities?)

d. What are its methods of validating knowledge (reduction, feeling, or appeal to authority?)

(I hope my next post, within a week, will very briefly characterize Ayn Rand's epistemology by answering at least these four questions, drawing from IOE-2. Then when Hal's characterization of Kant's overall epistemology appears, if he chooses to do so, we can begin comparing them -- in order to decide whether they are more alike essentially or unlike. I do not expect that Hal and I will change each other's views on this issue, but I am convinced, based on progress already made, that we will both gain from it.)

Edited by BurgessLau
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Do you agree that we should split the assignment -- first identifying the nature of the two epistemologies -- before we compare them?

P. S. -- If either of us decides the two epistemologies are not comparable, for any reason, then we need to discuss that too. In fact, I hope we will discuss any issues about the difficulties in interpreting and comparing philosophers, in general, not only these two.

I think that a summary of our interpretations of Kant/Rand will make a good starting point. However, I dont feel that a holistic comparasion of IOE and the CPR is possible, since they primarilly address different sets of philosophical questions. Both Kant and Rand agree that consciousness can be split up into 3 layers - the stage of sensations, the stage of perceptions, and the conceptual stage (IOE 5). While Kant obviously does not use this terminology, his classification is similar - appearances are 'raw sensations' ("the undetermined object of an emprical intution" (A20/B34)), phenomena are appearences which have been brought under the categories to yield 'perceptions'. The conceptual level would (presumably) be what we do with these perceptions once we have cognised them.

But while IOE is focused almost entirely on the conceptual level, the CPR is more concerned with the perceptual - mainly the question of how our perceptual cognitions are possible. Rand takes the existence of the perceptual level as a brute fact, saying that percepts "are the given, the self evident" (IOE 5), and focuses on how we use them to form concepts. Kant, on the other hand, wants to investigate the perceptual layer and ask how it is produced from sensations. For this reason, the CPR is built upon his analysis of a) th forms of our sensible intutions (ie, the level of sensations), and :dough: the categories of reason (ie, how sensations are synthesised into perceptual objects). Neither of these topics are addressed directly by Rand, so one can only speculate on what she would have said about (for example) Kant's views that space and time are forms of intution rather than things existing outside us. And similarly, it will be difficult to find clear evidence to support claims about how Kant would have viewed Rand's theory of concept formation, since it isnt a question that is directly discussed in the CPR.

But although the bulk of their work is focused on different areas of philosophy, there are places where it coincides, allowing us to talk about their agreement and disagreements. So yes, lets first outline their positions at a general level, then we can talk about specifics.

2. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, translators and editors Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood, Cambridge University Press, 1998. (This volume interweaves the first [A]and second editions, but Hal and I are using only the second edition for citations.)
Actually, I'm going to give citations in the form (Axxx/Bxxx) for passages that are present in both editions. If I cite a passage that's only contained in one of them, I'll use (Axxx) or (Bxxx). Kant stated that his views did not change between the 2 editions but only the presentation (Bxxxviii), so I'll cite from the first edition if I believe that something is better expressed there. Edited by Hal
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Parts I and II

SUMMARY OF OBJECTIVIST EPISTEMOLOGY

REVIEW

The purpose of this debate/discussion thread is to compare Kant's epistemology to Ayn Rand's epistemology, and then decide whether, in terms of essentials, they are more alike or unlike. In this post I answer the preliminary question of the nature of Ayn Rand's epistemology as shown in IOE.

APPROACH

My approach is to ask questions as a way of uncovering the essential characteristics of an epistemology: the starting points of knowledge, the methods of acquiring knowledge, the forms (and levels) of knowledge, and the methods of validating knowledge. I cite sources in IOE-2, except in my conclusion. (Numbers in parentheses are page numbers.)

I. What are its starting points of knowledge?

Knowledge is "a mental grasp of a fact(s) of reality, reached either by perceptual observation or by a process of reason based on perceptual observation..." (35). "Truth," accordingly, "is the product of the recognition (i.e., the identification) of the facts of reality" (48). The purpose of knowledge is to allow the knowers to deal with the aspect of reality they are studying (301). A precondition of knowledge is the recognition of the difference between existence and consciousness of existence (57).

(For simplicity, I am describing only extrospection; for introspection, see 29, 225-229, and 254-255.)

"Sensation" is a scientific idea, not a philosophical one, and therefore not suitable for philosophical discussion, especially in an introductory work (5 and 136). Not accepting sensory data as valid is committing the fallacy of the stolen concept (136). "A percept is a group of sensations automatically retained and integrated by the brain of a living organism" (5). Sense-perception is the starting-point of knowledge (136). "All our knowledge ... begins perceptually ..." (180).

From this starting point in sense-perception, reason uses a variety of methods to form knowledge. In IOE Ayn Rand does not define reason or devote a special discussion to its operation. However, the whole book -- which is focused on one aspect of epistemology, concept formation -- shows reason in action. To form a concept is to use reason.

As the conceptual level of man's consciousness (38), reason is a faculty that employs various processes as methods for acquiring knowledge (44).

II. What are its methods of developing knowledge?

"Epistemology is a science devoted to the discovery of the proper methods of acquiring and validating knowledge" (36) "[T]he fundamental concept of method, the one on which all others depend, is logic" (36). Logic is "the art of non-contradictory identification" (36).

Ayn Rand mentions a wide variety of methods that reason uses: extrospection and introspection (29); induction and deduction (28); integration and differentiation (5); abstraction (9); definition (40); and measurement (7). All these are instances of thinking, which is "a purposefully directed process of cognition" [32].

Using reason results in ideas which have a certain relationship with reality: objectivity. In IOE, the idea of objectivity is often only implicit -- for example, in the axiomatic concepts of existence and consciousness (57), in the concept of reason (60), and in the concept of logic (36) -- all considered together. However, in one passage, Ayn Rand explicitly observes: "It is axiomatic concepts that identify the precondition of knowledge: the distinction between existence and consciousness, between reality and the awareness of reality, between the object and the subject of cognition. Axiomatic concepts are the foundation of objectivity" (57).

Thus objectivity is the relationship between an idea in the mind and a fact of reality independent of the mind -- a relationship in which the idea is drawn logically from the fact.

("Objective" also has a metaphysical meaning: independent of consciousness [for example, 47 and 227].)

[To be continued ...]

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Parts III and IV

SUMMARY OF OBJECTIVIST EPISTEMOLOGY

III. What are its forms of knowledge?

Ayn Rand's epistemology includes at least four forms (and levels) of knowledge. First, and lowest, is knowledge of existents designated either (a) by pointing (41, for the idea of "ostensive," though in a different context) or (B) by using a proper name, that is, a symbol that stands for and refers to a particular existent (10-11, 175). An example proper name is "Aristotle."

The second form (and level) of knowledge is a concept, "a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted" (13). This level, of course, is the main subject of IOE. An example concept is "man" (43).

The third form (and level) of knowledge is the proposition, that is, a thought about a thing. A proposition "applies conceptual abstractions to a specific problem" (75). An example is: "A man is a rational animal" (100), where the problem is determining the nature of man.

Ayn Rand names a fourth form (and level) of knowledge, a theory. She does not discuss theory-formation. The subject is outside her main interest in IOE, which is her own theory of concept-formation (304, for a mention of theory-formation).

IV. What are its methods of validating knowledge?

Ayn Rand does not discuss validation as a separate topic in IOE. She does allude to several methods of validation. With one method, unnamed, the thinker begins by asking himself what facts "gave rise to" an idea (51) and, presumably, by retracing the steps involved in forming the idea.

Showing another type of validation, Ayn Rand notes that the way to validate axioms is by attempting to say anything without using them (59).

Ayn Rand does occasionally speak of validation in still other applications. For example, she speaks of validating a scientific hypothesis by observing -- in a variety of ways -- the actual results that come from conducting an experiment that tests predictions based on the hypothesis (303).

In IOE, Ayn Rand does not discuss the nature of either proof or reduction, as forms of validation, but she does occasionally use the terms. For example: "An axiomatic concept is the identification of a primary fact of reality, which cannot be analyzed, i.e., reduced to other facts or broken into component parts. It is implicit in all facts and in all knowledge. It is the fundamentally given and directly perceived or experienced, which requires no proof or explanation, but on which all proofs and explanations rest" (55, emphasis added).

SUMMARY

"[T]he essence of all human cognition" is this statement: "omething exists of which I am conscious; I must discover its identity" (59). This statement integrates the two primary axiomatic concepts of existence and consciousness, along with the corollary axiomatic concept of identity. Discovering the identity of something requires reason (using its fundamental method, logic) and it results in objectivity.

When Ayn Rand wanted one word to represent her epistemology, she used "reason"; and when she wanted a word to name her whole philosophy, she chose "Objectivism" (The Ayn Rand Lexicon, 343). Reason is the means, and objectivity -- having one's ideas in a logical relationship with reality -- is the result.

That is a fitting epistemological foundation for the next higher branch of philosophy: ethics, our guide to acting in reality.

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Kant stated that his views did not change between the 2 editions but only the presentation (Bxxxviii), so I'll cite from the first edition if I believe that something is better expressed there.

If Kant believed that, in the second edition, he improved the presentation of the ideas he had originally offered in the first edition, while not changing his views, why would you cite the first edition for "better expressed" passages?

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  • 2 weeks later...

Sorry, I've had very little spare time over the last week due to work. However I've manged to read over my CPR notes and reread some key sections of the text, so I'll post my reply within the next few days.

Edited by Hal
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Sorry, I've had very little spare time over the last week due to work. However I've manged to read over my CPR notes and reread some key sections of the text, so I'll post my reply within the next few days.

I don't mind that you would want more time to try to write up a coherent description of Kant's epistemology, in its essentials. Your task is very difficult.

However, I protest your assertion that you have not had enough time to do so. I note that in the last few days, since your post above, you have had plenty of time to post -- both many times and at great length -- in at least one other thread, the "Introduction to the Battle of Logics," as I recall the title from memory.

I note this for the record, as a response to your note.

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  • 1 month later...

I have waited five weeks for the post Hal promised in a few days. I will wait no longer. As far as my work is concerned, this discussion/debate thread is closed. I do not want to leave it open while I propose another debate in another thread: reason vs. faith (with me proposing to take the fideist side, as devil's advocate). I cannot afford the time to be involved in two debates at once.

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