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presuppositional foundationalism in Objectivism

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I wish to respond to Boydstum's review of my article "Check Your Presuppostions: A New Kind of Foundationalism in Objectivism" published in JARAS. 


STEPHAN Boydstun





Presupposition is a kind of inference, according to my sources. For example,

As one of the basic forms of reasoning, inference can in general be defined as a process of accepting a statement or proposition (called the conclusion) on the basis of the (possibly provisional) acceptance of one or more other statements or propositions (called the premises). Construed thus, it includes deduction, induction, and abduction. It also includes entailment, presupposition, and implicature. (https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/9783110214260.397/html?lang=en)

Deductive inference is entailment inference from a premise to a conclusion. For example, inference from an axiom to a theorem. Or, an immediate deduction of one axiom from another axioms, say of identity from existence or of causality from identity.

Presuppositional inference is inference from a presupposer to its presupposition(s). For example, free will presupposes causality (i.e. man has free will presupposes that reality is causal since causal laws give man the means to achieve his chosen goals and since man would not have free will in an acausal world in which he would not know what could happen next. An example from Rand is that value presupposes life (i.e. man has values presupposes that man is living.) Also, according to Rand,  consciousness presupposes existence (i.e. man is conscious presupposes existence exists).


The definition of the two kinds of foundationalism is best done in terms of the kind of inference each uses to build the hierarchy of knowledge. Deductive foundationalism uses entailment inference from axioms that function as premises to derive the rest of knowledge, whereas presuppositional foundationalism uses presuppositional inference to derive the presuppositions on which the rest of knowledge logically depends. Deductive entailment makes derived knowledge necessary, whereas presuppositional inference makes derived knowledge possible. Deductive entailment is based on sufficient conditions that make the rest of knowledge necessary, whereas presuppositional inference is based on necessary conditions that make the rest of knowledge possible. Deductive inference is progressive because it works forward from premises to conclusion, while presuppositional inference is regressive because it works backward to presuppositions on which all knowledge logically depends.


The kind of foundations differ mainly in kind of inference used. Deductive foundationalism derives knowledge from axioms which I call deductive axioms because deductive inference from them entails the rest of knowledge. Presuppositional foundationalism derives the rest of knowledge from the presuppositions which I call presuppositional axioms because they are the foundations on which the rest of knowledge logically depends.


Deductive examples of inference are written in terms of deductive entailment: facts about human nature entail human values, metaphysical objectivism entails epistemological objectivism, and the grasp of existence entails consciousness.

(NB: Rand did not say that existence entail consciousness. Also, Rand explicitly said that value cannot be deduced from life.)

Your act of grasping that something exists implies a second inescapable

fact: that you are conscious --i.e., that you are aware of what exists.  Your

possession of consciousness--the faculty of perceiving what exists--is a

second self-evident and undeniable fact [i.e. axiom].

(Gotthelf 2000, On Ayn Rand,, 37-40)

(NB: “implies” means “entails” so existence exists entails man is conscious)

Presuppositional examples of inference are written in presuppositional terms such as “is a precondition of” and “presupposes”: consciousness presupposes existence and value presupposes life.

Mixed examples reflect both kinds of foundationalism and are written in terms of both entailment and presupposition:




        Philosophy, according to Objectivism, consists of five branches. The two


basic ones are metaphysics and epistemology... These two branches make


possible a view [or theory] of the nature of man...


          Flowing from the above are the three evaluative branches of philosophy.


(italics mine) (Peikoff  1993, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand,  3)


(NB: “makes possible” means “is presupposed by” so metaphysics and epistemology are presupposed by the theory of man (aka metaphysics of man))


(NB: “flowing from” means “is entailed by” so metaphysics, epistemology, and the theory of man entail ethics, politics, and aesthetics)


(NB: so the evaluative branches of philosophy are entailed bye the descriptive branches of philosophy)

In other words,  the foundational branches of metaphysics and epistemology entail the derivative branches of ethics, politics, and aesthetics; however,  the derivative branches presuppose the foundational branches.


I argue that Rand shifted from an early deductive foundationalism to a later presuppositional foundationalism signified by her explicit rejection of deductivism (a short name for deductive foundationalism).

This shift from deductive foundationalism to presuppositional foundationalism is explained by Gotthelf.

In the following passages, Allan Gotthelf (2000) explains that Rand’s philosophy developed from a deductive approach into one that rejected deductivism. She started a presentation of her ethics after the publishing of The Fountainhead, in which:

The structure of the presentation is essentially deductive—from one axiom and several facts about man’s nature. The axiom is: “Man exists and must survive as man.” The fundamental facts about man’s nature are: that he is a living being, that his means of survival is reason, and that the exercise of reason is a matter of free choice. All this is said to rest on the existence of “an objective world” and the ability of reason to know it. (21)

But the notion that ethics begins with an axiom comes to be rejected…[Rand’s] mature approach to the foundations of ethics [was to apply] the method of asking, in relation to a given concept, what facts of reality give rise to the need for that concept. (22)

Rand’s three founding axioms are: “Existence exists,” “Man is conscious,” and “Existence is determinate.” Then comes “Existence is causal” and “Existence is objective” (called the Primacy of Existence). But Gotthelf notes, Rand did not build her philosophy deductively from axioms: “she certainly does not hold that all human knowledge is deduced, rationalist-style, from these axioms. In Aristotle’s language, she holds that these axioms are that by which we reason, not that from which we do…” (43n3, emphasis in original)

         Gotthelf explains that Rand’s philosophy shifted from a deductive approach to one that rejected deductivism in favor of a new, presuppositional approach in foundationalism may have occurred around 1947. (Gotthelf, Allan. 2000. On Ayn Rand. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing.)

   This transition in Ayn Rand's philosophy have not received the attention it deserves due to its importance to her thinking—an oversight that needs to be corrected.


I argue that Objectivism needs to explain the difference between the two kinds of foundationalism, to acknowledge Rand’s change from one theory to another, and to decide which is the correct foundational theory. David Tyson

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I am no philosopher.

I would characterize Rand as finally being wholly unbiased in operational orientation towards deduction or inference, and that certainly post maturation, her structures were girded by both, as the state of all prior knowledge and observation required for the particular bit of construction on the edifice of her philosophy.

It may be that she leaned towards a deductive foundational approach in the early years, but I do not believe she leaned in any particular direction in the mature philosophy...

A dichotomy is presented here which may not be necessary.

what has not been provided is a third option... one which leans in neither direction.

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8 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

at has not been provided is a third option... one which leans in neither direction.

Worse, they are destroying and/or supporting the destruction of individuals who understand, support, and speak abouhe third option--objectivity via rationality-- and attempting a direct war on reality itself, especially against those like myself who they attack based on false altruistic principles (supported by the extreme Left all the way to the extreme Right) because of false philosophy and false mystical "beliefs". These people will eventually destroy themselves and civilization itself while murdering (both passively and actively) the good for the sake of being the good along the way while pretending that the good doesn't exist. Lying, deceiving, dropping context, creating false narratives, destruction, murder, is their modus operandi in this process. It's doomed to eventually fail and self-destruct because A is A regardless of how much they wish that it wasn't but the destruction of innocents (such as myself whom they play their mindless context dropping evil with) will be their only legacy. The world has switched to promoting and actively engaging in every dystopian philosophy treating what where warnings into playbooks used to actively destroy.

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