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What is the nature of the axioms of Objectivism?

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nzcanadian
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The reason that the axioms of Objectivism are "self-evident" is that consciousness require them to function. For any abstract thought to begin, a consciousness must realize that existents exist apart from other existents and that they have specific attributes (these first thoughts are the progenerates of the axiom of identity) A concsiousness must aslo realize that it exists, and is capable of observing reality. (the primacy of consciousness)

Without accepting these facts, thought is impossible. In order to survive one must accept these axioms, if at least in limited contexts. Obejectivism applies these axioms in every context and outlines the principles that are derived from them.

To try to argue the validity of these axioms is useless. The only way one may argue is by accepting them. Due to the nature of man, there is no other way for a consciousness to function. The axioms of Objectivism are such that they describe the basic tools that human life must use in order to function.

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That is exactly my point, the burden of proof rests on proving an assertion without using your beginning propositions not disproving them. Your statement is identical to saying that Leprechans exist because I can not disprove it wiithout using the concept of Leprechan. Science doesn't work that way, you must carry the burden of proof.

You contradict yourself: "proof" means nothing without the notion of existence. Thus, when you ask me to prove whether existence exists, you are saying, "Show me the facts of reality that support the notion that existence exists." Well, what facts? What reality? Nothing exists, remember? If you now tell me that of course things exist, there is no longer any need for me to prove it to you; if you tell me instead that nothing exists, you can't ask for "proof" or any other thing, because to get it would mean that something exists (namely, logic, proof, prior evidence, you and I for having this conversation, etc). In effect, you would be asking for a thing (a proof) that will prove there are things.

I cannot prove to you that existence exists (and this is not a failing, but a requirement of a philosophical axiom), but I can prove that it is an axiom that you must accept to make any claim.

Also, I'm interested in your reasoning of why you say these are irrefutable concepts? Is it because we assume them to be true based on the concept of axiom or because of your belief in their validity? You can't have it both ways simultaneously.
Neither. They are irrefutable because you yourself have relied on them throughout your post (and that I can prove). You can try to write another post in which you don't rely on them, but you will not succeed. That is why they are irrefutable--for you to refute them, you would have to simultaneously accept them.

In fact, I have now illustrated my point, so I'd like to ask you to illustrate yours. If one can make a meaningful statement that does not implicitly assume existence or consciousness, please tell me what that statement is. If you come up with even one, I will grant that existence is just an arbitrary "assumption." If not, you are agreeing that every statement presupposes (not "assumes") existence and consciousness.

The reason that the axioms of Objectivism are "self-evident" is that consciousness require them to function. For any abstract thought to begin, a consciousness must realize that existents exist apart from other existents and that they have specific attributes (these first thoughts are the progenerates of the axiom of identity) A concsiousness must aslo realize that it exists, and is capable of observing reality. (the primacy of consciousness)

<snip>

To try to argue the validity of these axioms is useless. The only way one may argue is by accepting them. Due to the nature of man, there is no other way for a consciousness to function. The axioms of Objectivism are such that they describe the basic tools that human life must use in order to function.

Your post is good on the whole, but there are some minor errors. First, that a consciousness is "capable of observing reality" is not the primacy of consciousness (nor, strictly speaking, the primacy of existence). The primacy of consciousness is that a consciousness is capable of creating reality (as well as observing it), and the primacy of existence is that it is only capable of observing it.

Second, the axioms are not implied by the nature of man or what he needs to function--they are implied by the nature of existence as such. (Even aliens, no matter how powerful their consciousness, would have to accept those axioms.) Naturally a man must accept the axioms, at least implicitly, to survive (indeed, to take any action or have any thought), but that is not their justification.

Merged in with the last two posts:

Just for what it's worth, I do not like the new "post merging" feature of the forums. Separate replies to different posts should be kept separate. Is there a way to add a new post without merging to the last?

Yes, I relied on the the merging feature to add this to my other two posts even while denying its utility. ;)

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I'm not sure how you could logically support that statement considering you can recreate all of mathematics without every mentioning existence, identity or consciousness.

You are completely missing how fundamental the axioms are and how they are implied by every sensation and thought.

What you are saying here is that mathematics could be created without consciousness. Presumably you know this not to be true so perhaps what you are asserting is that a consciousness could create math without first existing. Or perhaps you are acknowledging the axiomatic nature of existence and consciousness and instead what you are saying is that any of the axioms of mathematics could be identified in the absence of identity. None of which requires much of a reply to refute.

Before you go any further I strongly suggest that you read the first chapter of OPAR by Leonard Peikoff called "Reality" (or at least the first 12 pages).

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Your post is good on the whole, but there are some minor errors. First, that a consciousness is "capable of observing reality" is not the primacy of consciousness (nor, strictly speaking, the primacy of existence). The primacy of consciousness is that a consciousness is capable of creating reality (as well as observing it), and the primacy of existence is that it is only capable of observing it. [...]

What do you mean by 'creating reality?' That statement would only hold in the context of 'creating' of concepts of consciousness. I am almost certain that you don't mean that the mind has the ability to alter reality.

I am also pretty sure I know what you mean. You are differentiating the Axiom of exsistence as it relates to the mind and the Primacy of Consciousness by saying that I had essentially merged to two in my post. Right?

Thank you if that is the case, it makes sense.

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What do you mean by 'creating reality?' That statement would only hold in the context of 'creating' of concepts of consciousness. I am almost certain that you don't mean that the mind has the ability to alter reality.

We seem to be talking at cross-purposes here. First, let me emphatically state that the primacy of consciousness mindset is false. Primacy of consciousness, as Objectivism uses the term, means that a consciousness has the ability to alter the nature of reality--and this is most certainly not the case.

It is the primacy of existence mindset that recognizes that reality comes first, and we have to observe and obey it.

So no, I don't mean that the mind has the ability to alter reality, but you do when you state that consciousness is primary:

A concsiousness must aslo realize that it exists, and is capable of observing reality. (the primacy of consciousness)
What you stated is not the primacy of consciousness. You have it confused with the primacy of existence.

I am also pretty sure I know what you mean. You are differentiating the Axiom of exsistence as it relates to the mind and the Primacy of Consciousness by saying that I had essentially merged to two in my post. Right?

Thank you if that is the case, it makes sense.

Well, I wish I could say it made sense to me. B) Perhaps you could elaborate.

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  • 2 weeks later...

dougclayton said:

First, let me emphatically state that the primacy of consciousness mindset is false. Primacy of consciousness, as Objectivism uses the term, means that a consciousness has the ability to alter the nature of reality--and this is most certainly not the case.

How can you argue that consciousness has no ability to affect reality, and then say we have free will (i.e., we can cause our bodies to act upon our desires)? Do you know of any pages explaining Objectivism's stance on the mind-body problem?

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You asked: "Do you know of any pages explaining Objectivism's stance on the mind-body problem?"

You can profitably start with the "Soul-Body Dichotomy" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon. It includes four excerpts and many cross-references to related issues (such as the theory-practice dichotomy).

For anyone new to Objectivism, I can point out that The Ayn Rand Lexicon is the single-most important resource for studying Objectivism, that is, Ayn Rand's philosophy as presented by Ayn Rand and a few people who were working under her supervision editorially. I have used my copy thousands of times over the last 18 years or so.

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How can you argue that consciousness has no ability to affect reality, and then say we have free will (i.e., we can cause our bodies to act upon our desires)?

Here is my understanding of the issue.

Discussions of primacy of consciousness usually assume that "reality" or "external reality" refers to things outside of oneself (including outside one's body as controlled by the self). For example, someone operating on the POC premise sees a tree and wants it to be a dog, and concludes that it therefore is a dog.

The argument against primacy of consciousness is that consciousness itself cannot will things outside the mind to be other than what they are. I cannot will a welfare state to be other than oppressive. I cannot will a high-fat diet to be other than destructive for me. I cannot will myself to fly by flapping my arms no matter how strong my desire.

The ultimate example of POC is the typical monotheist view of God: He operates completely on POC -- whatever he wills, happens. He, as infinitely aware, creates reality from his consciousness.

P. S. -- You might look up "Free Will" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon. There are three and a half pages of excerpts and plenty of cross-references. The Objectivist theory of volition is not the same as the traditional views of free will. In Objectivism, the main emphasis is on volitional consciousness, that is, as a first step, we control our level of awareness, object of study, and method of study. We can will some physical actions as a result of those acts of consciousness.

Edited by BurgessLau
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How can you argue that consciousness has no ability to affect reality, and then say we have free will (i.e., we can cause our bodies to act upon our desires)?

Good question. In addition to Burgess's excellent response, let me point out that I said that consciousness does not have the ability to alter the nature of reality. This is not the same as altering an aspect of reality, which it certainly does have: first, a human consciousness can alter itself (our emotions are formed by thinking, for instance, and we can create concepts that did not exist in our mind before). Second, consciousness can even alter external reality to some extent (through somewhat unknown means): this is why your deciding to raise your arms results in your muscles contracting.

However, none of the foregoing are alterations of the nature of reality. As Burgess said, it is not in the nature of a tree to be a dog when we wish it were, nor is it in the nature of a ball to roll when I wish it would. But, just as importantly, it is in the nature of my body to move when I will it to. Even here, at our very pinnacle of external-world control, you can see that reality has primacy over my consciousness by the fact that I can lose this aspect of my nature by damaging my spinal cord--making it no longer in the nature of my body to move no matter how much I want it to.

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Just for what it's worth, I do not like the new "post merging" feature of the forums. Separate replies to different posts should be kept separate. Is there a way to add a new post without merging to the last?

Yes, I relied on the the merging feature to add this to my other two posts even while denying its utility. :)

If you wait a minute or so between posting and beginning a new post it will not merge them automatically: it only does that for two posts in rapid succession.

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If you wait a minute or so between posting and beginning a new post it will not merge them automatically: it only does that for two posts in rapid succession.

Could you elaborate on what "a minute or so" means? I am pretty sure that the second post (out of the three in the post you quoted) took me more than a minute to write--probably more like 15.

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dougclayton

...consciousness can even alter external reality to some extent (through somewhat unknown means): this is why your deciding to raise your arms results in your muscles contracting.
Doesn't this mean that there are some areas where consciousness can be made to alter existence, even if that part of existence is inside my body? There must be some point at which it stops being consciousness and starts being existence.

dougclayton

...a human consciousness can alter itself (our emotions are formed by thinking, for instance ...

Also we can use drugs to alter our emotions as well: administering chemicals to the brain can affect subjective experience (consciousness). Therefore, there are ways for existence to alter consciousness also.

But if atoms are purely physical objects, with nothing but physical properties and physical relations to one another, and my consciousness affects and is affected by atoms, doesn't this mean my consciousness is purely physical?

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But if atoms are purely physical objects, with nothing but physical properties and physical relations to one another, and my consciousness affects and is affected by atoms, doesn't this mean my consciousness is purely physical?
What do you mean by "purely physical"? Is a magnetic field "purely physical"?
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But if atoms are purely physical objects, with nothing but physical properties and physical relations to one another, and my consciousness affects and is affected by atoms, doesn't this mean my consciousness is purely physical?
"Physical" could mean "pertaining to reality; something that exists", in which case consciousness is physical -- it exists, and is an aspect of reality. No things exist which are apart from reality. In opposition to physical things would be god and unicorns, which don't exist (are not part of reality). Of course you have to distinguish that from the concept of a unicorn, perhaps a mental image of what you think a unicorn might be, or one of the millions of plastic pseudo-unicorns sold in toy stores.

I think the matter is easier to come to grips with if you focus on the slogan "wishing doesn't make it so". An extremist POC approach is to say that there is no actual dog there, and you mentally "create" that dog -- someone else could see a horse or a glass of water, and for them, that's what would exist. We all create our own realities (gag). You can certainly create a dog-looking thing from a lump of clay, or a horse-looking thing, but to do so, you have to act on the lump of clay. You cannot just will the dog-sculpture into existence. But you can will yourself to pick up the clay and shape it in a particular fashion.

The question of how a person's consciousness connects to nerves and muscles and can bring about action is interesting, but also neither a philosophical question nor scientifically answerable at this point. All I know, and I know this for sure, is that I can use my will to type these words, but I can't reduce it to particle interaction.

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Doesn't this mean that there are some areas where consciousness can be made to alter existence, even if that part of existence is inside my body?

Of course. Did anyone say otherwise?

Also we can use drugs to alter our emotions as well: administering chemicals to the brain can affect subjective experience (consciousness). Therefore, there are ways for existence to alter consciousness also.

Again, of course. This is what I meant by my "damaged spinal cord" example. Damaging one's brain is no different.

But if atoms are purely physical objects, with nothing but physical properties and physical relations to one another, and my consciousness affects and is affected by atoms, doesn't this mean my consciousness is purely physical?

This doesn't follow. If it did, let me ask you a question: what is the molecular weight of consciousness? What is its reflectivity, or its electrical charge, or its density? Are these meaningful questions about consciousness?

Another way to think of this is to imagine a computer, which runs programs on physical hardware. This program interacts with the hardware through strictly physical means (specifically, electrical voltage and current), but does this mean the program is purely physical? If so, what is the physical size (in inches) of a program? What is its temperature? I can tell you those about the hardware that makes up a computer (which corresponds to your body and brain), but it doesn't even make sense to ask those about a computer program (which corresponds, in some ways, to your mind--that is, consciousness).

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Could you elaborate on what "a minute or so" means? I am pretty sure that the second post (out of the three in the post you quoted) took me more than a minute to write--probably more like 15.

It doesn't matter how long you spend writing the post, it's when you hit the reply button that determines whether your posts will merge. So you have to wait before you hit the reply button.

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It doesn't matter how long you spend writing the post, it's when you hit the reply button that determines whether your posts will merge. So you have to wait before you hit the reply button.

Perhaps I was not clear enough. If I post one post, then take 15 minutes writing the next, how is that not 15 minutes between one "Add Reply" and the next?

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Don't ask me, I don't know what the actual programming is, only what results my experiments have yielded. I wasn't referring to the "Add Reply" button at the bottom of your typing box, but the one at the bottom of the thread that lets you access the reply box.

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Don't ask me, I don't know what the actual programming is, only what results my experiments have yielded. I wasn't referring to the "Add Reply" button at the bottom of your typing box, but the one at the bottom of the thread that lets you access the reply box.

Ah, that makes sense. I'll try to take a walk around the block before I start my second successive post. ;)

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  • 3 months later...

It seems inevitable that the axioms of Objectivism lead one to a metaphysical problem analagous to that of the relationship between mind and body.

If 1) I am identical with myself, 2) objective reality is identical with itself, and 3) I am conscious of objective reality, then how can I account for my being conscious of objective reality without either admitting that I extend beyond myself to include objective reality (thereby denying the axiom of identity) or admitting representationalism (thereby denying my relation to the world and by extension the validity of the axiom of consciousness)?

In other words, what is my relation to the external world if the world and I exist independently of each other?

"My philosophy, Objectivism, holds that:

1. Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man's feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.

[...]" -Ayn Rand, Introducing Objectivism

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It seems inevitable that the axioms of Objectivism lead one to a metaphysical problem analagous to that of the relationship between mind and body.

If 1) I am identical with myself, 2) objective reality is identical with itself, and 3) I am conscious of objective reality, then how can I account for my being conscious of objective reality without either admitting that I extend beyond myself to include objective reality (thereby denying the axiom of identity) or admitting representationalism (thereby denying my relation to the world and by extension the validity of the axiom of consciousness)?

In other words, what is my relation to the external world if the world and I exist independently of each other?

The Objectivist position regarding the validation of the axioms is that they are undeniable, since any challenge of their validity makes use of them. One's relationship to the outside world is (1) one can gain information about entities in the world via sense perception, and (2) one can will one's body to physically move, act, and observe reality in certain ways and under certain circumstances in accordance with the identity of one's body and sense faculties.

So, Objectivism does not hold that one's consciousness has no effect whatsoever on existence (since one can move around one's own body, for example)-- it holds that one cannot change the identities of existents merely by willing it so (including the identity of one's own consciousness, which operates in accordance with its nature). However, it is also true that consciousness is dependent on reality, since consciousness is the faculty which perceives that which exists. If consciousness were totally independent from all sense perception, it would not exist.

I'm not sure what you mean by a person "extending beyond onesself" to include objective reality. Also, could you briefly summarize representationalism?

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Existence exists independent of man, but the perception of existence is merely independent of man's feelings, wishes, etc - not independent of man himself.

Perceiving reality doesn't involve extending beyond oneself per se, simply an interaction between myself and what is perceived.

I'm not sure what representationalism is...

Edited by hunterrose
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Also, could you briefly summarize representationalism?
This is the idea that we do not perceive the world directly, but only perceive a representation of the world. Visually, it would mean that you don't see an apple, you see a mental image of an apple which is somehow projected in the brain. I think these guys actually believed that there were little visible "brain spots", and when you heard a sound there would be an actual vibration inside the brain. I understand that there are modern versions of representationalism that don't seem so silly, except that it intersects with string theory so that lo and behold it turns out that in one of these hidden dimensions, there really are images and sound waves inside the brain, in the 18th dimension.
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In other words, what is my relation to the external world if the world and I exist independently of each other?

"My philosophy, Objectivism, holds that:

1. Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man's feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.

[...]" -Ayn Rand, Introducing Objectivism

This is a simple misunderstanding of Objectivism.

The world and yourself do not exist independently of each other; you are a part of reality. When Miss Rand says that facts are independent of man’s feelings, this means all facts except for the fact of those feelings themselves.

It is a statement of the fact that you can’t “wish” things into existence; it won’t start raining money if you really really want it to, and so forth.

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