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How does one possibly respond to anti-realism?

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I have been really depressed over this for some time:

How can I possibly respond to anti-realism?

I am a philosophy major, and there is literally a giggle that goes through the classroom whenever I defend mind-independent existence (i.e. the existence of an objective reality). I am faced with transcendental idealism, Berkeley, Hume's problem of causality and inference, the absolutely disgusting phenomenon of "dialetheism" (a "logic" based on assuming certain contradictions), and countless other nonsense. The problem is, how can I PROVE a mind-independent existence?

For example, Xeno's argument against the concept of movement was meant to refute the concept, not the phenomenon. He 'proves' that it is logically impossible to move, so to waive your arms around and say "But look! I'm moving!" doesn't prove his argument false. This is the problem I encounter.

Here's another form of it: How do you convince someone of an "objective fact" if they don't see it/agree with it? If they don't think such things exist? The analogy I use is this: there's a red chair in a room, and two people enter the room. One is color-blind and the other has perfect vision. One sees a gray chair and one sees the red chair. How does the man who happens to see the objective fact convince the man that it is an objective fact? If the answer is "through science" (i.e. we can show the colorblind man scientific reasons for his colorblindness and he can accept them and agree that it is probably red even though he can't see it) then we need to have a scientific reason to prove those things people disagree philosophically with us about, and this is sometimes (almost always) an impossibility. I do not have a scientific proof that tells communists that individual rights exist and that they are not to be violated. I have pleanty of evidence that it works better this way, that people flourish when they have rights, but I don't have a proof that they exist, only that a government should want to grant them (not even respect or protect because these imply the existence of the right which I can't prove). I just feel paralyzed, knowing something and being unable to defend it with the reason I used to come to it in the first place.

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I would really like to spend the time to answer your question fully, but I just came upon it and I have to leave for class in 5 minutes.

The concept of objectivity applies ONLY to concepts, not to sense perception. I believe this is outlined in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff in the Objectivity chapter.

I wish I could answer your question further, but for now I have to leave for class.

I hope this at least pointed you in the right direction, because I too face such irritating comments from classmates.

By the way, it's nice you have you posting here again.

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> how can I PROVE a mind-independent existence?

I suppose you could demonstrate that such concepts as "proof", "demonstration", "argument", etc. presuppose existence, but if they don't want to take perceptual evidence as evidence of *something*, there's not much you can do for them.

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fanofayn, you had better revisit the three fundamental axioms of all knowledge analyze all their corollaries and implications.

One cannot prove the existence of a mind-independent reality. The concept of "existence" and "mind-independent reality" are axiomatic or corollaries of the EIC axioms.*

The concept of "proof" has two definitions:

1) To establish that a given proposition follows necessarily from a given set axioms by the mere application of a given set of transformation/deductive rules of inferences. (this is called the FORMAL proof).

2) To establish the correspondence between a given proposition and the facts of reality. (this the general, common definition of proof)

To prove the existence of a mind-independent reality through definition 1 is impossible because the formal axioms would have to include "existence of a mind-independent reality" (one does not prove the truth of an axiom of a formal system). To do the same through definition 2 is impossible because, as I already stated, "proof" presupposes "existence" and "mind-independent reality".

Exactly how does it presuppose the two concepts? Recall definition 2: To prove is to demonstrate the correspondence (truth) or contradicton (falsity) of a given proposition ( or set thereof) with the facts of reality.

In the definition REALITY is set as the standard of truth, its existence presupposed. If someone does not believe in the existence of a mind-independent reality, but asks you to PROVE to him the falsity of his belief, you can be certain that reality is NOT his standard of truth, and that he's not asking you to prove via definition 2.

Ask him first what he considers the standard of truth, then if you have the endurance and tolerance--those who steadfastly hold their whims as the standard of truth will hardly ever capitulate--argue.

---

*The proposition "Reality exists independent of any consciousness" is called "The Principle of the Primacy of Existence". It might be very helpful to read this article: "The Issue of Metaphysical Primacy"

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I do not have a scientific proof that . . . individual rights exist and that they are not to be violated. I have plenty of evidence that it works better this way, that people flourish when they have rights, but I don't have a proof that they exist, only that a government should want to grant them

Three different concepts can give rise to rights:

1) Divine Law

2) Tradition

3) Human Nature

I've choosen to discard the first two. Tradition and divine law vary based on culture and religion, and I think they make for a shaky foundation when building a system of ethics.

If you're arguing for rights based on human nature, the obvious question is, "What is a human?" My answer is that a human is any creature that uses reason. I'm currently in the process of checking my definition for errors, and trying to determine what particular rights are granted given my current answer.

If your case for rights is based on the consequences of implementing them, you're arguing for rule-utilitarianism, and not a system of rights-based ethics. I suppose that consequentialism could be a fourth way to argue for rights. However, I'm not in favor of this method, since any right can be suspended or granted depending on the situation at hand.

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Rights are a concept. An invention of man. They don't exist per default. For a right to exist it requires a conscious choice.

However, the notion of Lockean rights occur naturally when applying rational thought. (The string of logic used for this is well described by Ayn Rand and other)

The only right that can exist by its own virtue in correlation to mans nature as a rational being is the right to live.

Once again, by applying rational thought you realize that no right to life can exist without the right of property. Taking another mans means to survive by the threat of force is a violation of his right to live. (Stealing another mans property can kill him, ie burning his harvest so he starves to death.) This means that the right to property is naturally derived from the right to live.

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I know the others are trying to help you formulate rational arguments against the claptrap you are learning in class. It is important that you do so -- for your own understanding (and isn't that why you're taking the course in the first place?). To attempt to have a rational discussion in most humanity classes, however is like :) ! I found that simply asking pointed questions about what is being asserted is the best way for a student of Objectivism to survive the average university course in philosophy. (And it gets you those all important points for participation!)

For instance, and using your example of the red chair, you might ask if the color-blind man would practice a different physics. (Dr. Peikoff actually used this example when discussing the validity of the senses.)

By doing this kind of thing, I was able to get through what should have been my most cherished classes, and I did learn a lot. I also found that there were usually one or two other students who were curious enough to seek me out after class. With these folks, I was able to have a real discussion, learn how to present my arguments, refine my own understanding, and meet some intellectually curious and honest people.

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Fan -

I can understand your frustration. All around you are those who implicitly and sometimes explicitly accept ridiculous, anti-real views of existence. You have a grasp of the real and want to impart that grasp to others. You want to convince them to reject their false beliefs and accept your valid ones. And you are frustrated that you cannot. You are pulling your hair out because you cannot communicate your rational ideas to them in a way which convinces these other people.

You have to ask yourself WHY they do not understand you. They do not, because they reject the foundation upon which your ideas stand. In other words, essentially, you speak a different language than they do. You speak english and they do not. It doesn't matter how loudly you speak in english. It doesn't matter how slowly you speak in english. It doesnt matter how many times you repeat the same sentence in english. They don't understand the language and and therefore will not understand you.

For you to be able to communicate with such individuals, you must first teach them the language.

And for them to learn the language, THEY must be willing to be taught. This second part is a big problem in most cases. Most people are happy with their language. And most of the people around them speak their language. So they feel no need to learn yours - especially when they consider their language to be a rich way of speaking, whereas they consider yours to be primitive and backwards.

Take the stereotype of the French. They are said to have a superior view of themselves and their language in their country. They look down upon anyone who cannot speak it fluently. And they not only ridicule, but they resent Americans who come to them expecting them to speak english. They refuse to speak the english language. Instead they "giggle" and mock the english speaker. And when such a speaker dares to proclaim english BETTER than french, indignation rises, and tempers flair.

Put simply, these Frenchmen do not want to speak english. And being an American in France who only speaks English - which is who and where you are - is therefore extremely frustrating.

Given this situation, do you think it is reasonable to expect the Frenchmen to sit still in an attempt to learn and speak english? Or do you think it is more reasonable that most, if not all, will ignore and ridicule you, the 'uncultivated' individual who only speaks english?

The point is - teaching someone else a new language - or a new philosophy - requires them to be open to such teaching. They have to WANT to learn it. Finding such a person is going to be difficult. And that is only the BEGINING of the difficulties. Because both teaching and learning a new language or a new philosophy is a very complex proposition. You must start find the one thing you both understand and move from there, slowly - very slowly - building from that foundation. That alone can take forever. Because, without that shared starting point, there is NO meanss of communication possible. And, even after finding it, unless both you and your pupil are very interested and very patient, the experience will be trying for both of you.

There are no shortcuts in this experience. And, from what I can gather, that is what you are looking for - a shortcut - a means to FORCE others to understand you whether they want to or not. You are looking for SOME argument - some 'proof' others simply will not be able to blank out, evade, ignore, or in any other way, reject.

There is no such thing. You CANNOT force a mind. You cant force a mind to accept a new language - a new idea - or anything else. THEY must choose to accept it. You can only present it. It is up to them to embrace it or not.

While it may be frustrating, there is NOTHING you can do to change that. THAT is REALITY.

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Ask him first what he considers the standard of truth, then if you have the endurance and tolerance--those who steadfastly hold their whims as the standard of truth will hardly ever capitulate--argue.
This is wonderful. It's wonderful because these people never think of the word "standard," and when confronted with it they most often respond with a frantic "what do you mean?!" The horrifying thing is that they really mean the question: They don't know what I mean. But that doesn't concern me too much because, as RadCap and oldsalt so eloquently put it, these people aren't effectible, or as I like to put it--they aren't "worth it." What I mean by that is that these people have nothing to offer me in the way of a challenge and hence there is no point in my wasting time speaking with them any further. However I disagree with the insinuation that all people who don't already have the same philosophy as me, or who don't see it right away, aren't worth it.

You CANNOT force a mind.

I couldn't agree more, and this is certainly not what I am doing in my philosophy classes. There are people there who aren't dead yet. They aren't completely irrational nor do they wish to be. They are engaging and intelligent and they present their arguments in such a way that I am actually incapable of answering them--it is this, my inability to answer them, the fact that they seem to have more of a grounding in reason in their process of destroying it then I have trying to champion it that tortures me. They aren't destroying reason by any conscious hatred for it, it is simply the fact that this doctrine is all they teach in school. There is no alternative offered. Rand is outside reading. I am a senior in this major and I have yet to take a course in Aristotle. But they offer one every semester in Kant and Hegel and all those other morons. And when I come into the class and try to introduce rational ideas, I am met with arguments that have been in the process of being perfected since the dawn of time, the arguments that they pound into our heads and never counter. These other students, the ones that I seek out after class because they actually challenge me, because they want to find the right answer and they are open to hear it, they are the ones I want to "convince." They aren't being forced, I don't want to force them and they don't want to be forced. It is a mutual understanding that we want to find the right answer, the truth. And yet I find their arguments unanswerable. I know that I must be missing a crucial point, some ultimately trumping argument, and I am desperate to find it. That is what this whole thread is about. Not loneliness or force or even convincing others of the validity of this philosophy. Only to know it myself, to the full extent of that validity. I can't agree so wholeheartedly with every objectivist word I read and hit this horrible wall every time I try to destroy those other, invalid philosophies with it. I can't surrender the classroom to the likes of Hume and Kant, and I am watching it happen anyway.

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I believe I know the problem here, but would like to ask you a question. In your philosophy class, what are some of the arguments these 'open' minded individuals are presenting you which you find "unanswerable". Please provide a handful of them, not just one or two. I am trying to detect something and need a larger sampling. The arguments do not have to be complete. Just a one or two sentence summary of them will suffice.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Why hasn't anybody addressed the original question, which is a traditional philosophical problem going back to the 17th century British empiricists and beyond that to Plato's Theaetetus? Given that color perception is partially mind-dependent (in the jargon, this is called being a "secondary property"), then how do you do objectively establish the color of a percept to someone else lacking the appropriate physical equipment?

The only answer I saw relating to the question was this:

objectivity applies ONLY to concepts, not to sense perception.

Could someone please build on what this distinction accomplishes in relation to the above problem.

Thank you.

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Why hasn't anybody addressed the original question ...

I only recently joined this group, but looking back to the original post the question seems to be:

"there's a red chair in a room, and two people enter the room. One is color-blind and the other has perfect vision. One sees a gray chair and one sees the red chair. How does the man who happens to see the objective fact convince the man that it is an objective fact?"

The answer is rather simple: The objective fact(s) in the external world is not the color, but rather the wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation emitted from the chair and its environs. Color is the perception of those objective facts by our sensory apparatus, not something which resides in the object itself. The most you can say is that the form in which the color-blind man experiences the wavelengths of the electromagnetic radiation is different from the form in which it is experienced by the other. But they both experience the same objective fact; the senses unerringly report the evidence of reality.

This is like the old Mersenne problem of the stick which appears bent in the water, used by Descartes to speak of the supposed "error of the senses." The stick feels straight when we touch it, but it appears bent in the water. There is no error in what is reported by the senses. The visual sense provides additional evidence for the fact that light refracts as it passes from the less dense medium of air to the more dense medium of water. The axiomatic nature of the validity of senses cannot validly be disregarded, since any attempt to deny its validly itself depends upon the validity of the senses.

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Stephen,

That is a great explanation, and I think the final word; however:

The axiomatic nature of the validity of senses cannot validly be disregarded, since any attempt to deny its validly itself depends upon the validity of the senses.

I usually like these kinds of arguments against skepticism. It is similar to G.E. Moore's famous refutation of Idealism http://www.ditext.com/moore/refute.html.

The problem is moving from the axiom to its practical applications. If a color blind person doubts I see something as red, then I have no real way of "proving" that __I__ see it as red. If he had doubted something else, for example if he had doubted that gravity is holding him in place because he cannot directly perceive the force fields fields with his own eyes, then I would have asked him to test his skeptical hypothesis by jumping out the window. I'm not sure this kind of impersonal test or "criterion of correctness" can be established for colors.

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The problem is moving from the axiom to its practical applications.  If a color blind person doubts I see something as red,  then I have no real way of "proving" that __I__ see it as red. If he had doubted something else,  for example if he  had doubted that gravity is holding him in place because he cannot directly perceive the force fields fields with his own eyes, then I would have asked him to test his hypothesis by jumping out the window.  I'm not sure this kind of test or "criterion of correctness" can be established for colors.

Sure it can. All you need is a telescopic photometer with interference filters inserted along the path of the electromagnetic radiation. It is a relatively simple matter to determine the wavelength composition. In fact, Edwin Land used a very similar setup in his famous experiments on color vision two decades ago.

As a further way to underscore exactly what is an objective fact of the external world, and what is a consequence of our particular form of perception, consider an alien visitor from the Vega star system whose sensory apparatus is such that he directly perceives atomic structure. By contrast our knowledge of atomic structure is an inference based on other perceptual data, and based on other conceptual inferences we have made. Are we and our alien visitor perceiving different realities and are we each at a loss to communicate with each other?

I say (at least in principle) that the alien visitor will infer the macroscopic objects (chair, table, etc...) which we perceive directly, just as we infer the atomic structure which is directly perceived by him. The main point is that the form in which we perceive reality -- the particular sensory apparatus each has -- provides evidence for the very same facts of existence, but the path to reach knowledge of those facts requires a conceptual faculty capable of valid inference. Any difference we have in form of perception from that of an alien race, is of relatively small interest and concern as compared to what we share as a result of our conceptual faculties.

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Sure it can. All you need is a telescopic photometer with interference filters inserted along the path of the electromagnetic radiation. It is a relatively simple matter to determine the wavelength composition. In fact, Edwin Land used a very similar setup in his famous experiments on color vision two decades ago.
I have to admit that my knowledge of the psycho-physics is amature here.

Would the above mentioned photometer allow the color-blind person to recognize that what both of us see under ordinary conditions are really electromagnetic waves that have the same primary physical properties?--or would it allow him to literally "see" those same waves as red in the way I do? In other words, would the change be analogous to the way my subjective perception of color can change with a low-tech color-filtered lens or an atmospheric interference?

The problem I am getting at is that part of what enters consciousness, such as what certain things feel like from the inside (eg., a color, pain, or memory), is irreducibly subjective from the standpoint of knowledge.

The problem was given its most famous receent form in the 1970s with Thomas Nagel's article, "What is It Like To Be a Bat?"

If physicalism [note, def., the reduction of all reality to an observable spatio-temporal organization of identifiable particles and their relationships] is to be defended, the phenomenological features [note, def., how appearances feel from the inside] must themselves be given a physical account. But when we examine their subjective character it seems that such a result is impossible. The reason is that every subjective phenomenon is essentially connected with a single point of view, and it seems inevitable that an objective, physical theory will abandon that point of view.

Unfortunately, you really have to read the entire article to unpack what that means. http://members.aol.com/NeoNoetics/Nagel_Bat.html

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Would the above mentioned photometer allow the color-blind person to recognize that what both of us see under ordinary conditions are really electromagnetic waves that have the same primary physical properties?--or would it allow him to literally "see" those same waves as red in the way I do?

The device would be an objective means to determine the wavelength composition of the light along the same path towards the person's eye. The point would be to show the color-blind person a difference in wavelength which he himself is not able to discern directly with his own sensory apparatus.

There are cases where there is cortical damage affecting the color pathways in the brain -- central achromotopsia -- where after the damage the patient reports he sees the world as if it were a black and white movie. The patient knows the difference because before the cortical damage he had normal color vision. But, say you had a patient who had central achromotopsia virtually from birth. I am suggesting to you that the device I described would show the patient that there are differences in wavelength composition that he cannot discern.

The problem I am getting at is that part of what enters consciousness, such as what certain things feel like from the inside (eg., a color, pain, or memory), is irreducibly subjective from the standpoint of knowledge.

I do not see any problem, and I do not think that subjective is the right word for what you describe. Introspection is just as valid a method of cognition as is extrospection.

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The point would be to show the color-blind person a difference in wavelength which he himself is not able to discern directly with his own sensory apparatus.
Got it.

I do not see any problem, and I do not think that subjective is the right word for what you describe. Introspection is just as valid a method of cognition as is extrospection.

"Subjective" means the testimony offered has to be first-personal. I have to imagine what someone else sees or put myself in their perspective. In my terminology, there is an "objective" way of doing this when we go from me to the color-blind person. I've seen a black and white movie, and I have some notion of what it's like to see the world that way. However, the color-blind (literally, not in the common use of the term) person cannot have any notion of what it's like to be me experiencing red. Similarly, I cannot know what is like to be a bat. However, there is an experience out there we can call "what it's like to be a bat." I know that that experience is an objective part of reality, it exists. However, I can never know that experience itself. My capacity to know has that limit.

Consequently, when I said this

is irreducibly subjective from the standpoint of knowledge.

I was being inexact and misleading. It is not that the knowledge of "red" is subjective in the sense of arbitrary or resistant to evidence.

The only way I know how to say what I mean is in terminology you probably to do not accept: the "metaphysics" of seeing red is subjective, dependent on a first-personal perspective, though the "epistemology" is objective. It is based on valid inference from the testimony of my senses.

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"Subjective" means the testimony offered has to be first-personal.

"Subjective," in Objectivist usage, means the view that consciousness creates reality rather than the "objective" view that existence exists and is the object consciousness seeks to be aware of.

Objectivists use the term "personal" to denote that which pertains to only one individual. Thus, the thoughts in my mind right now are "personal" -- not "subjective." My love for my husband (the incredible Stephen Speicher) is personal and very, very objective. :)

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  • 4 weeks later...

I can't see radio waves, but I know that they exist. How? By means of its "footprints" in reality. In other words, *something* is propagating through the air that allows me to listen to a baseball game thousands of miles away.

For the color-blind person, there is a perceptual way to show him "color" by using two chairs that look the same shade of grey to him, but one of which is red and the other green. For example, a light which affects white objects to similar degree in his vision, has a radically different effect on the two chairs. He can't see that the light is green, but he can see that the otherwise similar chairs absorb different amounts of the light. Something is different. What is different, he asks? It's the wavelength of the light and its selective absorption by the chairs, answers science; and we then explain, this variation of wavelength is what we perceive as color.

It can also be communicated by showing him how color-sighted people all make the same distinction; it is by the reactions of animals, for example, that we learn that cats and dogs are dichromats (two basic colors), humans are trichromats (three) and that other animals have up to seven basic colors... can you imagine having a seven-dimensional color space?

As for defending objective reality, such defense presupposes an audience capable at least of understanding (as distinguished from agreement), which only happens when the audience shares some basic terms of thought with the speaker. Your audience does share them, *but not in the context of philosophy*. All they are going to do is take the elements of Objectivism you put forth, construe them in *their* terms of thought, and blame you and Objectivism for the contradictions that result. So don't do it there... do it elsewhere when they don't expect it and are acting on an implicit premise of reality. Don't get trapped in a siege -- harry them with arrows. Raise inconvenient facts and observe the pretzellian results. At the very least you'll learn a ton about ideological pathology.

Beyond that, you just have to count on objective reality to defend itself. It can be a bear that way :)

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  • 1 year later...

"I do not have a scientific proof that tells communists that individual rights exist and that they are not to be violated."

A right is something that is proper to the existence of man. Without the right to his life, man cannot live, and indeed exist. Without a right to liberty, he cannot act on his own judgement to produce that which provides for his own independent life. Without a right to property, he cannot keep that which he produced, in order to live. If you violate his right to property, then his enemies are at the mercy of his desire to keep producing. If you violate his right to act on his own judgement to stop producing, then you are at the mercy of his desire to keep living. Live free or die.

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"Here's another form of it: How do you convince someone of an "objective fact" if they don't see it/agree with it? If they don't think such things exist?"

Their own lack of perception isnt proof of something's non-existence. Its only the lack of the faculty to prove it. Without a faculty to prove something, you wont be able to. Its a form of self abdication. Blinding yourself so you dont have to see. Ignorance cant be prevented, we are all ignorant to things, but blinding youself is a form of purposeful ignorance. Theyll fall back on the argument, "but Im blind, so I cant help but see," but they can help their blindness, or they could, at least.

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You cannot argue about the non-existence of an objective reality. How? If no objective reality exists and everyone just 'lives in his own universe' there is no reason to argue. About what do you argue? You see it your way and they see it their way. Period. There is nothing else to be said. The only reason for argument would be that there is in fact an objective reality out there and you both have different ideas about what it is. This confirms the very idea of an objective world beyond a mind. The moment someone tries to argue with you that no objective reality exists, he assumes an objective reality. Otherwise arguing would be pointless.

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Otherwise arguing would be pointless.

This argument is useful in a lot of situations:

If they say that nothing exists, then their argument doesn't exist.

If they say A isn't A, then their argument may well actually say that A is A. According to them, their argument is not actually their argument.

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