Saturday, September 04, 2010

A Response to Dawson

First and foremost, Dawson, many of my hasty comments were merely for the sake of dragging the conversation in a certain direction, or teasing something out by being provocative – that's just the way I am, it isn't personal. Secondly, your right, I don't know a thing about objectivism, only what I can glean from the sort of language you're using and the direction it seems to take, and what's implicit within it. At any rate, the fact that you can't plug more into these frickin' blog comment boxes is beyond frustrating, so I'm simply going to summarize my main points of confusion and contention here. It's not necessary for you to comment on it as I'll accept the fact that I'm at an enormous lose. I suppose at some point in time I'll have to bit the bullet and read Rand a little.

Again, I've quoted you below (hopefully not out of context) and then stated where I'm going with it, and/or what I'm not understanding about it. I'll leave it at that.

You said:
“Objectivism *begins* with incontestable certainties.”

I gather that these incontestable certainties are [e.g.] existence & perception.

You said:
“Universality is essentially nothing more than the human mind’s ability to form open-ended classifications of reference (namely mental integrations) into which new units can be integrated when they are discovered or considered. “

I think I gather what you're saying here just fine, other then the fact that the word “reference” seems a bit teasing as I'm thinking, “In reference to what? Concepts? And what are the concepts in reference to?” I'm not seeing how, when an objectivist ultimately speaks of fact and truth, that it isn't looked upon as ultimately a reference to or correspondence with reality. But you comment further later on.

You said:
“Truth, on my view, is a property of identification. Identification is a mental activity which involves a consciousness’ interaction with the objects of its awareness.”

This is where I'm tempted to force you a bit. But let me say this, I'm with you completely when you state that “A rock is not true”. Correct, that is NOT a proposition, it's only what we say about the rock the has the property of being either true or false as in, “The rock is gray” - in that sense that is either a true statement or a false one. My question would be, then, (and I think I know what your answer would be) is a rock and for that matter “grayness” a property that exists in the word (outside of consciousness) or would you rather say that both are “concepts”? i.e. that the world is neither in itself rock-like (in some ways) or gray-like (in others) but that these are merely objective concepts which are mind dependent. Also noting that the world is not “objective” either, it just exists, as you say. i.e. objective is merely another “concept”, a means by which we approach talking about the world, hence objectivism. To spin this another way, would you agree with the statement that, yes, the world causes us to have certain beliefs, but it does not give us the reason? In this way we supply the concepts of “objective”, “grayness”, “rock”, etc., but that the world is none of these things...

You said:
“Realism in terms of universals is the view that “that universals have a reality of their own, an extra-mental existence. Positions are often marked out, running from moderate to absolute Realism. The more definite, fixed, and eternal the status of the universals, the more absolute is the Realism.” (Reese, Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion, p. 637). This of course does not describe the Objectivist view; but it does describe Plato’s view. “

Because of the hang-up I stated with the word “reference” above, I'm tempted to push this matter a bit. Because you use the word “reference”, and to some degree (you talk about this more as I quote below) you use correspondence jargon, I'm tempted to infer something along the lines of the following. I agree with you that we should not look at universals as having an existence all their own. However, since we're talking about “reference” and “correspondence”, I'm tempted to consider that the objectivist position, whereas it does not see the universals as existing on their own, nonetheless see them as representative, correspondent of, and/or in reference to a reality. In this way truth is judged via an adequate correspondence to reality – i.e. we know when something is true when it adequately represents reality (which again, this also brings out that dirty “mirror” metaphor, which I know you've stated you shun). It is within that idea that I raise my suspicions over how ones knows they've “adequately adhered to anything.”

You said:
“As for language, according to Objectivism, it is “a code of visual-auditory symbols that serves the psycho-epistemological function of converting concepts into the mental equivalent of concretes” (ITOE, p. 10). “The primary purpose of concepts and of language is to provide man with a system of cognitive classification and organization, which enables him to acquire knowledge on an unlimited scale; this means: to keep order in man’s mind and enable him to think.” (Ibid., p. 69) “

I'm a bit hung on your use of concepts, and whereas I know you're staring clear of Kant, I can't help but stir up the idea of Kant's a prior concepts when thinking about this. But I move on.

You said:
“In essence, a statement is true when it adheres to an objective process of identification of reality. Some have called this a version of the correspondence theory of truth. “Reflect” implies a one-to-one relationship, but in fact conceptualization allows for much, much more than this.”

Now, if I'm correct, your “objective process of identification” is also conceptual, but perhaps not a priori conceptual? My problem here is the same one I have above, you seem to have a trail of correspondence here to follow (at least, that's where I'm going with it). What I'm seeing is that language (a fact statement say) is true when it adheres to this “process”, this process is a concept, but what's the concept derived from. Again, I'm tempted (from the metaphors you're using) to infer that implicit with all this is a connection between language and reality that may not be one to one per se, but is nontheless representative in some fasion – i.e. truth is a matter of correspondence to reality. But, I suppose for now I'll have to take that as my misunderstanding of objectivist lingo.

You said:
“Since knowing in Objectivism is essentially a process of identification (and also integration), we know this implicitly just by perceiving and attempting to identify and interact with what we perceive.”
“If I perceive an object, my senses are reliable – they are doing what senses do by virtue of their nature: responding to external stimuli, transmitting sensations to the brain, and automatically integrating those senses into percepts.”

I gather this, one cannot wrongly see something, you just see what you see. Perceiving, however, is one thing, knowing another. To know something is to be able purport, to make an assertion in a language game, to make a commitment as in, “I know this rock is gray.” In the statement above, you're connecting the act of knowing (the act of making statements in a language game, as I've forced it) to the very act of perceiving itself, thereby (as I see it for the moment) making a direct connection between language (truth) as correspondence and/or representation of reality. i.e. I know it (and in fact it's true) because it properly represents reality – so the representationalist bagagge is right there. Now again, I know you want to stay away from that, but I don't see how you have. I'll accept that as my problem for the moment.

You said:
“I suspected that you had some knowledge of the history of philosophy – the representationalist view of perception having quite a lineage – and that you would understand what I was saying here. The representationalist view essentially says that we perceive appearances of things. Objectivism holds that this is false (it commits the fallacy of the stolen concept), and that we are perceive things directly (not their appearances). In Objectivism, appearance is the *form* in which we see something, but what we’re seeing is the thing itself, not a representation of it.”

Here again are a few hang-ups. You are in fact saying that what we perceive is, “the thing itself”. Here's the problem, if on the one hand you want to say that we're perceiving the thing itself, but on the other you want to reject representation, (i.e. the truths we speak don't represent the thing in itself from above, not here) then what sense does it even make to state that we actually perceive “the thing itself”? But I've got ahead of myself here, as in this particular case what you're rejecting is the perception of the “appearance of things”. I'm using representation in a different way, which (I think) you also reject. However by talking about and rejecting one form of representation, I seem you as grabbing the other, in which case I ask the epistemic question.

You said:
“But as I had stated earlier, truth “uis a property of identification. Identification is a mental activity which involves a consciousness’ interaction with the objects of its awareness.” Both the knower (the subject of consciousness) and the objects of his awareness exist in reality, so is there a problem here? We do not hold that truth is a property of things which exist in the world apart from a knower; things simply exist. We don’t say “this rock is true” or “that rock is not true.”

I'm with you here. Truth is certainly not a property of things that exist in the world apart from a knower.

You said:
“I guess my labor to date has been all for naught. As I pointed out before, we do not need to prove the axioms; they are not conclusions of arguments; they are not inferred from previous knowledge. We do not need to prove that existence exists, or that things are what they are independent of consciousness.”

My hang-up here goes back to the idea that, within your philosophical system there is the implicit idea that truth is a correspondence to reality. If that's true, then you've tied yourself to showing just how you know that. But, again, perhaps that's my problem for the moment. If you don't know, then forget about it, lets not even make such suggestions.

You said:
“I’m somewhat speculating here, but I think, for the most part, the process of learning the correspondence of language symbols to specific concepts is automatized memorization which is reinforced by repetition and use.”

Here again you're using correspondence lingo (which implies representation, mirroring, adherence, etc. to reality) however in this case you state that it's a correspondence to concepts, which I'm a but mystified about at this point as to where you make the connection between reality (existence, the thing in itself from above) and the concept.

So let me wrap this up this way. What I've been forcing here (and I apologize for that) is the idea that what looks like is happening is truth, for the objectivist, is ultimately a matter of whether or not the truths we speak adequately corresponds to reality. You have a few keys terms that infer some sequence of correspondence, those are as follows:

- Existence (which is apart from consciousness. And contains things which , within it, we experience in themselves. Which was quoted in reference to representation.)
Perception (your axiom, that which we cannot deny; the manner with which we experience things in existence. Added correction, you state: the validity of the senses is an axiom. I don't see how calling perception the axiom changes this much as the "senses" and "perception" are essentialy the same, yes/no?. You've merely added validity to it.
Universals (The minds ability to form open ended classifications of reference)
Concepts (which I'm a bit mystified by at the moment. I'm tempted to say that that perhaps these open ended classifications are what we'll end up calling concepts. Rock, is a concept, objective is a concept, etc..)
Turth (the property of identification. But identifying what? Objects of perception? Using concepts and universals? Your idea of concepts seems to be used as a shield to say that truth is not correspondence or a representation of reality in itself, there by evading the epistemic question from me)
Correspondence (you've used this to mean the process of adhereing a truth statement to an objective process of identification, which is a concept, but how is that connected to perception)
Representation (you've used this to deny the idea that what we perceive are mere appearences, but rather the thing in itself. But I'm using it in the same way you're using correspondence, which is also a way to use it. Words as correspondence, adherence, representation, mirror of reality etc..)

The ultimate issue that I have here is that (so far as I can untangle), it seems that underlying this philosophical system is the idea that truth is correct correspondence to reality. Once again, if that's true, then I ask the obvious; "How do you know you've done this? How do you account for the truth of your axioms, etc. etc.?" Once again I'm fully willing to accept that I just don't get it, I'm not seeing the how the connection you make between truth and reality isn't direct representation all things considered.

Finally, I'm more then happy to talk about my theory of truth, should you be able to stand my presence for much longer that is.

Happy hunting, Dawson, it's been fun... For me anyway.


  1. Hi Andrew.

    The incontestible certainties are Objectivism's axioms:

    Conciousness &

    Even if you take absurdity as a possibility to start with, you still unavoidably come to the conclusion that these are correct.

    In order for anything at all to be happening, existence exists. If existence exist, then it is identified. If it can be identified, it is identified through conciousness. QED.

    What the rest of your questions relate to is the primacy of existence or the primacy of conciousness. I think you should read up on this in objectivist literature, but it is impossible not to place first the primacy of existence without ruining either the validity or the necessity of your argument.

    The rest of your various arguments are layered from those foundations, so I think it would be most worthwhile discussing that before moving on.

  2. Vagon,
    I'll be addressing these things in another post. Part of what's happening here is me trying to see to the bottom of Dawson's (Rand's) position. How is it not just more Platonism, etc.?

    I'm starting to gather the real contention here (I'll ignore the axioms for now) is the idea that "words are representations". That's problematic for many reasons, however before even approaching the problems (which I previously started to do), I have to confirm whether or not that's true.

  3. Fair enough, you'll find its roots are in Aristotle, and by extension Plato and by extension socrates etc etc.

    As with any school there's a number of differences.

    I've only looked into it as much as an ontological and epistemological system so (assuming you consider language to be separate to epistemology) I wont be much help.


  4. Vagon,
    honestly, I'm not all that interested in certainty, epistemology, [T]ruth, etc.. As a pragmatist I find them wanting, question begging, and ultimately useless.

    The reality is I popped in at Dawson's because I caught wind that Sye was there and was interested to see what bull shit he was flinging around this time. When at first I saw Dawson's argument, and Sye was quite, well, I couldn't help myself. What Dawson was saying looked (and may be) fraught with the same or similar baggage. Now of course I could be wrong, and I seem to be far enough into this that I'm really interested to see if I am, and/or if (in the end) perhaps our thought isn't all that different.

    Ultimately we do agree on one thing - Sye's argument is bull shit...