Debate: The Challenge of Objectivism


Commentary:

Having called into question my epistemology (way of knowing) which combines faith and evidence, Ydemoc leaves the negative position and teaches the affirmative truths of Objectivism. I take up the negative position against him and also defend my epistemology when Ydemoc finishes explaining his Objectivist way of knowing. He purports that his way of knowing is superior to all ways of knowing that involve faith. Christians would do well to genuinely try to understand his position, especially since it tries to point out contradictions or inconsistencies in faith and religion. We must not be afraid of finding truth in our opponents. A faith that runs and hides from challenges or cannot be tested is not a faith worth having. So, again, grab your coffee, take up the challenge, and develop your response. I will argue the negative position when Ydemoc is through.

Ydemoc:

Perception (or observation) is the direct and automatic awareness of objects present to the senses. At this stage, we do not become aware of *what* objects are, but merely *that* they are. I emphasize: perception is an *automatic process*, like breathing and digestion. Any “error” or “uncertainty” at the perceptual stage would be an impossibility — and as absurd to speak of as it would be to speak of “error” or “uncertainty” with regard to automatic functions, like breathing, digestion, etc.

It is only when we reach the conceptual level of cognition (a volitional process) that errors and doubt can creep in, particularly if one isn’t careful identifying and integrating the material provided by the senses. As David Kelley notes: “It is only as knowledge expands beyond this level [the perceptual stage] that we need to become epistemologically self-conscious. As we begin to integrate evidence on a wider scale, building conclusion on conclusion, the possibilities for error multiply, and we need to ask ourselves: Do I really know that what I am taking to be evidence is true? Is there anything else I know that bears on this issue? Do I have evidence that further evidence is available? Am I biased toward this conclusion? Etc.”

Epistemologically, the base of all of man’s knowledge is the perceptual stage. At this level, if anyone perceives or observes any “thing,” then, in fact, they have perceived **some** “thing” — and have done so — *without a doubt*!

By perceiving any “thing,” that “thing” is perceptually self-evident by virtue of it having been perceived. Indeed, I would maintain that if this were not the case, then there would be no basis upon which to form (let alone, be capable of using) such concepts as “perceive,” “certainty,” or “doubt” in the first place!

As Leonard Peikoff notes in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand: “When one perceives a tomato, for example, there is no evidence that it exists, beyond the fact that one perceives it; there is no evidence that it is something, beyond the fact that one perceives **it**; and there is no evidence that one is aware, beyond the fact that one **is** perceiving it…

If a ‘valid‘ sense perception means a perception the object of which is an existent, then not merely man’s senses are valid. *All* sense perceptions are necessarily valid. If an individual of any species perceives at all, then, no matter what its organs or forms of perception, it perceives something that is.”

Applying all of this to the “street” example in your main blog entry: If our senses were invalid, not only would we have no means to determine whether it would be safe to cross a street, but we would also have no way of identifying it as a “street” at all — or what “identifying it” or “crossing it” would even mean! In fact, I wouldn’t even be able sit here, typing what I’m typing, questioning you on this matter if the senses were invalid! (cf. The case of Helen Keller, and the difficulties she had conceptualizing/acquiring knowledge without the benefit of sight or hearing.)

As Rand notes: “Man’s senses are his only direct cognitive contact with reality and, therefore, his only source of information. Without sensory evidence, there can be no concepts; without concepts, there can be no language; without language, there can be no knowledge and no science.”

Of course, you can challenge this and try to prove otherwise. But good luck, sans data obtained by sensory perception.

You continue: “…that everything is vulnerable to doubt in some way…”

“Everything” is vulnerable to doubt? Well, then wouldn’t your very claim have to include the very concept “everything,” and thereby casting doubt on all that it subsumes, which would necessarily have to include “vulnerability” and “doubt” and all in reality which gives rise to these concepts also?

If so — and, again, given your claim, it really wouldn’t make any sense to deny it — then you’re essentially positing the following: “Everything is vulnerable to doubt in some way, which means ‘vulnerability’ and ‘doubt’ are vulnerable to doubt in some way.”

Is this what you had in mind? If so, then your statement essentially negates itself — unless you want to take the “turtles all the way down” approach, i.e., doubt, no doubt, doubt, no doubt, etc.

Or, you could just simply recognize what I spoke to earlier: the fact that man’s knowledge begins with perceptual awareness of objects, and does so at that stage *without a doubt*.

You continued: “…and the most obvious truths can be called into question;

Before I address this claim, I think it might be helpful to review a few key terms.

“Knowledge,” according to Objectivism, is “a mental grasp of the fact(s) of reality, reached either by perceptual observation or by a process of reason based on perceptual observation.” 24 What’s important to note here, is that this definition itself qualifies as knowledge. Why is that so important? Because, as Peikoff points out: “Contrary to skepticism, the definition affirms that man *can* ‘grasp reality.’ Contrary to mysticism, it affirms that such grasp is achieved only by observation and/or reason.”

“Truth,” as Dawson Bethrick explains, is “the non-contradictory, objective identification of fact. Truth obtains when an objectively formed, logically assembled conceptual structure (e.g., a proposition) conforms to the facts which it is intended to denote in accordance with the relevant content of those facts.“

Or, as Rand writes: “Truth is the product of the recognition (i.e., identification) of the facts of reality. Man identifies and integrates the facts of reality by means of concepts. He retains concepts in his mind by means of definitions. He organizes these concepts into propositions – and the truth or falsehood of his propositions rests, not only on their relation to the facts he asserts, but also on the truth or falsehood of the definitions of the concepts he uses to assert them, which rests on the truth or falsehood of his designations of essential characteristics.”

What, then, is man’s standard of truth? That standard is **reason,** which is: “the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses.”

So, back to your claim that “the most obvious truths can be called into question.” What “obvious truths” were you thinking of that can be “called into question”? Perhaps the “obvious truth,” that the concept “obvious” exists? That it’s been formed? Defined? That it’s grounded in reality? And that you employed it in the above sentence on your blog? Is that the type of “obvious truth” you had in mind which might be “called into question”?

Or perhaps you had in mind something more wide-ranging — for instance, *all* concepts? If so, can you demonstrate how you might “call into question” the fact that concepts exist, without using concepts and, as a result, performatively contradicting yourself in the process? Can you demonstrate how you might “call into question” the fact that knowledge exists, without performatively contradicting yourself?

How about the fact that there is no such thing as a square circle? Can you demonstrate how this might be “called into question”? (I’m assuming, of course, that by “calling into question” you mean: **succeeding** in challenging the accuracy, probity, or propriety of the “obvious truths” I’ve mentioned, and not merely the simple act of **issuing** a challenge to such truths. I grant the latter is well within the realm of possibility, but not the former.)

Also, would you say your claim that “the most obvious truths can be called into question,” is an inductive generalization? If it is, would you say that induction ever leads to certainty?

Commentary:

I’m sure you’ve finished your coffee by now and are wondering if there can be an answer to this. I hope you’ve come up with a few objections of your own, but I address his points after Ydemoc’s case is finished. Until then, you can explore these ideas further is the comment section.

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