Debate: Objectivism opposes faith


Commentary:

Having explained the Objectivist position, Ydemoc uses his philosophical position to point out seeming inconsistencies and contradictions that faith brings about. After this post is through, Ydemoc will have one more go, and then I will begin my response. Enjoy!

Ydemoc:

You say, “then in order to believe with certainty this observed condition of reality, one must reach that certainty by faith.”

As was pointed out, propositions are the precondition for any “beliefs,” and concepts the precondition for the formation of any propositions. So what then would be the precondition for the formation of any concepts? What would have to obtain before one could “believe,” “doubt,” “trust,” “have faith in” or “have knowledge of” — anything?

Objectivism affirms that sense perception is the epistemological basis for concepts (or knowledge). *All* knowledge is knowledge of reality, and is acquired on the basis of perceptual input, with reason being the faculty that identifies and integrates this material.

Rand notes that: “Reason integrates man’s perceptions by means of forming abstractions or conceptions, thus raising man’s knowledge from the perceptual level, which he shares with animals, to the conceptual level, which he alone can reach. The method which reason employs in this process is logic — and logic is the art of non-contradictory identification.” Reason is the faculty. Logic is the method. Truth is the product.

Peikoff adds: “The senses, concepts, logic: these are the elements of man’s rational faculty — its start, its form, its method. In essence, ‘follow reason’ means: base knowledge on observation; form concepts according to the actual (measurable) relationships among concretes; use concepts according to the rules of logic (ultimately, the Law of Identity). Since each of these elements is based on the facts of reality, the conclusions reached by a process of reason are objective. The alternative to reason is some form of mysticism or skepticism.”

*Metaphysically* speaking, the basis of all knowledge is existence (or reality). As Peikoff explains: “Before one can consider any other issue [including any so-called “condition” of reality], before one can ask what things there are or what problems men face in learning about them, before one can discuss what one knows or how one knows it — first, there must *be* something, [existence]. And one must grasp [consciousness] that there is. If not, there is nothing to consider or to know. Before one can ask *what* any existent is, it must be something [identity], and one must know this. If not there is nothing to investigate — or to exist.”

Peikoff has just described the preconditions of intelligibility, the starting points of knowledge: “existence,” “consciousness,” and “identity.” These axiomatic concepts, which are implicit in any act of awareness, are the fundamental recognitions which Objectivism makes explicit. They are perceived or experienced directly, but grasped conceptually. And, as Rand makes clear: “They sum up the essence of all human cognition: something *exists* of which I am *conscious*; I must discover its *identity*.

[The] underscoring of primary facts is one of the crucial epistemological functions of axiomatic concepts. It is also the reason why they can be translated into a statement in the form of a repetition (as a base and a reminder): Existence exists — Consciousness is conscious — A is A. (This converts axiomatic concepts into formal axioms.)”

Dawson Bethrick points out, these axioms are fundamental in the following ways:

“- they identify perceptually self-evident facts;
– these facts are the broadest generalities possible, especially in the case of the axiom of existence – the concept ‘existence’ is the widest of all concepts, including everything that exits [subsuming everything — every entity, action, attribute, relationship (including every state of consciousness) — everything which is, was, or will be]*
– the concepts informing the axioms (‘existence’, ‘identity’ and ‘consciousness’) are conceptually irreducible – i.e., they are not inferred from other facts or from prior knowledge; they do not assume the truth of prior or more fundamental concepts – there are none!
– they denote facts which are ever-present throughout all knowledge;
– to deny them, one must assume their truth in that they would have to be true in order to deny them.

The axioms provide higher knowledge with the solid conceptual basis needed for building the entire sum of one’s knowledge in hierarchical structure. The axioms identify in the broadest possible terms the context which makes knowledge possible and important to human life and as such they directly identify the very preconditions of intelligibility. The truth of the axioms is already implicit in our first perceptual experiences, since the axioms identify what we directly perceive. So long as we are conscious of anything, the axioms are present. In fact, the axioms are implicit in all perception, since perception is the fundamental, pre-conceptual awareness of some object by some conscious subject. Perception is perception of something, so the only validation that the axioms require is the relationship between a knowing subject and the objects it perceives.”
Based on all I’ve presented thus far, I think it’s safe to conclude that in the knowledge process — from its base, to its acquisition, to its validation — at no point is “faith” required. In other words, “faith” is not needed for “jumping the gap from the evidence to certainty,” for in the conceptual process just described, there is no “jumping” or “gap” to begin with.

But maybe I missed something. Let’s find out…

You write: “If you act on anything, you have faith.”

Flies and flees act. Do they have faith when perceiving and navigating their environment? How about a pig? A horse? A mouse? A dog? Do these and other animals have faith when they act?

According to Christianity, Satan acts. Would you say this character has faith?

According to Christianity, Judas acted. Did he have faith?

Christians tell us all the time that their god acts. Does it have faith? Can it doubt?

Christians allege that the Holy Spirit is a “person” who actually acts in their lives. Does it have faith?

Even though they weren’t Christian, would you say that the 9/11 terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center had faith when they took this action?

Does one act on faith when committing an evil act? When thinking about committing an evil act?

What is the difference between acting on faith to do good vs. acting on faith to do evil?

When you imagine heaven and being face-to-face with the Christian god, do you imagine that it will take faith to perceive him? Why or why not?

If I get into my car, having faith that when I drive down the highway, I will not get into a crash — but then I do get into a crash — would you say that it was an act of faith which was responsible for my getting into a collision?

You say: “This is completely unlike the modern idea that faith is something in the absence of evidence, and that the two are opposite methods of knowing the world.”

I’m not exactly sure what you’re trying to say here. “Faith” and **what** are “two opposite methods of knowing the world”?
As brought out earlier, the only means I know for knowing anything, including “the world” is: reason.

You also write: “This sort of faith is a trust in your own ability to properly know the world;…”

This is just more stolen concepts, brought to you by the Prior Certainty of Consciousness premise.

My cognitive tools (i.e., my “ability to properly know the world”) were reliable before I had knowledge of their existence. So how could “trust” even apply at that stage, at the perceptual level, prior to my knowledge of their (my cognitive tools) existence? In fact, at the perceptual stage, not only would “trust” not apply in “your own ability to know the world,” but neither would “distrust.” Try it sometime — try to “distrust” your senses (for example, by touching a hot stove), and see if they don’t still deliver reliable information about the world around you.

“Trust” is a higher abstraction, a concept that would be unavailable until the senses had already (and non-volitionally) given one awareness of something *to* trust. Where would “faith,” as you’ve described it, obtain prior to that happening?

This fallacy notwithstanding, I’m curious, (and I may have touched upon this earlier): What about my ability to properly know what “doubt” is? Does that take faith? And, per your assertion, that “[i]f you act on anything, then you act on faith”: If I act on doubt, does this mean that I am really acting on faith?

You continue: “…a faith that you really do see the things that you see and really do experience the things that you experience.”

Maybe it’s just your way of emphasizing your point, but I’m curious: Why detach perception from experience? To experience anything, wouldn’t one have perceive it in some fashion? And if one perceives something, isn’t one then experiencing something?

Be that as it may, I think I’ve already made the case that “faith” wouldn’t even be in play when it comes to the perception of objects or to the experiencing of something. If you didn’t really “see the things that you see” or really “experience the things you experience,” then there would be no basis on which to even form any concepts, including concepts like “faith.”

So your statement essentially advocates a complete reversal of the process.

You wrote: “Your mind could be mistaken or corrupted in some way so that you can’t truthfully see and know what’s going on in the real world, but most of us don’t question the accuracy of our minds.”

Let’s call this the “What If You’re Wrong?” approach to knowledge. Before I address it directly, let me (again) ask a few simple question: Would you say that we can know with 100% certainty that man is fallible? Do you doubt that man is fallible? Would you say that it requires faith to know with 100% certainty that man is fallible? Or are you certain of the knowledge you have that man is fallible, without faith?

There is no doubt whatsoever that errors can occur in one’s thinking. But what is an “error,” if not a departure from being right or correct? And what is “doubt,” if not a departure from its very basis: certainty? As Peikoff rightly asks: “How can one form such concepts as ‘mistake’ or ‘error’ while wholly ignorant of what is correct?”

He goes on: “Fallibility does not make knowledge impossible. Knowledge is what makes possible the discovery of fallibility… Doubt, rationally exercised, is a temporary, transitional state, which is applicable only to (some) higher-level questions — and which itself expresses a cognitive judgement: that the evidence one has is still inconclusive [a certainty in this context, by the way]. As such, doubt is made possible only by a vast context of knowledge in the doubter’s mind. The doubter must know both facts and logic; he must know the facts known so far [other certainties] — and also the means by which in principle his doubt is eventually to be removed, i.e., what else is required to reach full proof… Is man capable of certainty? Since man has a faculty of knowledge and non-omniscience is no obstacle to its use, there is only one rational answer: certainly.”

Additionally, Peikoff addresses your complaint head on, when he writes: “It is possible, the skeptic argument declares, for man to be in error; therefore, it is possible that every individual is in error on every question. This argument is a non sequitur; it is an equivocation on the term ‘possible.’

What is possible to a species under some circumstances, is not necessarily possible to every individual member of that species under every set of circumstances. Thus, it is possible for a human being to run the mile in less than four minutes; and it is possible for a human being to be pregnant. I cannot, however, go over to a crippled gentleman in his wheelchair and say: ‘Perhaps you’ll give birth to a son next week, after you’ve run the mile to the hospital in 3.9 minutes — after all, you’re human, and it is possible for human beings to do these things.’

The same principle applies to the possibility of error.

Doubting without a basis is the equivalent of — is indeed a form of — asserting without a basis. Both procedures, being arbitrary, are disqualified by the very nature of human cognition. In reason, certainty must precede doubt, just as a grasp of truth must precede the detection of error. To establish a claim to knowledge, what one must do is to prove an idea positively, on the basis of the full context of evidence available; i.e., a man must prove that he is right. It is not incumbent on anyone — nor is it possible — to prove that he is not wrong, when no evidence of error has been offered.”

So, Dan, what is your basis for doubt? Where is your evidence of specific error?

You wrote: “Thus, it takes faith to believe my statement.”

If so, then what does this say, not only about the truth-value of your statement, but also about the epistemological reliability of “faith” itself? If “faith” is what supports your belief in your statement, I’d say that this is quite an indictment, not only of “faith” and your statement, but also of whatever epistemological avenue that has led you to this point where you would make such a claim.

I have shown that the statement: “No evidence for factual things reaches 100%” — is not one which can be integrated without contradiction, nor is it one which can avoid stolen concepts, which means your statement is not in accordance with reason and therefore warrants rejection. Yet, here you are, positing “faith” as an end-around to your statement’s untenability, as if to say, “Why should contradictions matter? Why should stolen concepts matter? Why should reason matter? My statement can be believed anyway.” But, how? “Faith! The assurance of things hoped for, silly! …”

But faith is not an epistemological process by which knowledge is acquired and validated. Securing truths, whether done by identifying that which can be integrated without contradiction, (denoted by the concept “true”), or by identifying that which contradicts the evidence and/or some aspect of the wider context, (denoted by the concept “false”), or by identifying that which has no relation to evidence or context, (denoted by the concept “arbitrary”) — it is not faith that is required, but reason.

As stated earlier, “reason” is “the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses. *Rationality* is the unwavering “commitment to reason as one’s only source of knowledge, one’s only judge of values and one’s only guide to action.” As Dawson Bethrick points out: “A position secured by a consistent application of reason has no place, need, or room for faith; and a position accepted on faith will not sustain the demands, scrutiny or challenges of reason. Faith and reason are antipodes, regardless of how strenuously religionists deny this.”

So any acceptance (or rejection) of ideational content (be it the acceptance of 2 + 2 = 4, or the rejection the notion of a “deity,” or “square circles,” or the idea of Tiger Woods playing golf on Pluto, or your statement that “No evidence…”, etc., etc., etc.) on any basis other than reason, (whether that basis be hope, belief, faith, doubt, feelings, tradition, intuition, revelation, wishing, whim, “just knowing,” etc.) — is irrational.

Faith serves as the great enabler of the irrational, green-lighting the acceptance of ideational content, not only in the absence of evidence or proof, but **in spite of** evidence and proof contradicting such ideational content. 47 This is mysticism in a nutshell. If faith can foster acceptance of the kind of statement(s) you’ve posited, then what’s to stop anyone from accepting and acting on any crazy ol‘ thing, and doing so based upon faith?

Having nothing to do with our means of perceiving and identifying reality; born of wishing, hoping, and fear, none of which have anything to do with objects of desire or dread actually being real; reinforced by incoherent storybook teachings (cf. Romans 8:24, Hebrews 11:1), faith is as anti-reason of a concept as you can get.

Rather than serving as any kind of cognitive tool or “method” for going “from the evidence to certainty,” faith is fundamentally an emotion, a false-confidence, which its adherents appeal to and act on in an effort to suppress the uneasiness they experience when, for example, they are occasionally struck by faint realizations that what they are hoping, wishing, fearing, and wasting their life on, really is only imaginary.

So, to offer just one rewrite for your statement, “Faith is jumping the gap from the evidence to certainty”:

Faith is a feeling for avoiding the chasm that exists between what is real and what is only imaginary.

(By the way, since you’re a defender of faith and I’ve introduced the notion of “square circles” into this discussion, I would really be curious to know what you would say faith’s role would be in one’s acceptance or rejection of such a notion as square circles.)

I will let Peikoff speak for me in summing up just how intertwined mysticism (in this case, Christianity) and skepticism really are: “If mysticism advocates the promiscuous acceptance of ideas, skepticism advocates their promiscuous doubt. The mystic ‘just knows’ whatever he wants to believe; the skeptic ‘just doesn’t know’ whatever he wants not to believe. The operative term and guiding force here is ‘wants,” i.e., feeling. **Both** viewpoints reduce to emotionalism; both represent the reliance on feeling as a cognitive guide. Both represent a denial of man’s need for logic and an enshrinement of the arbitrary.

Both the mystic and the skeptic are exponents of faith… The mystic has faith that there is certainty which eludes the mind; the skeptic has faith that the mind’s certainties are no certainties at all… Both doctrines, if upheld at all, must be matters of faith; a proof of either would be fatal to it.”

Why would proof be fatal to both?

Peikoff explains: “A process of proof commits a man to its presuppositions and implications. It thus commits him to an entire philosophic approach — to the validity of sense perception, the validity of reason, the need of objectivity, the method of logic, the processes of conceptual knowledge, the law of identity, the absolutism of reality. This approach is incompatible with the ideas of mystics and skeptics alike.

A God susceptible to proof would wither and starve the spirit of mysticism. Such an entity would be finite and limited; it would be one thing among others within the universe, a thing bound by identity and causality, capable of being integrated without contradiction into man’s cognitive context, incompatible with miracles, revelations, and the other paraphernalia of unreason…

The same applies to the skeptic’s doubt. A doubt susceptible of objective validation would also have to be finite, contextual, and bound by the rules of evidence. Such a doubt would be one assessment among others within the universe of rational knowledge.”

Yes, for the sake of both the mystic and the skeptic, it’s best that their doctrines operate in the shadows, away from proof, for that is how faith and doubt thrive. To do otherwise and expose them to the shining light of reason, would cause them both to implode and, thereby, give away the game.

You continue: “No one is required to believe it, or anything really.”

That’s good to hear, but did you come to this conclusion based upon faith? Should I take this conclusion on faith? What if someone else comes along and tells me that I must believe your statement? Or they tell me I must reject evolution? Or that I must believe the statements contained in the bible, otherwise I will go to hell?

I’m reminded of a couple of things Rand wrote: “Faith in the supernatural begins as faith in the superiority of others” and “an error made on your own is safer than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, but the second destroys your capacity to distinguish truth from error.”

You wrote: “And as long as one believes, for instance, that he or she exists, that belief was reached by faith, since even that can be cast upon with doubt.”

I’ve never understood why one would seriously entertain the notion of denying or doubting one’s own existence, let alone why one would posit the notion that “belief” in one’s own existence must be “reached by faith.”

It is certainly true that one can *cast* doubt upon all sorts of things. But that doesn’t mean such uncertainty has any basis in reality; i.e., that such uncertainty has any truth value, i.e., actually obtains or is rational. I can doubt that I’m actually staring at a computer screen as I type this right now. Jodi Arias can doubt she’s a convicted murderer. Neither are true.

As for for those who are sincere in denying or doubting their own existence, I say: Let’s see them demonstrate it.

So now I have a request: Please provide evidence that would serve as a rational basis on which to genuinely doubt that you, I, or existence, actually exists. In attempting such a feat, please do so without performatively contradicting yourself in the process, thereby nullifying the very thing you set out to prove, i.e., do so without demonstrating, with certainty, that you actually exist by the very act of being able to doubt, (or for that matter, even being able to present an argument).

In other words: No matter the content of your claim, argument or evidence, implicit in the very act of: researching it, formulating it, supplying me with it, etc.; breathing, eating, taking breaks, etc. — would be *all* of the following:

(a) something would have to exist from which to draw any content, (answering the questions: Knowledge of *what*? Or: Doubt *what*?)

(b) you would need to be conscious (or aware of that which exists, answering the question: *Knowledge* of what? Or: *Doubt* what?)

(c) you would be engaging in specific actions as opposed to other actions, e.g., evaluating, writing, thinking, doubting as opposed to getting drunk, sleeping, going to church, beating your wife, etc.

(d) there would be a relationship between the objects of awareness (existence) and the means by which you are aware of them (consciousness)

(e) these objects that you perceive around you would neither depend on nor conform to what you want, prefer, believe, have faith in, doubt, imagine, wish, feel, pray about, or emote, etc.

The only questions at that point would be: Is the content of your claim or argument and/or its supporting evidence consistent with all of the above? Or does the content contradict, cast doubt on, deny, ignore or otherwise attempt to undercut any or all of points (a) through (e)?

Incorporating your assertion into something from Rand, I paraphrase: “…’As long as one believes that he or she exists, even that can be cast upon with doubt,’ they chatter, blanking out the fact that ‘belief’ and ‘doubt’ presupposes existence, consciousness and a complex chain of knowledge: the existence of something to know, believe, or doubt; of a consciousness able to know, believe, or doubt it; and of a knowledge that has learned to distinguish between such concepts as belief, doubt and certainty.”

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