Debate: Disputing the Argument from Objective Reality


Dan O’Brian:

Now, having addressed your comments, I will now turn to your Argument from Objective Reality.

1) Existence exists. (We perceive existence directly, via our senses.)
2) To exist is to be something specific. {from 1)}
3) To be something specific is to have identity. {A is A; from 2)}

4) The identity of an entity is not distinct from that entity; an entity and its identity are one and the same. {from 3)}
5) Consciousness is consciousness of an object (i.e., of existence).
5a) Therefore, consciousness presupposes existence. {from 5)}
5b) Corollary: Existence does not depend on consciousness. {from 1)}
6) The task of consciousness is not to create existence, but to identify it. {from 5)}

7) Theism posits consciousness prior to and/or as causally responsible for the
fact of existence (e.g., ‘God’). {theistic claims}
8) Theism is in contradiction with fundamental facts of reality. {from 6)}

C: Therefore, theism is invalid.

Premises 1) though 3) are implicit in all perception, but made explicit in objective philosophy through axiomatic concepts. These truths are inescapable and presumed in all cognition.

Premises 4) through 6) logically follow from the Objectivist axioms.

Premises 7) and 8) are only necessary once the notion of a universe-creating, reality-ruling consciousness is posited by the mystic.

I agree that what we perceive is not a lie and is real. I count it as existence. I agree that to exist in this universe is to be something specific, something describable, to have an identity. However, something’s specificity and description does not automatically oblige one to admit that it exists. The identity of a phoenix is something very specific, a bird who bursts into flames and rises again from the ashes, yet we would not say that it exists. Ascribing existence to something does not give it a quality, characteristic, or attribute. These things are a part of something’s description. An alien from another planet, even if it received a full understanding of the identity of a human, if it had never seen one, would not be obliged to say that it exists just by virtue of that understanding. Yet, I, having received a full understanding of the identity of the continent Australia and having never been there, am comfortable with saying that it exists.

I can give the phoenix a very robust and detailed description, but nowhere in my description would it necessitate its existence. Thus, to say that Ydemoc exists is not to say anything about Ydemoc. Nowhere in my description of your identity, if I knew you, would there be an attribute, characteristic, or quality that would necessitate your existence. At the moment I know little, if anything at all, of your identity. Yet, I am comfortable with stating that you exist. But, if existence doesn’t tell us anything more about an entity than we already know from its description, your point number 4 doesn’t follow. The identity (a thing’s description) of an entity (a thing that exists) seems quite distinct from whether or not it, in fact, exists.

If “Ydemoc exists” ascribes a property to Ydemoc, then the statement “Ydemoc does not exist” denies that he has that property. If Ydemoc does not exist, however, how can it be true of him that he lacks a property? To ascribe a property, characteristic, or quality (a thing’s description or identity) to a non-existent object is not to ascribe it to anything. Moreover, if “Ydemoc exists” describes a genuine property of Ydemoc, affirming Ydemoc’s existence would be necessarily true since you are redundantly affirming what is already in the descripton, namely Ydemoc’s existence. Similarly, denying that Ydemoc exists would be necessarily false; since denying Ydemoc, a property already asserted in Ydemocs’ description, would make the statement contradictory. Thus, if identity and existence were one and the same thing, then everything that has identity, even the phoenix, since we can coherently know its identity, would necessarily exist. This is certainly not something you hold to, yet it follows from your point number 4.

The way forward here out of this predicament, I think, is to recognize that statements of existence are statements of number. If I say, “There are some A’s”, this is tantamount to saying, “The number of A’s is not 0.” And, instead of saying, “There are some A’s” I may say, “A’s exist.” All these statements can be regarded as statements of number. If “one” is ascribed to an object, and if numbers greater than one are ascribed to groups of objects, “0″ or “nought” must be ascribable to non-existent objects. Thereby do we recognize that a thing or things exist (ascribing 1 or greater to them) from a thing or things that do not exist (ascribing nought to them). The number of Ydemocs is “1.” The number of phoenix’ is “0″ or nought.

That being said, a complete description of the universe, or a full understanding of its identity does not entail that it exists. The question of whether the universe exists or not is the difference between “1″ and “0.” The universe is not nought, therefore it is one. Hence the word uni-verse. “1″ isn’t the quality of the universe, it is the answer to the question, “How many?”

(To simplify terms, I am allowing the word “essence” to include all meanings included in the following words: identity, specific, property, quality, characteristic, and description.)

So what is the difference between a phoenix and Ydemoc? Why does Ydemoc exist and not the phoenix? The answer is that Ydemoc’s essence has been conjoined with an act of existence. It follows, then, that the essence of the universe has also been conjoined with an act of existence. But, the question will be asked, “What conjoined the universe?” And then, “What conjoined the thing that conjoined the universe?” Arguably, a thing that conjoins must be greater than the thing it conjoins. So, in our continual regress, we find the thing that conjoins to be greater and greater as we follow the chain of cause and effect backward. There are two ways out of this continual regress. (1) according to Ockham’s razor, we do not multiply causes beyond necessity. So, we stop with the thing that conjoined the universe. 1 is the terminus. (2) We follow the chain of cause and effect backward until we get to the thing than which anything else could not possibly be greater. But, if our terminus is at the greatest possible thing, that means that that thing was not conjoined. In other words, its essense is the same as its existence. Or, in your vernacular in your point number 4, its identity is not distinct from its existence. And, that means its existence is necessary.

Also, it must be that this “necessary existent” is unique. If there were two necessary existents then each would have some aspect by which it differs from the other. One would have something the other does not have. In that case they would have parts. They woud be composite, made of more than one thing. But, anything that has parts must answer the question of origins. What put the parts together, or, what conjoined them? It would seem, then, that we have not yet reached the thing than which anything else could not possibly be greater. Therefore, the thing than which anything else could not possibly be greater has no parts. It is simple: not composed of parts. Thus, we have reached a thing that is immaterial, and thus without a body. It follows, then, that this simple thing is the source of everything other than itself. And that thing, people usually call God.

Consciousness doesn’t even factor into this line of reasoning. And you already know from my previous remarks that I cannot agree with your point 5 on pain of logic. An effect cannot precede its cause. The container must pre-exist the collection it contains in order to contain that collection. That being said, I also dispute number 6. I do not say that consciousness can create existence itself. But, there are times when consciousness has primacy instead of existence. For instance, anytime anyone invents or creates something, whether it be a machine, a song, or a work of art. To be sure, existence was there beforehand, but to create requires the use of imagination to imagine of what could be given the tools at one’s disposal. We bring an identifiable object into being that was not there before. Consciousness, specifically creativity, takes a lead role in human creative acts. Without the creative act, i.e. consciousness taking primacy for a moment, Edison would never have invented the lightbulb and Eli Whitney would have never invented the cotton gin. And we would never be able to use the primacy of existence to identify the cotton gin or the lightbulb because they would not exist.

It might interest you to know, however, that I do not think God is conscious. At least, God is not conscious in the way that we understand consciousness. So I also dispute your point number 7. As stated before, God is the source of everything other than himself. As such, he is causally prior to every created thing. There is no causality from creatures to God since creatures are wholly God’s effects. God is altogether outside the order of creatures. They are ordered to him but not he to them. All this means is that God is not able to be causally modified by an external agent. There are no external objects he must conform himself to. Rather, he is that which causes all external objects. They are dependent on his causal activity. He is not dependent on them in any way. Simply put, God is changeless. As such, God cannot learn anything. Rather, he is the source of all knowledge. People know things because they have learned. But, to learn is to change and God cannot learn since he is changeless. And since God has no body, no parts, and thus no senses, he does not perceive anything. Rather, he causes everything. So, what sense is it to say that God is conscious? There is nothing for him to be aware of. He, rather, is the source of all things of which we are aware.


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