Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 2nd ed., p. 299, Rand speaking:
What do you mean by "necessity"? By "necessity," we mean that things are a certain way and had to be. I would maintain that the statement "Things are," when referring to non-man-made occurrences, is the synonym of "They had to be." Because unless we start with the premise of an arbitrary God who creates nature, what is had to be. We have to drop any mystical premise and keep the full context in mind. Then, aside from human action, what things are is what they had to be.
The alternative of what "had to be" versus "what didn't have to be" doesn't apply metaphysically. It applies only to the realm of human action and human choice."
First of all, 'Things are' and 'Things had to be' cannot be synonyms since they obviously have different meanings as anyone who understands English knows. But let's be charitable. What Rand is trying to say is that every non-man-made occurrence is such that 'had to be' applies to it, and every man-made occurrence is such that 'did not have to be' applies to it. Charitably construed, she is not making a false semantic point, but two modal points. The first is that nothing non-man-made is contingent or, equivalently, that everything non-man-made is necessary. The second modal point is that the man-made is contingent. I will discuss only the first modal point. It is not obvious and is denied by many philosophers both theists and atheists. So it is legitimate to demand an argument for the thesis.
The word 'because' above suggests that Rand is trying to give an argument, one that perhaps could be set forth as follows:
1. If there are alternative ways non-man-made things might have been, then an arbitrary (free) God exists.
2. It is not the case that an arbitrary (free) God exists. Ergo,
3. There are no alternative ways non-man-made things might have been.
I have put the argument in the form of Modus Tollens, a valid argument form. But validity is only one property of a good (deductive) argument. Another is soundness. We say that an argument is sound if and only if it is valid and such that all of its premises are true. I will return to the above argument in a separate post.
In this entry I want to show two things. First, that if you accept that there are dispositional properties in nature, then you cannot consistently with that acceptance maintain that in nature there is no real difference between what is and what had to be. Second, that Rand is inconsistent in rejecting this difference while holding that there are potentialities in nature.
A. If there are dispositions in nature, then it cannot be the case that what is = what must be.
Fragility is a stock example of a dispositional property. The typical wine glass is fragile. (I could have chosen a non-artifact as an example, e.g., a thin icycle in some uninhabited place.) Now a glass need not be made of glass, but suppose our wine glass is. To say that the glass is fragile is to say that if it were suitably struck (dropped, etc.), then it would break. 'Suitably' covers all the conditions that have to be met: the glass is dropped from a sufficient height, onto a hard surface, the glass has not been specially treated, etc.
Note that a disposition (capacity, potentiality, power, etc.) can exist in a thing without being realized (exercised, actualized, manifested, etc.) The wine glass possesses the dispositional property of fragility at every moment of its existence even if there is no moment at which it breaks. Suppose the glass comes into existence by the usual manufacturing process, exists for ten years, and then passes out of existence as a result of being melted in a very hot fire. At no time in its career does the glass shatter, but at every time in its career it is disposed to shatter. It follows that a disposition and its realization are not the same, and that a disposition can exist whether or not it is ever realized. A related point is that dispositions are had by the things that have them actually and not potentially or merely possibly. The disposition-to-shatter is a property actually possessed by the glass at every moment of its existence. What is possible is not the disposition itself, but the realization of the disposition.
My wine glass right now is both breakable and unbroken. It is both actually breakable and actually unbroken. But if what is = what must be, then my glass' being unbroken at the present time t entails its being necessarily unbroken at t, which in turn entails that the glass is unbreakable at t. Therefore, if there are dispositions in nature, then it cannot be the case that what is = what must be. From the fact that my glass at t is both unbroken and breakable, it follows that is contingent that the glass is unbroken at t. So at t both of the following are true: My glass is unbroken; it is possible that my glass be broken. This is a real possibility grounded in nature given its actual constitution and the laws that govern it. It is not a mere thought-possibility or epistemic possibility or logical possibility.
What I have just done is given an argument for the rejection of Rand's identification of what is with what must be in the case of non-man-made things. In sum: If there are dispositions in nature, then it cannot be the case that what is = what must be. There are dispositions in nature. Therefore, it cannot be the case that what is = what must be. Please note that it is irrelevant to point out that a wine glass is a man-made thing. It is, but its fragility is not. I could have chosen a naturally occurrent icicyle as an example or any number of non-artifactual examples.
B. Rand is inconsistent in holding both that what is = what must be and that there are potentialities in nature.
One might try to defend Rand by denying that there are dispositions in nature. But she is committed to them under a different name. With her doctrine that what is = what must be, Rand contradicts her own commitment to potentialities in nature. If you carefully read the confused and amateurish discussion of dispositions and potentialities on pp. 282-288 of IOE, you will see that although Rand seems to be rejecting dispositional properties and a disinction between dipositional and non-dispositional properties, that she is in fact committed to dispositional properties under a different name, the name 'potentiality.' It makes no difference whether we say that a glass, suitably struck, is disposed to break or has the potential to break. Whatever the terminology, the point remains that a glass can have the potential to break whether or not it ever breaks. For this it follows straightaway that what is cannot be identified with what must be.