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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

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This is a veritable feast of Randian delights. My blog has not seen such traffic since you went on blog-holiday a year ago, Bill.

Thank you for these observations.

Define God. The most common definition involves God being the *creator* of the universe, which would place God outside of existence.

You're welcome. Glad to send some traffic your way. And it is nice that we agree on something. But I still have a bone to pick with you re: Frege's theory of existence.

Anthony,

True, God is the creator of the universe. But that does not place God outside of existence unless you assume that x exists if and only if x is or is in the universe. But then you are defining God out of existence as I explained above.

Did you read what I wrote above? It is so simple and clear. But you have to pay attention and think hard.

If someone wants to argue that only physical objects exist, he is free to do so. But one has to produce an argument, not rig one's terminology in such a way that the existence of nonphysical objects is ruled out from the outset.

This was such a bad argument it saddens me that it needed a response.

Great post, Bill.

FYI: Peikoff's published treatment of "existence exists" is in OBJECTIVISM: THE PHILOSOPHY OF AYN RAND (1992), pp. 4-36. The short piece in the LEXICON (1986) was taken from lectures he recorded in the '70s. I believe he considered the published material far superior and more definitive than the early lectures. Allan Gotthelf (of the Ayn Rand Society and now at the University of Pittsburgh) has a few pages on the axiom in ON AYN RAND (Wadsworth, 2000), pp. 37-45, with then a short discussion of its application to the question of a supernatural, pp. 48-50.

Bill,

I hate to point this out to you, but you are treating these arguments from the Randians as if they were real philosophical arguments. They are not! They are slogans aimed to sound profound and deep (to some) or shocking to others. They are rhetorical devises to draw in the unaware or unschooled in real philosophical debates. I doubt that you will get a response from Randians that resembles a genuine argument. I hope I am wrong, but I sincerely doubt it. Thus far I have not seen anything resembling a real argument.

peter

Well, if it's any consolation to your Sisyphus, the rock didn't roll down again - I think the Randians are dead in the water. They don't sit down and play at all, leaving boulders for others to roll up hills.

Bill: On one bad version of the ontological argument, one defines God into existence by smuggling the notion of existence into the concept of God and then announcing that since we have the concept of God, God must exist.

Vytautas: If we understand by the term God that it means a necessary being, would it not exist since it is necessary? The concept affirms a necessiary being, but if the concept does not show that such a being exists, then we would have no necessary being, so that we have the possibility of non-exisitance, which seems impossible.

JPM,

Thanks very much for the info. I'll see if I can secure a copy of Gotthelf's book. Given that he teaches at the U of Pitt, it is a good bet that what he has to say is well worth hearing.

Peter,

I suppose one could say that this Randian stuff is such utter rubbish that one should not waste time on it or draw attention to it or treat it as if if it were worth discussing. But this is what passes for philosophy among a lot of people. Rand has been and is extremely influential on the wider culture. The people you read such as Kripke and Davidson have no influence at all on the wider culture. So isn't it of some value to show what is wrong with her ideas? Philosophers who only discuss technical questions among themselves have in a sense abdicated. Don't they have some duty to do what they can to enlighten the wider society?

Peter writes, "you are treating these arguments . . . as if they were real philosophical arguments." In the lecture Bill quotes, Peikoff says, ". . . therefore, for the reasons I have already given . . . ."

Bill, are you taking that quote as Peikoff's whole argument? I assumed "reasons I have already given" referred to something earlier in the lectures, maybe some treatment of reason and faith. Or are you taking it to refer to just what is in the immediately preceding few sentences?

You've argued that Peikoff needs more to get to his conclusion, but at least on that he may be agreeing with you. No?

In fact, I think in INTRODUCTION TO OBJECTIVIST EPISTEMOLOGY Rand discusses or at least indicates what she thinks is needed to get from "existence exists" to "there is no God" -- and that it's a lot. (This would be in the Q&As at the back of the book. I'm certain she discusses the difference between "existence exists" and "the physical world exists".)

Richard K,

God is by definition a necessary being. But all that means is that, if God exists, then he cannot not exist. But it doesn't follow that God exists.

Or think of it this way. If God exists, then he exists in every possible world including the actual world: by his very nature he cannot be contingent, i.e., existent in some but not all possible worlds. But it may be that God does not exist in which case he is impossible: he exists in no possible world. So from the mere fact that God is a necessary being one cannot straightaway conclude that God exists. One needs the premise that God is possible.

Bill,

As for your important question:

"Don't they [i.e., professional philosophers; my addition] have some duty to do what they can to enlighten the wider society?"

I certainly agree that there is such a duty on professional philosophers. I also agree with your implied thought that many of them have failed in this duty. However, I feel that in order to fulfill this duty effectively it is best to choose carefully the subject matter, the audience, and the level of discourse. And more important than anything, one must choose the right opponent or opposition. Choosing an opponent that is uninterested in truth and understanding but is bent only upon protecting their own position come what may is liable to do more harm than good from a pedagogic perspective. It is liable to give the impression that philosophical discourse comes down to mere unending quibbles without gaining insight into anything.

What we must teach the wider public is that philosophical progress is found first and foremost in the very process of thinking through deep and universal questions. That the gain is not necessarily in final answers to specific problems but rather in learning a certain way of thinking about any problem. That responsible and careful modes of thinking is the ultimate and invaluable price of engaging in philosophy regardless of the specific views you hold. That there is a code of conduct in philosophical disagreements and that such code is worth learning.

Unfortunately, I do not believe that Randians are interested in such debates and therefore I do not think that debating them will yield the pedagogic values I know you care so much about.

As for the influence of Randians among the wider public: first,I suspect that such influence is greatly exaggerated. Second, I am skeptical that a direct assault upon their views will move any committed Randians for the reasons I have described in other posts.

Let me be clear here. As you know, I cannot but hope that a rich, fruitful, and philosophically responsible discussion should emerge from these journeys into Randian terrain. I would enjoy even just reading it. So I am not demeaning or in any way minimizing your gallant efforts. I respect them. I can only hope that at least some Randians will do the same.

peter

JPM,

Look!
There is simply no way to infer from the single premise

(i)"existence exists"
the conclusion that

(ii)God does not exists;
*unless* you interpret this very obscure phrase as meaning

(iii) Only physical things exist;

and add the additional premise

(iv) God is by definition or necessarily not wholly or at all a physical being.

This is simply a matter of logic and Bill already pointed this out.

Now, if this is what is really meant by the Randians in their very short argument from the "existence exists" to "God does not exists", then they should simply agree to the above reconstruction. If not, then they should offer a different way of unpacking the stated argument so it is logically valid (even if it is not sound). As the position stands now, the phrase "existence exists" is obscure at best and it fails to entail any significant conclusions about the existence or non-existence of God.

Of course, even if Randians agree to something like the above reconstruction of the argument, then they have to defend premise (iii) against extremely powerful objections. But we are still veeeerry far away from that step.

peter

Putting aside for the moment whether Rand and Peikoff speak nonsense in the passages under discussion, may I ask a couple of questions:

1. Is the existence of God consistent with metaphysical realism?

2. On what premises might someone think it is not?

-AG

AG,

Welcome. Good questions which it would take many pages to address adequately. But I'll hazard some sketchy and provisional remarks. You ask: "1. Is the existence of God consistent with metaphysical realism? 2. On what premises might someone think it is not?"

Ad (1). It depends on what exactly is meant by 'metaphysical realism.' Dropping the qualifier 'metaphysical,' a realist about an item or class of items is one who maintains that the item or members of the class of items (a) exist and (b) exist and have some of the properties they have independently of the linguistic practices, conceptual schemes, mental attitudes (incl. fear, desires, thoughts, etc.) of the members of some class of cognitive beings.

For example, if you are a realist about universals, then (a) you are not an eliminativist about them in the manner of the nominalist-- you acknowledge their existence -- and (b)you maintain that they exist and have some of their prperties 'apart from minds' of a certain sort. D. M. Armstrong is an example of a realist about universals: he holds that there are (immanent not transcendent) universals and that their existence and nature does not depend on our linguistic practices, etc. They are 'out there in the world' and it is the task of what he calls "total science" to discover them.

Now consider what we might call physical meso-particulars, middle-sized things like tables and chairs, cats and dogs. One sort of realist would say about a particular rock that it exists -- it is not eliminable in favor of its parts or their parts, etc. -- and also that it exists and has some of the properties it has in a certain way, namely, independently of finite minds, their thoughts, desires, etc.

I'm a realist about rocks in the above sense. Of course, if I am looking at rock R, then R has the relational property of being an accusative of my visual awareness, and this property it cannot have unless I exist. But there are other properties such that the rock has these properties whether or not any finite mind exists. So I maintain: a rock is not reducible to the mereological sum of its parts; a rock exists independently of finite minds; a rock has some of the properties it has independently of finite minds.

Now suppose one is a metaphysical realist about things like rocks (natural, not artifactual, meso-particulars). Would it be logically consistent for such a realist to also be a theist? Certainly.

Here is one way. He maintains that rocks and such are independent of finite minds (this includes human minds, animal minds, and any extraterrestrial minds there may be) but not independent of divine mind. God is an intellectus archetypus: his knowing is creative. Minds like our are ectypal (intellectus ectypus): our knowing is not creative but necessarily receptive. This combination of views harbors no contradiction that I can see.

Here is a second way. Suppose our theist is a deist. He holds that God creates in principio, in the (temporal) beginning, but that his creation is not creatio continuans, continuing creation moment by moment. So after God creates some material things, they are ontologically 'on their own': they exist independently of all minds, including God's. It seems clear that this deist, consistently with his deism, can be a metaphysical realist about rocks and such.

But I've got to go. No time for your second question. But I have a question for you: How would explain the dictum, "Existence exists" from a Randian point of view?


AG,

Typically a metaphysical realist (MR) holds three thesis:

(a) The world consists of a totality of mind independent entities; (There are two ways of thinking about this "mind independence":
(i) The contents of the world are independent from all of our beliefs, theories, sentences, etc., in a manner that it is logically possible that all of our beliefs could turn out to be false;
(ii) The contents of the world are independent from our very existence and hence our beliefs, theories etc.)

(b) Truth is correspondence;

(c) There is a unique and true theory of the world (which we may never discover completely).

1) So far MR is compatible with the existence of God and certain forms of theism because none of the clauses (a)-(c) rule out the existence of a God along theistic lines.
2) However, if one endorses a materialist version of MR explicitly (e.g., adding to (a) that the world contains only physical objects) or by maintaining that the ultimate and true description (theory) of the world is some extended version of physics, then one is liable to get a version of MR incompatible with the existence of God as conceived by theism.
3) So MR by itself as articulated by (a)-(c) above does not rule out theism.

peter

>>> I suppose one could say that this Randian stuff is such utter rubbish that one should not waste time on it or draw attention to it or treat it as if if it were worth discussing. But this is what passes for philosophy among a lot of people. Rand has been and is extremely influential on the wider culture. The people you read such as Kripke and Davidson have no influence at all on the wider culture. So isn't it of some value to show what is wrong with her ideas? Philosophers who only discuss technical questions among themselves have in a sense abdicated. Don't they have some duty to do what they can to enlighten the wider society?

Agree entirely and that was the main point in my raising this together with the Wikipedia question. Philosophy in Wikipedia is a mess, mainly because philosophers don't go near it. Yet the philosophy page gets more than a million 'hits' a year. Many ordinary people rely on their knowledge of philosophy, such as it is, from Wikipedia. This is why Randian 'fans' target the philosophy page and related articles.

The dispute about the article has now bypassed the mediation committee and gone straight to the powerful arbitration committee. This committee will decide whether Rand is a philosopher or not.

Note that Wikipedia is open to anyone to edit. Any philosopher reading this can open an account (or just edit from an IP) and join the debate. And every philosopher should, if they care about their subject. The hearing is at this URL
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Requests_for_arbitration#Ayn_Rand_article

There is simply no way to infer from the single premise
(i)"existence exists", the conclusion that (ii)God does not exists;
*unless* you interpret this very obscure phrase as meaning (iii) Only physical things exist; and add the additional premise (iv) God is by definition or necessarily not wholly or at all a physical being.

Peter,
You're point is obviously taken. But I'm not sure they need to be saddled with (iii). They might want to affirm that abstract objects exist, for instance. Anyway, I agree with the larger point that this stuff is pretty unworthy. It's shooting dead fish in a barrel.

This isn't an argument for or against the truth of any philosophy, but since the interest in Rand by both adolescents and Pitt philosophers has come up, this might of interest to some:

I have noticed more sympathy to studying Rand at the better schools and higher hostility at lesser institutions.

For several years now, there have been Fellowships for the Study of Objectivism at UT-Austin and at Pitt. Austin's philosophy dept also now has a Chair for the Study of Objectivism. It is held by Tara Smith, whose most recent book, AYN RAND'S NORMATIVE ETHICS, was published by Cambridge.

There are several other prominent philosophy professors sympathetic to the study of, if not the positions of, Rand. The chair of the UNC-Chapel Hill department has spoken a couple times at Rand-related workshops or meetings. U of Arizona has some notable Rand interest. The chair (at the time) at Boulder spoke at an Ayn Rand Society meeting. John Cooper chaired an ARS meeting. Michigan offered a seminar on Rand a few years ago. Brown and Princeton have had substantial Rand interest (though by political theorists in the Poli Sci not philosophy depts).

So there is at least respect for the study of Rand in at least 6 of Leiter's top 15.

Yet when a buddy of mine, an historian of political theory who got run out of Ashland University for his Rand interest, interviewed for a job at Coastal Carolina, an irate faculty member took the matter all the way to the state assembly. My buddy ended up at Clemson. The final four in his job search were Clemson, Brown, Notre Dame, and Princeton. The Chronicle of Higher Education had a cover story about a year and a half ago that contrasted the growing interest in Rand at better schools with the departmental civil war started by one lecturer at Texas State when the chair tried to hire a lecturer with Rand expertise.

Whether "existence exists" is one of those Rand topics discussed at Boulder, Austin, Chapel Hill, Princeton, Brown, or Pitt, I have no idea. I suspect it's more Rand's ethics (though I know Pitt has done more with epistemology -- since the interest at Pitt is in HPS, that makes sense).

Richard: I guess I have to take off my mask.

Bill: God is by definition a necessary being. But all that means is that, if God exists, then he cannot not exist. But it doesn't follow that God exists.

Or think of it this way. If God exists, then he exists in every possible world including the actual world: by his very nature he cannot be contingent, i.e., existent in some but not all possible worlds. But it may be that God does not exist in which case he is impossible: he exists in no possible world. So from the mere fact that God is a necessary being one cannot straightaway conclude that God exists. One needs the premise that God is possible.

Richard: The only way that God's existance is impossible is that if the concept of God is contradictory. But there is no contraction in asserting the concept of God, so that it is possible that God exists. The concept of God would have certain attibutes such as being, power, goodness, and wisdom to an infinite, eternal, and unchangable degree. But if the concept of God is contradictory, then it should be changed to reflect the being of God.


Richard,

This really belongs in a separate thread, but I will make a short response. You write, "The only way that God's existance is impossible is that if the concept of God is contradictory. But there is no contraction in asserting the concept of God, so that it is possible that God exists."

I am afraid it is not so simple. The fact that the concept of X harbors no contradiction does not suffice to show that X is possible in reality. For it may be that my concept of X is not determinate enough for me to see that there is a contradiction.

Anselm's core insight was that God is noncontingent: if God exists, then God is necessary; but equally, if God does not exist, then he is impossible. So if God is possible, then God exists. At this point one might think it easy to show that God is possible. One infers possibility from conceivability without contradiction. But the inference from conceivability without contradiction to possibility is dubious.

Please don't respond to this since it is off-topic. My point above was that, just as it is an illict move to rig one's terminology in such a way that the existence of God falls out from the very term or concept 'God,' so too it is an illict move to use 'existence' in such a way that the nonexistence of nonphysical entities falls out from one's use of 'existence.'

Now if any Randian has the cojones to defend this illict move and show that it is somewhow licit, I would like to hear how it goes.

Of course, it is easy to be dogmatic: you just assert something. But that which is gratuitously asserted can be gratuitously denied. What is needed is not assertion but argument.

Peter,

On the question of the extent of Rand's influence, a relevant fact is that former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan was much influenced by her. Whether that influence was good or bad, and whether Greenspan's policies aided and abetted the current financial crisis I will leave for specialists to discuss.

Ocham,

I am glad we agree. But then you say that philosophers who care about their subject should get involved in Wikipedia. My reason for not doing so is simple: anything one contributes is open to change or deletion by any idiot. If there was some control on who was allowed to contribute, it would be different. But as I understand it, there is no such control.

What I don't understand about you is why you waste your limited time over there.

JPM,

Some of the fellowships you mentioned are funded by the Anthem Foundation, which is connected to the Ayn Rand Institute (they share the same address and have similar people on the boards). The incident with respect to Texas State concerned, as I recall, the university's turning down a chair funded by the Anthem Foundation because of the legendary intolerance of the ARI toward Objectivists not affiliated with the ARI.

In addition, Ashland didn't retain John Lewis because it is a Christian school and Lewis is an atheist. (Whether this was fair in light of the school's hiring him knowing of his beliefs is a different matter.)

-Neil Parille

Bill, this is great stuff! Thanks for class =)

NormaJean,

You are very welcome!

Bill,

Yes, I know that Greenspan was influenced by Rand; I do not know the extent and sphere of that influence.
In fact my something-like-a-partner is in certain ways a Randian in socio-economic areas. Unfortunately, I find his views naive and extremely superficial regarding human nature. He does not even see the need to have a theory of human nature that supports his socio-economic views. I have tried to interest him with marginal success in modern game theory and decision theory so that he is aware of the enormous amount of material that has been already done at least on the mathematical side of these matters. I concluded (and I rarely do that when it comes to philosophical positions) that he is in the grips of a deep psychological need to hold on to his views come what may. I am not claiming that all those influenced by Rand are similarly situated and I would cheerfully debate them, if rational discourse is something they are willing to pursue.

peter

Peter,

So far rational discourse does not appear to be their forte. I have yet to receive one decent response to the critical points I have raised. Stay tuned. I'm not done with them yet. Today I will post something about dispositional properties. You tell me if I am making sense.

We've known each other for about a year now, and I am very grateful for all the intellectual stimulation I have received from you.

Since the topic of Pitt and Allan Gotthelf came up, academically minded readers might be interested in Gotthelfs paper on Rand on concepts (link is to a pdf): http://www.bristol.ac.uk/metaphysicsofscience/naicpapers/gotthelf.pdf

I think his Wadsworth book is geared towards beginners, while the paper is written more for those familiar with contemporary philosophy.

Rumor has it that Peter Railton was very impressed by Darryl Wright's recent paper on Rand's meta-ethics, so that one might be worth lookin at, as well. (Maybe this explains why he teaches Rand now). Here is the citation:

EVALUATIVE CONCEPTS AND OBJECTIVE VALUES: RAND ON MORAL OBJECTIVITY
Darryl F. Wright
Social Philosophy and Policy , Volume 25, Issue 01, January 2008, pp 149-181

"But that does not place God outside of existence unless you assume that x exists if and only if x is or is in the universe."

Well, that's true by the very definition of "the universe". The universe = everything that exists.

"True, God is the creator of the universe. But that does not place God outside of existence unless you assume that x exists if and only if x is or is in the universe. But then you are defining God out of existence as I explained above."

Let's say you want to define "the universe" as merely a subset of everything that exists (everything that exists minus God?). If so, then surely you must allow me to define "the metauniverse" as everything that exists. "Everything that exists" is a valid concept, right?

So, who created "the metauniverse"? It's not that I am choosing to define God out of existence, it's that the concept of God is self-contradictory and/or meaningless.

Anthony,

I'm quite sure that by "universe" Bill meant the "the physical universe", so I think you're being rather uncharitable in how you read him.

But let's go with your suggestion and define "the metauniverse" as denoting everything that exists. Fair enough. But then in answer to your question "who created the metauniverse?" it should be obvious that the right answer is "no one". After all, for all x, if x exists, then the metauniverse exists and includes x. So anything that could create the metauniverse would already have to be included in it.

What's surprising is that you think that's a problem for theists. It's not. They don't believe the metauniverse was created any more than you do.

The "physical universe" as opposed to what? What does the "nonphysical universe" consist of? Can we observe this "nonphysical universe"? If not, in what way can we say that it exists?

Peikoff is self-consistent. He defines the universe as everything that exists. So by that definition you agree that the universe was created by no one.

I'd love to hear a definition of the "physical universe" which avoids this conclusion and manages to be self-consistent. But I'm convinced that such a definition is impossible.

"Peikoff is self-consistent. He defines the universe as everything that exists. So by that definition you agree that the universe was created by no one."

Pardon my use of that phraseology. Peikoff would not say that "the universe was created by no one", but that the universe was not created at all.

Anthony,

You are free to use 'universe' to refer to everything that exists. If that is the way you use the word, then Alan's point is that the universe is created by no one. That is not a problem for a theist since he does not claim that God creates the universe in your sense.

Bill,

Yes, I read the material on dispositional properties and I think it is a very interesting argument. I have responded there to Donohue (I believe) who, typically, failed to respond to anything in your post. Frustrating!

I will reread it and see if I can make any positive contribution other than just agreeing with what you have already said.

As for intellectual stimulation, it is as you know mutual.

peter

I wonder if my recent comments on Rand on the powerblog site are being transferred over here. Can someone enlighten me? Do I need to post them again here?

Harry,

It is impossible for you to have left any comments at the Powerblogs site for the simple reason that no one can comment there who has not been approved beforehand, and you didn't apply to comment there. What post were you commenting on? I sincerely hope that you made a copy of whatever comments you tried to leave over there, for if you didn't they are lost.

If you have a copy of your comments, send them to me via e-mail (see About Me for e-mail address) together with the title of the post you commented on, and I will post it all here. By the way, I tried to send you an e-mail yesterday using the address you supplied and it bounced! An overzealous spam filter? I was trying to inform you that in a comment thread with a lot of comments some are hidden until you click on NEXT.

Thanks for your interest.

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