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Monday, January 19, 2009

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Hi Bill. If I may be allowed to briefly comment:

Let me try to sort this out. Neither Tennant nor 'Ocham' understand what Rand is saying.

This is absolutely right—at the time of my quoted statements, I had requested clarification on what was meant by "existence exists", and what manner of axiom it was in Objectivism, but had received somewhat mixed replies. Thus, I was critiquing it at face value. I dismissed what you mark as construal (a), though Paul Manata afterwards linked to your article 'Does Existence Exist?', an evaluation of which suggests that I was too hasty in doing so. That left construal (b), the tautology that "whatever exists exists". However, as I came to learn, this is plainly not what Randians mean either. Unfortunately, Donahue did not recognize that I wasn't interpreting his own axiom correctly, so it took me a while to glean its actual meaning.

The problem, of course, is that Rand chose to express herself in an inept and idiosyncratic way using the ambiguous sentence, 'Existence exists.'
To that, a hearty amen.
What she is trying to say is something non-tautological: that the things that exist exist and have the attributes they have independently of us.
Well, if the statements of Donahue on Triablogue are anything to go by, even more than that is implied (though of course he may not be accurately representing Rand herself). From what he said, an additional supposition is included: namely that it is only reasonable to ascribe the existence of the things we perceive. His comments smacked of verificationalism, or at least of a heavy-handed naturalism: "Religious systems, for instance, are founded on "God Is" which has nothing to do with reality, but upon which vast systems are made. [...] Rand finds it necessary to set a simple declaration of objective reality at the root of her system as a stop sign to invalidate any such attempts." It was evident in further discussion that John certainly takes Objectivism to exclude a priori supernaturalism as a valid part of "objective reality". As you point out, this is illicit and sloppy, and certainly can't be inferred merely from the law of identity.

Regards,
Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Rand was not inferring the axiom of existence from the axiom of identity. She was pointing out the inseparable connection between them. The existence of a thing is grasped through its properties, and its properties are its identity.

So the disasters of the 20th century originated in the evasion by people like Hitler and Stalin of the fact that A is A!

No, in the evasions of Kant, Hegel, Marx, et al, who prepared the way for Hitler and Stalin. Could the latter two have gotten away with declaring that reality is subservient to the interests of the state without the work of the former?


Dominic,

Thanks very much for the intelligent and civil comment. I hope to get back to you later, something just came up as I began writing this reply.

Rand does not have to disprove the existence of your -- a priori or otherwise -- postulated supernatural entities etc. Rand does not care about them, she does not need them, she does not mention them in her formal philosophy. They are yours, not hers.

The burden is on anyone claiming that something supernatural is real to show how something can exist outside objective reality, defined as the set of all existents in existence. Isn't that what supernatural implies: something above or outside of nature? "Supernatural" is a self-contradiction, unless you can make the case of how to rationally identify the locus, characteristics, indeed the 'nature' of anything outside of nature.

It would be sloppy to otherwise attempt to switch the burden of proof.

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

P.S. It might help cut down on the confusion if people considered that Ayn Rand was not interested in contributing to the Platonic or Religious tradition. She did not want to fine-tune Hume, Kant, Hegel etc. She wiped the slate clean and (irony intended) doubted everything, except the fact of existence.

That is why trying to point out her errors from the perspective of your position and method...well frankly you are not criticizing her severely enough from that point of view.

This:
"Note finally that if there is no alternative to existence, then it is necessarily the case that something exists. For to say that there is no alternative to existence is to say that it is impossible that there be nothing at all. But 'to exist = to be self-identical' is consistent with each thing's existence being contingent, and the whole lot of them being contingent. Therefore, one cannot validly infer 'There is no alternative to existence' from 'To exist = to be self-identical.'"

... at least starts to face what Ayn Rand is actually saying. Just take out the attempted necessary/contingent analysis and in with what's left you are brushing up against Objectivist metaphysics.

Starting with the fact of existence....
Claiming that there is no alternate to existence.....
Realizing this means that there is nothing outside of existence..
And in fact there is no "outside" of any kind...
Indeed, it is impossible for there to be nothing at all.

Pretty cool. I have known people whose entire lives have been transformed, whose entire intellects have exploded in a good way from grasping this and surrendering to it. I include myself.

I certainly am aware that to some people this is utter drivel, or utter evil, or else utter Blasphemy. That is okay.

Anyone for a game of Pascal's Wager played on this playground?

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

John, I'm going to give this another go, one sentence at a time, k?

Rand does not have to disprove the existence of your -- a priori or otherwise -- postulated supernatural entities etc.
That's fine; no one said she did. What is illicit is presupposing their non-existence on the basis of inferring that since these entities don't exist in reality as we perceive it with our senses, therefore these entities don't exist in reality. That is just not a valid inference—it's question-begging. This is simple logic.
Rand does not care about them, she does not need them, she does not mention them in her formal philosophy. They are yours, not hers.
Agreed.
The burden is on anyone claiming that something supernatural is real to show how something can exist outside objective reality, defined as the set of all existents in existence.
You plainly have not been paying any attention to Bill's criticisms. If "objective reality" is identical to "all existents in existence", then the theist denies that God exists outside of objective reality. God is certainly an existent which exists. The scope of objective reality is simply broader, in this case, than you wish to allow. So if you wish to confine "objective reality" to being identical with "the reality we perceive with our senses", then the burden of proof is on you to justify this assumption. Why should we believe that what we can empirically verify exhaustively encompasses "all existents in existence"? This premise is not necessarily true. It isn't even plausibly true. All it is is self-evidently question-begging.
Isn't that what supernatural implies: something above or outside of nature?
Obviously so—but again, upon what grounds do you establish the exclusive relationship between "nature" and "objective reality"? (Ie, if and only if it is natural, it exists.) The theist agrees that God is super-natural—he doesn't agree that he is super-real. You cannot simply presuppose the thesis that what is real is natural, and what is not natural is not real, and then pretend that this constitutes some kind of argument or fact which refutes theism. This is the exact problem that Objectivism faces, and the reason it is not taken seriously as a philosophically honest or rigorous view. It simply dismisses, a priori, by fiat, on faith, in virtue of defining reality as convenient to it, the existence of anything super-nature.
"Supernatural" is a self-contradiction, unless you can make the case of how to rationally identify the locus, characteristics, indeed the 'nature' of anything outside of nature.
In what way is it self-contradictory? And what do you mean by "rationally"? Please explain. Certainly under your own view there may be a contradiction, since anything real must be natural; ie, I suppose, "only things extended in space exist". But it has been pointed out many times now that this is merely flagrant question-begging—you are not actually forwarding any kind of argument against the supernatural. You're merely asserting its nonexistence. You can say that a necessary condition of existence is extension in space; and God by definition is not extended in space; therefore God's existence is definitionally self-contradictory. But how could you possibly justify this definition of existence?
Starting with the fact of existence....
The fact of existence can only validate the existence of the person considering the fact. It cannot validate the veridicality of his perceptions: it is impossible to validly infer from "I perceive an external world" to "therefore, there is an external world, and it exists as I perceive it". All you can validly infer from "I perceive an external world" is that "therefore, I exist". Now, I'm not arguing that we should distrust the veridicality of our perceptions (in most cases). I'm just pointing out that the mere "fact of existence" does not logically entail any of the additional metaphysical assumptions Objectivism makes. You cannot, as Bill and others have repeatedly said now, infer an entire metaphysical system from a mere logical tautology! Trying to smuggle that system in as if it were the tautology is what makes Objectivism so illicit and so—frankly—ridiculed.
Claiming that there is no alternate to existence.....
Are we talking about whether existence is necessary? What kind of existence? The specific state in which it obtains, or its nature generally? How does the principle of sufficient reason factor into this? You can claim that there is no alternate to existence; ie, you can claim that non-existence cannot obtain. But since reality as you yourself take it to be does not appear to be ontologically necessary in any obvious sense, but rather is self-evidently contingent, what is this claim worth to a person interested in thinking deeply and carefully and honestly about these issues?
Realizing this means that there is nothing outside of existence..
Well, this is prima facie tautologous; but I suspect you mean nothing outside of nature. I've already pointed out how question-begging that is. Look at all the logically invalid inferences you've made from the fact that "existence exists":
  1. A reality external to my mind exists.
  2. This external reality correlates accurately with my perceptions.
  3. My perceptions are exhaustive enough to allow me to exclude the possible existence of anything which I cannot, in principle, perceive.
  4. Therefore, nothing outside of the reality I can perceive exists.

Along with the other, unrelated propositions:

  1. There is no alternative to reality as I perceive it.
  2. It is impossible for there to be nothing at all.

Notice how every single one of these statements is not validly inferred; in fact, is not actually justified in any way whatsoever! This is why thinking people find Objectivism so objectionable.

Regards,
Bnonn

That which exists includes, inescapably, everything and every thing. There can be nothing else, if words are to have meaning.

The supernatural is that which is presumed to be outside of, or 'beyond', that everything. Such a view is a wish to have one's cake and eat it too, to have Reality. It is an empty wish that there be, not only Everything, but also some other 'thing' as well! That is, there is all of that which exists, plus some other 'stuff' outside of that which exists.

The second half of your interpretation of Rand's "Existence Exists" assertion —and her recognition of the corollary Law of Identity— is your rejection of the notion that "everything that is self-identical exists. (The first half of the assertion is uncontroversial, but [this] second half is not.)"

You, therefore, assert that self-identical things might not exist. But if they do not exist how can they possess Identity, Identity being all the attributes of things which exist? If they have no attributes, they are nothing. If they have attributes they are something, and they exist. Your argument collapses back to my opening point, that outside of Everything, there is nothing.

Rand addressed this confusion quite plainly, arguing that one cannot judge the existence of Existence from the perspective of Non-existence, of that which exists against that which does not exist. What can one know know of the attributes of a Nothing, that enables one to place it prior to Something, for the sheer sake of judging that Something?

You are effectively rejecting "Existence Exists" because Rand allows for no non-existent to which the existent can be compared.

Rand refutes all of the points you claim, but does so with such concise cogency, that in failing to grasp them you describe her words as "sloppy". That is, you use your own confusions to accuse her of being confused.

I will not be responding to Bnonn. There is no point.

I'll keep watching this spot in case anyone posts something interesting. Bill Vallicella?

John Donohue

Objectivism holds that their is only that which exists. Everything Bonn is arguing for, is an assertion of, something that is outside, or beyond, everything that actually exists. If there were a God, it would have to be a part of that which exists, which reduces God to just another sentient being in the Universe. As a part of the Universe he is no Creator, he/it is merely another being to communicate with... an alien, say. Other than the possibility of coercing humans through brute force, we have no more obligation to that God than to our neighbor.

The onus is on Bonn & his ilk to provide evidence for a supra-existence, or a God, because it is they who "merely assert its existence". That we do not know of it, which is the essence of their argument, is not an argument FOR anything. Since there can be no such thing as existing outside of Existence, that position is inherently dishonest... a refusal to recognize that the unreal IS unreal.

I too, will keep watching this spot in case anyone posts something interesting. Bill Vallicella?

So this is what beating your head against a wall feels like.

Better you do it by yourself, Dom.

when Randian X says "existence exists" (however silly), really the Randian says a mental operation exists, involving perception, the brain, language, what have you. It's a bit more complicated than the mere assumption of external realism: H20 exists, the empire state building exists, a CPU exists, but existence (or an existence claim, really) does not exist as those sorts of objects exist. Logical operators, like integrals, do not grow on trees.

Doc, I was amused by your "grow on trees' analogy. For Dom et al., ideas grow on trees, why look at what IS?

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