The following comment is by Peter Lupu. It deserves to be brought up from the nether reaches of the ComBox to the top of the page. Minor editing and highlighting in red by BV.
One Fallacy of Objectivism 1) Objectivists seem to hold two theses:
One Fallacy of Objectivism
1) Objectivists seem to hold two theses:
Thesis A: There is a fundamental conceptual distinction everyone does or ought to accept between “metaphysical facts” vs. “volitional or man-made facts”; for the sake of brevity of exposition I shall occasionally refer to this distinction as the ‘Randian distinction’.
Thesis B: The content of the traditional philosophical distinction between contingent vs. necessary facts is either reducible to the Randian distinction or to the extent it is not so reducible it is conceptually incoherent, superfluous, or cannot be clearly demarcated; for the sake of brevity I shall occasionally refer to the distinction between contingent (and possible) vs. necessary facts as the ‘Modal distinction’.
2) I shall argue here that the Randian distinction, to the extent it is a cogent distinction at all, far from being the fundamental distinction in fact conceptually presupposes the Modal distinction. If my argument is successful, then Thesis B maintained by Objectivists is false. Thesis A is untouched by my argument because I shall not dispute the fundamental cogency of this distinction except insofar as I find the terminology used by Objectivists to mark this distinction lacking in clarity.
3) Examination of the Randian distinction.
3.1) Objectivists maintain that there is a distinction between so-called “metaphysical facts” and “man-made or volitional facts”. What types of facts belong to the class of facts labeled by Objectivists as “metaphysical”? Well, examples of such facts are the following:
(i) There are three trees in my backyard;
(ii) The earth is round and orbits the sun;
(iii) There are exactly 32,728 leaves right now on the closest tree to my house;
(iv) It is raining here and now.
3.2) These sort of facts are claimed by Objectivists to have the common property of being “necessary”. But, what do Objectivists mean by the term “necessary”? Well, one possible meaning that they might give to this term is that facts of the sort (i)-(iv) “could not have been otherwise”. Let us grant for the moment that the sense of necessary here intended is that facts of the sort described by the above examples indeed could not have been otherwise. Let us also grant for the moment that these facts are indeed necessary in this sense of the term.
3.3) Now, these metaphysical facts that are necessary in the sense that they could not have been otherwise are contrasted with another class of facts, namely, those facts that are “man-made” or the product of “volition”. And what sort of facts are these? Well, I suppose that examples of man-made or volitional facts can be easily given (or so it would seem):
(v) I kicked the ball;
(vi) John divorced Merry because she insulted him;
(vii) Bill wrote a paper on existence in order to prove his thesis;
(viii) George stole billions of dollars in an investment scam.
3.4) In what way do the facts described in examples (v)-(viii) contrast with the facts described by examples (i)-(iv)? Objectivists maintain that the former are man-made whereas the later are not. But this way of marking the distinction is inadequate. What do we mean here by “man-made”? Causally produced by a human being? Surely that will not do, for a burp is produced by a human being, but it is not voluntarily produced. So we must add here that in the examples (v)-(viii) a certain action was undertaken by a human being voluntarily or freely. But, now, what do we mean by saying that an action was performed “voluntarily” or “freely”? It will certainly not do here to keep re-describing the problem by introducing additional terms such as ‘free-will’, ‘choice’, ‘intention’ etc., because all of these additional terms belong to the very same family of terms we have already used to describe the situation in the first place. What is wanted is some kind of a property that belongs to all events that are the products of human beings and that belong to a category that can be clearly contrasted with the category of cases exemplified by examples (i)-(iv).
3.5) But clearly we already have access to such a property, for we have already characterized the class of cases (i)-(iv) as necessary in the sense that all of these facts could not have been otherwise. So why not characterize the contrast in these very terms: namely, say that in all of the cases (v)-(viii) we have a circumstance where the person who did such-and-such could have done otherwise instead. But, what do we mean here when we say that the given person *could have done otherwise*? We have to be very careful how we answer this last question. It would be tempting to answer that the sense in which a person could have done otherwise is that this person could have *chosen* to do something different than what in fact he has done. But there is danger lurking here. It is false that the person could have chosen to do just anything they please as long it is different than what they have actually done. While I could have refrained from kicking the ball for sure, it is not the case that I could have made myself into a ball instead. It is not within my power to do such a thing: it is not *possible* for me to turn myself into a ball. And because it is not possible for me to turn myself into a ball, I simply do not consider it as one of the alternatives available to me instead of kicking the ball. So clearly, then, when I do something freely I first must recognize that there are alternative courses of action I could have chosen, alternatives that I must also simultaneously recognize to be within my *power* to do: i.e., that are *possible* for me to do.
3.6) But, now, what exactly are these possible alternatives which I must recognize as within my *power* to do: that are possible for me to prefer? Well, I suppose that it is possible for me to kick the ball, given certain facts etc. By contrast, it is not possible for me to turn myself into a ball or a bullet or fly without any mechanical devices like birds can. And so I could not have done any of these things instead of kicking the ball. By contrast, since it is possible for me to kick the ball or for Bill to write a paper or for John to get divorced and since each of us recognizes that these things are possible, we can exercise a certain faculty of choosing freely and opt to do just these things. But, notice, that the *possibility* of a certain course of action is conceptually prior to any of the other cognitive tasks (or conscious tasks) of recognizing these as alternatives among which I can exercise my free choice and select one of them.
4) What did just happen here? Well, what happened is that we have succeeded in clarifying the Randian-distinction; i.e., the distinction obscurely labeled by Objectivists in terms of the distinction between “metaphysical” vs. “man-made” facts, in terms of the Modal distinction between things that “could have been otherwise” vs. things that “could not have been otherwise”. Now, it is indeed true that in order to fully flesh out the category of “volitional” or “freely chosen” facts we will have to eventually introduced some faculty that enables persons to opt to do one thing instead of another among the things they recognize as being possible for them to do. And it might be that in order to introduce such a faculty properly, consciousness is going to play a central role. But it is imperative to see that we simply cannot demarcate a category of volitional or freely chosen acts unless we presuppose that certain facts could have been otherwise whereas others could not have been otherwise. And when we presuppose this distinction we in fact presuppose a Modal distinction which Objectivists maintain in Thesis B is either reducible to the Randian distinction or dispensable or irremediably unclear.
4.1) The first disjunct in this claim [Thesis B] turns things the other way around, as we have seen above.
4.2) The second disjunct (i.e., that the Modal distinction is dispensable) cannot be maintained since, as we have seen above, this distinction is required in order to make sense of the Randian-distinction: so just on this ground alone the Modal distinction is indispensable, if the Randian distinction is to be maintained in any cogent form.
4.3) And the third disjunct (i.e., that the Modal distinction is irremediably unclear), if true, will have the result that so is the Randian distinction.
5) Now, someone might object. Someone might argue that it is possible to define the notion of necessity involved in the Objectivists claim that the category of “metaphysical” facts are necessary without appeal to the modal notion of “could not have been otherwise”. For, one might argue, so it would seem, that these so-called “metaphysical” facts are necessary in the sense that they are made *inevitable* by the physical laws and initial conditions, perhaps going back all the way to….forever?
5.1) But in what sense are these facts *inevitable* and how do the physical laws together with the initial conditions *make* them so? We have to be careful here of not anthropomorphizing physical laws and turn them into intentional agents that make things happen. Well, we can perhaps say that these facts are "made" inevitable in the sense that given the laws and the initial conditions, they *must* occur. But, what is meant by the claim that these facts *must occur*? That the world *could not have but* contained these facts given these laws and these initial conditions? This, of course, introduces once again the Modal concept of “could not have been otherwise”, except this time it is introduced in order to explicate the additional loop of inevitability.
5.2) Someone might retort as follows: a certain fact is made inevitable by the laws together with the initial conditions in the sense that its truth is guaranteed by the laws and the initial conditions. Of course, this will not do. First, propositions are true, not facts. Second, what do we mean when we say that the occurrence of a fact is *guaranteed* by the laws and initial conditions? This account suffers from the same problems as the “inevitability-account” we have encountered previously featured and a few more to boot.
5.3) Someone might finally argue that what is meant here is that a given fact is necessary in the sense that the truth of the proposition describing this fact follows from statements of the laws and initial conditions. But “follows” in what sense? I presume the only adequate answer here is that it “logically follows”. Good! But, now, why can we explicate the notion that a given fact is necessary in terms of logical entailment; i.e., in terms of a proposition describing this fact being logically entailed by the laws and initial conditions? The answer is this: because if the proposition in question is logically entailed by the laws and initial conditions and the later are true, then the proposition describing this fact *must* be true as well. That is, under such circumstances this proposition *could not be false*. But, now, once again we encounter a version of the Modal concept of *could not be otherwise (false)*.
5.4) The above objections simply do not succeed to dispense with the Modal distinction; they cannot replace it; and they cannot show that it is not conceptually prior to any distinction they propose.
5.5) And if the Modal-distinction is conceptually prior, more fundamental, and presupposed by the Randian distinction, then the scope of the Modal distinction is determined on its own grounds rather than dictated by the Randian distinction it is used to explicate.
6) Hence, Thesis B is false.