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Monday, January 26, 2009


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It sounds like the Objectivists may still be using the 19th century mechanical model of science. But physics began to abandon that a century ago as the implications of quantum theory and later of chaos theory began to sink in. And as Gould said of evolution, if we rewind the tape and start over we would not wind up with the same species we have today. At the very most the clockwork universe would apply to the physics of relatively simple motion, but even there, as Poincare pointed out, the Newtonian solar system is inherently unpredictable. (It works out fine in the short term or with rough precision; but the longer the term or the finer the precision, the more problematic it becomes.)

I seem to recollect that somewhere Rand or one of her associates was quoted as citing the nine planets as an example of a fact. Which is funny since Pluto was recently demoted. "Fact" is the participle of a verb: factum est, "that which has the property of being made or accomplished." In a real sense, all facts are man-made, since they depend on human definitions. What is a "planet" or a "species" or "red"?

In any case, the confusion seems to be construing "contingent" as "uncertain." AFAIK, "contingent [upon]" only means it is dependent on what went before; that, if you rewind the tape, as Gould said of evolution, matters may not proceed as before -- even from the same initial conditions.

If all facts are necessary, then the world can be known by armchair logicians reasoning things out. If the world is contingent, then the world must be discovered by empirical experience. What MUST be can be debated by intellectuals in salons. What MIGHT be has to be learned hands-on.

Added in post-script:

2+2=4 is only true if the modulo is 5 or greater.

2+2=1 (mod 3)
2+2=0 (mod 4)

Don't know if that qualifies as contingency or not; but I could not resist it. Sorry.

What I don't quite understand in Objectivism, from the above remarks, is the vast modal distinction in the varieties of causality implicated. From what I recall, Rand holds a materialist picture of the human person and a view that matter behaves deterministically. Together, it seems like a bit of a lethal combination to any prospect of "free will" in the sense they want to uphold.


You are on to something important that I was going to bring up myself. If (1) materialism about human beings is true, and if (2) determinism rules the material world, and if (3) human beings are free not in the compatibilist but in the libertarian sense, then one wonders how these three propositions are consistent. I will be interested in hearing Binswanger's response to this. I'm sure he has one.

Bill, Stmichael,

I raised the same issue you guys are concerned about here regarding the possibility of free-will within a deterministic outlook championed by Objectivists. It is posted on an earlier thread to Binswanger's response to my earlier remarks. I think that the noose here can be tightened fairly quickly on the free-will issue, but we need to wait for his response to see how this goes.


M Frank,

You are right to point out that 'fact' is from L. 'facere,' to make or do. Binswanger could reply by pointing out that, interesting as this is, the meaning of a word is determined by its use in a given context, and that 'fact' as Objectivists and others use it refers to that which is given, not made.

A substantive question is whether anything can be made of your suggestion that "In a real sense, all facts are man-made, since they depend on human definitions." How many planets in our solar system? The answer depends in part on how astronomers use 'planet.' There are those who do not want to count Pluto as a planet. But once the meaning of 'planet' is fixed, then there is a fact of the matter as to how many planets there are, a fact that does not depend on anything we do or say or think or desire. One of the things I like about Rand is the realist thrust of her thought. To put it crudely, there is a world out there and it doesn't depend on us for its existence of nature. Contemporary anti-realism is dubious stuff. I should post something on this.

I am pretty sure that Binswanger does not confuse the contingent with the uncertain. It is a contingent fact that I now seem to see a mountain, but it is as certain as anything can be.

Can I pick up on a point made by Binswanger in comments on an earlier post, but which I think is relevant to this one? He explains Rand as arguing against the idea of 'naked ' dispositions: dispositions are really potentialities, and a potentiality is having a certain molecular, chemical, or other structure which makes it a certain type of material object, and in particular will make it produce certain effects if it acts or is acted upon. And thus (as he says here) " The laws of physics are inherent in the nature of matter, and the initial conditions were necessitated by the laws of physics plus earlier initial conditions. These earlier conditions were equally necessitated by still earlier conditions, and so on."

There is a real difficulty here (one which Locke struggled with). It is claimed that to characterise a disposition properly, we must characterise it in a way that leaves the 'disposition' bit out. Suppose in trying to explain gravity (the disposition of large objects to move closer) we describe the two objects simply in terms of the number of atoms in them, and no more. Then we have left out the disposition out, but then also we have characterised the objects in such a way as to make it unnecessary that they are attracted to one another. We can put the disposition back (by means of the right physical law, which I have forgotten, but involves the square root of distance probably?) but then it is clearly a disposition. The same with the laws of momentum.

This was a point rammed home to me by my undergraduate supervisor, Peter Alexander, who took classes on Locke.

"The proposition expressed by 'The moon has craters' is true but that proposition might not have been true: had no meteors or other projectiles ever crashed into the moon, the proposition in question would have been false."

What is the purpose of that construction?

Between this post and the one on God, it seems the only "flaw" in Objectivist philosophy is that Objectivists don't waste their time catering their philosophy to completely impractical things.

But maybe I'm missing something...


Here is the gravitational inverse square law:

Every point mass attracts every other point mass by a force pointing along the line intersecting both points. The force is proportional to the product of the two masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the point masses; where

F is the magnitude of the gravitational force between the two point masses,
G is the gravitational constant,
m1 is the mass of the first point mass,
m2 is the mass of the second point mass,
r is the distance between the two point masses.

I think you are getting at the question whether or not dispositional properties can be identified with underlying 'categorical' properties. For example, is the absorbency of a piece of paper towel identical to a certain property of its molecular structure, or is there more to the disposition-to-absorb than this underlying property? Presumably there are no 'naked' dispositions if by this is meant a disposition that floats free of any underlying 'categorical' property. The disposition-to-absorb-water has to have something to do with the molecular structure of the paper.

But whether dispositions reduce to categorical properties or are irreducible to them, we need to account for the difference between manifested and unmanifested dispositions. As I have pointed out, a disposition need not be manifested to be a real disposition. But it must be possible for it to be manifested, and also possible for it to remain unmanifested, where these possibilities are grounded in the thing and not supplied by the mind. So there must be real contingency in nature, contrary to what Binswanger says.


It is more like you are missing everything.

Maybe just as a sidenote, given the hard-core positions of the Objectivists on determinism in nature, I wonder if it would be logically possible to hold a view of natural causality that is non-deterministic but also avoids either randomness (or probabilism) or turning nature into a pantheist Mind/deity (all causality is voluntary).
My own view is that it is obvious that non-rational agency occurs without deliberation or the possibility of truly acting otherwise. But this agency obviously does not always obtain its end, as non-rational agents can and do fail to achieve their ends. So, as natural non-rational activity occurs in this fashion, I suppose I would agree with the view that if time were somehow foreseen in its duration, the movements would happen and play out in a particular way.
But positing contingency both logically and ontologically seems necessary even among natural non-rational entities. Ontologically, there seem to be real categories, for example, of potentiality, as Dr. Vallicella pointed out. It seems to me that "determinism" in nature entails a postivist/Eleatic view concerning the being of any natural entities - such that there is only actuality. Maybe my point is trivially true, but it doesn't seem to me that holding that nature acts without deliberation or free will necessarily entails "determinism."

I made a similar criticism of Peikoff here: http://mises.org/journals/jls/11_1/11_1_8.pdf (the second review)

Bill, thanks for initiating this serious discussion of Objectivism. Your back and forth with Dr. Binswanger is fascinating and enlightening. I will continue to follow it with interest.

Dr. Binswanger's view regarding free will can be found in his article "Volition as Cognitive Self-Regulation" (Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 1991, vol. 50, issue 2, pages 154-178), published in booklet form and available here:


See also his lecture titled "Free Will" available on CD:


(Dr. Binswanger gave a lecture on free will at Harvard which includes a lengthy and fascinating Q & A period. Unfortunately I don't think this is available, but if you can find it I highly recommend it.)

Not realizing that the discussion had switched to this new heading, I am late in responding, and it is daunting to try to catch up.

As to Bill's first reply, let's see if I can avoid quoting too much, to keep this shorter. (Note that the really juicy stuff comes at the end--but don't skip down there, yet!)

On Identity and Identification. Re the identity theory of truth: I don't see how a proposition can be identical with a fact (other than itself!). If it's the *content* of the proposition that is the fact--well, yes and no (but mainly I don't think that way of trying to conceptualize the situtation is helpful). "Identification" (as I said somewhere else on the site) is a concept denoting awareness--the awareness of a thing's identity. "Awareness" or "consciousness" is, for Objectivism, an "axiomatic concept" which can only be defined ostensively.

In general, I don't think I'm trying to slip anything past you in this discussion of truth. There's no secret meaning packed away inside "identification," for us. I prefer "identification" to "correspondence" only to capture the fact that a kind of physicalistic correspondence won't give truth. Elsewhere I gave the example of a (made-up) prediction'" by Nostradamus that would seem to have turned out to correspond to what later happened, but which was arbitrary, rather than cognitively grounded, and so wasn't an identification and wasn't true.

A paragraph from IOE by Rand might be helpful:

"Truth is the product of the recognition (i.e., identification) of the facts of reality. Man identifies and integrates the facts of reality by means of concepts. He retains concepts in his mind by means of definitions. He organizes concepts into propositions--and the truth or falsehood of his propositions rests, not only on their relation to the facts he asserts, but also on the truth or falsehood of the definitions of the concepts he uses to assert them, which rests on the truth or falsehood of his designations of *essential* characteristics.*"

Her point there (as part of a longer discussion of definitions) was that definitions are actually true or false, not just "conventions," but I think it may be helpful for getting what Objectivism holds on truth (basically, a better version of the correspondence theory).

On necessitated vs. non-necessitated facts. If one of the initial conditions for your having your hat on is your free choice to put on your hat, I don't see how having your hat on can be called necessitated. Yes, if you slice it immediately after the choice has been made, the sequence (if it is temporally short enough) could be necessitated from that moment. But that choice was not necessitated, so the whole sequence is not--the whole sequence from before you chose until after your hat is on.

But in the case of craters on the moon, as far back as you want to go, it "had to be" as it was. This is a basic, metaphysical distinction, isn't it?

"The inferential move from 'All truths qua truths are true' to 'There is no distinction between necessary and contingent truths' is invalid."

Well, there *is* a distinction between being true *about* a necessitated fact and being true *about* a non-necessitated fact. But there is no distinction regarding what it is for either to be true. Where would we go with a distinction between necessary and contingent truth? Peikoff's point is that they are identical *epistemically*: they are established by the same method (logic applied to observation) and they are both knowledge that can't be contradicted or swept aside. I think his objection is to the idea that necessary truths are somehow to be taken as epistemically "stronger" than other truths, and to the idea that metaphysically given facts are "contingent" in the sense of "could have been otherwise" but just "happened to happen."

You say: "But a necessary truth is a proposition that possesses its truth essentially whereas a contingent truth is a proposition that possesses its truth accidentally. This is a very significant difference. The proposition expressed by 'The moon has craters' is true but that proposition might not have been true: had no meteors or other projectiles ever crashed into the moon, the proposition in question would have been false."

I accept the essential-accidental distinction. And there is something in what you say. But do you agree that, given the obtaining conditions (and the earlier conditions as far back as you want to go), it is necessary that meteors crashed into the moon?

"true no matter what, true in all possible circumstances." But what is a "possible" circumstance? One we can imagine? We can *picture* a lot of things that aren't actually possible. And we can bracket off facts which did occur, and speak in subjunctive hypotheticals ("Had no meteor struck here, there would now be no crater there"). But that doesn't mean that in reality anything other than what transpired was possible (regarding metaphysically given facts).

"Do you want to say that modal words like 'possible' and 'necessary' have no meaning?"

Certainly they have meaning. But their meaning depends upon a contrast with the only thing that is non-necessary: human volition. If we imagine a world in which everything is deterministic, including (per impossible) the observers of that world, there would be no use for the modal terms; they would make no contrast. (I think there would still be the distinction between essence and accident, but even the accidental, i.e., the coincidental, would be as it had to be.)

You don't think this statement is universal: "If F exists, then necessarily p is true." But even on your view, either there's a slip-up there or I'm missing something. If F exists, then the proposition, stating that F exists, is true and it is impossible that it not be true. If that state of affairs is impossible, then the opposite is necessary. Did you mean to put it: "If F exists, then p is necessarily true"? That way of putting it would place us back in the same dispute as to what "necessarily true" means. But the way you did put it is, in effect, "... it is necessary that p be true--i.e., p being false is contradictory to the assumption (the assumption that F exists and p expresses that)."

"What I disagree with is the fallacious inference from 'Everything in nature is necessitated' to 'Nothing in nature could have been other than it is.'"

Okay, now we're getting somewhere! That inference is exactly the one I'm making. (Assuming by "nature" we mean, as it is not affected by any free-will choice.)

I believe Objectivism rejects the causally-necessary/logically-necessary distinction. This gets sort of to the limits of my knowledge and understanding, but I'll give it a quick shot. "This window is fragile and a rock of mass M and velocity V is hurtling toward it" *logically* entails "This window will shatter." Fragile" means: is of such a nature (physico-chemical constituency) that it will shatter when impacted by such-and-such impulse. So to be fragile logically entails shattering under certain conditions. Isn't this also the position of Leibniz?

Objectivism does uphold "the clockwork universe" view. I would reject on philosophical grounds (yes!) a claim that physics has learned that the Big Bang was some kind of supernatural event. Yes, the Big Bang--if it occurred--was necessitated. What's the alternative? That it was willed into existence? If it occurred (which of course is for physics not philosophy to ascertain), the Big Bang cannot be construed as the "origin of nature." It was, on current theories, the transformation of "the primordial atom" (a natural existent) into other things.

So, in the end, you see that Objectivism really does deny any "contingency" in *nature*.

The question whether dispositional properties reduce to categorical properties lies at the heart of the measurement problem and is no small question. The randomness apparent in the double slit experiment or the Stern-Gerlach experiment where apparently indistinguishable particles react differently to apparently indistinguishable conditions suggests that there may indeed be "bare dispositions".

To those who have expressed surprise that Objectivism advocates free will:

All over the place! We are not materialists. Quite vehemently the contrary. Man is a rational being. Rationality is the highest virtue in the Objectivist ethics. Consciousness is an axiom of Objectivism. Let me give two quotes from Atlas Shrugged:

"Existence exists--and the act of grasping that statement implies two corollary axioms: that something exists which one perceives and that one exists possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists."


"That which you call your soul or spirit is your consciousness, and that which you call 'free will' is your mind's freedom to think or not, the only will you have, your only freedom, the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and your character.

"Thinking is man's only basic virtue, from which all the others proceed."

And, more relevant to our discussion on necessity, is this from "The Metaphysical Vs. the Man-Made":

"To grasp the axiom that existence exists, means to grasp the fact that nature, i.e., the universe as a whole, cannot be created or annihilated, that it cannot come into or go out of existence. Whether its basic constituent elements are atoms, or subatomic particles, or some yet undiscovered forms of energy, it is not ruled by a consciousness or by will or by chance, but by the Law of Identity. All the countless forms, motions, combinations and dissolutions of elements within the universe - from a floating speck of dust to the formation of a galaxy to the emergence of life - are caused and determined by the identities of the elements involved. Nature is the metaphysically given--i.e., the nature of nature is outside the power of any volition.

"Man's volition is an attribute of his consciousness (of his rational faculty) and consists in the choice to perceive existence or to evade it. To perceive existence, to discover the characteristics or properties (the identities) of the things that exist, means to discover and accept the metaphysically given. Only on the basis of this knowledge is man able to learn how the things given in nature can be rearranged to serve his needs (which is his method of survival)."

David Gordon,

Glad to have you back. All the best for the New Year. I may reproduce your excellent JLS review of Peikoff here and add a few comments of my own.


Thanks for the links. I'm glad you are finding the discussion worthwhile.


Thanks for the useful comment. I will look into Stern-Gerlach and dispositions.

Harry Binswanger,

1. Thanks for clarifying Rand's version of the correspondence theory of truth. I don't think we have any substantive disagreement on this topic.

2. You write, >>On necessitated vs. non-necessitated facts. If one of the initial conditions for your having your hat on is your free choice to put on your hat, I don't see how having your hat on can be called necessitated. Yes, if you slice it immediately after the choice has been made, the sequence (if it is temporally short enough) could be necessitated from that moment. But that choice was not necessitated, so the whole sequence is not--the whole sequence from before you chose until after your hat is on.

But in the case of craters on the moon, as far back as you want to go, it "had to be" as it was. This is a basic, metaphysical distinction, isn't it?<<

I grant that my decision (or choice if you will) to put on my hat at time t is free: I could have done otherwise at t. But GIVEN my decision and given other relevant conditions that are standardly satisfied when one puts on a hat, it is impossible that a hat not sit on top of my head. And so my being 'behatted' at a time slightly later than t is causally necessitated by my free decision at t. In the case of the lunar craters I grant that free agency plays no role at all, and I grant that the existence of the craters was causally necessitated. So as I see it we have causal necessitation in both cases. Both are cases of conditional necessity, and neither are cases of unconditional necessity.

My diagnosis of our disagreement is as follows. You think that what is causally necessitated (e.g. the lunar craters) is broadly-logically necessary (BL-necessary) whereas I think that what is causally necessitated is broadly-logically contingent. Because you think that what is causally necessitated is BL-necessary, you naturally think that my having my hat on is not causally necessitated. If I've understood you correctly, you do not deny that there are BL-contingent events, an example being my freely choosing to put on my hat. What you deny is that there are any BL-contingent events in nature (the realm of the non-man-made).

Your scheme makes sense if (i) time is infinite in the past direction; (ii) nature always existed; (iii) nature exists of BL-necessity (also known in the trade as metaphysical necessity) and nothing about nature is BL-contingent. On these assumptions, every event is BL-necessary. Add to that the assumption that every event in nature is causally determined, and we get the extensional equivalence of the causally necessitated and the BL-necessary. Man-made facts, which you grant are BL-contingent, are not causally necessitated because, for you, X is causally necessitated iff X is BL-necessary.

If the foregoing expresses your view, then I think I have isolated the source of our disagreement: we disagree over (iii). I see no reason to accept it. Do you have an argument?

Before proceeding, I should get your response to the foregoing.


Your "diagnosis" is correct in spirit. I have quarrels over formulation, but there's no need to discuss them here.

So we disagree about (iii): the existence of nature is logically necessary and nothing about nature is logically contingent.

You ask for an argument for that. Well, the first part is axiomatic: "existence exists." What makes that logically necessary? The fact that "existence doesn't exist" is a contradiction. "What is, is; what is not, is not" Parmenides wisely said.

The second part is non-axiomatic, and derives from causality. Objectivism holds that causality is the application of the law of identity to action. Things do what they do because they are what they are. For the fragile to act as non-fragile would be the same kind of contradiction as for glass to be not glass.

This view of causality rejects the Humean event-to-event idea of causation (which actually originated with Telesio, I believe). We go back to the pre-Renaissance (broadly Greek) view of causation as a relation between entities and their actions.

Peikoff explains it in OPAR:

Entities constitute the content of the world men perceive . . .

There is no "red" or "hard" apart from the crayon or book or other thing that is red or hard. "Five inches" or "six pounds" presuppose the object that extends five inches or weighs six pounds. "To the right of" or "father of" have no reality apart from the things one of which is to the right of another or is the father of another. And—especially important in considering the law of cause and effect—there are no floating actions; there are only actions performed by entities. "Action" is the name for what entities do. "Walking" or "digesting" have no existence or possibility apart from the creature with legs that walks or the body or organ with enzymes that does the digesting.

When a child has reached the stage of (implicitly) grasping "entity," "identity," and "action," he has the knowledge required to reach (implicitly) the law of causality. To take this step, he needs to observe an omnipresent fact: that an entity of a certain kind acts in a certain way. The child shakes his rattle and it makes a sound; he shakes his pillow and it does not. He pushes a ball and it rolls along the floor; he pushes a book and it sits there, unmoving. He lets a block out of his hands and it falls; he lets a balloon go and it rises. The child may wish the pillow to rattle, the book to roll, the block to float, but he cannot make these events occur. Things, he soon discovers, act in definite ways and only in these ways. This represents the implicit knowledge of causality; it is the child's form of grasping the relationship between the nature of an entity and its mode of action.

The adult validation of the law of causality consists in stating this relationship explicitly. The validation rests on two points: the fact that action is action of an entity; and the law of identity, A is A. Every entity has a nature; it is specific, noncontradictory, limited; it has certain attributes and no others. Such an entity must act in accordance with its nature.

The only alternatives would be for an entity to act apart from its nature or against it; both of these are impossible. A thing cannot act apart from its nature, because existence is identity; apart from its nature, a thing is nothing. A thing cannot act against its nature, i.e., in contradiction to its identity, because A is A and contradictions are impossible. In any given set of circumstances, therefore, there is only one action possible to an entity, the action expressive of its identity. This is the action it will take, the action that is caused and necessitated by its nature.

Peikoff, L. Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, (Dutton: 1990), pp. 13-14.

As I am not a philosopher myself, please forgive my potential ignorance. However, it would appear that much of this discussion is divorced from what we know about the nature, of, well, nature. Current physics holds that it makes absolutely no sense to speak of anything before the Big Bang, because spacetime was created at the Big Bang. Of course one could argue that the Big Bang didn't happen, but one would be going against a very, very strong scientific consensus. Thus it would appear that time has a definite beginning and does not extend eternally backwards. This also appears to strongly suggest that there does exist some First Cause.

In addition we have the problematic issues raised by quantum mechanics. Einstein famously declared that he could not believe that God played dice with the universe. What he meant was that he did not accept the probabilistic theories propounded by quantum mechanics. It now appears fairly certain that Einstein was wrong. Particles behave probabilistically, not like the Newtonian billiard balls we all imagine. This appears to pretty definitively exclude the possibility of a clockwork universe.

The only possible way to redeem the clockwork universe model is to suggest that there is some deeper pattern underlying quantum mechanics and "generating" all of these apparently random results. So far as I know, no evidence whatsoever exists to support this hypothesis, and at the moment it does not appear to be falsifiable, putting any speculation on it beyond the boundaries of science. I am therefore inclined to dismiss the idea of a deterministic universe.


Good comment. The sort of world the Objectivists believe in seems threatened by Big Bang cosmology and QM, as you mention. The theory of evolution can also be added to the list of threats since there is a random element to natural selection. It would be interesting to hear the Objectivist response to all three.

Whether BB cosmology supports a theistic or deistic First Cause argument is hotly debated. That is another discussion.

Although the philosopher cannot ignore the deliverances of natural science, some questions can be discussed independently of them. I could object to Rand & Co. on the basis of BB cosmology, but above I am taking a purely philosophical tack. I am arguing that even if BB cosmology is false there is still no good reason to think that nature is one big block of necessity both as to its existence and as to its structure.

Bill, Richard, et al.,

I'm an Objectivist and a physicist and am deeply interested in foundational subjects at the interface between physics and philosophy -- just to lay my cards on the table. I've been enjoying the discussions about Rand and in particular the exchanges with Binswanger. I mostly want to stay out of the way of that exchange and see how it develops, but I can't resist commenting on the physics issues that were raised here.

Let me first say that the issue of determinism (in the physical world) is almost always over-emphasized. It wasn't nearly as important to Einstein as is usually suggested (often by quoting "god does not play dice"), and is certainly not of primary importance to those physicists and philosophers who reject the orthodox, irreducibly stochastic version of quantum theory. John Bell called orthodox QM "unprofessionally vague and ambiguous", and this had *nothing* to do with the fact that it wasn't deterministic. And I don't think determinism is ultimately even important to a defense of the aspect of Objectivism being discussed on this thread. Still, though, it should be pointed out that Richard's claim -- namely, that current physics establishes more or less conclusively that determinism is false -- is itself false.

The best evidence to support this is the real existence of deterministic, but empirically viable, alternative formulations of quantum mechanics. I am thinking primarily of the "pilot wave" theory of de Broglie and Bohm, aka "Bohmian Mechanics." (See the "Bohmian Mechanics" entry at plato.stanford.edu for an excellent introduction.) The many worlds theory (which I think is crazy, but which is nevertheless taken very seriously by many serious people today) is also fundamentally deterministic, at least about the physical part of the universe. And since all of these theories make exactly the same empirical predictions, it cannot possibly be true that some experimental evidence has conclusively established one of them. (If one studies the history, it becomes clear pretty fast that, e.g., Bohr's claims for indeterminism were based more on his allegiance to certain philosophical ideas he got from existentialists that had influenced him, than they were based on any alleged empirical-scientific evidence.)

One often hears people erroneously citing Bell's Theorem (and the associated experiments) as having refuted determinism. This is simply a confusion about the logic of Bell's argument. Bell himself repeatedly clarified that what his Theorem (and the associated experiments) refute is the relativistic concept of local causality (i.e., no "spooky" superluminal action-at-a-distance), not determinism (or "hidden variables" or any of a number of other things that are often claimed to have been refuted by Bell's work). I would be happy to provide further documentation to anyone who is interested.

So much for the idea that contemporary physics refutes determinism and hence refutes Objectivism.

The other claim was that, according to big bang cosmology, "it makes absolutely no sense to speak of anything before the Big Bang, because spacetime was created at the Big Bang. Of course one could argue that the Big Bang didn't happen, but one would be going against a very, very strong scientific consensus. Thus it would appear that time has a definite beginning and does not extend eternally backwards. This also appears to strongly suggest that there does exist some First Cause."

One needn't be a Big Bang denier to deny the inferences Richard draws from the Big Bang theory. The inferences here are based on a very deep misunderstanding (which is unfortunately shared by lots of physicists) about the theory. Incidentally, it's the kind of confusion that philosophers probably ought to be helping the physicists sort out, instead of just accepting the physicists' wrong inferences and then using them as premises in further philosophical arguments! In any case, the basic problem is just that the big bang model of cosmology involves an extrapolation, backwards in time from the present, using the laws of physics as we understand them today. That over-simplifies a little, because some of the key early pieces of evidence for the theory (e.g., the Hubble recession of galaxies and the nucleosynthesis of light elements and the predicted-and-subsequently-observed microwave background radiation) weren't of this sort. But suffice it to say there was strong (I would argue, fully conclusive) evidence that the physical universe we observe today has evolved from an earlier, hotter and denser phase. And once that basic idea is established, it is easy enough to use the known laws of physics to run the movie even farther backwards and learn what the physical universe was like at even earlier times.

The punch line is that, not only would it be obviously crazy to just assume that we were omniscient about the relevant laws of nature, there is actually overwhelming and universally-accepted evidence that the known laws of physics *must* break down at a certain very high energy scale (the so-called Planck scale) which corresponds to a certain time period about 10 billion years in the past. That is: anyone who thinks he can extrapolate further back into the past than this is, with certainty, wrong. And so, for example, any claim like "10^-43 seconds prior to the Planck time the universe was a point of infinite density" or "and prior to that the physical universe didn't exist" is unscientific bunk.

For flavor, here's a nice paragraph from Malcolm Longair's "The Cosmic Century" (an excellent history of 20th century astrophysics) which I just happen to be reading currently: "...from the time when the Universe was only about one millisecond old, to the present epoch, we can be reasonably confident that we have the correct picture for the Big Bang.... At times earlier than about one millisecond, we quickly run out of known physics. This has not discouraged theorists from making bold extrapolations across the huge gap from 10^-3 s to 10^-43 s [and beyond!] using the current understanding of particle physics and concepts from string theories. .... [But i]t is certain that at some stage a quantum theory of gravity is needed which may help resolve the problems of singularities in the early Universe. The singularity theorems of Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking show that, according to classical theories of gravity ... there is inevitably a physical singularity at the origin of the Big Bang, that is as t --> 0, the energy density of the Universe tends to infinity. However, it is not clear that the actual Universe satisfies the various energy conditions required by the singularity theorems. All these considerations show that new physics is needed if we are to develop a convincing physical picture of the very early Universe."

Just a couple comments on that to emphasize what I'm saying here. First, Longair should probably have emphasized the word "classical" in the sentence about the Penrose/Hawking theorems. His statement that "it is not clear" that these theorems apply to the actual universe is an understatement: it's clear, actually, that they don't. Further, note that a lot of the terminology used (e.g., talking about "early" epochs in the universe, and denoting particular moments by their elapsed time since "t=0") strongly conveys the impression that part of the theory is that the universe popped into existence ex nihilo at t=0. Yet it is a crucial, and universally accepted, fact that nobody can have empirical-scientific grounds for extrapolating backwards in time past (what is misleadingly called) t = 10^-43 seconds. And, as Longair says, things actually get very very shaky much much earlier in the (backwards) extrapolation (i.e., at around t = 10^-3 seconds).

So much for the idea that the big bang theory refutes the Objectivist view that the physical universe is eternal.

As to the theory of evolution, I'm no biologist, but I'm pretty sure no irreducible stochasticity (of the sort dubiously posited in some versions of quantum theory) is required to make sense of the theory. Ordinary deterministic classical physics is perfectly sufficient to understand how organisms with certain traits are marginally more probable to survive and reproduce. (If anybody thinks there's a problem using a phrase like "marginally more probable" in the context of purportedly deterministic underlying laws, please see classical statistical mechanics.)

Finally I'd like to make a brief methodological point which pertains more to the overall thread about necessity and contingency, because it will then allow me to clarify something I said at the very beginning of this (now embarrassingly long) comment. I think everyone agreed that there is an important distinction between (what Rand calls) "the metaphysical" and "the man-made", and that this distinction is based on the important differences between those facts which exist because of the operation of purely physical causation, and those which exist (at least in part) because of some person's exercise of volition. The debate is then about whether or not a further distinction is needed between two allegedly different sorts of "metaphysical" facts -- namely, those which "had to be" vs those which are merely "contingent."

I think there is a simple burden-of-proof issue here: whoever asserts that some further such distinction is appropriate should provide empirical evidence (say, for two relevantly different types of causation operating in the physical universe which produce two relevantly different types of fact) to support that claim. As I understand it, Binswanger's (and Rand's) whole case for the "necessity" of everything for which volition is not causally implicated, simply comes down to this: no basis for a further distinction (between non-man-made-but-necessitated and non-man-made-but-still-contingent facts) has been put forward.

Now, one possible basis for such a distinction might be what Richard suggested: the in-determinism of certain physical laws, say, those of quantum mechanics. The idea, I guess, would then be that certain facts come into existence deterministically (they "had to be") whereas others come into existence probabilistically, and hence "could have been otherwise" and so are "contingent". The problem is, though, that even if it were true that (say) the basic laws of microphysics were indeterministic, then, still, *all* (non-man-made) facts would have this same status: they would be the result of material processes obeying these basic physical laws. The point is, even if the basic laws are indeterministic, there is not going to be some separate category of facts. Whether the basic laws of physics are deterministic or indeterministic or even of some totally unforseen type, they are still going to be "the basic laws of physics" and there is still going to be an important metaphysical distinction between facts which come into existence exclusively through them, as against those in which the exercise of some person's volitional consciousness played some role. So I, for one, don't see how anything from microphysics is going to possibly help provide the needed basis for the alleged (further) distinction between allegedly different types of non-man-made facts.

Perhaps Bill or someone else has some other basis in mind. I, for one, would very much like to hear the proposal. But until I do, for burden of proof reasons, I cannot accept the validity of the necessary/contingent distinction as applied within the realm of (Rand's) "the metaphysical".

Very interesting post, Travis; I shall have to write a fuller response when I have time. I do have one question, both for Travis and Prof. Binswanger: If there exists nothing supernatural, then human beings must be governed entirely by physical laws, and in a deterministic universe like the one posited by Objectivists this appears to leave no room for free will. As a Catholic, I have no problem accepting a "mystical" explanation for free will. Objectivists, however, can't do that. So, if the universe is deterministic, and human beings are a part of the universe, produced by a purely deterministic evolution, then by what mechanism(s) do Objectivists believe that free will arose and operates?

Richard, I think there is a mistaken premise in your precise formulation of the question: "If there exists nothing supernatural, then human beings must be governed entirely by physical laws..." As has been pointed out in earlier comments here (on different threads, I think), Objectivism is "dualist" in the sense of believing that both physical matter and consciousness exist. (Of course, Objectivism does not accept the, e.g., Cartesian senses in which there is supposed to be some kind of problematic inconsistency or "interaction problem" between matter and mind.) Humans, as integrations of mind and matter (the mental and the physical) are therefore not necessarily "governed entirely by physical laws". They are also, at least in part, governed by whatever the "laws" are for (the human type of) consciousness.

But in a way, of course, that is just picking nits. Really the answer is: who knows?!? Certainly not me. Too little is known about consciousness and how it interacts with the body, how (or whether) it emerges from physical body states (though *presumably* this is the case), how (assuming it is the case) something emergent like that can possess properties radically at odds with the properties of the "stuff" from which it emerged, etc. In short, there are lots of puzzles. But they are the sorts of puzzles that indicate directions for future research -- not the sorts that indicate some kind of error or contradiction in what we believe now.

Perhaps it is also worth mentioning that it wouldn't help *at all* in solving these puzzles, to discover that, after all, the true fundamental laws of micro-physics were stochastic rather than deterministic. The "puzzling" kind of causality that we're talking about here (namely, volition) is as different from physical *in*-determinism as it is from physical determinism. I mention this here mostly because it is a helpful rhetorical point in explicating the Objectivist view of volition: volition does not consist in the fact that human actions fail to be determined by earlier conditions (though that is true); rather it consists in the fact that humans can genuinely *control* (the thought processes which lead to) those actions. A being that was like man, but whose thoughts and actions were (not *determined by*, but, let us say) *at the mercy of* god's dice-rolls (or whatever) would not be a volitional being in the Objectivist sense.

That was a bit of a tangent. Getting back to your actual question, I'll end with one further point. It is, I think, a methodological error (in science and elsewhere) to insist on having an explanation for everything. (See, e.g., Newton's responses to the people who objected that, despite all the things he *did* do, he hadn't explained the cause of gravity and hence, they said, had really done nothing.) Objectivism would of course reject any "mystical" explanation of free will. But it would, I think, also reject the idea that you *need* an explanation for free will before you can rationally accept that (a) free will exists, (b) man possesses it, (c) volitional human consciousness is rather different from physical matter, etc. In short, there is no Objectivist position on how "free will arose and operates". Those, properly, are (admittedly puzzling!) questions for some future generation of biologists, physicists, neurologists, psychologists, or some crazy cross-disciplinary combination of those and/or others.

Maybe that helps (but I fear not too much). In any case, I look forward to your promised "fuller response". Since I'm (only?) a physicist (not a philosopher) by training, I'm more comfortable talking about the foundations of QM than about volition (though I would promise to use the latter in any discussion of the former). So probably if I'm to have anything further useful to offer, it'll have to be on that subject.


Thanks for your very rich and detailed comments. You have given us a lot to chew on. Maybe later I can respond to some of what you say.


Since I am not a physicist I cannot comment on the details you generously provided in your posts about current physical theory. I am sure many of the technical points you make are certainly cogent and would be the basis for an interesting discussion with a group of knowledgeable physicists. I shall therefore not comment on most of these matters.

I do however wish to address your point about the methodology of the burden of proof (since I myself raised this issue with Harry Binswanger) regarding the distinction between necessary/possible/contingent and also regarding the “metaphysical” vs. man-made.

1) You say: “I think everyone agreed that there is an important distinction between (what Rand calls) "the metaphysical" and "the man-made", and that this distinction is based on the important differences between those facts which exist because of the operation of purely physical causation, and those which exist (at least in part) because of some person's exercise of volition.”
1.1) Now, it is worth pointing out that the distinction between “the metaphysical” or “purely physical causation” and “the man-made” or “the exercise of volition” presupposes that both sides of this distinction are (i) conceptually coherent; (ii) if so, they are in fact instantiated in the actual world. I shall sometimes abbreviate this distinction the “Randian distinction” to simplify matters. I hope you do not object to this terminological expedient.
1.2) Many philosophers have raised serious problems about whether or not the concept of free-will or “volition” is a coherent one (particularly whether it is compatible with a deterministic universe). So it is quite conceivable that since one leg of the Randian distinction between physical causation vs. free-will is incoherent, the distinction itself collapses.
1.3) Moreover, even if one could make the case that the *concept* of free will is coherent, it might turn out that we do not have free-will at all (that scenario is fully compatible with us *feeling* as if we act freely), since our actions are fully determined by physical processes in our brain. If this materialist view of the mind is correct, then once again while the Randian distinction would be conceptually coherent, it fails to mark any actual differences in the world between so-called physical causation and so-called “man-made” causation. Everything that happens in the physical world happens due to physical causation. Moreover, if all physical causation in the world is deterministic, then all events in the world are determined, including those that originate with members of the human species. Moreover, if all physical causation is necessary, then everything that happens in the world is necessary, without exceptions.
1.4) I think there are serious issues about the compatibility of the Randian distinction between physical causation and the volitional aspect of man-made actions. Some of these potential problems were raised by others on this site and so I will not dwell on them except to note the following: If Objectivists wish to ground free-will on consciousness and at the same time accept a deterministic conception of the physical world, then they have two options: (a) accept a Cartesian view of consciousness according to which consciousness is a non-material substance; or (b) accept that consciousness is physical but in some mysterious way it escapes the deterministic character of all the rest of the physical world. I would like to know which of the above Objectivists accept (or perhaps they think there is a third option?).
1.5) Due to the many conceptual issues raised by the Randian distinction enumerated above, it is quite questionable to assume (as you seem to do) that this distinction (unlike the one between contingent/necessary) is to be our starting point because it is so obviously true, free of conceptual problems, and it is widely accepted. I challenge this assumption and submit that the burden of proof rests with those who accept the distinction in the first place and, moreover, this burden of proof increases significantly when the distinction in question is situated within the philosophical confines of a Randian/Objectivist philosophy. The reason is precisely because according to this philosophy every event that is not originated by a human cause is necessary.

2) You further say: “The debate is then about whether or not a further distinction is needed between two allegedly different sorts of "metaphysical" facts -- namely, those which "had to be" vs those which are merely "contingent."”
2.1) I beg to differ with this characterization. You seem to describe the debate as follows:
(2.1.1) All the parties to the debate accept the Randian distinction as a starting point (a given);
(2.1.2) Some of the debaters propose in addition to the Randian distinction another one; namely, the distinction between contingent vs. necessary.
2.1.3) But, it is a legitimate thing to ask in light of the above whether there is a need (conceptual, I assume) for a further distinction of metaphysical facts between necessary and contingent over and above the Randian distinction between physical causation and volitional action.
Therefore, from the above you conclude:
2.1.4) “whoever asserts that some further such distinction is appropriate should provide empirical evidence (say, for two relevantly different types of causation operating in the physical universe which produce two relevantly different types of fact) to support that claim.”
i.e., The burden of proof is on those who propose that a further distinction is needed. They must show that the distinction is coherent and that it adds something useful that is not already captured by the Randian distinction assumed above.

3) Here are some of the things that are wrong with your burden of proof argument:
3.1) First, none of the proponents of the contingent/possible/necessary distinction accept the assumption you maintain that the Randian distinction is coherent or free of conceptual difficulties (i.e., (2.1.1 above). On the contrary; most of them have argued on this site that in their opinion the Randian distinction is replete with conceptual difficulties. Therefore, we do not accept that it should be taken at face value and assumed to be the starting point.
3.2) Second, there are several considerations which historically support the worthiness of the contingent/possible/necessary distinction (I have argued this point on a different thread on this site):
(a) We do have an intuitive concept that certain events “could have been otherwise” and this concept extends beyond mere volitional actions to physical events such as the position of certain physical objects (e.g., Bill’s table) etc. Since this concept is broader than the one associated with volitional actions, the two distinctions are not coextensive.
(b) There is a logic called modal logic that is mathematically cogent and that articulates the logical properties of the distinction between contingent/possible/necessary. So this distinction in addition to having strong intuitive support also features powerful mathematical properties.
(c) Many traditional philosophical problems can be usefully illuminated by appeal to the distinction in question.
(d) There is a fairly straightforward way of defining the elements of this distinction in terms of the notion of *logical consistency*:
(i) Possible: a proposition P is said to be possible just in case P as well as its negation (not-P) are consistent with the laws of (classical) logic;
(ii) Necessary: a proposition P is necessary just in case its negation (not-P) is not possible;
(iii) Contingent: a proposition P is contingent just in case it is not necessary; its negation not-P is possible; and P is true.
3.3) In light of these very powerful considerations in support of the contingent/possible/necessary distinction, it would be the most natural starting point. Therefore, the burden of proof rests with those who maintain that it is false, superfluous, or incoherent. Yet no proponent of Objectivism has provided even one cogent argument to the effect that this distinction is false or that it is superfluous or that it is incoherent. We are still waiting for such an argument!
3.4) The distinction between free vs. causally determined events and the distinction between contingent/possible vs. necessary overlap but they are not coextensive. Therefore, even if the former distinction is viable, it does not follow that the later is superfluous: an additional argument is needed to prove that further claim, an argument which itself makes sense.

4) You say: “As I understand it, Binswanger's (and Rand's) whole case for the "necessity" of everything for which volition is not causally implicated, simply comes down to this: no basis for a further distinction (between non-man-made-but-necessitated and non-man-made-but-still-contingent facts) has been put forward.”
4.1) If this is “Binswanger's (and Rand's) whole case”, then it is refuted by the considerations I have marshaled above. For I have shown that the distinction between contingent/possible/necessary rests upon a solid intuitive, logical, philosophical, and conceptual foundation.
4.2) However, my understanding of (at least) Binswanger’s case is different. I think that he starts with the Objectivist stipulation that the concept of physical causation is identical to the concept of necessity and that only volitional actions are contingent. It is in light of these stipulations that the distinction between contingent/possible/necessary becomes superfluous. It is for this reason that Bill has been laboring so hard to show that the identification of physical causation with necessity is mistaken.
4.3) However, if the identification of physical causation with necessity is based upon stipulation, then the only question that arises is whether so stipulated the concepts are coherent and if so, useful. One cannot argue otherwise against a stipulative definition. I have argued elsewhere that such identification will lead to two undesirable conclusions (assuming classical logic):
(I) All true propositions are equivalent; e.g., a proposition that there are three trees in my yard is equivalent to a logical truth such as that either snow is white or it is not the case that snow is white;
(II) Truth-values collapse: i.e., all propositions are equivalent to their negations:
take P to be any proposition
(i) P is equivalent to (P or not-P) (equivalence of physical causation with necessity);
(ii) not-P is equivalent to (P or not-P); (ditto);
(iii) P is equivalent to not-P; (transitivity of the equivalence relation).
4.4) These consequences demonstrate that the identification of physical causation and necessity is incoherent (assuming classical logic). Therefore, identifying physical causation with necessity, leads to incoherent consequences and therefore such a stipulative definition must be rejected. But if this identification is rejected, then Objectivists have no argument against the distinction between contingent/possible/necessary.


Hi Peter. Thanks for your detailed reply. I am going to try to be very brief in response. First, I'm aware that there are many schools of thought on consciousness and volition (materialism, idealism, compatibilism, epiphenomenalism, determinism, etc.). When I said "everyone agrees" or whatever I said exactly, what I really meant was only that both sides in the Bill-Harry dialogue seemed to agree (on that point). Sorry for the unclarity.

Second, I don't really find your proposal (that possible/necessary/contingent be based in logical consistency) helpful at all. First, I'm in total agreement with what I take to be a point of agreement between Bill and Harry, namely, that there aren't different sorts of truth, only different sorts of truths -- i.e., if there is some valid distinction between "necessary truth" and "contingent truth", it is going to have to come down to these being truths about "necessary facts" and "contingent facts" respectively. That is, what we need is something in the realm of metaphysics or physics, not something back in the realm of epistemology. And that is why I was interested in pursuing the question of whether ultimately stochastic laws of nature might ground some such distinction.

Let me also add that if you want to understand the Objectivist view on this constellation of issues, you should read Peikoff's article "The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy" which is reproduced in all the current editions of Rand's ITOE (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology).

Finally, you repeated the claim (and referenced some arguments in support of the claim) "that the identification of physical causation with necessity is mistaken." I don't have time right now to get into the meat of this issue, but I think I can explain why your and Bill's arguments aren't persuading Binswanger to change his view. It's because he (and Objectivism) simply do not accept your concept of the "necessary" (and likewise for the other related concepts). That is, as I understand what he's said, he is *not* merely *identifying* the category of facts you refer to with the word "necessary" with the category Rand refers to with "metaphysical" (and likewise "contingent" and "man-made"). If that's what you took him to be doing, it's no wonder you're feeling agitated, because those categories are definitely not co-extensive (and likewise...)! What is Binswanger actually doing? I think he is stepping back and asking what, if any, of these concepts we actually *need* in order to capture whatever important distinctions need capturing. And, I think, like me, the only such important distinction he perceives is that between the metaphysical and the man-made. He is then saying, in effect, "if you insist on using the word 'contingent' for something, you could maybe use it to refer to the man-made facts, since these are uniquely contingent upon a certain special type of causation, namely human volition" and "if you insist on using the word 'necessary' for something, you could maybe use it to refer to the metaphyisically given facts, since these, unlike facts arising via human volition, 'had to be'." Does that make sense? You will of course want to object: "But not all metaphysically given facts *did* 'have to be'! For example, the third crater from the left on the Moon didn't have to be as big as it in fact is." And I guess that's true according to your concepts of "necessity" and "had to" and so on. But it is the validity of those concepts which is precisely what's at issue here. Which is what I was ultimately asking for in the earlier comment when I requested that somebody explain clearly what the difference is supposed to be between two "metaphysically given facts" (in Rand's sense), one of which is "necessary" and one of which is merely "contingent". What, that is, is the *basis* for this allegedly-important distinction? Pending a satisfying answer to that question, I will simply reject your concepts as invalid, much as I would reject a medical doctor's pronouncement that some people are "bilious" and others are "phlegmatic". The doctor would no doubt become very frustrated that my own concepts (say "cancerous" and "benign") fail to capture certain alleged differences he seems to think are important. But until/unless he can provide some solid grounding for the legitimacy of his concepts, i.e., the reality of the differences he alleges they capture, I will just shrug and say: I don't think those are proper concepts, and I won't endorse or use them.

Maybe that helps clarify what I was asking for in the "burden of proof" comment. Tell me what your taxonomy of non-man-made facts looks like, and what the taxonomy is based on.


I believe you are running into the "fallacy of composition" when you insist that there is no room for free will for a person simply because that person is made up of deterministic particles. What's true of atoms isn't necessarily true of people. I'll quote an Objectivist "Grames" who put it clearly:

"A decision, considered as an event, does not exist as an entity. Only entities exist. Causality in the Objectivist version only applies to entities. It is literally the axiom of Identity (A is A) applied to the actions of entities in a dynamic sense, as opposed to their attributes in a static sense. Thus we do not ever have events causing other events, only entities acting in accordance with their natures, possibly impinging upon other entities.

"Now whether you consider the fundamental level of analysis of decision making to be atoms, molecules, or neurons, those units begin in one state and transition to another state. Once the problem has been correctly restated in terms of these units, there is no way to deduce from the deterministic nature of each unit a deterministic nature for the whole person.

"We know each unit and the whole person must operate in accordance with causality because causality is an axiomatic metaphysical principle which applies to all entities directly and equally, of any and all levels of complexity, bypassing the problem presented by the distributive fallacies. But causality is more general than determinism. For any given state of a unit and its input, determinism requires a single possible subsequent state. Causality merely requires that starting from a given state an entity must act in accordance with its nature, leaving open the possibility of an entity which selects one alternative of several possible subsequent states."


1) About the burden of proof argument:
(a) First, I do not think that Bill and Harry agree on the conceptual priority of the Randian distinction over the contingent/necessary distinction; and neither do I.
(b) Second, I do not think that Bill thinks that the Randian distinction is conceptually clearer than the contingent/necessary distinction; and neither do I.
(c) Third, I think that Bill holds the view that the Randian distinction is difficult to maintain within an Objectivist metaphysics; and so do I.

2) You say that you do not find my proposal “that possible/necessary/contingent be based in logical consistency) helpful at all.” You offer the following reason:
“that there aren't different sorts of truth, only different sorts of truths -- i.e., if there is some valid distinction between "necessary truth" and "contingent truth", it is going to have to come down to these being truths about "necessary facts" and "contingent facts" respectively. That is, what we need is something in the realm of metaphysics or physics, not something back in the realm of epistemology.”
(a) The modal distinction between contingent and necessary does not require different notions of truth; there is only one truth and it is defined in terms of correspondence. Bill, Harry, and I (on an earlier thread) agreed on that. I do not quite understand why you think that my account in terms of logical consistency requires different notions of truth; it does not.
(b) My proposal of the modal distinction in terms of logical consistency is not in the realm of epistemology. I do not see how you come to the conclusion that the notion of logical consistency belongs to epistemology: it does not.
For instance: it is a logical law that a contradictory proposition cannot be true. Therefore, there cannot be a fact that corresponds to a contradictory proposition. But these are not merely epistemological claims: i.e., claims about what we know or about what is the case for all we know. These claims belong to metaphysics as much as any claim can be. The claim is that there *cannot be* state of affairs in the world that correspond to a contradictory proposition.
(c) It is very easy to convert my proposal that was given in terms of propositions into fact-talk. A fact is contingent just in case a contingent proposition corresponds to it. The rest of the account I have given can be easily adjusted accordingly.
(d) I now wish to focus on the following point you said: “if there is some valid distinction between "necessary truth" and "contingent truth", it is going to have to come down to these being truths about "necessary facts" and "contingent facts" respectively. That is, what we need is something in the realm of metaphysics or physics,…”

I think you have the following picture in mind here:
Suppose I wish to determine whether a given proposition P (= there are three trees in my backyard) is true contingently or necessarily. How do I find this out? Well, you seem to think that first I must find out which fact corresponds to P. Suppose I find that the fact in question is that there are three trees in my backyard. Next I carefully inspect this fact and see whether it contains somewhere a property of contingency or necessity. If it contains the property of necessity, then it is a necessary fact and P is a necessary truth; if the fact in question contains the contingency property, then it is a contingent fact and so P is contingently true. If I find neither, then it is neither a contingent fact nor is it a necessary fact. You suspect that no contingent or necessary properties can be found in any facts whatsoever. Hence, you conclude, the distinction in question is not valid.

If this is not the sort of picture you have in mind, then I am unclear about what the above passage says.

If it is, then I do not see why we are compelled to accept it. That is, I do not see why are we compelled to accept the view that the cogency of the distinction between contingency and necessity should rest only upon some kind of observable properties to be found within the confines of the facts said to be contingent or necessary.
Suppose it is raining here and now. I submit that the fact that it is raining here and now is a contingent fact: namely, the world could have been such that it did not rain here and now. How do I know that? Well, I certainly do not know that by gazing at the rain falling around me and trying to see whether it features some kind of a special contingency fact: namely, the fact that it could have been the case that it did not rain here and now. The way I know that this fact is a contingent one is by recognizing that the world could have been in most respects just like it is except that the conditions which actually caused to rain here and now were sufficiently altered so that no rain falls here and now. And I know that this world is possible because I know that such a description is logically consistent.
(Warning: This does not make the distinction epistemic. The fact that such a description is consistent is a logical fact; not an epistemological one. However, the question was how I know that a certain fact is contingent. My point is that we do not know that by simply inspecting the fact itself in exclusion to everything else to find some contingency property that it features.)
Qualifications: My remarks need to take into account certain necessary truths that are a-posteriori (e.g., water is H2O). Also Bill raised certain issues about unrealized potentialities, dispositions etc., which do appear to inhere within objects. However, I maintain that even in such cases we do not discover such metaphysical necessities purely by looking at observable properties of things or facts.
Conclusion: I reject the requirement you impose upon the cogency of the distinction between contingency and necessity as I understand from the above quoted remarks. If I misunderstood these remarks, then I hope you can offer some further clarification.

3) You attribute the following process to Binswanger: “What is Binswanger actually doing? I think he is stepping back and asking what, if any, of these concepts we actually *need* in order to capture whatever important distinctions need capturing. And, I think, like me, the only such important distinction he perceives is that between the metaphysical and the man-made.”
Several issues arise:
(a) You seem to describe the situation as if Binswanger is stepping back into a neutral position (some kind of God’s eye perspective) from which he can objectively scan the conceptual terrain without any bias or presuppositions and determine which of “these concepts we actually *need* in order to capture whatever important distinctions need capturing.”
(b) “Need” according to whose standards and for what purpose? How do we decide which distinctions that are already part of this conceptual terrain are “important”? Which facts that are already part of this conceptual terrain are to enter into the evaluation of the importance and worthiness of a given distinction?
For instance, are we to count the indubitable fact that we do have an intuitive notion of “it could have been otherwise” which we routinely apply to sundry facts such as that it is raining here and now and that there are three trees in my backyard on behalf of the distinction between contingent and necessary? Are we to count on behalf of this distinction that there is a powerful and fully developed logic (modal logic) that captures the mathematical properties of our intuitive notions of contingent, necessary, possible? Are we to count on behalf of the distinction in question the intuition that mathematical truths are not merely possible but are necessary (and not in the causal sense of necessary)? Are we to count *against* the (Randian) distinction between physical causation and volitional causation the fact that it requires the notion of consciousness which is replete with difficulties and appears to require a non-material substance? And so on.

(4) Unfortunately, it appears that the proponents of Objectivism consistently refuse to honestly confront such question, regardless of the number of times they are raised in these debates.

(5) Finally, you say: “For example, the third crater from the left on the Moon didn't have to be as big as it in fact is." And I guess that's true according to your concepts of "necessity" and "had to" and so on. But it is the validity of those concepts which is precisely what's at issue here. Which is what I was ultimately asking for in the earlier comment when I requested that somebody explain clearly what the difference is supposed to be between two "metaphysically given facts" (in Rand's sense), one of which is "necessary" and one of which is merely "contingent". What, that is, is the *basis* for this allegedly-important distinction?”
I am sincerely puzzled by this passage. First, you seem to admit (in the second sentence) that the third crater from the left on the moon did not “have to be” as big as it actually is, in my sense of “necessary” or “had to be”. But then you seem to insist that (i) the validity of *my* concept of “necessity” is at issue and needs explaining; and (ii) this distinction is to be explicated in the Randian sense of two “metaphysically given facts.”
The first of these demands takes us back to your burden of proof argument. As I have repeatedly argued, the burden of proof rests with those who deny a distinction that has intuitive merit, logical clarity, conceptual foundation, and philosophical utility. Neither you nor any proponent of Objectivism ever answered *any* of these points. I am still waiting!
The second demand contains a logical fallacy. I have pointed out before, and you seemed to agree, that the contingent/necessary distinction overlaps with the Randian distinction between physical causality vs. volitional causality but the two distinctions are *not coextensive*. Therefore, it is not logically possible to define, characterize, or even extensionally specify the contingent/necessary distinction in terms of the distinction between physical/causation vs. volitional causation. Any requirement to this effect is logically misplaced.


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 rotates around 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)-(iii) “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) are to be contrasted 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 got 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 they in fact have 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 to clarify 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 that it is either reducible to the Randian distinction or dispensable or irremediably unclear.

4.1) The first disjunct in this claim turns things the other way around, as we have seen above.

4.2) The second disjunct (i.e., 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., 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 to 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 is 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.



I think Travis has posted a good challenge, on Feb. 4, to Bill, Peter, and whomever. It's now Feb. 10--and where's their answer?

The challenge was: within the sphere not affected by human volition (the "metaphysically given") what are the grounds for asserting a difference between necessity and contingency? Aren't all the events that proceed in accordance with physical law in the same boat?

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