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Monday, February 02, 2009


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Agree. This discussion is extraordinarily similar to the 13th century arguments about whether Socrates is necessarily a man. Necessarily every man is a man. Socrates is a man. Ergo necessarily Socrates is a man? Surely not, for Socrates may not exist, ergo is nothing, ergo is not a man (for a man by definition is living and breathing, therefore exists).

They resolved this by interpreting 'necessarily every man is a man' as 'necessarily every man *insofar as he is a man* is a man'. Then 'necessarily Socrates (insofar as he is a man) is a man', is true,but in a qualified sense (secundum quid).

Similarly, necessarily everything that exists, exists. Therefore necessarily the moon, *insofar as it exists*, exists. But that does not imply that necessarily the moon exists. It's quite amazing we are still arguing over things that were resolved in the 13th century.


Thanks for the comment. We are in broad agreement. Forgive me for finding fault with your formulation, "Surely not, for Socrates may not exist, ergo is nothing, ergo is not a man (for a man by definition is living and breathing, therefore exists)." I would put your point as follows:

Surely not, for Socrates might not have existed. Had he not existed, he would have been nothing, and so could not have had any properties, including the property of being a man. (Existence is a necessary condition of property-possession.)

Is that what you are saying?

Socrates is essentially a man: He could not have existed without being a man. In possible worlds jargon: in every possible world in which S. exists, he is a man. But it doesn't follow that S. exists in every possible world! So although it is true that, necessarily, if S. exists, then he is a man, it is false that, necessarily, Socrates exists.

'Our man' must exist to be a man, and he cannot exist without being a man; but that is not to say that he must exist!

I seem to recall that you do not like possible worlds talk. Think of it as a facon de parler. Is it not illuminating and helpful?

So we resolve the Socrates/existence of existence question by distinguishing the necessity of the consequence and of the consequent?

"Necessarily every man is a man" expresses the former necessity, while "necessarily Socrates is a man" expresses the latter type. In logical notation:

1) Ax (Mx [ ]-> Mx)
2) Ax (Sx -> [ ]Mx)

But why would anyone believe 2) over

3) Ax (Sx [ ]-> Mx)?

It is obvious that Socrates is necessarily (consequence) a man, rather than a necessary man (consequent).



Your notation is unclear. You can't put a 'box' immediately in front of an 'arrow.' And that's only one problem with your notation.

The following is invalid:

1. Nec(for any x, x is F --> x is F)
2. For any x, x is F --> Nec(x is F)


Nec(if Tom is a bachelor, then Tom is a bachelor)
If Tom is a bachelor, then necessarily (Tom is a bachelor).

The premise is true, and indeed narrowly-logically true. But the conclusion is false since the consequent of the conclusion is false: Tom is contingently a bachelor. So the argumrent-form is invalid.


I agree that that argument-form is invalid, that's the very point I was trying to make! I guess I could've been clearer. Your (2) is what the Randian needs, where F is existence. But once one understands the difference between (1) and (2) it seems obvious that (1) is the preferred formulation of "Necesarily, existence exists".

You are dead right about the box-arrow. The box-arrow is Nozick's subjunctive conditional, and somehow it got into my head that that was the correct way to express the necessity of a conditional. Apologies for the confusion.


>>Think of [possible worlds talk] as a facon de parler. Is it not illuminating and helpful?

Hmm. Meanwhile, there is another part of Binswanger's argument that deserves comment

>>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. We go back to the pre-Renaissance (broadly Greek) view of causation as a relation between entities and their actions.

This purports to be an argument for the Aristotelian idea that things have the effects they do because of what they are (their 'real essence' captures their dispositional as well as 'categorical' features), and against a broadly Humean account of causation (there is no necessary connexion between categorical and dispositional characteristics).

The Humean account may not be correct, but this is a poor argument. Certainly it is necessary that a fragile thing cannot act as non-fragile, and it is necessary that glass cannot be not-glass. But does it logically follow that glass is necessarily fragile, or that 'glass is not-fragile' is a contradiction? Only if the definition of 'glass' includes the property 'fragile', and it is against this (kind of) assumption that all Hume's arguments are aimed.

>>It goes hand-in-glove with their strange notion that substantive metaphysical theses can be squeezed out of mere logical truths.

Here you are sounding suspiciously like me. Is this your road to Damascus?

Bill, et al.

Have we made progress? I'm skeptical, because we seem to be talking at cross purposes or on different levels. The Objectivist (again, not "Randian") argument on necessity, I repeat, is not a simple syllogism. The argument has nothing to do with shifting the modal operator into the consequent.

Now, with that out of the way, let's look at the reason why Objectivism holds that "existence doesn't exist" is a solid contradiction. We're not saying:

"Anything that exists exists of necessity"--we deny that (for man-made facts)

We are saying:

"The universe (the totality of that which exists) exists of necessity"--it could not be the case that nothing at all exists.

Why? Well, first of all, we perceive the universe. It's there. And we're here to perceive it. Did it "have" to be there (and did we "have" to be here)? What is the meaning of that "have to"? "Have to"--as opposed to what? What does "x must be" add to "x is"? We say: the only thing it adds is the absence of volition. The "must be" is contrasted with the chosen. Without that contrast (e.g., considering a time in the universe before volitional beings evolved), there is no difference between "is" and "must be."

You would say, "Wait, there's still a contrast between "is" and "must be"--the opposite of the latter is a contradiction but the opposite of the former is not. But that's where we make the causal argument: for deterministic causation, nothing is possible except what occurs. So, consequent upon the causal argument, it turns out that the moon's existence is necessary. Since the moon's origin lay in deterministic causation, the circumstances being what they were, it was not "chance" or magic or an Epicurean swerve that eventuated in the moon--it was the identities of all the existents involved that necessitated it.

A friend who is an amateur astronomer just told me that it is well established that the moon's origin was a large body hitting the earth. Okay, assuming that, where's the alternative possibility? When that body was 1 million miles away, it was on a trajectory that would have to result in its hitting the earth. It didn't choose to continue on that trajectory--it had to--i.e., the sum of forces acting on it left no alternative to the path it did in fact follow. Matter has no choice--and that's sufficient to say that the reactions of matter are deterministic, necessitated, no alternative being possible. In fact, that there's no choice involved is all we mean--and can mean--by "necessity."

All the preceding is just my "first of all" in regard to why "The universe does not exist" is a contradiction. We see that it does exist, and that entails a contradiction in: "There was a time T at which the universe did not exist." And in "There will be a time T at which the universe will not exist." But I leave to the reader (or for next post) the task of figuring out why those are contradictions.

Okay, second of all, the proposition "The universe does not exist" is contradicted by:

1. The existence of that proposition.

2. The existence of the mind considering that proposition.

3. The existence of the human organism possessing that mind.

4. The existence of all the prior knowledge (not possessed at birth) required to form such a proposition.

5. The existence of all the objects of that knowledge, thus required.

From Galt's speech in Atlas Shrugged:

"Whatever the degree of your knowledge, these two--existence and consciousness--are axioms you cannot escape, these two are the irreducible primaries implied in any action you undertake, in any part of your knowledge and in its sum, from the first ray of light you perceive at the start of your life to the widest erudition you might acquire at its end. Whether you know the shape of a pebble or the structure of a solar system, the axioms remain the same: that it exists and that you know it."

In sum: it is not by some linguistic ledgerdemain that Objectivism concludes that the existence of the non-chosen is necessary. "Necessary" means, and can only mean, "non-chosen."


This is fascinating. Be assured that I really am trying to understand your position. One thing I note about your last comment is an appeal to retortion. When you say that existence exists, what
you mean is that "The universe (the totality of that which exists) exists of necessity--it could not be the case that nothing at all exists." So what you are saying is that

0. Necessarily, something exists.

Actually, I have no problem with (0) at all. Indeed, I have an argument of my own for (0). 'Something,' however, is not the same as 'something physical.'

For each of your points (1)-(5), one could construct a retorsive argument for (0). Consider your "2. The existence of the mind considering that proposition."

I take it your argument would be something like the following. Necessarily, something exists because the proposition "The universe does not exist" could not be entertained, affirmed, or denied unless a mind exists. But if a mind exists, then the universe exists since the universe is just the totality of what exists. Thus the very fact that we are considering the proposition "The
universe does not exist" proves that necessarily, something exists.

If that is not your argument, then I should like to know what your argument is.

Unfortunately, I cannot see that the retorsive argument is sound. Let U = "The universe does not exist." I grant that

6. Necessarily (if U is considered, then something exists).
But it doesn't follow that
7. If U is considered, then necessarily, something exists.

The very fact that I am thinking about U shows that I exist. No doubt. But it doesn't show that I exist of necessity. For if nothing existed, then there would be no minds, no considerings, and
nothing to be considered. You have failed to show that it is impossible that nothing exist.

I do not claim that all such retorsive arguments fail, but #s 2 and 3 fail. (I have to think some more about the others.)

More on retortion later. A fascinating topic.

Bill, Harry

One thing that must be cleared before this discussion can get anywhere is this:
Harry: By the "universe" do you mean the physical universe?
For example:
(a) Do you think that mathematical entities such as the number 2, 3, etc., are physical or do you think that they are not physical?
(b) Do you think that propositions are physical or are not?
(c Do you think that minds are physical or they are not?

The reason these questions must be answered first is because statements such as the following:
""The universe (the totality of that which exists) exists of necessity"--it could not be the case that nothing at all exists."
contain an ambiguity between the "universe" meaning the physical universe vs. the "universe" meaning the physical universe plus everything else that exists such as mathematical entities, propositions, minds etc. What you say above is true for anyone who maintains that mathematical entities and propositions exist necessarily. Therefore, on the inclusive interpretation of the term "universe" it is true that the universe cannot be empty, since it must include at least numbers and propositions. But if by the term "universe" you mean the physical universe, then it does make sense to say that the physical universe could have not existed at all. Namely, it makes sense and modally true that "nothing at all exists" if the bound variable implicit in the term "nothing" ranges over physical objects only: for there is no incoherence in the proposition "It is possible that there are no physical objects" or "it could have been the case that no physical objects would have existed".

To emphasize how clarifying this distinction is important let me have a dialog with you systematically replacing the term "universe" with the term "physical universe:

Harry: "...Well, first of all, we perceive the physical universe."
Peter: True!
Harry: "It [the physical universe] is there."
Peter: True!
Harry: "And we're here to perceive it [the physical universe]".
Peter: Well, that depends on what do you mean here by 'to'. It sounds like you mean that the purpose for us being here is to perceive the physical universe. I don't know about that?
Harry: "Did the physical universe "have" to be there (and did we "have" to be here)?"
Peter: Surely not! the physical universe did not have to be there? i.e., it did not have to exist. (and we did not have to be here).
Harry: What is the meaning of that "have to"?"
Peter: One meaning of "have to" is necessary: i.e., must be the case.
Harry: "Have to"--as opposed to what?"
Peter: Well, surely, "have to" as opposed to "does not have to"; i.e., not necessary: i.e., possibly not. What else could that mean in this context?
Harry: "What does "x must be" add to "x is"?"
Peter: "x is" meaning "x exists" means that whatever it is that we designate by the term 'x' exists: i.e., there is something that is identical to x or something along these lines.
"x must be" on the other hand means quite a different thing: it means that x exists in every possible world or in every counterfactual situation or in every way the world could have been. Two quite different things.
Harry: "We say: the only thing it [i.e., the concept *have to* or *must be*] adds is the absence of volition."
Peter: How does that follow? It does not follow from any proposition you asserted thus far. Nor does it follow from the meaning of any of the central words or concepts you used here as I have shown in my portion of our dialog. The term 'volition' was not mentioned previously at all. It is not part of the meaning of the words 'exist', 'physical universe', 'have to be, 'does not have to be', 'must', 'must not', etc. It just popped out of nothing in this last statement you made. So since the term 'volition' did not appear in our discussion thus far, the absence of volition cannot appear as a conclusion of what you said either. And since the absence of volition cannot appear, it follows that the absence of volition cannot be "the only thing" that the words 'must be' add unless you offer some additional premises. Therefore, you narrative has not shown that 'must' and its cognates is synonymous with the absence of volition or anything else having to do with volition or its cognates.


A problem with Professor Binswanger's argument is that it doesn't follow from his view of causation, i.e., that causation is the application of the law of identity to action, that all events are the product of deterministic causation. As he takes causation, the body that hit the earth in his example has only one possible trajectory: its nature determines that it can only move one way. But this principle doesn't forbid another object's coming into existence out of nothing and then, based on its causal powers, blocking the first body from hitting the earth. There may well be good reasons to reject the notion of objects that come into existence without a cause; but Binswanger would need to add additional premises to rule this out. Appeal to "existence exists" and the causal principle that "things do what they do because what they are what they are" doesn't suffice.

David Gordon,

Exactly right. And as 'Ocham' above suggests, one can reject Hume's extreme view of causation without adopting the extreme necessitarian position of Rand-Binswanger.

It is quite reasonable to maintain that things have natures or 'real essences' and that the causal powers and liabilities of these things are grounded in their natures. The fragility of a wine glass is grounded in the nature of glass: if I strike the glass with sufficient force it MUST shatter. It CANNOT turn into a piece of chocolate. It is the extension of necessity to every aspect of a thing, including its very existence, that is the dubious move. As far as I can see, no Objectivist has given an adequate justification of this move.


By 'universe' Harry means 'the totality of that which exists.' I say that is bad terminology because misleading: most of us take 'universe' to mean the same as 'physical universe.' But a wise man never quibbles over words. So I say we give Harry 'universe' to use in his way. I'll give him the word if he allows me the distinction between the totality of what exists and the totality of physical items (whether substances, events, processes, etc.) In philosophy it is the distinctions that matter, not the terminology in which they are couched.

Similarly, I acquiesce in his use of 'existence' to mean 'existents.' That is not the way I use 'existence.' Harry's use, which is Rand's, is legitimate and reasonable. As I said, we won't get anywhere if we quibble over terminology. Not that you would disagree. Did you read my post on the old blog about terminological fluidity? http://maverickphilosopher.powerblogs.com/posts/1225404145.shtml

As you fully appreciate, a substantive (not merely terminological) question concerns which categories of entity are allowed in the totality of what exists. Are there abstracta or not? Are there irreducibly mental items or not? Is the totality of what existes coextensive with the space-time-matter system? This is essentially Quine's question: What is there?

Like you, I seem to detect some terminological waffling in Harry's use of 'universe.'

Your dialog is excellent, by the way, and throws into relief many of the issues. I'll be interested in Harry's response.

Whether or not the extreme necessitarian view proposed by Binswanger is true, is irrelevant for the moment. What we are arguing about is whether Rand was a lazy philosopher, i.e. not really a philosopher at all. A philosopher is primarily worried about the rigour of his or her arguments. We are worried about the rigour of the argument that takes us from 'Existence exists' or 'existents exist' (I'm still not clear which), or 'the fragile cannot be non-fragile' to the extreme necessitarian view that all that presently exists, necessarily exists. I don't follow any of the arguments given by Binswanger above.

The latest one is to re-define the necessary as the 'non-chosen'. Assuming that the current state of the physical universe is non-chosen (isn't it? - isn't the current state of my outside yard, from which I have just cleared a large snow-fall, chosen?) then why should we accept the definition that this is necessary? What about a totally random event, such as brownian motion? Or if Objectivism denies the possibility of totally random events, isn't that a scientific view, opposed to sections of mainstream science? Science does not deny the possibility of random events. Why does objectivism contradict science here? And what does any of that have to do with 'existence exists' or any of the other premisses from which Binswanger claims are the foundation stones of objectivism?

Let me try another angle, one which Bill I think explored in a previous thread:

1) Harry’s view about necessary/possible/contingent can be understood in either of two ways:

Thesis (A): causal necessity and logical necessity are identical;
Thesis (B): There is no necessity over and above causal necessity;

2) Clearly thesis (A) is false.
(i) Suppose that proposition P = the rock broke the glass (at t, etc.,)
(ii) Then (A) implies the following:
P < ----- > (P v ~P)

i.e., the proposition that the rock broke the glass is equivalent to a logical truth (P v ~P). But, surely the proposition that the rock broke the glass cannot be equivalent to the proposition that the rock broke the glass or it is not the case that the rock broke the glass for the obvious reason that while there are no circumstances under which the later can be false, there are circumstances under which the former can be false.

3) So we are left with thesis (B). Thesis (B) says that there is no necessity beyond causal necessity. Hence, logical and mathematical necessity are both a species of causal necessity. But that means that logical truths (such as P v ~P) are causally necessitated:
(B1) A logical truths such as (P v ~P) is entailed by physical laws and some initial conditions;
(B2) Logical laws are entailed by physical laws.

However, neither (B1) nor (B2) make sense. I challenge Harry to show us how a logical truth such as (P v ~P) follows deductively from physical laws together with propositions about the initial conditions of some physical state(s). The same holds regarding (B2). What physical laws entail any logical law such as, for instance, that for every proposition P,(P v ~P) is true?

4) So both theses (A) and (B) are false. But, then, either Harry’s position is false (or makes no sense) or he must come up with a different thesis that explicates his position on the relationship between causal necessity and necessity. However, I cannot see any way of formulating his position other than either (A) or (B). Perhaps, Harry can help us see another way of doing it or perhaps he can find a fault in my arguments that show that neither (A) nor (B) can be true or can make sense. Otherwise, his position is incoherent.


Ocham writes, "Whether or not the extreme necessitarian view proposed by Binswanger is true, is irrelevant for the moment. What we are arguing about is whether Rand was a lazy philosopher, i.e. not really a philosopher at all. A philosopher is primarily worried about the rigour of his or her arguments."

Now I have to disagree. You are much exercised (in part due to your battles with the Wikipedia punks over the Rand article) about the question whether Rand is a philosopher at all. The rest of us, however, grant that she is a philosopher. I say she she is an amateur, Ed Feser says she is "the worst kind of amateur" -- which is too harsh -- and others will disagree with you, me, and Feser. But what is really important are IDEAS, not people and their status or position in some hierarchy. (Leave questions like that to the superficial status-obsessed careerist Brian Leiter and his ilk. Do you want to be associated with that contemptible self-appointed 'gatekeeper'?)

So the real question here precisely is whether Binswanger's extreme necessitarianism is defensible. It does have historical antecedents. Diodorus Chronus?

Is a philosopher primarily worried about rigor? I say no: he is primarily concerned with arriving at truth.

I should also say you are in a bad position dialectically speaking since you haven't read any Rand. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) I have, quite a bit and with care.

On a positive note, the points you make in your second paragraph are right on target. I will be interested in seeing how Biswanger responds.

for deterministic causation, nothing is possible except what occurs. So, consequent upon the causal argument, it turns out that the moon's existence is necessary.

This sounds like an argument from

1) Everything is caused (and therefore necessitated)
2) Everything is necessary.

But even granting (1) there are reasons to think this can't work. Imagine an infinitely long world-history, where the only items in said world are a bowling-balls and the only events the causal interactions between them. Then imagine another infinitely long history of a world, where the world in this case is populated by only a few teddy-bears, and the only events of note again being the causal interactions between those bears. In both worlds it will be true that everything is caused, but it is surely true that both worlds are as possible as each other. This is just the leibnizian point that to explain (make necessary) every member of a collection with reference to some other member of that collection doesn't suffice to explain (make necessary) the collection as a whole.



I imagine that Harry will reject both of your examples of possible worlds as coherent scenarios (the bowling-balls-world and the teddy-bears-world) because neither are actual. His notion of possibility is inextricably linked to the notion of choice made by intentional agents just like his notion of necessity is inextricably linked (for better or worst) to causal necessity. These choices then attach only to agents' *actions* (e.g., we cannot choose a world causally different than the actual one at will as a possible world). Although I wonder how does Harry explain our (yours, in this case) ability to imagine these worlds as possible. This last question may lead us to discussions about epistemic possibility which Bill and I believe you have been discussing on another thread on this site.



Right, so you could run my argument like this:

1) Intuitively, the bowling-ball world is possible (it "could have been"),
2) If Harry's theory of possibility is true, then the bowling-ball world is impossible,
3) Intuitively, Harry's theory of possibility is false.


Yes I have read *some* Rand, primarily all of the stuff here.


It strikes me as lacking in any kind of rigour. I may be mistaken.

>> Is a philosopher primarily worried about rigor?

Not entirely, we all accept 'handwaving' i.e. where premisses are omitted because so self-evident as to be unnecessary. And 'rigor' doesn't mean 'formal' in the sense of formal logic. Rigour means no unexamined assumptions, plus valid arguments. I'm not seeing rigour of any kind either in the chunks of Rand that I have read, or in Binswanger's arguments to date.

>>I say no: he is primarily concerned with arriving at truth.

And I say he is primarily concerned with the basis of what he believes to be true. That cannot be other than carefully examined assumptions, and rigrous argument. That is what distinguishes a philosopher, properly understand, from daydreams or idle tap-room chatter.

By the way, there is an elephant in the room here, namely in the supposed dichotomy between 'choice' and 'necessity'. It is not safe to assume these are mutually exclusive. Some philosophers (e.g. Hume) have argued that 'freedom of choice', properly understood, is logically consistent with deterministic necessity. A rigorous person (i.e. a proper philosopher) would already know of this problem from careful reading around the subject, and would examine that assumption, and argue for it if necessary.
All I see in the quote from John Galt is posturing and rhetoric. Rigour I don't see.

On the topic of the competence of Randians in philosophy, I'm taking the liberty of posting a link to another review I did of Peikoff, which deals with his misrepresentations of Kant. http://www.lewrockwell.com/gordon/gordon13.html

I make fun of Peikoff for inaccuracies, but I get my well deserved comeuppance: I attribute to Bacon a quotation from the Bible.

David I enjoyed your piece on Peikoff and Kant. I have made a number of new 'virtual' acquaintances as a result of Bill's post on Rand (Feser being another).


You have real philosophical aptitude. Are you a graduate student somewhere? We both reject the move from Everything in the natural world is causally necessitated to The natural world is metaphysically necessary. That is because we find it intuitively obvious that the first proposition can hold even if the natural world is metaphysically contingent.

But do we have a good argument for this intuition? Binswanger so far has given no good argument for his claim that the nat'l world is metaphysically necessary. But what would your argument be for the metaphysical contingency of the natural world?

Is it a standoff in which one unarguable intuition butts up against another?


Let me play devil's advocate with respect to your Thesis A: "Thesis (A): causal necessity and logical necessity are identical." You don't accept this, of course, but you propose it as a possible interpretation of Binswanger. Let p = The rock broke the glass. You argue that CN and LN can't be identical because p is not equivalent to p v ~p. There are no circumstances in which the latter is false, but there are circumstances in which the former is false. But couldn't Binswanger justly accuse you of begging the question against him? By 'circumstances' you must mean 'possible circumstances.' But that there are possible circumstances other than the actual circumstances is precisely what he denies -- at least with respect to the non-man-made.

To you it is self-evident that there are possible circumstances in which 'The rock broke the glass' is false. But that is precisely what Binswanger is denying -- assuming that the rock was not thrown by someone. So how do you PROVE that there are possible circumstances in which 'The rock broke the glass' is false?

No doubt you can imagine and conceive (without contradiction) such circumstances. But how does that show that they are really possible?

So far Binswanger has not proven that the causally necessitated is logically necessary. His arguments were all of them bad -- in my humble opinion. But what argument do have for the opposite view? Is it a standoff in which one intuition butts its head against an opposite intuition?


You guys have posted more than I can keep up with! Let me take some really quick shots--and don't jump all over me for lack of "rigor."

1. Bill wrote: >>It is quite reasonable to maintain that things have natures or 'real essences' and that the causal powers and liabilities of these things are grounded in their natures. The fragility of a wine glass is grounded in the nature of glass: if I strike the glass with sufficient force it MUST shatter. It CANNOT turn into a piece of chocolate. It is the extension of necessity to every aspect of a thing, including its very existence, that is the dubious move. As far as I can see, no Objectivist has given an adequate justification of this move.<<

Is this adequate justification: the genesis of each thing is like the glass shattering: each thing came into existence from antecedent materials having the potentialities they had and none other, as acted upon in the way necessitated by the other things then in existence. If the making is necessitated, so is the nature of the made.

Now it would be interesting to drop down to the level of the eternal, uncreated ultimate constituents of the universe, and consider how "necessity" applies to their natures, but first let's see if we agree on the above for all things that come into being.

2. Causal necessity is a kind of logical necessity. I don't think the two are coextensive, because I think (without certainty) that there are logical truths (besides the trivial ones like A is A) that don't involve entities acting. You'd think 2 + 2 = 4 would qualify, but I'm not sure about that, because there's an argument that this really means: the results of counting by ones and counting by twos is the same (or something like that--i.e., referring to mental actions). But the relevant point is that I'm not committed to all logical truths being causal truths. I'm not even really committed to the converse, but I think it's true.

Argument for causal necessity being a form of logical necessity:

It is a contradiction to say: "This is a fragile glass but it didn't break when the sledge hammer hit it hard." Either it wasn't fragile glass, or it wasn't a sledge hammer, or it didn't hit it, or it didn't hit it hard"--all by the normal meaning of those terms.

3. "Existence exists" does not mean just physical existence. Canonical text:

"The units of the concepts "existence" and "identity" are every entity, attribute, action, event or phenomenon (including consciousness) that exists, has ever existed or will ever exist." (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 56.

Also, from the Appendix to that work (my transcription of the Workshops on Objectivist Epistemology held by Rand in '69-'70):


Prof. K: Some philosophers treat our knowledge that existence exists as equivalent to our knowledge that there is a physical world. They hold that to know that existence exists, and is what it is independently of our perceiving it, is to know that it is different in kind from consciousness--to know that things exist which possess characteristics which no consciousness could possess--for example, spatial extension or weight. Then they claim that the propositions "existence exists" and "there is a physical world" are, if not synonymous, two perspectives on the same fact, such that if the first is an axiom, then so is the second. Is any variant of this position consistent with the Objectivist view of axioms and axiomatic concepts?

AR: The answer is: no, emphatically. Not consistent in any way whatever. Now let me elaborate.

When you say "existence exists," you are not saying that the physical world exists. Because the literal meaning of the term "physical world" involves a very sophisticated piece of scientific knowledge at which logically and chronologically you would have to arrive much later.

As to the chronological aspect, the construct that you describe here is totally impossible psychologically. You say that to grasp that something exists is to know that things exist which possess characteristics which no consciousness could possibly possess, such as extension and weight. You are talking about an enormously sophisticated level of knowledge. And you are assuming that first a man grasps that he's conscious, à la Descartes, and then he decides, "But there are certain things which have properties which consciousness doesn't have." Nothing could be further from the truth.

The simplest way to begin an answer is to point out that animals, who do perceive reality or existence, have absolutely no concept of their own consciousness. The enormous distinction between man and animals here is self-consciousness. An animal does not have the capacity to isolate critically the fact that there is something and he is conscious of it. How does that apply to man? In this crucial sense: neither does an infant. Why is it metaphysically important? Because there is no such thing as a consciousness per se, apart from that of which it is conscious. And therefore no entity could conceivably be conscious first of the fact that he is conscious and then grasp, "Oh, I'm conscious of something."

You see, this is a complete inversion of the meaning of the concepts. You can become aware of the fact that you are conscious only after the fact of performing an act of consciousness. Only after you have become conscious of something--and in fact long after--can you identify the fact that it is some function in your mind that is performing this process of awareness. Only at a relatively advanced age--after, say, months or perhaps a full year--can an infant grasp the fact that if he closes his eyes he doesn't see, if he opens them he sees. And that if he closes off his ears, then he doesn't hear. That's the beginning of his grasp of the fact that something operates inside of him that permits the process of awareness. But that is an enormously sophisticated step of self-consciousness. You cannot begin by saying, "I'm conscious" and then ask "Of what?" It's a contradiction--in effect, a process of concept-stealing. [HB: this refers to the fallacy she called "the stolen concept," which consists of using a concept while simultaneously denying or ignoring the hierarchically prior concepts on which it depends for its meaning.]

As to such characteristics as extension and weight, how would you grasp those ahead of grasping the existence of an outside world? Because the implication of your question is that you grasp that it is a physical world by means of observing that it has certain properties which your consciousness does not possess. But you could not have any concept of those properties ahead of grasping a physical world, nor could you say, "My consciousness doesn't possess weight or extension," ahead of grasping that there is something outside which does possess them.

But now what's the difference between saying "existence exists" and "the physical world exists"? "Existence exists" does not specify what exists. It is a formula which would cover the first sensation of an infant or the most complex knowledge of a scientist. It applies equally to both. It is only the fact of recognizing: there is something. This comes before you grasp that you are performing an act of consciousness. It's only the recognition that something exists. By the time you say that it's a world, and it's a physical world, you need to know much more. Because you can't say "physical world" before you have grasped, self-consciously, the process of awareness and have said, "Well, there are such existents as mental events, like thinking or memories or emotions, which are not physical; they are existents, but of a different kind: they are certain states or processes of my consciousness, my faculty of grasping the existence of that outside world." And the next step is: "What is that outside world made of?"

The concept "matter," which we all take for granted, is an enormously complex scientific concept. And I think it was probably one of the greatest achievements of thinkers ever to arrive at the concept "matter," and to recognize that that is what the physical world outside is composed of, and that's what we mean by the term "physical."

Now observe that a savage doesn't have a concept of "matter." He believes that reality is like his own consciousness, only it is in the power of supernatural creatures or gods or demons who manipulate it. What permits this kind of mysticism? Precisely the absence of the concept "physical world" or "matter." Now those concepts, in historical development and in the development of an individual consciousness, come very late--by which I mean they are concepts that require a long development before one can grasp them. And yet a savage grasps that existence exists. He doesn't grasp all the implications of it. Nor does he grasp the law of identity. But that something exists, with which he deals, even he grasps that. To the extent to which he is able to hunt or to support his life or pray to his gods, he is admitting implicitly the existence of something.

So you see the axiom "existence exists" embraces all those stages of knowledge, implicit or explicit. Whereas the concept "the physical world exists" is a very sophisticated scientific statement.

1. >>Causal necessity is a kind of logical necessity. ...It is a contradiction to say: "This is a fragile glass but it didn't break when the sledge hammer hit it hard."

This misses the point of my original objection, which was that while 'every fragile thing is fragile' is a logical (and a causal) truth, 'all glass is fragile' is not, unless 'fragile' is included in the definition of 'glass'. Which is the very point at issue! The Humean objection is that causal properties of things appear to us as merely accidental, rather than essential characteristics. An 'essential characteristic' enters into the very description of the thing, and 'accidental' one does not, i.e. it is a contradiction to deny that a human is rational (given that we define human as rational animal), but not a contradiction to deny that massy bodies are attracted to one another.

Binswanger has made the same point that Locke makes in the Essay, namely that what appear to us as accidental properties would appear as essential ones if we had true scientific knowledge of the world. But we still don't, as far as I know - which makes it contingent that the existence of everything - 'existence exists' - implies the extreme necessitarianism of the $Objectivist.

2. And there is still the elephant in the room. Given that a materialist account of consciousness and volition cannot yet be ruled out, and may even be likely, I don't understand the position that situations which are chosen are not necessary. Why not, given that the choice involved the firing of neurons and the physical operation of a nervous system? Either 'choice' is impossible, or 'choice' must be suitably interpreted so as to be compatible with physical determinism.

3. A final point, that the reasoning and arguments given here by Harry Binswanger are, while not as entirely rigorous, are a hundred times more cogent and coherent than the ranting and raving that are derailing the discussion at Wikipedia. I would like to thank him for his graceful, coherent and patient attititude and approach. But does he not feel that real harm is being done to the reputation of 'Objectivism' by these people? I would like his view on that.


I suppose Harry could adopt your line of argumentation and deny the intuitions which reject the equivalence between P and (P v ~P). But if he opts for such a defense, then he will be committed to a devastating consequence: namely, all propositions are equivalent:

1) P <---> (P v ~P);(Thesis (A))
2) Q <---> (Q v ~Q);(Thesis (A))
3) (P v ~P) <----> (Q v ~Q); (all logical truths are equivalent)
(4) P <---> Q. (Transitivity of '<--->').

Notice that this conclusion can be repeatedly applied to all propositions thus rendering them all equivalent *regardless of their meaning or truth-value*. I do not think that anyone is willing to accept this conclusion.
I think that Harry must reject Thesis (A) or else he must reject classical logic. I recommend the later (I suspect the underlying logic of Objectivists is indeed some non-classical logic; but I do not know whether any Objectivists explicitly contemplated this questions).



Is your double arrow the sign for the material biconditional (the triple bar in more standard notations) or the symbol for something stronger?

Perhaps I'm being dense, but why couldn't someone 'bite the bullet' and accept that all propositions are equivalent? If all propositions are necessary, then 'Obama won the election' is equivalent to 'Obama is a man' is equivalent to 'Obama is Obama' and so on.

Another useful critique of 'Existence exists' here


In summary: If the reference of "Existence exists" is anything you like, then the proposition can justify the existence if whatever you believe in. It could be held by a Thomist as referring to the world of created things, to God and the whole supernatural realm, but by an atheist as referring only to the physical world.

Objectivists implicitly define "existence" as meaning only the physical reality that we inhabit. (The fact that this is not the only possible definition eludes them because their atheistic-materialistic assumptions are so deeply rooted as to be taken for granted. It simply does not occur to them that the word could have a wider meaning than the one they ascribe to it). However, if "existence exists" means that the physical universe is the only reality, then the statement ceases to be axiomatic and self-evident.

In short, they can define "Existence exists" in the broadest terms, in which case the statement is truly axiomatic but doesn't mean very much and can be used to support virtually any set of conclusions. Or they can define "Existence exists" much more narrowly, so as to rule out any supernatural existence, but then they can no longer claim that the proposition is axiomatic, since it must rest on a sophisticated defense of materialism.


1) The double arrow is intended as the bicondition: it can be as weak as the material biconditional or any other stronger relation.

2) As for your suggestion, it won't work because 'Q' can be *any* proposition whatsoever: a true one; a false one; even a contradiction. For let P be a true proposition and let Q = the moon is made out of cheese.
It would still follow that Q <---> (Q v ~Q). Hence, P <---> Q. Hence, every false proposition is equal to every true one etc. Truth-values collapse.
In fact it is provable that according to Thesis (A), (Q <---> ~Q):
(i) Q <---> (Q v ~Q); [v-introduction]
(ii) ~Q <---> (Q v ~Q); [v-introduction]
(iii) Q <---> ~Q [transitivity of biconditional <--->].

As I said, according to Thesis (A) not only modalities collapse, but truth values collapse as well. The only way I know off to avoid this is to reject classical logic and opt for something like intuitionistic logic which rejects an unrestricted v-introduction and also rejects (P v ~P) as an axiom. Then the proofs I have given no longer go through.



Thank you for your compliments. I am not familiar with the discussion at Wikipedia. (At one point, I myself edited some sections of the entry on Ayn Rand there.) Can you provide a URL?

I am working on a post on the opposed methodological standards of analytic philosophy and Objectivist philosophy. It's a big topic. Coming soon.

Above (as well as in one other thread) I have offered two arguments against what I have previously described as Thesis (A): one argument is to the effect that all true propositions are equivalent: i.e., (P <---> Q).

The second argument alleges that according to Thesis (A) truth values collapse: i.e., (Q <---> ~Q).

While the first argument is correct, the second argument is incorrect.
The second argument is incorrect because it employs the following two premises:

(i) Q <---> (Q v ~Q); [v-introduction]
(ii) ~Q <---> (Q v ~Q); [v-introduction]

However, Objectivists do not have to accept both (i) and (ii) simultaneously. They are only committed to accept one of these premises: namely, if Q is in fact true, then they will accept (i) but not (ii); and if ~Q is true, then they will accept (ii) but not (i). But since it is not possible that both Q and ~Q are true, they are not required to accept both (i) and (ii). Therefore, my second argument is not correct.

Now, Bill has raised the following question about my first argument; namely, the argument to the effect that all true propositions are equivalent:
Why can't the Objectivists bite the bullet and grant that all true propositions are equivalent?

This is a good questions. First, all true propositions are indeed *extensionally* equivalent: i.e., they have the same truth-value; namely, the value *true*. So there is a sense in which the Objectivists are going to be on a fairly safe ground when they concede that all true propositions are *extensionally* equivalent.
But, there is a serious problem lurking here. Let P and Q be two true proposition about different state of affairs in the world (e.g., P = there are three trees in my backyard; Q = Bill has two ears).

It is fairly easy to prove that the equivalence between P and Q is also necessary: i.e., that they are necessarily equivalent, not merely extensionally equivalent.
Proof: Since both P and Q are true, so is their biconditional (i.e., (P <---> Q)). And since their biconditional is true, it follows that it is necessarily true. Quite predictably we have here a collapse of extensional equivalence and intensional or necessary equivalence.
One consequence of these observations is that the distinction between logical axioms and theorems and non-logical truths collapses. The second consequence would be that the truth conditions of all connectives combining true sentences (other than negation) are necessarily the same. So are all true existentially quantified propositions and their universal counterparts.

In short, classical logic goes down the drain. It is impossible to formulate any coherent logic based upon these Objectivists theses.

In response to all of these difficulties (as well as many others raised by Bill himself and other commentators) Objectivists tend to waffle. Here is how I would describe the dynamics involved here.

On the one hand, Objectivists put forward a very surprising and controversial thesis: they insist that there is no need for the traditional Modal-distinction between contingent/necessary because the Randian distinction between metaphysical" vs. "man-made" facts captures all that is useful in the former distinction. And they maintain that garden variety (non-logical) propositions are necessary, in the very same sense of 'necessary' assumed in the Modal-distinction.
Similar positions are derived from extremely suspicious views about the use of necessarily true identity propositions such as A=A in connection with mundane facts such as that there are three trees in my backyard. The claim appears to be that the proposition that there are three trees in my backyard is equivalent to A=A. Now, since the later is of course necessary, so is the former. And since the later is necessary in the sense assumed by the Modal-distinction, then so must be the former.

On the other hand, when Objectivists are presented with serious objections to their claim that mundane propositions are necessary, in the Modal sense of 'necessary', then they attempt to get out of these difficulties by taking roughly the following line of response:
The sense of 'necessary' which is used in the claim that mundane propositions are necessary is definitely *not* the same as the one assumed in the Modal-distinction, since the later distinction is incoherent anyway. There is some other notion of 'necessary', one that is not allied with the Modal notion, and it is in this sense of necessary that propositions such as that there are three trees in my backyard are said to be necessary. But, now, what is this *other* sense of necessary that is being retreated to here by Objectivists? If this notion is roughly what is typically meant by *causally necessary*, then their surprising and controversial claims against the Modal-distinction do not hold without further arguments (which they never offer). But let that be as it may, for there are additional problems. For now they must face the following problem:
(i) Objectivists maintain that the proposition that there are tree threes in my backyard is *causally necessary*;
(ii) They also maintain that the very same proposition is equivalent to A=A;
It now follows that
(iii) A=A is *causally necessary*; i.e., it is made true by physical laws and some physical initial conditions.

But surely (iii) makes no sense whatsoever; the necessary truth of A=A is presupposed by all propositions including physical laws and initial conditions.

In short, the Objectivists advance what appears to be a very provocative thesis only to retreat to obscure backup positions when faced with serious objections.


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