Thursday, February 12, 2009

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Bill Wrote:

"Since the existence of nature is logically contingent, the existence of the things in it are logically contingent. This includes the lightning bolt, the tree, the event of the lightning bolt's striking the tree, the event of the tree's bursting into flame, and all the rest."

Isn't this a Fallacy of Division? Airplanes can fly. Passenger seats are parts of airplanes. Therefore passenger seats can fly.

Bob,

That's a reasonable objection worthy of a reply. I of course grant that the following argument form is invalid:

1. Whole W has property P
Therefore
2. Every part of W has property P.

That is the way I understand the Fallacy of Division. It is easy to find substitutions for 'W' and 'P' that make the premise true and the conclusion false. Your example works.

So I grant you that it does not follow straightaway (i.e., immediately without auxiliary premises)that everything in nature is contingent from the premise that nature is contingent. But I would still maintain that the following conditional is true:

4. If nature is contingent, then its parts are contingent.

To say that nature is contingent is to say that its nonexistence is possible. Suppose that possibility is actual. Then nature does not exist. But nature is just the sum of its parts: it is just the sum total of spatiotemporal items interacting causally. So if nature does not exist, then none of its parts exist. Therefore, the contingency of nature extends to the parts of nature.

But, given that you essentially just drop the issue of "causal contingency" in your post, I think that's not the direction you want to go. Instead, if I understand correctly, you want to say that the sort of "contingency" that is at issue in this discussion is not "causal contingency" at all, but "logical contingency". If that's where this is going, then I'm afraid we're going to be in for some serious work, because -- as I discussed on that earlier thread -- Objectivism has a radically different understanding of the meaning (and practice) of "logic".

But before jumping into this any further, I want to make sure we're on the same page about "causal contingency". And I also have some real work to do this morning. So, probably, more later.

Bill wrote:

"To say that nature is contingent is to say that its nonexistence is possible. Suppose that possibility is actual. Then nature does not exist. But nature is just the sum of its parts: it is just the sum total of spatiotemporal items interacting causally. So if nature does not exist, then none of its parts exist. Therefore, the contingency of nature extends to the parts of nature."

Yes, to say that nature is contingent is to say that its nonexistence is possible. But is that the same sense of "contingent" we usually mean when we say that any of those individual parts is "contingent?" In your initial post, you wrote:

"Therefore, both Nature exists and Nature does not exist are logically contingent propositions. The first is true and the second false. But both are logically contingent. Since the existence of nature is logically contingent, the existence of the things in it are logically contingent. This includes the lightning bolt, the tree, the event of the lightning bolt's striking the tree, the event of the tree's bursting into flame, and all the rest."

When we talk about the contingency of lightning bolts and trees, what we normally want to know is if it is possible that for lightning bolt to have struck several feet away and spared the tree. That sort of contingency is not supported at all by your example because it does us little good to know that any particular thing or event could have been different because it is logically possible the whole Universe may have never existed. In that case EVERYTHING is contingent and the problem arises: Where did the idea of non-contingent come from? If everything is contingent, then there are no examples of non-contingency.

So we still have the question: Given that the Universe came into existence, did all events not caused by human intervention have to be?

Travis,

When you compare the two propositions

1) There is a square circle
and
2) There are less than a trillion stars

do you not (intuitively) find that 1) is false in a much stronger way than 2)? I do, and I would use the categories of necessity and impossibility to help explain this: (1) is necessarily false (it couldn't have been true) while (2) is contingently (neither necessarily nor impossibly) false. But your objectivism prevents you from saying this. Because the falsity of (2) is a non-manmade fact just like the falsity of (1) would be, they are both equally impossible for you. So I ask you, how do account for the intuitive difference in strength? If you fail to meet this challenge your theory will be at an intuitive disadvantage.

You might claim that the difference in strength lies in the fact that (1) involves an contradiction while (2) doesn't, but whatever contradictions there are, they can't be explanatorily relevant to the impossibility of (1) since, as we saw, impossibility is grounded in other things according to objectivism. But if you argue here that contradictions are somehow relevant to determining impossibility, what will stop you from then going on to say that a lack of them is indicative of possibility?

Matt.

Travis:
>Objectivism has a radically different understanding of the meaning (and practice) of "logic".

But of course, if Objectivists want to use the word "logic", but actually mean something "radically different" from what everyone else means by the term, this is a communication problem for Objectivists, not for everyone else.

Having a basic agreement on logic. Kind of an important point if you're going to have a useful discussion no? I suggest Travis set out the rules for his particular brand so we can see what what these "radical differences" are.

Now, I have seen this play out a number of times. In my experience, this "radically different" logic turns out to be merely verbal attempt to make the problem of induction go away - a problem that Rand neither solved, nor it appears understood (see her remarks on p304 of the Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology). But we will see.

Matt wrote:

"When you compare the two propositions

1) There is a square circle
and
2) There are less than a trillion stars

do you not (intuitively) find that 1) is false in a much stronger way than 2)? I do, and I would use the categories of necessity and impossibility to help explain this: (1) is necessarily false (it couldn't have been true) while (2) is contingently (neither necessarily nor impossibly) false."

Regarding intuition, a lot of people "intuitively" felt that their money was safe in the hands of Bernie Madoff. As for (2), that is the matter under discussion, isn't it? If determinism is true, then point (2) is necessarily false. Determinism is an issue that predates objectivism by about two milenia.

Matt wrote: "So I ask you, how do account for the intuitive difference in strength? If you fail to meet this challenge your theory will be at an intuitive disadvantage."

People "intuitively" believe all sorts of false things. Just ask anyone who gave money to Madoff

Bob,

Set aside intuition for the moment or whatever it is that one relies upon in making such judgments.
(although I do think that intuition is actually very important in philosophy if afforded a proper role).

Do you think that Matt's two examples (or others like them) are the same with respect to being false? Or do you think there is a difference between them?

As for determinism: even if determinism is true, the second propositions is going to be causally necessary. There is going to be still a difference between the necessity involved in Matt's second proposition and the one involved in the first.

peter

DAniel wrote: "But of course, if Objectivists want to use the word "logic", but actually mean something "radically different" from what everyone else means by the term, this is a communication problem for Objectivists, not for everyone else."

As an aside, I have found this to be a pervasive problem with Objectivism - that what they mean by certain terms is "radically different" than what everyone else means. (Just try disentangling Objectivist's view that morality is objective, yet is not inherent in the object, and relative to context and subjective judgment.)

Bill wrote: "So we still have the question: Given that the Universe came into existence, did all events not caused by human intervention have to be?"

I really do think that the best we can say here is, as you said, that something's non-existence is plausible and logically non-contradictory.

If we are really asking whether "all events not caused by humans had to be as they are," then we are really taking on the problem of whether nature is absolutely determined, which I suspect is a completely unanswerable question (as it would require us "running the tape back" [to use Gould's phrase] to see if, were it all to happen again, everything would have wound up the same.) Since we obviously cannot do this - and we can only judge "what might have been" by thinking on it and making educated guesses, I am not sure we can ever give any iron-clad answer to whether contingency exists in nature.

But all we have to prove against Binswanger is that it is logically possible that things did not have to be as they are - not that contingency does exist, but that it COULD exist.

I have an idea: since Binswanger clearly recognizes that contingency exists as far as the human world is concerned - human action and human-made facts are contingent - then we might want to see if he can explain why he clearly see contingency at work there, but disallows for it when humans are not involved. (Are humans really the only existants that are not wholly determined, and if so, how does THAT work?)

Dr. Binswanger, Travis, et al.,

I’m not philosopher, so I’ll leave the driving to the pros, but as a long-time observer of Objectivism, I’ll make a few observations:

1. It is true that debates between Objectivists and non-Objectivists become rather heated. I myself have been on the receiving end of this. One Objectivist took to accusing me of being “dishonest,” “immoral,” etc. for politely criticizing his book. One need only peruse Objectivist blogs to see the level of nastiness directed at non-Objectivists.

2. While Objectivists are big on demanding civility and respect for their ideas, they overlook Rand’s attacks (often vicious) on anyone who disagreed with her. Even when her attacks weren’t nasty, the were often ill-informed. Take this classic from ITOE:

“As an illustration, observe what Bertrand Russell was able to perpetrate because people thought they ‘kinda knew’ the meaning of the concept of ‘number’ . . . .” (ITOE, pp. 50-51.)

Maybe a footnote to Russell would have helped?

3. Even if we should overlook Rand’s unfair attacks on others, this has been continued by her followers. For example, in Ominous Parallels, Peikoff accused Kant of being a pro-Nazi who dreamed of the Nazi concentration camps. (OP, p. 255.) In Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, he says “This book is written not for academics, but for human beings (including any academic who qualify).” (OPAR, p. xiv.) So far as I know, no Objectivists of the type who associate with the ARI have distanced themselves from this kind of rhetoric.

4. I realize that Dr. Binswanger and others have defended Rand’s uniqueness as far as her theory of concept formation is concerned. To the best of my knowledge, almost all of these defenses are on tape. If you are aware of any written defenses, then I’m sure everyone here would be interested. (Unfortunately, most Objectivist scholarship is available on taped lectures, not in writing.)

5. Objectivists love to have it both ways: Rand is popular because she writes so that the common man can understand; and her terminology and method is so unique that even professional philosophers won't understand it.

Matt Hart: thanks for your reasonably-worded, content-focused question.

Actually, although there are definitely some differences between your statements 1 and 2, I most certainly do not have the "intuition" that one is false in a "much stronger" way than the other. I just don't believe in different types of truth/falsity, and I guess my subconscious is sufficiently well-trained that my emotional responses to things are in accord with that belief. This goes back to the point that, while there are maybe different types of truths, there is only one type of *truth* (namely, correspondence with the facts). Likewise for falsehoods and falsehood.

I would be happy to elaborate on what I think some of the relevant differences between 1 and 2 are that I suspect are the root of your claimed (but, I think, mis-identified) "intuition." But first let me ask if you have read Peikoff's article on "The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy" since this is basically covered there.

Peter wrote:

"Bob,

"Set aside intuition for the moment or whatever it is that one relies upon in making such judgments.
(although I do think that intuition is actually very important in philosophy if afforded a proper role).

"Do you think that Matt's two examples (or others like them) are the same with respect to being false? Or do you think there is a difference between them?"

Of course there is a difference between them. There cannot be a square circle because the definitions of circle and square do not permit it. There may or may not be less than a trillion stars. That cannot be known until we count them. But I disagree with the way Matt set up the problem.

If I were posing Matt's problem, I would have worded (2) differently.

"(2) The number of stars (no matter what it is) could not have been different from what it is."

This is true based on deterministic natural laws.

Bill

I missed this before. You wrote:

"If nature is contingent, then its parts are contingent.
To say that nature is contingent is to say that its nonexistence is possible. Suppose that possibility is actual. Then nature does not exist. But nature is just the sum of its parts: it is just the sum total of spatiotemporal items interacting causally. So if nature does not exist, then none of its parts exist. Therefore, the contingency of nature extends to the parts of nature."

But that's the Fallacy of Combination, isn't it?
1) The Empire State Building is composed of atoms.

2) Before the Empire State Building was constructed, it didn't exist.

3)Therefore before the Empire State Building was constructed, none of its atoms existed.

Bill wrote:

"I grant that nature exists and exists independently of us. But this does not settle the question whether nature exists necessarily or contingently."

And:

"Does the nonexistence of nature involve a logical contradiction? To answer this question we consider the proposition Nature does not exist. Is this a logical contradiction? No it is not."

I beg to differ. "Nature does not exist" is the ultimate contradiction. "Nature" means "that which is, considered as a system." To say "That which is, is not"--well, you can't get more contradictory than that.

Further, does the proposition ("Nature does not exist") exist? If not, there is nothing said. If yes, then what does that presuppose? A proposition is a product of consciousness. Consciousness cannot exist without an object (to be conscious of). So the existence of something (to be conscious of)is inherent in the existence of consciousness and its propositional content.

Still further, consider the concepts that make up the proposition "Nature does not exist." Each word of that sentence is a concept (I grant that "does" is a difficult case.) Concepts can be formed only from perception. Perception involves the existence of a perceiver, which is a living organism, and things to perceive (i.e., a world).

Actually, there is no such concept as non-existence per se. "Non-existence" is a relative concept, pertaining to the absence of something specified, reached by contrast with something that does exist and which is different from what one is asserting not to exist. All negative concepts reduce to things being otherwise than a given idea posits them as being. (This is Plato's, correct, doctrine of "other-than" in The Sophist: "When we speak of 'that which is not,' it seems we do not mean something contrary to what exists but only something that is different." [257b])

Absolute non-existence is a meaningless term.

From the Workshops on Objectivist Epistemology:

Prof. A: Does the concept of "non-existence" refer only to an absence? Is there no valid concept of sheer non-being, of something that never was and never will be?

AR: That's right. Non-existence as such--particularly in the same generalized sense in which I use the term "existence" in saying "existence exists," that is, as the widest abstraction without yet specifying any content, or applying to all content--you cannot have the concept "non-existence" in that same fundamental way. In other words, you can't say this is something pertaining to the whole universe, to everything I know, and I don't say what. In other words, without specifying content.

You see, the concept of "existence" integrates all of the existents that you have perceived, without knowing all their characteristics. Whereas the concept of "non-existence" in that same psycho-epistemological position would be literally a blank. Non-existence--apart from what it is that doesn't exist--is an impossible concept. It's a hole--a literal blank, a zero.

It is precisely on the fundamental level of equating existence and non-existence as some kind of opposites that the greatest mistakes occur, as in Existentialism.

Harry wrote: "Consciousness cannot exist without an object (to be conscious of). So the existence of something (to be conscious of)is inherent in the existence of consciousness and its propositional content."

But Harry, that's not at all obvious. In case consciousness is immaterial, there's good reason to think one can be aware of his inner qualitative states regardless of what physical states exist.

Kathy wrote:

"Harry wrote: "Consciousness cannot exist without an object (to be conscious of). So the existence of something (to be conscious of)is inherent in the existence of consciousness and its propositional content."

But Harry, that's not at all obvious. In case consciousness is immaterial, there's good reason to think one can be aware of his inner qualitative states regardless of what physical states exist."

What is that good reason?

Bill wrote:

"Let's apply the result of the preceding section to the question whether the modal distinction between the necessary and the contingent applies outside the sphere of human volition. The followers of Ayn Rand maintain that it does not, that it applies only within the sphere of the man-made, the sphere of that which can be affected by human will and choice. Whether an argument is valid or invalid, however, is independent of human volition. If an argument is valid, then its corresponding conditional is a necessary truth, as explained above. If an argument is invalid, then its corresponding conditional is not a necessary truth, which is to say that it is possible that its antecedent be true and its consequent false.
Since the validity/invalidity of arguments is one-to-one with the necessity/contingency of the arguments' corresponding conditionals, and since the validity/invalidity of argument forms is idependent of human volition, it follows that the modal distinction of the necessary and the contingent applies outside the sphere of human volition contrary to what the followers of Rand claim."

I'm not clear on what you mean here. Are you saying that valid arguments are contingent?

A number of the posts by Objectivists make clear that they place great stress on a particular view of concepts. Concepts are abstractions, achieved through "measurement omission", of concretes given in perception. If an alleged concept, such as "bare logical possibility" or "absolute non-existence" cannot be derived through this process,the alleged concept is illegitimate.

Several works, such as the Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Peikoff's essay on the analytic-synthetic dichotomy, and Peikoff's book on Objectivism, offer a detailed account of this view of concepts. Unfortunately, no argument is ever given that the view is correct. It is simply taken for granted, once it has been presented.

David Gordon:
>Unfortunately, no argument is ever given that the (Objectivist view of concepts) is correct. It is simply taken for granted, once it has been presented.

This is true. In her ITOE Rand presents a series of assertions; other than some claims about the importance of her theories for the continued survival of mankind, and some vague ad hominems about other philosophers, that's about it. Many are obviously fallacious; for example, she claims that the "true" definitions of terms can be decided logically, when there is no way this can be done (At least, it can't be done using standard logic. Perhaps using Objectivist super-logic it can be). But there is little or nothing in the way of arguments.

Further, there is also little or nothing in the way of evidence that concept-formation works as Rand describes. It is claimed that sensations are built up automatically into perceptions; then these perceptions are built into abstractions, then abstractions of abstractions, then abstractions of abstractions of abstractions, and so forth. From the impact of photon on a retinal molecule all the way up the chain to abstractions such as "democracy" and "problem", apparently.

But there is not, as far as I am aware, a single empirical example of this "concept formation" process in action, all the way from go to whoa. The existence of these chains of "concept formation" are merely asserted. (It is also not enough to tell us that taxonomies exist; we knew that already).

David Gordon,

"Several works, such as the Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Peikoff's essay on the analytic-synthetic dichotomy, and Peikoff's book on Objectivism, offer a detailed account of this view of concepts. Unfortunately, no argument is ever given that the view is correct. It is simply taken for granted, once it has been presented."

In this piece by Allan Gotthelf . . .

http://www.bristol.ac.uk/metaphysicsofscience/naicpapers/gotthelf.pdf

. . . he cites two papers by Objectivist philosopher David Kelley that might be defenses of the Objectivist theory of concepts:

1. Kelley and Krueger, “The Psychology of Abstraction,” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 14 (1984), 43-67; and

2. Kelley, "A Theory of Abstraction," Cognition and Brain Theory 7 (1984), 329-57.

I haven't read these essays, but I'm curious if Dr. Binswanger has and, if so, what his opinion is.

The discussions of concept formation in Rand and Peikoff are for the most part limited to concepts such as tables and chairs, where the theory might have some plausibility. (Or perhaps better said, that is where the most detailed examples of how it might apply in practice are presented.) I am wondering if the theory works when it comes to conjunctions and more abstract concepts such as "justice" and "universe." What measurements are omitted when I form the concept "universe"?

All,

It was clear to some from the beginning, and is increasingly clear to me, that there is just no point in discussions with Objectivists.
For example, Matt Hart above asked whether there is any difference between the following two false propositions

1) There is a square circle
and
2) There are less than a trillion stars.

Objectivists apparently see no important difference here. Well, it is like this. If by 'square' we mean 'non-circular,' then (1) is false because logically self-contradictory. It is false in virtue of its logical form. The truth of (1) is ruled out by the law of noncontradiction. But the truth of (2) is not ruled out by the law of noncontradiction.

Is there any point in further discussion with people who will not grant such an obvious and important distinction? Not that I can see. Note that the analytic-synthetic distinction need not come into this at all. Change Matt's example slightly. For (1) substitute

1* There is an x such that x is both a circle and not a circle.

2. There are less than a trillion stars.

The point is then that (1*) is false in virtue of its logical form while (2) is not.

Travis says that there is only one type of truth, correspondence with the facts. Fine. Then (1*) logically cannot correspond to any fact while it is not the case that (2) logically cannot correspond to any fact.

Harry Binswanger above wrote: >>"Nature does not exist" is the ultimate contradiction. "Nature" means "that which is, considered as a system." To say "That which is, is not"--well, you can't get more contradictory than that.<<

I want to thank Harry for being civil and for contributing. He is head and shoulders above most of the other Objectivists who have shown up here. But I really can't see the point of any further discussion with him given what I have just quoted him as saying. About a dozen times now I have explained how Objectivists rig their terminology to get the result they want. But my explanations have been in vain since Harry is doing it all over again. Harry wants 'Nature does not exist' to be a formal-logical contradiction, a violation of the law of noncontradiction (LNC). So he decides that 'nature' shall mean 'that which is -- considered as a system.'

Clearly, 'That which exists does not exist' (and its equivalents) is a formal-logical contradiction. But there is no good reason to accept Harry's arbitrary and question-begging stipulation as to the meaning of 'nature.' I have gone over this ground already and there is no need to go over it again.

Objectivists say too many thing that are either false or incoherent or confused or unsupported by argument. Here is another example from Harry above: "Consciousness cannot exist without an object (to be conscious of)." It is easy to grant that every consciousness is a consciousness of an object. But it does not follow that every consciousness is a consciousness of an object that exists. I'll explain this in more detail in a separate post.

Quoting: "Objectivists say too many thing that are either false or incoherent or confused or unsupported by argument. Here is another example from Harry above: "Consciousness cannot exist without an object (to be conscious of)." It is easy to grant that every consciousness is a consciousness of an object. But it does not follow that every consciousness is a consciousness of an object that exists. I'll explain this in more detail in a separate post."

It seems to me you wish to make an argument that one can be conscious of things that do not exist physically in the world while at the same time avoiding the theory of concept formation which eventually leads to the power of abstraction: the process of concept formation is irrefutably tied to the physical world. Without a physical world, your consciousness is useless.

"Without a physical world, your consciousness is useless."

That seems to assume the falsity of idealism straight off the bat. Since idealism isn't obviously false, your suggestions can't be taken as obviously true.

Bill wrote:

"But the truth of (2) is not ruled out by the law of noncontradiction."

Yes, it is. Let's rephrase (2) slightly to make the point clearer:

(2') The physical world contains less than a trillion stars.

Now "the physical world" refers to something, one of whose attributes is containing a heck of a lot more than a trillion stars. So (2') is equivalent to: "Something, one of whose attributes is containing a heck of a lot more than a trillion stars, contains less than a trillion stars." That is indeed ruled out by the law of noncontradiction.

What's at issue here is this: what do you consider to be included in the meaning of S when you say "S is P"? According to Objectivism, and as Bill knows (or ought to know) perfectly well since he has read (or has claimed to have read) Peikoff's article on this, the meaning of S is the actual facts of reality that S refers to. So if S is a concept, S refers to the units of that concept, the actual referred-to objects in reality, including *all* of their attributes, known and unknown alike, included-in-the-definition and not-so-included alike, etc. Likewise, if S is some kind of proper noun (or the equivalent), we include all of the relevant facts about that particular in the meaning of S. Hence, for example, "Travis is 6 feet tall" is self-contradictory because the object in reality referred to by "Travis" has, as one of his attributes, being only about 5'4".

Of course, this will strike those used to the analytic-synthetic distinction as bizarre and confused. They will say: but to *know* this, you have to actually go look at the world to find out how tall Travis is, so although in principle you can speak as if "Travis is 6 feet tall" is self-contradictory (as I have done above), there is a still a clear distinction between those propositions which can be known to be false *without* going and looking at reality, and those which can be known to be false *only* by going and looking at reality.

But this is precisely the distinction Objectivism rejects. All knowledge, even that there is no such thing as a square circle, is ultimately based on looking at reality. The only distinction here is between items whose truth status can be inferred from what you happen to already know (or whatever subset of that you arbitrarily decide to include in the *meaning* of the relevant terms), vs items the establishing of whose truth value requires going back to the well. But, at best, that just comes down to a distinction between what is currently known and what is currently unknown -- which is certainly no basis for underwriting some kind of allegedly fundamental epistemological (or worse: metaphysical) distinction, along with all of the ridiculous historical consequences, the connotation that there is some ultimate source of knowledge other than observation of reality, etc.

Note that this is also the answer to Bill's charge that Objectivists "rig their terminology". When Harry says that "Nature" denotes "that which is, considered as a system" he is not rigging the terminology or even trying to stipulate the meaning of "Nature." He is, rather, taking for granted that everyone here is mature and intelligent enough to already understand the meaning of that term, and simply reminding us that one of the relevant facts about Nature -- and hence one of the things included in the *meaning* of that term -- is that Nature exists. Anybody who doesn't grant that needs to get out of the philosophy classroom and go back to pre-school -- or perhaps the psych ward at the local hospital.

Leaving aside that "Nature" is not really a concept (but more like a proper noun), Bill's view is evidently that the meaning of that term is limited to whatever is explicitly stated in the definition (or some analogous description for proper nouns). It's then, I guess he thinks, simply a matter of arbitrary choice whether a given person chooses to include the fact of its existence in the relevant definition/description. Even if we grant that, one thing is obvious: it's hardly fair of Bill to criticize Harry for "rigging terminology" in order to make "Nature doesn't exist" come out as a violation of the law of non-contradiction. Bill's counter-proposal -- to remain agnostic about Nature's existence in so far as its official definition/description is concerned, such that "Nature doesn't exist" comes out as a mere contingency -- would of course be based on equally "rigged" terminology.

But in granting that we of course grant too much. Valid terms (both concepts and proper nouns) refer to real things in reality, and those real things are what the terms mean. There is simply no reasonable grounds for dividing up the attributes of (or facts about) the referents into a specially-privileged class to be included in the term's meaning, and another low-grade class to be excluded, and then creating grand metaphysical/epistemological distinctions on the basis of that ultimately arbitrary classification.

Matt,

Idealism is not being ruled out from the start. The question is: Is consciousness dependent on physical reality. If the answer is "no", then Idealism is not ruled out. All one has to do then is demonstrate that consciousness does not depend on physical reality. Let's look at a test case. Do you think that an infant born with no sensory input whatsoever can be conscious?

Bill,

I think that there is a difference between (1)There is a squar circle and (2)There are less than a trillion stars, and I have already said so. It is impossible for (1) to be correct.(2) depends on people doing a good job counting the stars and people can make mistakes. That being the case, your objection does not apply to me.

I also said that (2) is beside the point. What (2) should really say is: (2*) No matter what the number of actual stars at a given time, it had to be. THAT is the real issue here. Is the non-human Universe ruled by deterministic natural laws that permit no exception? This issue predates objectivism by several centuries.

Matt wrote: >>"Without a physical world, your consciousness is useless." That seems to assume the falsity of idealism straight off the bat. Since idealism isn't obviously false, your suggestions can't be taken as obviously true.<<

You're right, Matt. But it is even worse than that. There are passages in Rand/Peikoff where they seem to be saying that every consciousness is a consciousness of an existent object, which is plainly false. They equivocate on 'object.' They fail to grasp that an intentional object may or may not exist.

Bill,

You wrote: "Objectivists say too many thing that are either false or incoherent or confused or unsupported by argument."

I feel your pain! Objectivism's failings seem to run so deep it is hard to know where to begin. It's like arguing with freshers who insist that the fact that the situations outlined in thought experiments are so unlikely constitutes a sufficient rebuttal of arguments based on them. Like the Objectivists here, they just don't "get it".

Incidentally, no-one has really heard of Rand over here in the U.K. and I am quite thankful for that.

Travis,

You wrote: " There is simply no reasonable grounds for dividing up the attributes of (or facts about) the referents into a specially-privileged class to be included in the term's meaning, and another low-grade class to be excluded, and then creating grand metaphysical/epistemological distinctions on the basis of that ultimately arbitrary classification. "

But there are such grounds, namely, those attributes available a priori to the subject and those that aren't. Now maybe you think this distinction doesn't do any work, but you must surely agree that such a distinction can be made. But if it can be made then, calling your concept of "concept" (where the concept of some object O, say, will include all of O's properties) C1, we can formulate another notion of concept (C2) where the concept of some object O will include all and only those properties accessible a priori to the subject who employs the concept.

Now the question becomes: which of the two accounts of concepts is better? C1 or C2?

I think C2 is better because of reasons like the following. Suppose we are hunters living around 1000 AD. Someone from a nearby village tells us that a unicorn has been spotted in the woods (neither of us know that unicorns don't exist - it's only 1000 AD), and we set out to hunt it.

Now on C1 it is part of the meaning of the term "unicorn" that it doesn't exist (because that is a fact about unicorns). But if we, as hunters, could understand the term "unicorn" (as we surely must - how else could we understand the villager's report and decide to go out and hunt it?), then surely we would also understand that a unicorn didn't exist. But then no-one would ever have bothered to hunt a unicorn, and the fact that people nevertheless did is excellent evidence that the concept of unicorn (or at least that concept employed in 1000 AD) didn't include the idea of its non-existence. But then C1 is false, so we need another account and C2 accounts for the above much better.

The problem with your theory is that it entails that one can understand the meaning of some term T while not understanding everything that is part of that meaning. That runs counter to my (rather internalist) intuitions.

Matt.

Bill,

You wrote: "Objectivists say too many thing that are either false or incoherent or confused or unsupported by argument."

I feel your pain! Objectivism's failings seem to run so deep it is hard to know where to begin. It's like arguing with freshers who insist that the fact that the situations outlined in thought experiments are so unlikely constitutes a sufficient rebuttal of arguments based on them. Like the Objectivists here, they just don't "get it".

Incidentally, no-one has really heard of Rand over here in the U.K. and I am quite thankful for that.

Travis,

You wrote: " There is simply no reasonable grounds for dividing up the attributes of (or facts about) the referents into a specially-privileged class to be included in the term's meaning, and another low-grade class to be excluded, and then creating grand metaphysical/epistemological distinctions on the basis of that ultimately arbitrary classification. "

But there are such grounds, namely, those attributes available a priori to the subject and those that aren't. Now maybe you think this distinction doesn't do any work, but you must surely agree that such a distinction can be made. But if it can be made then, calling your concept of "concept" (where the concept of some object O, say, will include all of O's properties) C1, we can formulate another notion of concept (C2) where the concept of some object O will include all and only those properties accessible a priori to the subject who employs the concept.

Now the question becomes: which of the two accounts of concepts is better? C1 or C2?

I think C2 is better because of reasons like the following. Suppose we are hunters living around 1000 AD. Someone from a nearby village tells us that a unicorn has been spotted in the woods (neither of us know that unicorns don't exist - it's only 1000 AD), and we set out to hunt it.

Now on C1 it is part of the meaning of the term "unicorn" that it doesn't exist (because that is a fact about unicorns). But if we, as hunters, could understand the term "unicorn" (as we surely must - how else could we understand the villager's report and decide to go out and hunt it?), then surely we would also understand that a unicorn didn't exist. But then no-one would ever have bothered to hunt a unicorn, and the fact that people nevertheless did is excellent evidence that the concept of unicorn (or at least that concept employed in 1000 AD) didn't include the idea of its non-existence. But then C1 is false, so we need another account and C2 accounts for the above much better.

The problem with your theory is that it entails that one can understand the meaning of some term T while not understanding everything that is part of that meaning. That runs counter to my (rather internalist) intuitions.

Matt.

Bob,

"Do you think that an infant born with no sensory input whatsoever can be conscious?"

I think so - I think they can be self conscious. How about you? But I think any empirical argument that idealism is false will beg the question.

Matt.

Matt,

You wrote regarding an infant with no sensory input whatsoever: "I think they can be self-conscious." But no sensory input whatsoever includes all sensory input from the body. So how can they be self-conscious?

You also wrote: "I think any empirical argument that idealism is false will beg the question." But doesn't that make idealism immune from falsification?

All,

Bob,

I don't identify the body with the self, so sensory input from the body is unnecessary for a conception of the self. (Logically, anyway.)

"But doesn't that make idealism immune from falsification?" Empirical/scientific falsification, yes. But not necessarily philosophical falsification - G.E. Moore is supposed to have presented some influential arguments against idealism. If they work it would be a good reason not to be an idealist.

Matt.

Hi Matt. You wrote that "there are such grounds [for separating the attributes of entities into high- and low-grade classes], namely, those attributes available a priori to the subject and those that aren't."

It's news to me that any attributes of anything are available a priori. Could you give me a couple of examples of attributes that are available a priori, and a couple that aren't, for (say) the referents of "cat", "table", "nature", and "consciousness"?

Matt,

You wrote: "I don't identify the body with the self, so sensory input from the body is unnecessary for a conception of the self. (Logically, anyway.)"

So then an infant born with no sensory input at all (including bodily sensations) can still "logically" have a sense of self. How does that work?

And how would one be able falsify idealism philosophically? Do you have that Moore reference at hand?

Travis writes,

>>"But the truth of (2) is not ruled out by the law of noncontradiction."

Yes, it is. Let's rephrase (2) slightly to make the point clearer:

(2') The physical world contains less than a trillion stars.

Now "the physical world" refers to something, one of whose attributes is containing a heck of a lot more than a trillion stars. So (2') is equivalent to: "Something, one of whose attributes is containing a heck of a lot more than a trillion stars, contains less than a trillion stars." That is indeed ruled out by the law of noncontradiction.<<

Here is the actual example provide by Matt:

2. There are less than a trillion stars.

My claim was that (2) is not ruled out by LNC. You say it is. But then you proceed by changing the example to

2'. The physical world contains less than a trillion stars.

Changing the subject is not wise tactic if you are trying to rebut a specific claim. And surely it is clear that (2) and (2') do not express the same proposition. The first says that the totality of what exists contains fewer than a trillion stars. ('Fewer' is the right word, not 'less' but I am quoting Matt.) The second says that the physical world contains fewer than a trillion stars. Since one cannot assume that the totality of what exists = the physical world, one cannot legitimately replace (2) with (2') in an attempt to rebut a claim about (2).

That is one problem. A second problem is that you think (2') is equivalent to

2''. Something that contains more than a trillion stars contains fewer than a trillion stars.

Of course, we agree that (2'') is ruled out by LNC. But (2') is not equivalent to (2''). The physical world is the totality of what exists in spacetime. Therefore, (2') is not ruled out by LNC: the claim that the totality of what exists in spacetime contains exactly a trillion stars or more than a trillion is not a formal-logical contradiction.

Your inability to appreciate this simple point I find astonishing, along with your inability to grasp the difference between a formal-logical truth and an analytic truth.

The notion that the existence of nature exactly as actually configured is built into the very meaning of 'nature' ignores the crucial distinction between the sense and reference of terms, a distinction essential to clear thinking. If your ideology denies this distinction, then so much the worse for it: it is another reason why so few professional philosophers take it seriously.

Given the various mistakes you have just made, and having read the rest of what you have written I am reinforced in my view that there is no point in any further discussion with you. So please no more comments.

But thanks for the insight into how the Objectivist mind operates.

Bill,

How come you are excluding Travis? For "mistakes"? That doesn't sound appropriate.

Getting to the substantive point, you say:

"Of course, we agree that (2'') is ruled out by LNC. But (2') is not equivalent to (2'')."?

2': The physical world contains less than a trillion stars.

2'' Something that contains more than a trillion stars contains fewer than a trillion stars.

First, I don't think the locution "ruled out by the Law of Non-Contradiction" is the right one for our discussion. It's too epistemological. What we need to decide is whether or not something is impossible. And doesn't that mean: involves a contradiction?

If the referent of "the physical world" is that world out there--which world does contain more than a trillion stars--then 2' and 2'' are referentially equivalent. Is it required for the purposes of this argument that they be equivalent in regard to Fregean "sense"? I don't think so, because we are arguing metaphysics here, not epistemology.

The metaphysical question is: is everything that happens in the physical universe (excluding human action and its effects) necessary? (In what follows, I use "the physical universe" to mean what Ayn Rand calls "the metaphysically given"--i.e., with the proviso excluding human action.)

Assume, for the moment, that the existence of more than a trillion stars was physically necessitated; if so, then it would be irrelevant whether the contrary assertion is false because it contains an "internal" contradiction or is false because it contains an "external" (referential) contradiction.

So I'm arguing that we don't need here to debate the Morning Star/Evening Star thing--it doesn't matter to our discussion. The real issue we are arguing about is whether there are in nature any non-necessitated events--meaning by this, events whose opposite does not involve a contradiction (whether a self-contradiction or a contradiction in regard to referred-to conditions).

Someone (you?) said earlier that he could accept that the physical universe is deterministic and still maintain there are non-necessary things or events in it. I disagree. I think there's an absolute dichotomy between:

1. The physical universe is deterministic.

and

2. Some aspect of the physical universe could have been otherwise.

(1) implies the negation of (2), because (1) fleshed out is:

For every x, if x is an aspect of the physical universe, then x could not have been otherwise.

"Could not have been otherwise" (in my view) means: "to be otherwise involves a contradiction." I do not say: involves an internal/sense-based/apriori contradiction"--just some contradiction.

E.g., a contradiction is involved in: "Barack Obama is short" because, in fact, Barack Obama is not short.

Is it relevant to our discussion of "necessity" that someone doesn't know that Obama is tall? Or that he can't reason from his present knowledge of Obama to anything about Obama's height?

A fundamental issue has been raised here about whether there could be self-consciousness without any sensory contact with existence.

This is of the utmost importance. It is the issue Ayn Rand calls "the primacy of existence vs. the primacy of consciousness."

Our view, "the primacy of existence," holds that consciousness is inherently relational, or "intentional." There is no consciousness of nothing. Consciousness must have an object. If so, could there be consciousness only of the contents of consciousness (i.e., pure, absolute self-consciousness)?

No, because to be a content of consciousness, it has to be a content of consciousness of something.

One can be conscious of one's consciousness, through introspection. But introspection presupposes extrospection. One can introspect only after one has perceived existence; until then, one is not conscious and there is nothing to introspect. Consciousness precedes self-consciousness.

"A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something." (Rand)

To "identify itself as consciousness" requires making the distinction between subject and object, between self and the world, which presupposes that there is a world.

The opposite view, the primacy of consciousness, was injected into post-Renaissance philosophy by Descartes. He recognized that consciousness must have an object, but raised the possibility that this object might itself be mental, not external. "What if," he asked, in effect, "all that I am ever aware of are experiences inside my own mind, not external reality? How do I even know that there is an external reality?" He considered the existence of his consciousness to be axiomatic, but the existence of existence to be non-axiomatic, problematical.

But to identify something as "an experience in my mind," I have to contrast my mental experiences with something else. Without the contrast between the internal and the external, "internal" loses its meaning.

"Everything is internal" is an incoherent statement, one that contains an implicit contradiction. "Everything is in my mind" likewise renders "my mind" meaningless. It is only the contrast between existence and consciousness that makes the concept "consciousness" possible.

(The last six paragraphs are from my almost-forthcoming book on consciousness.)

I've remained silent, until now, about two issues that Harry has just brought to the fore; determinism and consciousness. I don't have a great deal to say about either of them, except that I don't think metaphysicians should adopt inflexible positions on these topics.

I don't know on what basis one would decide that certain processes are deterministic but chaotic rather then genuinely random. And I don't know that human volition is incompatible with determinism. I think open-mindedness is in order, with respect to both the nature of causality and the nature of volition.

As for consciousness, I'm skeptical of any claims regarding the primacy of either consciousness or existence. And it's not like those alternatives exhaust the field! Whither neutral monism?

Bill wrote:

"But it is even worse than that. There are passages in Rand/Peikoff where they seem to be saying that every consciousness is a consciousness of an existent object, which is plainly false. They equivocate on 'object.' They fail to grasp that an intentional object may or may not exist."

The ability to be conscious of imaginary or non-existent objects depends on prior contact with existent, non-imaginary objects. An infant born with no sensory awareness whatsoever would not be conscious of any objects. I also take issue with your above wording. If they "seem to be saying" something false, then shouldn't the conclusion be that they "seem" to fail to grasp some point?

Harry B:
>E.g., a contradiction is involved in: "Barack Obama is short" because, in fact, Barack Obama is not short.

This is just completely wrong. Barack Obama is short compared to the Empire State Building. There is nothing contradictory

Thus, your argument reduces to one over the definition of terms. ie what do you mean by "short", "tall", etc. Unfortunately, contrary to what Rand claimed, the definition of terms is not logically decidable. It leads to the same infinite regress of statements that Aristotle observed, a definition being a kind of statement itself.

If this is your position, I am afraid it is quite hopeless.

Professor Binswanger's defense of the primacy of existence over consciousness is open to objection. Acts of consciousness are intentional, but it does not follow from this that all consciousness is intentional. He rightly notes that Descartes and other philosophers have argued that experiences---to be sharply differentiated from acts of experiencing---can be the objects of consciousness. He rejects this view but fails to deploy any arguments against it. His claim that in order to identify something as an internal experience, it must be contrasted with something else is not the point. If he is right, this shows only that someone who had only internal experiences would not know they are internal. It does not show that they could not be all internal.

The claim that "everything is internal" is contradictory, because "internal" takes its meaning only by contrast with "external" is an example of the familiar paradigm case argument. This is nowadays generally rejected among the analytic philosophers whom Objectivists disdain, and for good reason. It is vulnerable to counterexamples. The statement, "Every object is identical with itself" is not rendered contradictory by the fact that there are no objects with the contrasting property of not being identical with themselves.

David Gordeon wrote an amusing amphiboly:

"This is nowadays generally rejected among the analytic philosophers whom Objectivists disdain, and for good reason."

I'll post a fuller reply to his post, anon, but let me here just reply to this:

"Acts of consciousness are intentional, but it does not follow from this that all consciousness is intentional."

Right--it does not follow deductively from it. Rather, "consciousness is intentional" (or: "all actions of consciousness have an object") is not a deduction from anything. It is an induction, based on considering all the various actions of consciousness. E.g., to sensorily perceive is to sensorily perceive something, to remember is to remember something, to think is to think something, etc. Even to fantasize is to fantasize about something. The object does not always exist outside the mind (as dream images don't), but a) even when they don't, they still exist as content, as the "of what" for the conscious activity, and b) such images are derived from stored material resulting from prior awareness of external reality.

David Gordon,

It is good to have you here, and not just because we seem to be 'on the same page.' I wonder if you mean 'contrast argument' rather than 'paradigm case argument.' You and I have agreed in the past that contrast arguments are not probative. And I see above that Harry Binswanger is employing a contrast argument. So it looks as if I should resurrect and redo my old posts on contrast arguments.

Does it strike you as it strikes me that several objectivist arguments are retorsive? Retortion, too, is a somewhat dubious procedure.

As for intentionality, I deny that every conscious state exhibits intentionality. I've got an old post on that too which I should dust off.

More importantly, does it strike you as it strikes me that when Harry says above that "Consciousness must have an object" that he is equivocating on 'object'? Even if we assume that every consciousness is object-directed, it does not follow that every consciousness is directed to an existing object. Wanting is an intentional state: one cannot want without wanting something. But if I want a matter transmitter it doesn't follow that there exists an x such that I want x & x is a matter transmitter.

Do you get the impression that I regularly get from these Objectivists, namely, that they try to get by theft what must be gotten by honest toil, to use a Russellian turn of phrase? For example, it is extremely plausible that "Consciousness must have an object" if 'object' means 'intentional object.' But then by confusing 'object' in this sense with 'object' in the sense of 'existent,' the Objectivists convince themselves that they have proven a substantive thesis when they have done no such thing.

I noted the amphiboly to which Professor Binswanger draws attention too late to correct it. I meant "generally, rejected, with good reason, by the analytic philosophers whom Objectivists disdain", not that the Objectivists have good reason to disdain these philosophers.

I think that Bill's last paragraph gets exactly right what is amiss with Professor Binswanger's response to my comment. He has not shown, but simply asserted, that every image derives from something external. I don't say that this is false; just that he has not shown it to be true.

An additional point is that even if it were correct to claim that not all consciousness can be internal, this would not suffice to show that there can be no consciousness that does not ultimately derive from external perception. So long as one sometimes perceived the external world, one would have the contrast between "internal" and "external" on which Binswanger insists.

Bill is of course right that I should have spoken of a contrast argument, rather than a paradigm case argument.

David G and Harry B,

I have put up a new post on contrast arguments. It incorporates David's point about self-identity and discusses Prof Binswanger's contrast argument briefly near the end.

Daniel Barnes,

I agree with you that Binswanger is mistaken when he says that >>a contradiction is involved in: "Barack Obama is short" because, in fact, Barack Obama is not short.<< But I don't think you have put your finger on why he is wrong. The reason is that the logical form of 'Obama is short,' namely, Fa admits of both true and false substitution instances. It is false, but not self-contradictory, to say that Obama is short.

David Gordon wrote:

"Professor Binswanger's defense of the primacy of existence over consciousness is open to objection. Acts of consciousness are intentional, but it does not follow from this that all consciousness is intentional."

True. One could have unfocused anxiety, for example. In that case, there would be no intentional object.

David continued: "He rightly notes that Descartes and other philosophers have argued that experiences---to be sharply differentiated from acts of experiencing---can be the objects of consciousness. He rejects this view but fails to deploy any arguments against it. His claim that in order to identify something as an internal experience, it must be contrasted with something else is not the point. If he is right, this shows only that someone who had only internal experiences would not know they are internal. It does not show that they could not be all internal."

What sort of internal experiences would someone have if they were born with no working sensory apparatus? Helen Keller had a difficult time learning and she was deprived of only two senses. Descartes didn't start from ground zero. He had already learned a lot about the world from childhood on. In fact, if hadn't learned from external experiences, he could have never said "Cogito, ergo sum" (because, for one thing, he could not have learned Latin). I forget who first reversed Decartes' famous statement, but "Sum, ergo cogito" is certainly in better accord with physical reality.

Would you say it is PHYSICALLY possible for someone born with no working sensory apparatus to have internal experiences? If so, what sort of experiences would these be?

Interesting post! It's too bad I do not have the time to consider all the many replies in this thread.

My own thoughts is that you (perhaps accidentally) equivocate on the notion of "truth" here. You mean here in your argument a statement corresponding to reality directly; however, you treat the contingency of reality in your post more as a mathematical postulate, and bank on the notion that you mean a metaphysical consideration.

But the second you consider the metaphysical, you must begin with what's given. Now, I'm not able to call myself an Objectivist (I am so close to one that I once quipped that Ayn Rand would consider me one of her worst enemies) so I can't represent that position with authority, but perhaps this is what Objectivists mean. To speak of metaphysics at all, you must presuppose that it necessarily exists; without such, where would necessity come from anyway, as you assert? Without a basis in ultimate reality, if nature is contingent, then you gotta accept the Vertical Cosmological Argument for God's Existence, i.e. the one where God maintains nature at each moment.

Nature is. Period. That's the ultimate axiom, my friend. Thanks for the thought-exercise, looking forward to a response :)

HB,

Question: Are all conscious states intentional?

1) Among other properties, intentionality is object-directed (as BillV said). It should be fairly obvious that from the fact that an intentional state is object directed it does not logically follow that the object in question exists. i.e.,

(a) I wish to find the holly grail;
Therefore,
(b) There exists a holly grail which I wish to find.

2) Suppose (a) is true. Wishing to find the holly-grail is clearly an intentional state. (b) certainly could be false, because the holly grail might not exist. So there are circumstances (truth-value assignment) according to which (a) is true and (b) false. Hence, this inference is invalid.

3) It is a very good thing that inferences of the sort (a)/(b) are not sanctioned by logic because if they were, then we could prove the existence of all sorts of objects just by examining someone's intentional states. Are there UFOs? Sure, Joe was just searching for one. Are there ghosts? Sure, three people came to Jerome in order to find some ghosts in town. Are there infinitely many twin-primes (I believe this is still an open question in mathematics)? Sure, a couple of mathematicians at Standford were working on a proof about that. So Harry B. must really explain his position without committing himself to inferences such as (a)/(b). Perhaps he can.

(4) As for the above question: It would seem fairly clear that not all conscious states are intentional. Suppose I have a toothache. Clearly my toothache is a conscious state (I certainly know it is conscious given the terrible pain I feel). But my toothache is not object directed. It is a state of my body that I am (in this case unfortunately) definitely conscious of, but it is not directed outside of itself to anything. It is just there (unfortunately for me!).

peter

Peter,

I agree with you on both of your main points. But note that 'holy' has but one 'l.' 'Holly' is something else again.

Binswanger cannot possibly believe that every intentional object exists. Being the charitable guy that you know me to be, I cannot ascribe such an absurdity to him. What he must mean is something like this: There would not be any intentional states if NO intentional objects existed. Although it is OBVIOUSLY false that every intentional state has an existing object, it is not obviously false that intentional consciousness would not exist if nothing transcendent of consciousness existed.

But then we need a good argument. We have seen that a contrast argument won't cut it.

Bill,

In interesting proposal. I think Harry B. should consider your way out very seriously.

Suppose there is consciousness floating in a void, a mind without a body, and it keeps reflecting upon itself. Its intentional states, meager as they might be, do have an object. Is this metaphysically impossible?

peter

Bill,

Yes, thanks Bill for the charitable (and largely correct) reading. I don't maintain that every object (or, better word here: content) of consciousness implies a corresponding referent in the external world. I do hold that every object/content of consciousness is either: a) (some aspect of) the external world, or b) a mind's re-arrangement of material coming from the external world.

This is "official" Objectivism, too. E.g.:

"Directly or indirectly, every phenomenon of consciousness is derived from one's awareness of the external world. Some object, i.e., some content, is involved in every state of awareness. Extrospection is a process of cognition directed outward--a process of apprehending some existent(s) of the external world. Introspection is a process of cognition directed inward--a process of apprehending one's own psychological actions in regard to some existent(s) of the external world, such actions as thinking, feeling, reminiscing, etc. It is only in relation to the external world that the various actions of a consciousness can be experienced, grasped, defined or communicated. Awareness is awareness of something. A content-less state of consciousness is a contradiction in terms." (ITOE, p. 29)

Peter poses the very case we want to address:

"Suppose there is consciousness floating in a void, a mind without a body, and it keeps reflecting upon itself. Its intentional states, meager as they might be, do have an object. Is this metaphysically impossible?"

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. That this is metaphysically impossible--indeed completely incoherent--is our main point. I've argued this in earlier posts. The essential points were:

1. There can't be such a consciousness. (See below for why)

2. The statement "There's a consciousness conscious only of itself" is meaningless--it "steals" the concept of consciousness.

The argument is very simple. Consider this parallel:

Suppose there is a copy-machine which copies only its own earlier copies; there never was any original put into it (and nothing from other machines is put into it). Do you agree that this is "metaphysically impossible" and epistemologically un-thinkable?

It is impossible for everything to be a copy, with nothing having ever been an original. In the same way it is impossible for every state of a consciousness to be a reflection upon its own content. What content? Reflection upon its own intentional states? Intentional states . . . regarding what?

If I can get agreement on this denial of pure self-consciousness, then we've really got a solid foundation for all further discussion.

Professor Binswanger has begged the question. He wants to show that every content of consciousness is either some item in the external world or a re-arrangement of material coming from the external world. To prove this, he rightly points out that a copy-machine can't copy only copies with no original; by analogy, the contents of a mind can't consist only of reflection on its own intentional states. But this leaves out the possibility that the mind can have non-intentional states that serve as the basis for the reflective states. It hasn't been shown that such states must derive from the external world. Binswanger has wrongly taken Peter Lupu's phrase "reflecting on itself" to mean "reflecting on its own intentional states".

Even if one grants Binswanger that the contents of every human mind consist either of objects in the external world or re-arrangements of these objects, this still does not suffice to prove the primacy of existence over consciousness, as Objectivists understand that doctrine. The view about contents doesn't rule out a variant of Berkeley's idealism, in which the external objects that humans perceive are composed of ideas in the mind of God. Of course Objectivists think that the concept of God is incoherent, but that is another argument.

David Gordon wrote, in answer to my copy-machine example:

"But this leaves out the possibility that the mind can have non-intentional states that serve as the basis for the reflective states. It hasn't been shown that such states must derive from the external world."

So we are here considering the case of my experiencing state S, where S is "internal," like a dream. But dreams are intentional. I dream of something. Often I dream of something that has no direct external referent. Say I dream of a green whale. I am still dreaming about something, but am I dreaming about what does not exist outside my mind? In a sense yes, in a sense no. Green and whales exist outside my mind, but not combined. Could a congenitally blind man dream of something green? Well, I asked one, whom I had as a student, and he said he'd never had a visual dream. But for our purposes, we want a stronger argument than that. Here it is.

There are indeed non-intentional existents that are objects of consciousness: things of the external world. When I look at a tree, the tree is a non-intentional object of my awareness. But what would be a non-intentional object (or content) of my consciousness that counts as "internal" or "mental"--i.e., as mind-dependent?

If a state S is to be described as a state of my consciousness, then doesn't S have to be a state of my consciousness of something?

Wittgenstein said that a pure idealism carried out sufficiently is indistinguishable from realism, and he was right: in order to say, "Wait, no, the S one is aware of here is an 'internal' S," one has to show that it is different from the external S's. That means, one has to show it is or is derivative from acts of being conscious, not just from possessing a faculty of consciousness. (The faculty of consciousness includes things that aren't "in" consciousness, such as the sense organs.)

If you look at your hand, you are looking at "yourself" in one sense, but not in the sense required for our argument. Your hand is, of course, part of the external, mind-independent world. The same would be true, I think, for any non-intentional thing that becomes an object to consciousness. It would be mind-independent, like your hand. An existent that doesn't derive, however indirectly, from awareness couldn't be called "mental." The existent would exist prior to and independent of every act of consciousness.

Doesn't the "consciousness only of consciousness" view come from the "mental theater" model rightly derided by Ryle? Isn't the model the notion that consciousness is a homunculus looking at things on an inner stage, so we can ask: "Well, why can't there be things that are on the inner stage without having come in from anywhere? Why can't they just be there?"

Consciousness is the faculty of awareness of existence; it can introspect (Ryle would say retrospect) its own actions and its awareness-produced contents, and it can re-arrange them in imagination. But the faculty of awareness gets its materials from awareness. And awareness is awareness of something.

Professor Binswanger,

Thanks for your excellent response. I think there is an equivocation here on the meaning of "consciousness". On the one hand, you acknowledge that there are internal items of awareness, like dreams. On the other hand, you seem to want to confine consciousness to acts of awareness: the dream images are then external to the acts of consciousness that perceive them. Granted: but this does not show that they are external to the mind altogether. Consciousness must indeed be consciousness of something; but you have yet to show that the something cannot be internal.

"What would be a non-intentional object (or content)of my consciousness that counts as 'internal' or 'mental'--i.e., as mind dependent?" Your own case of a dream provides a good example. Of course you say that dreams are re-arrangements of objects in the external world, but what philosophical argument proves this must be so? (Note that even if all objects of the dream exist in the external world, this does not show that they derive from the external world.)

I had the Wittgenstein quotation in mind in one of my earlier posts: if the point of the quotation is correct, it would show no more than that the person conscious only of internal data would not know this, not that his consciousness could not be all internal. Further, even if it were the case that not all content could be internal, that would not show that some content could not be both internal and underived.

The "consciousness only of consciousness" view was derided by Ryle, but whether he advanced any good arguments against it is another matter. I should say that I am not arguing that the view is correct, only that Objectivists haven't refuted it.

That should, of course be, "Note that even if the images in the dream all resemble objects in the external world. . . ."

"I had the Wittgenstein quotation in mind in one of my earlier posts: if the point of the quotation is correct, it would show no more than that the person conscious only of internal data would not know this, not that his consciousness could not be all internal."

Okay, then you agree that the following first-person report is incoherent:

"All I am ever aware of is images in my own mind."

I cannot meaningfully deny my own consciousness. I can deny yours, or his. So haven't we now eliminated "the problem of the external world" and have left only "the problem of other minds"?

Also, I do want to argue that "He is and always was conscious of nothing outside his own mind," is contradictory. But that's separate, I think.

Let me now to turn to that. Can anybody's consciousness be self-contained (vs. whether it could identify itself as such).

I think this is the issue of whether consciousness can generate its own content.

On standard conceptions of causality, nihil ex nihilo. So out of what and by what means would this content be generated. Whence the content of the experience?

If the cause of his content is not external, and not recombined stuff that came in from the external world (colors, shapes, smells, etc.), then what is it?

If you grant that every mental content must be caused by something, then the cause has to involve one of two things: another action of consciousness (as when you review your prior thought-process, or remember perceived things) or something different. The first possibility reduces to copies of copies, so it supports the Objectivist position. On the other hand, if the cause/material of that content does not result from states of awareness (ultimately of the external world), by what right can we call that content "mental"?

Now you might say that it is mental if it has no corresponding object in the world. But that would be unwarranted. Ex hypothesi, it has a really existing cause, so the issue resolves to: can we call that cause of the, say, image a mental thing? I say no. The cause would be something neural. And in that sense, it would still be consciousness of the external world, just in a weird (cognitively unusueable) form. If a neurologist stimulates your visual cortex, you have the experience of seeing a flash of light. What you are aware of, in an unsual form, is the action of the electrode on your brain. (I can expand on this, if you like.)

And do you endorse the hypothetical: if dreams and other non-cognitive experiences do depend upon prior sensory contact with the external world, then there can be no purely self-contained consciousness?

I ask, because we all know that in fact the antecedent is the case. So we are just looking for the knock-down argument to support that antecedent. But idealism is off the table. Descartes is off the table. Kant ... well, he needs more discussion.

Thanks once more for another very thoughtful response, but I fear that, after reading the following, you will now think me even more unreasonable than you did previously.

>>Okay, then you agree that the following first-person report is incoherent:

"All I am ever aware of is images in my own mind.

No; I only said that if Wittgenstein's point were right, someone with all internal experiences would not know that his experiences were all internal. I see no reason to think the claim is right. But if the claim is right, the statement in quotation marks would not be incoherent. The person who made it would not be able to know whether it was true, but to be able to determine the truth value of a statement is not a necessary condition for the statement to be coherent. Even to be in principle unable to determine the truth value of the statement does not change matters; or at least I fail to see why it does.

>> I think this is the issue of whether consciousness can generate its own content.

On standard conceptions of causality, nihil ex nihilo. So out of what and by what means would this content be generated. Whence the content of the experience?

If the cause of his content is not external, and not recombined stuff that came in from the external world (colors, shapes, smells, etc.), then what is it?

These questions take for granted the principle that every existent that has a temporal beginning has a material cause. But what if one begins with substantial immaterial minds with innate contents? You of course think this is incoherent, but can you give an argument that it is that does not assume the truth of the basic principles of Objectivism?

>>And do you endorse the hypothetical: if dreams and other non-cognitive experiences do depend upon prior sensory contact with the external world, then there can be no purely self-contained consciousness?

No, on two grounds. Suppose first a consciousness that contains either dreams or other non-cognitive experiences. If the antecedent of the hypothetical is true, then the consciousness is not self-contained. But the stronger "can be no" does not follow.

Second, even the weaker "there is no purely self-contained consciousness" does not follow from the antecedent. The antecedent does not say anything about a mind that consisted entirely of thoughts about non-sensory truths, such as logical or mathematical propositions. (I know that Objectivists don't accept this view of mathematics and logic; but once again, one cannot assume without argument controversial doctrines of Objectivism.)

Hilary Putnam once gave an argument based upon a certain thesis in philosophy of language for the following claim: if there were a brain in a vat all of whose input was delivered by means of some computer manipulated by some evil scientist, then such a brain would not be able to assert "I am a brain in a vat" and mean by that assertion what the sentence "I am a brain in a vat" normally means. The reason for the "impossibility" here is that the brain in a vat cannot refer by the terms 'brain' and 'vat' to brains and vats. The conclusion of the argument is not that we cannot be brains in a vat. The conclusion is rather that if we were brains in a vat, we could not express this proposition by means of the sentence "I am a brain in a vat"; and if we can express that proposition by means of that sentence, then we are not brains in a vat and the sentence "I am a brain in a vat" is false. So Putnam denies that the following two state of affairs are simultaneously possible: (i) I am a brain in a vat; (ii) I can express this fact by asserting "I am a brain in a vat".
The argument presupposes a certain theory of reference which requires that the referent of certain terms (including 'brain' and 'vat') is determined by way of a causal chain that eventually leads to actual objects in the world.

It is open to anyone to challenge Putnam's argument by rejecting his theory of reference and many did exactly that.

Perhaps we can take Putnam's argument as a kind of a standard as to what is required in order to show that it is not possible, or it is incoherent, to suppose that there can be a floating consciousness without any intentional content some of which in some way is causally linked to the world. I am, of course, not proposing to accept Putnam's argument. Rather I am proposing a standard of the type of argument that the above position might require.

Now, Harry Binswanger inquires "out of what and by what means would this content be generated. Whence the content of the experience?" on the hypothesis of a floating consciousness.

But suppose someone responds: I have no idea! Does that mean that the hypothesis is incoherent? Simply because we are unable to give a causal account of the contents of a floating consciousness does not mean that the hypothesis is incoherent (to be distinguished from merely false). In order to show that it is incoherent one must show that several parts of it do not logically hang together (Putnam's argument is a good example of this).

And of course he also invites David Gordon's response that perhaps the contents of such consciousness were there innately; i.e., they did not enter into consciousness by way of some causal link with the world. We have not ruled out the possibility that non-floating consciousness must have at least some innate ideas; why can't there be a consciousness floating around all of whose contents are just like some of ours; namely innate?

peter

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