Ayn Rand/Objectivism Sightings
Free Radical Updates
Local Club Meeting Plans
News & Interesting Links
Our Capacity To Think
Based on the foregoing we can start this chapter by stating that the so-called "fast-road-to-knowledge-without-any-effort" which is called "faith" is nothing but a bottomless hoax. It is ignorance enshrouded in a cloak of high-sounding phrases, which, so it is held, can only be understood by a "few chosen". It is a mixture of not provable and, thus, unproved beliefs which don't gain validity by any however large mass of believers nor by any concoction of wishes, whims, fancies, unsustainable hopes and menacing authority.
Knowledge is not and cannot be obtained in any easy way. It requires a constant effort, a never-ending study and the permanent updating of the knowledge, the data and the informations throughout life. It is the continuous process of thought applied to questions and problems posed by nature and its interconnections with human beings. It is the process of deducing conclusions and applying them to the reality which surrounds us and in which we live. It is what makes the human characteristic of "homo sapiens-sapiens". The continued co-existence of faith and reason in the modern world is the biggest contradiction of all possible contradictions.
We call ourselves "homo sapiens-sapiens" in this specific instance not because we like to give ourselves high-sounding names and titles but because knowing is the main characteristic which distinguishes us from other, lower ranked, animals which are called "lower ranked” precisely because they lack the capacity to think. Other animals may be stronger, faster, and more resistant but our species has the highest capacity that evolution could develop through a try-and-error method: the capacity to observe data, think about it and determine what to do with it. However spectacular resolving the "mysteries" of the universe may seem it is just one instance of the truly infinite areas and circumstances for which we apply the capacity of reasoning in the eternal quest to insure our subsistence as a species against all others species who would overrun us at the slightest sign of surrender.
The history of the development of the different species as well as the history of the development of the various organs forms an ascending ladder towards the highest possible capacity. Other species ran and are still running into blind alleys. Nature itself condemned 2.5 million species to disappear during the process of evolution. We are the product of those individuals of the lower ranked animals, which were able to pass on their higher capacities in a way that did not end in the next blind alley. In fact, we are the product of a continued line of avoiding every possibility of getting into a blind alley. Should we ever run into a blind alley our species would stagnate and, eventually, disappear. We may make individual mistakes but should same affect the whole species we would face destruction. Those who cling to faith and its related areas are doing the utmost possible to get us there.
To know we have to think, thinking being the process used by our mind to, basically, observe facts, combine these facts, reach logical conclusions and act on these conclusions. The process is, of course, much more complicated than here stated but it serves to briefly describe the faculty we possess, the faculty to identify and integrate the material provided by our senses, i.e. reason.
Reasoning is an extremely extended and complicated integration of our perception of reality which philosopher Ayn Rand has described into its finest details in her writings. She overturns all what earlier philosophers have up to her considered to be the act of reasoning and established the whole significance of this faculty.
Our thinking capacity operates with economy. We do not have to remember millions upon millions of different cats but only the concept "cat" which joins the main characteristics, which are common to these animals. This done, the process goes on by joining the various common characteristics of separate concepts into an abstraction, an abstraction being a selective mental focus that separates a certain aspect common to several concepts from all others. We look at all cat-like animals and establish their common characteristics with other animals and join them into a higher abstraction of "mammals". Further on, the faculty of reason serves to establish abstractions from abstractions and so forth, in an ever-widening sphere of economic condensation, never forgetting that at all and any time the line which allows to trace the way back to its origin, reality, is not and must not be interrupted.
While Platonists, neo-Platonists and other such called "realists" (Philosopher Ayn Rand later termed this position "Intrinsicism") understand that such abstractions, for example "cat", exist in reality as specific concretes in another dimension, their counterparts, the Nominalists and the Conceptualists, consider that abstractions do not really exist but are just some sort of "names" or ideas used by our mind as labels to put some concretizing order into what in reality seems to be an incomprehensible chaos.
Both schools of thought are united by either a real (Platonists) or an inherent (Nominalists and Conceptualists) mysticism. Truth lies with neither one nor the other school. The universe exists as an absolute reality but we need to use a faculty that extracts from this reality the common characteristics, which identify the existing units. The faculty used, as stated already, is called reason; Ayn Rand called the integration of man's mind (the function of our brain) and the objects of reality Objectivism.
The main part of every language consists of abstractions, concretes being used only to point out certain specifics. Were we not to speak in the abstract we would be totally unable to speak, for were we to say anything about cats we would have to enumerate them all before proceeding.
We only use concretes when we refer to specifics, such as "my home", "my son's car", "my wife's blue dress" and so forth. Even in these instances the abstractions involved become evident at once for the only concrete involved is "my".
Specifically concrete concepts make up the smallest part of all concepts, which again points to the extreme economy used by our brain to work. Examples of concrete concepts are personal names, such as Ludwig van Beethoven. It is impossible not to understand what is meant by this name (or to the name of our neighbor) once we have learned to comprehend what is meant by it. Even with more common names, such as John Smith would be, we can always add additional concrete concepts to make the meaning clear. We can add the name of the city where John Smith was born, his date of birth, and even if two John Smith's would have been born in the same city, the same day and the same hospital we could still state the difference between them by naming the name of the parents, the different times of birth, etc. until there is no longer any possibility of mistaking what we mean by that specific name. We could even add photographs, fingerprints, DNA references, etc. to individualize the concept.
Objectivity indicated Ayn Rand in her article "Who is the Final Authority in Ethics?" (The Objectivist Newsletter, Feb. 1965) involves both a metaphysical and an epistemological concept, for it relates to both existence and consciousness. Within Metaphysics, it states that reality has an independent existence from what the observer would like it to be. On the level of man’s conscience it imposes the requirement that the knowledge of reality must be obtained by reason using the rules of logic. This means that no contradiction between both is allowed. Hence, truth is not automatically accessible but must be obtained through the mental process just mentioned. This means also that there is no shortcut to knowledge, no “revealed” truth and, thus, no substitute for this process, no possibility to avoid the responsibility of thinking. While metaphysically reality is the final instance, it is one’s own mind that must understand this fact. If it refuses to accomplish this task and insist with capricious beliefs, disaster is directly ahead. This means that every idea can only and must only be validated by reality. If it is not, it is rubbish or, at best, it belongs to the realm of fantasy.
In other words, again referring to Ayn Rand, the main axiom is that "Existence exists” and this carries with it two additional axioms which state that what one perceives exists and that one oneself has consciousness, which is the capacity to perceive what exists. Existence is the condition for consciousness to exist, for if nothing existed there could be no consciousness, since a consciousness with nothing to be aware of is a contradiction in terms. Prior to identify itself as consciousness it has to be conscious of something. A consciousness with nothing external to be conscious cannot be called consciousness.
This is the precise point where Ayn Rand's Philosophy of Objectivism makes all earlier philosophical thought invalid. It is not "Cogito, ergo sum", but the other way round. First comes existence and only then consciousness, the capacity to be aware of what exists. We must start by using our capacity to think to understand what surrounds us but it is reality itself, which stands at the very start, as the object on which our thoughts depend if we want to know the truth. This said I can now state that this is only a rephrasing of what Rand said.
This complementation of reality and consciousness lays at the basis of what Chris Matthew Sciabarra expresses so clearly in the chapter "Knowing" of his book "Any Rand: The Russian Radical" when he says – using Rand's line of reasoning - that the realists (Intrinsicists, i.e. Platonists) regard "the referents of concepts as intrinsic, i.e. as "universals" inherent in things either as archetypes or as metaphysical essences which can be perceived only by some non-sensory or extra-sensory mean. The realists are deeply committed to an objective reality, but since for them this reality lays in another "world" or "dimension" their "Objectivism" is a totally mystic view, the knowledge of which is subject to "divine revelation".
Such a position created an opposition, composed by Nominalists and Conceptualists. While Nominalists state that our ideas are only images of concretes and that abstractions are merely "names" with no relation at all with reality, Conceptualists hold that such "images" are not such but only some sort of ideas. They turn everything into consciousness, with total disregard for an objective reality. For both Nominalists and Conceptualists concepts are subjective, i.e. products of man's consciousness, unrelated to reality.
Rand saw that these apparent antagonists – which can also be termed Realists and Subjectivist – are only two sides of the same false coin. She stated: "Men have been taught that knowledge is impossible (Skepticism) or that it is available without effort (Mysticism). These two positions appear to be antagonists, but are, in fact, two variants on the same theme, two sides of the same fraudulent coin: the attempt to escape the responsibility of rational cognition and the absolutism of reality – the attempt to assert the primacy of consciousness over existence".
Rand's reply to both positions is not Hegel's much adored synthesis. Rand wiped out the inherent limitations of both positions. By doing so, she destroyed both and set up a clearly different explanation. Existence must be recognized as what it is: true reality, with consciousness as the faculty required to perceive it and reason as the tool to understand and integrate it into a comprehensible whole.
For the purpose of this writing, we do not need either to enter into the direct epistemological implications of what has been said above nor into the description of the mechanics of the Objectivist Epistemology. The literature on Objectivism is the proper place where the reader should look for. The theme is incredibly exciting but to follow it in this writing would surpass its purpose and extend it into areas, which, while directly related with it, be only a summary of what Ayn Rand and Objectivist intellectuals have written with far greater depth.
Here I will only add the following: While mystics and sundry "philosophers" (among them Kant) have done the very impossible to deny the reality of the faculty of reason and its usefulness, they must inevitably recur to it when speaking or writing their nonsense. Paraphrasing Ayn Rand when she speaks about axioms, the enemies of reason have to use it even to translate their gibberish thinking to their readers. Would they not do so, they would not even been able to speak or write. Only senseless babbling would be the result. Even by using reason to transmit their foolish ideas they come to nothing. Reason defeats its enemies by the fact that they have to accept it and use it in the process of any attempt to deny it.
The foregoing explains why mankind is composed, either consciously or unconsciously, by two groups, which are, as said before, merely variations of the same interpretation:
a) People which either think that the reality in which they live is not real but only an image of "real" reality (whatever they may mean by this) and that this image can thus be changed by appeals directed to the "maker" of the "real" reality and
b) Those accepting that the reality in which they live is only an idea which can be simply changed by wishing it.
The first ones are Intrincisists (for them the good resides in some sort of reality, independent of man's consciousness, to cite Ayn Rand on the theme), the second ones are Subjectivists, holding that the good resides in man's consciousness, independent of reality. Both believe that whatever they think is good can and must be applied without mercy to their fellowmen.
While religions represent the Intrincisists who want to apply what they feel is right on everybody and eliminate those who will not accept their way, Subjectivists adhere to the belief that since their ideas cannot be wrong they must be imposed on everybody with instant elimination of anyone who doesn't want to follow their rules.
The first ones have their representatives in the theocracies and their endless, bloodthirsty Inquisitions. The Robespierres, the Lenins, and other such Stalitlers, as I call their synthesis, represent the second ones. Both are enemies of mankind, though same has not been noticed yet.
Against this grows the strength of Ayn Rand's Objectivism. Ayn Rand clearly showed that our life takes place in a stable and, thus, comprehensible reality, that there is no "further" reality than the one where we live in and that we have to use reason, the faculty which distinguishes us as a species, to discern it, understand it and deduce from it the correct decisions to build a life proper to a rational human being. The accent lays on "rational" since many consider themselves "human beings" while constantly forgetting the main characteristic that distinguishes a "human being" from all other species.
In a rational society, that is an Objectivist society, the epistemological rule is that "Emotions are not tools of cognition". Emotions are the result of the thinking process, not the cause of it: a rational person feels pride for its accomplishments, elation for its positive undertakings, for its capacity to create and produce. We feel love for finding a person who shares our values (rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness and pride) and happiness for living in a world whose fundamental structure, in spite of all aberrations of traditional philosophies and religions, is based on the virtues mentioned. In such a world, we are unique individuals.
It is precisely reason, the capacity to think, that makes us unique. Since reality is what it is and not some indiscernible fog, as many would want to oblige us to believe, we can understand it, and this allows us to change and/or adapt the things that make up reality for specific purposes of our own survival. Through the faculty of reason, we can adapt reality to our wishes and requirements. We can make it a livable world where we enjoy comfort, wellbeing, health, richness and long life and where we can apply our productive capacities to achieve our deepest wishes. Since we have evolved into a rational species, we are truly the "makers" of reality as long as we respect the key Francis Bacon gave us when he said: "Nature (i.e. reality) to be commanded must be obeyed". This means that we have to apply the natural laws correctly and by no means arbitrarily. For reason is also a double-sided sword. It can be used to produce much evil when we start from the wrong basis, as the enemies of mankind have done and do when they consider themselves "better" as a race or as holders of a certain political basis, as the religions (which hold Communism as their belief of a perfect society), the Communists (Socialists as they call themselves) and their pendants, the Nazis (National-Socialists) and all those who hold to an altruist "ideal" (living for the next of kin and not for oneself) did and will do as soon as they see a new chance for their destructive drive.
We can become destroyers of our fellowmen and of ourselves; we can "produce" starvation, sickness and poverty. We can become tyrants to ruthlessly rule over our fellowmen, we can become dictators to determine the suffering and early death of our fellowmen, we can become bloodthirsty despots.
We call these kinds of destroyers evil men because they hurt and even cut our own peaceful and productive interests in favor of their and their followers destructive purposes. Those men, which have productive purposes for their own, are refrained from unleashing their productive power and their efforts are reverted to work for evil. It is here where we enter what is usually called "Hell on Earth". Not many have the inner strength to reject the obligation to work for tyrants to survive; not many have the courage of committing suicide when facing such circumstances; not many are willing to set up an opposition. Most think that they are subject to an incomprehensible destiny, which cannot be changed. Tyrants and dictators build their power on such beliefs.
Hence, we can use reason for destruction. To stop this way of using it we require a specific mode of conduct, a code of ethics. Those following the teachings of Objectivism reject any submission to destruction and operate towards the establishment of a benevolent society. To do so however, they need a guide, a rule, not a ruler, which separates good from evil. Out of the knowledge that the reality in which we live is real and the knowledge that we have to use our capacity to think to understand and adapt reality to benevolent purposes, comes the knowledge that a code of ethics, a moral guide, must be built by using the unique authority of our thinking capacity.
The moral guide required is fundamentally different from all those which have ruled human societies so far, rules basically set up to defend and glorify the kings, dictators and governments meddling with our life. We will now enter this area and we can already state what Ayn Rand promised through her teachings: While those ruling mankind since times immemorial have been using fear as their weapon to bring death to man as his punishment for refusing to accept their "moral" code, Objectivism offers life as the reward for accepting a totally different type of thinking, acting and living.
Discuss this Article (0 messages)