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Monday, November 29, 2004 - 4:48amSanction this postReply
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Neil, another provocative essay.

Just a question:  There have been a number of discussions among Austrian economists, who argue that Mises is actually a lot more "Aristotelian" than "Kantian."  For example, Murray Rothbard draws from Hoppe in his claim that Paul Lorenzen and other German Kantians actually viewed Kant as more of a "realist Aristotelian," and that this was preserved by Mises.  (Rothbard also wrote that piece "In Defense of Extreme Apriorism.")

I've seen essays here at SOLO by Ed Younkins, and I'm editing a collection of essays for The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies on the topic of "Ayn Rand Among the Austrians" (Ed is a contributor to the symposium).  So the topic is of interest to me.  My question is:  Do you think there might be any way to navigate among the differences between Rand and those who defend "a priori" knowledge?  Must the acceptance of the latter mean a rejection of the former necessarily, or vice versa?




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Monday, November 29, 2004 - 6:03amSanction this postReply
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Although Rand has argued that logic must be discovered from sensory experience, she takes something of a rationalistic tack when discussing how the mind recognizes whether a concept is axiomatic.


I'm not exactly awake enough yet this morning to really process an article like this, but here's one possible problem I see.

Rand's view of axiomatic knowledge is cited here as a sort of a priori knowledge which she was unable to escape putting in her system. But axioms really aren't a priori. The Law of Identity, say, is self-evident according to Objectivism, but not until the individual conceptualizing about it forms the concept of “identity” from somewhere. Trying to prove the self-evidence of identity without having an empirical understanding of what identity is, is a pointless exercise, and probably an impossible one.



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Monday, November 29, 2004 - 6:04amSanction this postReply
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Neil:

Thanks for your fine essay!!!! It is very interesting and thought provoking.

Like Chris, I am also very interested in this issue.

I have to get to a meeting right now.

Talk to you later.

Cheers!!!

Ed




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Monday, November 29, 2004 - 6:33amSanction this postReply
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Rand's view of axiomatic knowledge is cited here as a sort of a priori knowledge which she was unable to escape putting in her system. But axioms really aren't a priori. The Law of Identity, say, is self-evident according to Objectivism, but not until the individual conceptualizing about it forms the concept of “identity” from somewhere. Trying to prove the self-evidence of identity without having an empirical understanding of what identity is, is a pointless exercise, and probably an impossible one.

Yes, and most supporters of a priori justification admit this much, that experiences with the objects of sensory perception are most likely causally required to form explicit a priori concepts.  It is quite likely that I need to see apples to learn how to count them, or need to see many particular objects to arrive at the Law of Identity.  The question, in Bonjour's view, is whether when you have an understanding of the law of identity, whether you would return to your experience of this or that particular object or set of objects as your justification for believing it.  And I think as Bonjour rightly argues, the answer is no.

However, Nature, I think your criticism is well motivated and is a result of Mr. Parille's inability to flesh out what he means by a priori knowledge or justification.  He references Bonjour, but Bonjour makes some significant concessions to empiricist criticisms of rationalism.

(Edited by Next Level on 11/29, 6:38am)




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Monday, November 29, 2004 - 8:28amSanction this postReply
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Neil: Although Rand has argued that logic must be discovered from sensory experience, she takes something of a rationalistic tack when discussing how the mind recognizes whether a concept is axiomatic.

Rand: [T]here is a way to ascertain whether a given concept is axiomatic or not: one ascertains it by observing the fact that an axiomatic concept cannot be escaped, that it is implicit in all knowledge, that it has to be accepted and used even in the process of any attempt to deny it. [ITO, p. 59.]

Neil: This is a curious argument for someone who is an empiricist in outlook to make.

Why? Noticing that something is implicit does not contradict empiricism. Of course, by noticing it and identifying it, it is no longer implicit. Rand didn’t say you have to explicate and explicitly used the concept nor did she say you have to explicate and explicitly used the fact that it is inescapable and thus axiomatic. Most people don’t. Neither the concept nor its axiomatic status was explicit knowledge – before you made it so. But it is implicit and awaits your attention.

Neil: Rationalists often assert that empiricists ultimately rely upon a priori insight to justify any knowledge at all, and this is what Rand appears to be doing here.

Justifying knowledge? First, I think you have the whole Randian program wrong. I’d argue that she is first and foremost being descriptive. Her whole book, ITOE, is basically a description of the process of concept formation – not a justification from some other basis or conceptual knowledge prior to concepts. Since concept formation involves choice – the grouping of entities and regarding them in a certain way – man needs guidance for this choice. Again, she provides this guidance not from something prior to her description. Instead, with her description, she presents something to consider. Now you may ask: is it rich enough to succeed as an adequate description of human conceptual knowledge?

Since knowledge is an identification, to achieve this one has to avoid contradictions. Thus, logic is a tool to help in the description of existence. Again, one explicates what is implicit to see if one is saying the same thing two different ways (i.e. saying something and its negation, at the same time and in the same respect). One goes over cases and identifies general principles. That’s how I learned to form the explicit rules of logic.

I think the main problem with the a priori thesis is that there are areas, such as logic, the axioms, and mathematics, where very little experience is needed. Thus, it appears that no experience is needed. Certainly no further experience is needed and one operates as if these concepts are henceforth a prioi. Nevertheless, people do make mistakes in the process of explication. Logic is not automatic; errors in logic and errors about logical inference have been made and will continue to be made. The fact that the axioms are inescapable doesn’t mean that you will explicate them instead of explicitly denying them. Some people do the latter!

Neil, do I sense a discomfort with the concept of implicit knowledge? Do you think Rand is implicitly advocating the a priori with such a concept as the implicit?

I’d also like to know if others see Objectivist epistemology as I’ve described it above.





(Edited by Jason Pappas on 11/29, 8:34am)




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Monday, November 29, 2004 - 10:04amSanction this postReply
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Neil, while I disagree with several key points (see below), I sanctioned this post of yours because it shows off your talents in uncovering potential error in thought. You have a great ability Neil, and I thoroughly enjoy your work - even while I'm in a stark, theoretical disagreement with it.
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Neil:
In rejecting a priori knowledge, Rand maintained consistently that the principles of logic must be discovered.  As Peikoff put it: “Man is born tabula rasa; all his knowledge is based on and derived from the evidence of his senses. . . . Man needs to discover a method to guide this process, if it is to yield to conclusions which correspond to the facts of reality . . . .” [ITO, p. 112.] 
    
The obvious question is: How can a blank slate “discover” a method for thinking?  The ability to discover a method presupposes the existence of basic structures of thought, such as the ability to observe contradictions, make generalizations and the like.[1]  It isn’t clear that Rand provides a direct answer, but perhaps we can get some insight into this from Rand’s discussion of logic and grammar.

Ed:
Neil, Rand's purpose would've been better and more clearly served had she wrote: "Man needs to discover [THE] method to guide ..." rather than writing that "Man needs to discover [a] method to guide ..." This is because there is only one human method (one right method for man) of knowledge acquisition - the marriage of experience with logic.

Taking this to be the case for illustration, if all knowledge were wiped out today (and man survived the loss), the resulting definition for man - stemming from millennia of advancement for those humans who had to unfortunately start out at the bottom again, would be "rational animal." We'd get to the same definition that we had got to before, because our nature hadn't changed - and neither did our "method" or our one right (human) way to think straight.
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Neil:
Although Rand has argued that logic must be discovered from sensory experience, she takes something of a rationalistic tack when discussing how the mind recognizes whether a concept is axiomatic.

[T]here is a way to ascertain whether a given concept is axiomatic or not: one ascertains it by observing the fact that an axiomatic concept cannot be escaped, that it is implicit in all knowledge, that it has to be accepted and used even in the process of any attempt to deny it.  [ITO, p. 59.]

This is a curious argument for someone who is an empiricist in outlook to make.  Rationalists often assert that empiricists ultimately rely upon a priori insight to justify any knowledge at all, and this is what Rand appears to be doing here.  [Ryan, Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality, pp. 213-14.]  In fact, Peikoff argues that the axioms (although validated by sense perception) are “self-evident.”  [Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, pp. 8-9.]

Ed:
Neil, discovery and validation EXPAND the "a priori" zone of a thinking agent. The classic example of an expanding a priori zone (via discovery and validation) is the Morning Star = Evening Star = Venus. Here is a self-quote from another thread:

-------------
... expanding a priori zones. I became aware of this aspect of reality after reading about the Morning Star = Evening Star = Planet Venus paradox over at Carolyn Ray's website. Here's a summary of how it went:

1. early humans thought there were 2 stars (Morning & Evening)

2. later humans discovered that it had been one star all along (the planet Venus)

3. after the a posteriori "discovering" of the facts of reality, these later humans were operating with more in their a priori zone

4. hence, they did not continually rely on a posteriori evidence input - they had found the identity of what was both the Morning Star & the Evening Star
-------------

So Neil, we do the same with axioms. We can know - really know - that which we didn't know before, via "mere" discovery and validation. Once a thinking agent discovers (via experience and logic) the fact that this human process (discovery+validation = real knowledge) entirely explains human knowledge acquisition, it becomes that simple for that thinking agent to understand. Agents who haven't expanded their understanding in this manner, however, will still "see" a paradox before their eyes.

It is "enough" to "merely" discover and validate axioms, Neil.
-------------

Neil:
On the other hand, unlike Rand, Russell saw no need to jettison a priori reasoning in order to develop minimalist metaphysics.  He argued the truths that may be known a priori are relatively few and general.

Ed:
Neil, as can be ascertained from above, "a priori reasoning" does not need to be "jettison[ed]." It merely needs to be kept commensurate with the background experience (and logical reflection) of the thinking agent in question. We - as infants - do not start with the a priori, we start with our experience. And we slowly - very slowly - expand our a priori zones as we discover the aspects of reality (the identities in reality).

In short, you're argument only holds after first adopting and maintaining a limited (and therefore insufficient) perspective of Rand - such as that of Ryan's limited perspective.
-------------

FOOTNOTES

Neil:
There are statements within the “Official Objectivist” literature that indicate that the mind is not quite so “tabula rasa” as these statements imply.  For example, Leonard Peikoff goes so far as to say that “[t]he process of measurement-omission is performed for us by the nature of our mental faculty, whether anyone identifies it or not.” 

Ed:
Neil, you're conflating method with content. The blank slate or “tabula rasa” pertains to content, not method. In this light, mental content - before ANY experience - is 100% potentiality and 0% actuality. And as I alluded to above, the "method" is not "blank" but "human" (it is not 100% potentiality, but actualized - via the necessary limitations that identity imposes on how humans will be able to think and learn).
-------------

Ed



Post 6

Monday, November 29, 2004 - 10:19amSanction this postReply
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Jason,

I read your post after submitting mine ...

------------
I think the main problem with the a priori thesis is that there are areas, such as logic, the axioms, and mathematics, where very little experience is needed. Thus, it appears that no experience is needed. Certainly no further experience is needed and one operates as if these concepts are henceforth a prioi. Nevertheless, people do make mistakes in the process of explication. Logic is not automatic; errors in logic and errors about logical inference have been made and will continue to be made. The fact that the axioms are inescapable doesn’t mean that you will explicate them instead of explicitly denying them. Some people do the latter!
------------

Eggg-zactly! This point is precisely what my post attempted to unveil. Speaking of logic, axioms and math, you said:

"Certainly no further experience is needed and one operates as if these concepts are HENCEFORTH a prioi. " [caps added for emphasis]

While knowledge begins as 100% potentiality (blank slate), once reality starts writing on our slates, we're doomed to either think straight (heeding to limitations imposed by the nature of our expanding a priori zones) or adopt an inadequate, insufficient ideology which rejects such expanding zones in a fit of limited perspective and word play.

Expanded a priori zones of knowledge - they explain the "problem" of knowledge.

Ed



Post 7

Monday, November 29, 2004 - 11:03amSanction this postReply
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Jason,

I think that while I have some sympathy with your explication of Rand's goal in IOE, we have to begin with what Rand actually wrote about her motives.  Her motive was to provide a solution to the problem of universals which she regarded as equivalent to the issue of concepts.

Why? Noticing that something is implicit does not contradict empiricism. Of course, by noticing it and identifying it, it is no longer implicit. Rand didn’t say you have to explicate and explicitly used the concept nor did she say you have to explicate and explicitly used the fact that it is inescapable and thus axiomatic. Most people don’t. Neither the concept nor its axiomatic status was explicit knowledge – before you made it so. But it is implicit and awaits your attention.

Now, the rationalist's (and I mean Scott Ryan - though the argument is not totally his - in this case, from whom I think Neil takes most of his argument) attack on Rand's claim isn't that the concept is implicit, but that "it is implicit in all knowledge." (emphasis added)

How can you know from experience that it is implicit in ALL knowledge, and not just the ones that you have experienced?  The rule that allows you to generalize from many particulars to all instances without exception cannot be asserted without qualification by a consistent empiricist (though empiricists come in different stripes, so some empiricists might or might not hold that position on logic and still call themselves empiricists).  The empiricist would have to explain how we arrive at the rule if some form of it isn't innate to the mind.  And that is where another criticism of Rand comes in - Ryan argued that because she couldn't arrive at the concepts of identity, existence and consciousness by her explicitly described process of concept formation from experience, she had to make room for them on a priori grounds.

For the record, my own position on the a priori (and I didn't invent it) is that there are two forms of it that are important: assumptions, procedures and beliefs we accept as true (and they very well might be and often are) before starting any inquiry and ideas we hold based on the innate structure of the human brain - we make certain assumptions about the nature of our environments as psychologists who study perception have repeatedly shown, and the brain has to come with some capacity for reasoning to even arrive at explicit arguments.  I do agree that a priori reasoning can be fallible for a variety of reasons, so I defend scientific empiricism with its emphasis on ranges of data and testing first and foremost, and then dialectal reasoning in the tradition of reducing and eliminating contradictory ideas second.




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Monday, November 29, 2004 - 12:06pmSanction this postReply
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Rand--or for that matter anyone--does not need a prior knowledge to account for axiomatic concepts. As she correctly puts it, we "observe" that as we think we require ascent to such concepts. She didn't spell out just what kind of observation she had in mind, but Rand was never a sense-impression empiricist, rather a perception empiricist, so introspection--perceiving what is going on in one's own mind--qualifies as empirical as far as she is concerned. So the proposed reflective approach will qualify as empirical in Rand's broader sense of "empirical." (Logic, too, is derived from such empirical encounters with the world. And, BTW, tabula rasa only signifies the absence of innate knowledge within the--not the absence of a specific identity [or as some say "structure"] of--mind.)






(Edited by Machan on 11/29, 12:07pm)

(Edited by Machan on 11/29, 12:08pm)




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Monday, November 29, 2004 - 2:19pmSanction this postReply
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Thank you Tibor,

I was getting ready to vent my frustration about this article and now I don't have to! Let the professional step in and you have!

Michael




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Post 10

Monday, November 29, 2004 - 3:10pmSanction this postReply
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Thanks everyone for your comments.  Perhaps I should have made it clear that I wasn't presenting the article as a definitive explanation or critique of Rand's epistemology, but offering a few (hopefully) suggestive hints about where she fits in the philosophical spectrum.

Chris, that is an important question and I don't know the answer.  In Murray Rothbard's article on depressions in the collection The Austrian Theory of the Trade Cycle, he presents a discussion of business cycles that is based on theory, but also demonstrated by many events from history.  And, although I don't have George Reisman's Capitalism handy, I recall that he says that economic argumentation is primarily "verbal."  So, as a practical matter, I don't think that Austrians and Objectivists would "reason" that differently about economic theory.  They would both probably reject the methodology of positivist economists, perhaps for similar reasons. 




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Monday, November 29, 2004 - 4:29pmSanction this postReply
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Tibor Machan: “As she correctly puts it, we "observe" that as we think we require ascent to such concepts…Rand was never a sense-impression empiricist, rather a perception empiricist, so introspection--perceiving what is going on in one's own mind--qualifies as empirical as far as she is concerned.”

Perhaps, but it’s rather a stretch to regard “perceive” and “introspect” as synonyms. “Observing” the state of one’s mind is not the same as observing a sunset, and it’s a category mistake to conflate the two.

More importantly, playing around with words like this obscures the a priori/a posteriori distinction, and the way it impacts on the justification of knowledge claims. When Rand introspects, what she finds are certain fundamental concepts, which she claims are undeniably present in all knowledge. And this is a priori justification – the concepts are justified independently of experience of the external world.

When Rand is making this claim, she is not appealing to some aspect of the external world as justification, she is merely noting that these concepts are apparently present in all knowledge claims. But that in itself tells us nothing about the external world. All it tells us is that the mind requires certain concepts to function.

Since Rand cannot point to any aspect of the external world to justify her claim, she must be relying on a priori understanding, despite her denials to the contrary.

Brendan




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Post 12

Monday, November 29, 2004 - 6:55pmSanction this postReply
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Fred Seddon has an interesting discussion of Hume in his book on Ayn Rand at pp. 47-50.  As Prof. Seddon says, there is some disagreement in the Objectivist literature concerning whether one can "see" causality.



Post 13

Monday, November 29, 2004 - 7:58pmSanction this postReply
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Neil, "seeing" causality is sense-impressionistic, a limitation which Rand transcends.  Machan spoke to this above ...
 Rand was never a sense-impression empiricist
Neil, did you find my other counter-arguments compelling?  There are 3 specific angles which have already been verified by independent observations (in addition to my own observations):

-------------------------

My view of a heretofore content/method conflation regarding blank slates, shared by ...

Machan
 tabula rasa only signifies the absence of innate knowledge within the--not the absence of a specific identity [or as some say "structure"] of--mind.)
Ed
 Neil, you're conflating method with content. The blank slate or “tabula rasa” pertains to content, not method. In this light, mental content - before ANY experience - is 100% potentiality and 0% actuality. And as I alluded to above, the "method" is not "blank" but "human" (it is not 100% potentiality, but actualized - via the necessary limitations that identity imposes on how humans will be able to think and learn).
-------------------------

And my view of lock-step gains in "a priorical" knowledge (a priori - relative to the learning agent; as their body of knowledge is growing), shared by ...

Jason
 I think the main problem with the a priori thesis is that there are areas, such as logic, the axioms, and mathematics, where very little experience is needed. Thus, it appears that no experience is needed. Certainly no further experience is needed and one operates as if these concepts are henceforth a prioi.
Ed
1. early humans thought there were 2 stars (Morning & Evening)

2. later humans discovered that it had been one star all along (the planet Venus)

3. after the a posteriori "discovering" of the facts of reality, these later humans were operating with more in their a priori zone

4. hence, they did not continually rely on a posteriori evidence input - they had found the identity of what was both the Morning Star & the Evening Star



-------------------------

And the folly of previous, ideologically-imposed distinctions, which didn't correspond to the precise and predictable journey by which a human mind must travel in order to know reality, shared by ...

Jason

The fact that the axioms are inescapable doesn’t mean that you will explicate them instead of explicitly denying them. Some people do the latter!
Ed
... once reality starts writing on our slates, we're doomed to either think straight (heeding to limitations imposed by the nature of our expanding a priori zones) or adopt an inadequate, insufficient ideology which rejects such expanding zones in a fit of limited perspective and word play.
-------------------------




Post 14

Tuesday, November 30, 2004 - 4:18pmSanction this postReply
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Ed,

Thanks for your comments and kind words.

I understand the distinction you make with respect to a tabula rasa mind.  As I point out, I don't think Rand was always clear on this issue.  If man's mind has a nature and a method, then what is the method and what is its nature?  Is it the same as logic?

Needless to say, the claim that all knowledge must be "based on" experience is open to different interpretations.  If your argument is that without experience, people wouldn't discover (or entertain) certain "a priori" truths, then I would agree.

Take the question of the law of identity.  Which of my senses tells me that it is true?  Or, which of my senses tells me that it will be true 5 years from now and was true 5 years ago?  If it is by observing various repetitions in nature, how do I know when I have observed enough of them?

Concerning the development of the child's mind, even that presupposes certain innate structures.  Rand's discussion of this issue in ITO (which isn't supported by any psychological literature, by the way) presupposes that children are able to grasp similiarities and differences.  Where did that ability come from?




Post 15

Tuesday, November 30, 2004 - 5:46pmSanction this postReply
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Neil, much - and perhaps all - of these (post 14) counterpoints of yours rely on sense-impressionism in order to be regarded as valid.  It is as if Hume were ressurected and is now speaking through your words.  This is perhaps most evident when you say ...
 Take the question of the law of identity.  Which of my senses tells me that it is true?  Or, which of my senses tells me that it will be true 5 years from now and was true 5 years ago?  If it is by observing various repetitions in nature, how do I know when I have observed enough of them?


Notice the similarity between your line of reasoning and Hume's retort toward Locke, regarding the "sensing" of a general triangle, which Hume correctly identitfies as an impossibility ...
Let man try to conceive a triangle in general, which is neither Isosceles nor Scalenum, nor has any particular length or proportion of sides; and he will soon perceive the absurdity of all the scholastic notions with regard to abstraction and general ideas.




Forget Hume's use of the word conceive above, for Hume was not a full master of all the words which he had uttered.  But remember the truth in consistency of his thought, paraphrased by Mortimer Adler:
If all we have are sense-perceptions and images derived from sense, then we can never be aware of anything but a particular triangle.
Neil, I have written on this deficiency in thought, which runs from Plato, through to Descartes, almost misses, but unfortunately taints Locke, swells to a unprecedented level in Hume, and peaks in the destruction of man's mind in Kant.  For a good time, view posts 23, 31, and 36 at:
http://www.solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0170_1.shtml

Ed




Post 16

Tuesday, November 30, 2004 - 6:12pmSanction this postReply
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Neil, regarding similarity/differences, you said ...
 Rand's discussion of this issue in ITO (which isn't supported by any psychological literature, by the way) presupposes that children are able to grasp similiarities and differences.  Where did that ability come from?
Neil, the real issue is not with "similarity" at all, but with "differences."  The real issue is contrast, distinction, discernment.  As a philosopher once said: whoever discovered water, it wasn't a fish.  Fish won't ever discover water, because they never need contrast it with a distinction, ie. with non-water.  It is the contrast that makes all the difference in the world (pun intended).

The contrast - or difference - is what allows the very act of distinction/discernment to matter in life.  But how can we tell the differences? - you say.  What inherent power do we have to discern differences? 

First of all, let's be clear on the 2 main modes of awareness: perceptual and conceptual.  Perceptual discernment of differences is our birthright.  It is also a birthright of animals - which must respond to differences in stimuli found in their environment.  Imagine an animal that could not ascertain differences.  Can you predict the life-span of such an animal?  It wouldn't be long before a unperceived real "diifference" (predator, food, water, cliff, etc) terminates the animal's life.

But this just proves that we can detect difference, it still does not explain precisely how - you say.  Rand did not explain precisely how - you say.

Neil, first of all I have to press an issue with you.  Is your question a question of science proper (special knowledge arrived at via specialized means, methods, techniques, instruments, etc) or philosophy proper (general knowledge arrived at via the general means of common human experience and logical reflection on that experience)? 

I suspect that you are holding Rand to an improper (ie. scientific) standard - expecting her to give a comprehensive account of what only specialized instruments could uncover.  For a general (philosophic) account explaining the success of perception (I am here assuming that you agree that perception is a successful power in the world), I beseech you to study the Ecological Theory of Direct Perception by JJ Gibson.

Ed





Post 17

Sunday, December 19, 2004 - 8:33pmSanction this postReply
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Hi Neil,
 
    I have read Barry Smith's article "The Question of Apriorism" and several of his other works on apriorism and Austrian economics. In this article he describes the process of discovering synthetic a priori propositions as non-inductive and pre-empirical. However, I think that this is incorrect. According to modern conceptions of induction and empirical he is correct. But on earlier, more classical conceptions, and I think according to Ayn Rand's conceptions, he is wrong. Here is an excerpt from a paper I am working on entitled "Toward an Austro-Athenian Philosophy of Science":

"Within this broadly dialectical orientation we can perform various more focused forms of reasoning such as induction, retroduction, and deduction. I have already hinted that the Austro-Athenian approach rejects the modern conception of induction in favor of the classical conception. Induction in the classical sense is “the process of observing the facts of reality and of integrating them into concepts,”[1] and of discovering the intelligible structures resulting from the logically necessary interrelationships of the essences (or natures) of the phenomena these concepts represent. The individual material and mental phenomena that exist in the world are “intrinsically intelligible natural kinds, types or (to use an Aristotelian term) species; and…necessary laws concerning these species, and specifically concerning their interrelations, can be grasped as evident by anyone who makes it his business to understand the structure of the underlying phenomena (the instances of the given species).”[2] One can recognize and elucidate such necessary propositions without empirical investigation or testing. Yet they are not conjured out of nothing; they presuppose a familiarity with the workings of the phenomena in question.

Such necessary propositions can be called synthetic a priori propositions in Kantian terminology, but the Austro-Athenian account of them is decidedly non-Kantian. Synthetic a priori propositions are self-evident once discovered, and do not require empirical investigation and testing, but do require painstaking theoretical research to discover. They reflect corresponding structures or relations in the world: a matter of how simple elements are bound together in intelligible ways into larger wholes. Consider some examples of synthetic a priori propositions: nothing can be both red and green all over; if something is red then it is not green; or the law of the transitivity of the part-whole relation: If A is a part of B, and B is a part of C, then A is also a part of C. Propositions such as these cannot be reduced to either analytic-necessary or empirical-contingent propositions. They are empirical in the broader and older sense of the term (i.e., they are existentially meaningful and presuppose experience with the phenomena in question), but they are not contingent."

[1] Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Harry Binswanger and Leonard Peikoff, eds., (New York: New American Library, 2nd Edition, 1990), p. 36.

[2] Barry Smith, “Austrian Economics and Austrian Philosophy,” in Austrian Economics: Historical and Philosophical Background, Wolfgang Grassl and Barry Smith, eds., (New York: New York University Press, 1986), p. 3.

    Even Barry Smith argues that the discovery of synthetic a priori propositions presupposes a familiarity with the workings of the phenomena in question. Therefore, to some degree (perhaps enough for Rand) there is a broadly empirical component to synthetic a priori propositions. Moreover, synthetic a priori propositions are empirically meaningful. It also seems to me that a Randian or Aristotelian conception of induction is the means by which synthetic a priori propositions are discovered. One doesn't need empirical investigation or testing, a la modern science and philosophy of science, but one does need to have experienced the phenomena in question and formed (at least implicit) concepts dealing with them. Only after experiencing the phenomena in question can a thinker begin to formulate synthetic a priori propositions about said phenomena. Rand's axioms would seem to qualify as synthetic a priori propositions. She may have rejected apriorism because/if she associated it with Kant and modern rationalism, but not all forms of apriorism are as objectionable as Kant's. In truth, an Aristotelian apriorism transcends the rational-empirical dichotomy and straddles both ontology and epistemology. This is the extent to which I discuss the issue in my paper (as it is a "toward" kind of paper), but perhaps I could delve deeper into it at a later date.

    As for your perpexity at Rand's method of "proving" her axioms.... I see nothing strange about it. Aristotle called it negative demonstration. You also seem to be confusing two senses of self-evident. Axioms and synthetic a priori propositions are self-evident in the sense that, though they are not readily apparent to everyone, once discovered and understood they become evidently true in and of themselves. They are not self-evident in the sense that they are obvious to everyone and/or easy to elucidate.

 
    I found your article to be interesting and thought provoking. And it is a subject I am interested in myself.


Geoffrey Allan Plauche
veritasnoctis@cox.net


(Edited by Geoffrey Allan Plauche on 12/20, 1:56pm)

(Edited by Geoffrey Allan Plauche on 12/20, 4:17pm)




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