I previously wrote:
“…these three are [not] axioms of metaphysics. Instead, it is clear that they are axioms of experience, i.e., of awareness of reality -- not axioms of reality or existence.”
Fred Seddon replied:
“It may be clear to you but it was not clear to Rand. She wrote on p. 55 of ITOE that “An axiomatic concept is an identification of a primary fact of reality…” And on p. 59 we read, “axiomatic concepts refer to facts of reality.” Now you may be right and Rand wrong, but Rand does seem to think she is referring to reality. Obviously she will then have a big problem with consciousness, but that’s the way it may be.”
I will go out on a limb here and say that Rand made an error in her statements on p. 55 and p. 59 of ITOE.
First, let’s be clear on the distinction between axiomatic concepts and axioms. Axioms are propositions, and as such are, like all propositions, made out of concepts.
Secondly, let’s also be clear on the distinction between existents and facts. An existent is something that exists, and it is grasped by means of a concept. A fact is something about something that exists, and it is grasped by means of a proposition. (E.g., the fact of my car’s being silver is something about my car, and it is expressed in a proposition as “my car is silver.”)
Thus, “Existence” is the axiomatic concept by which we grasp, as a whole, every existent that exists (past, present, and future). “Existence exists,” then, is the axiomatic proposition (i.e., axiom) by which we grasp the fact that every existent that exists does exist. So, to be precise, it is not the axiomatic concept “Existence” that refers to a fact of reality, but the axiom “Existence exists.” (Rand and Peikoff sometimes refer to this as the “existence axiom,” which ought to be clear enough, yet some manage to confuse the axiomatic concept of “Existence” with the axiom, “Existence exists.”)
Even with the clarification of this shortcoming in Rand’s treatment of axiomatic concepts vs. axioms, however, Fred’s challenge still stands. How can I say that Rand’s axioms are just propositions about experience or knowledge of reality, when it seems clear that she is using them to refer to what she calls “primary facts of reality”?
First, it must be acknowledged that the “consciousness axiom” – “Consciousness is conscious of reality” – is the identification of a fact of reality, namely, the identification of something (its being conscious of reality) about an existent (consciousness). But a primary fact? In what sense is consciousness primary in reality? We know that it would be true that “existence exists” and “things are what they are,” even if (as in the distant past) there were no consciousness to be aware of those facts. These facts are universal, omnipresent, and eternal, even in the absence of consciousness. However, if no consciousness exists (as was the case in the distant past), there is no fact of consciousness’s being conscious at that time. “Consciousness is conscious of reality” is true of all consciousness, but it is not true of all reality, like the existence and identity axioms are. It is not true of all reality that consciousness is conscious of it. There is a huge amount of reality that consciousness is not aware of!
Now, if there is some other sense in which consciousness being conscious of reality can be regarded as a primary fact of reality, I haven’t heard anyone suggest what that is. To be primary, means that you can’t further reduce something beyond that point. It is true that you cannot reduce a given experience or state of awareness any further than the three main Objectivist axioms. However, there are many things existing in reality (and that are what they are) that do not even involve consciousness, so how can consciousness’s being consciousness be an irreducible primary fact about those things??
This is such a howler, that I cannot conceive that Rand actually intended to imply such a thing by the quoted statements from p. 55 and p. 59 of ITOE. Instead, I think, as I have said before, that consciousness, existence, and identity are primaries within awareness (or experience).
I also previously wrote: “I cannot escape the fact that I am the biological product of two human beings, but that doesn't make them axiomatic. I cannot escape the fact that I need oxygen in order to survive, but that doesn't make oxygen axiomatic. Being the son of two human beings and needing to breathe oxygen are necessary conditions of my being aware of anything, but that doesn't make them axioms. Just because I cannot "escape" something doesn't make it an axiom. Again, you have to identify the context of the "escape."”
Fred commented: “Again Rand writes as follows: an axiomatic concept cannot be escaped.” p. 59. She gets this test for axiomatic concepts from Aristotle.”
The context of Rand’s use of the concept of “escape” is not existential and causal but conceptual. She means that you can’t engage in any discussion whatsoever without assuming certain concepts. Fred is trying to tell us that “space” is such a concept. I am disagreeing, by pointing out that while space is an existential necessity for our being able to engage in any discussion, it is not a necessary conceptual element of every such discussion.
Michael Stuart Kelly wrote: “Way before consciousness or awareness, life as a temporary type of existent is an axiom. There is no conscious awareness without life, but there is life without conscious awareness.”
All this proves is that, in reality – as opposed to within experience or awareness – even life, which is not omnipresent, is a more widespread phenomenon. But we’re not just talking about life or consciousness, the existents. We’re talking about the facts that consciousness is (the power of certain living beings to be) conscious of reality – and that life is the power of certain entities to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action. They are true of all consciousness and of all life – but they are not true of all reality. While “consciousness is conscious of reality” is an axiom of experience (and psychology), and “life is self-sustaining and self-generated action” is an axiom of biology, neither is an axiom of reality.
Roger Bissell, Post-Randian musician/writer
(Edited by Roger Bissell on 10/02, 1:31am)