Here are some points in reply to Ed Thompson’s 11 (!) questions. I’ll try not to write another essay! (And please just chalk up any repetitiveness to the "spiral theory of learning," OK? J )
1. I wrote: “Rand first focused on objectivity as an ethical matter, an aspect of rationality.”
Ed comments: “While rationality is ethical (ie. a ‘universally-right’ thing for humans to act to gain or keep), it does not follow that objectivity was only focused on as an ethical matter (rather than an epistemological matter). As it happens, the best place to start—when ‘pushing’ a philosophy is ethics, because human persuasion is linked to emotional evaluation. Another way to say this is that, even though the ‘entry-point’ into philosophy is epistemology (which immediately leads to a certain, contended metaphysics)—the ‘persuasive-point’ in philosophies will be that which aims at value. Rand was merely utilizing psychology to get her point across. And there’s nothing wrong with that (except, of course, reading too much into it).”
My reply: I certainly agree that Rand did not only focus on objectivity as an ethical matter. But actually, it appears that Rand's first public mention of "objectivity" or the "objective" was a metaphysical usage, the very usage which she abandoned after 1965. At the sales conference at Random House, preceding the publication of Atlas Shrugged in 1957, she presented the essence of her philosophy "while standing on one foot," and she bagan by saying: "1. Metaphysics: Objective Reality ('Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed' or 'Wishing won't make it so.') She didn't use the words"objective" or "objectivity" in regard to her epistemology or her ethics at that time. Even later, in 1962, in her column "Introducting Objectivism," when Rand gave the "briefest summary" of her philosophy, she only used the term in reference to her metaphysical views: "1. Reality exists as an objective absolute--facts are facts, independent of man's feelings, wishes,hopes or fears." As Peikoff later clarified, this usage of "objective" ("Objective Reality") simply refers to the Primacy of Existence--reality exists independently of consciousness; it is the object, not the product, of awareness.
Her next significant public use of the terms "objective" or "objectivity" appears to have been her 1965 essay about who is the "final authority" in ethics, where she began switching over to an epistemological and a psychological/ethical focus -- on the nature of an act of awareness that adheres to reality, and the moral character of a person who consciously adheres to reality. Later that year, she wrote another essay ("What is Capitalism?"), in which she spoke of the good, in much the same way Aquinas did, as inhering in both the evaluation (act of awareness) and the aspect of reality so evaluated (object of awareness). To me, this is highly significant, yet she seems never to have explicitly developed this point further than this. And I think that is to the detriment of her trichotomy, especially seeing how she persuaded Peikoff (about 1970-72) to stop discussing perception in terms of sense data being objective (rather than intrinsic or subjective). She and Peikoff have written very good things about applying the trichotomy on the conceptual level, but I think they made a wrong turn at Albuquerque in regard to perception. (See below as well as my previous comments to Phil Coates about this.)
2. I wrote: “As for reality, it does not, strictly speaking, have objectivity. Reality only has objectivity in relation to consciousness.”
Ed comments: “The concept of objectivity, logically depends on the possibility of subjectivity (ie. of ‘getting it wrong’). I agree, but then we are limited to epistemic objectivity—which you seem to decry as a concept exhaustive of objectivity (because it fails to integrate ‘metaphysical objectivity’—what you had identified as a Primacy of Existence).”
My reply: No, that’s not accurate, in several ways.
First, “objectivity” only implies “subjectivity” in regard to volitional matters, where we have the option or possibility of “getting something” right or wrong, i.e., consciously adhering to reality or not. Perception automatically adheres to reality. Concept-formation, logic, etc. do not automatically adhere to reality. But I am saying that, in keeping with the original usage of the term, “objective” in its core, primary meaning simply means: pertaining to reality-adherence, irrespective of volition. If an act of awareness adheres to an aspect of reality, even automatically so, as in perception, then that act of awareness is objective—it adheres to the object of awareness. If an aspect of reality is adhered to by an act of awareness, even automatically so, as by perception, then that aspect of reality is objective—it is the object of (i.e., adhered to by) awareness. Objectivity is thus far broader an issue than volitionally getting something right vs. volitionally getting it wrong (subjectivity). These latter cases are special (and important) cases, but Rand and Peikoff mistakenly shrunk down our focus so as to omit some other very important cases, most notably, Peikoff’s now abandoned discussion of sense data as being objective (rather than intrinsic or subjective).
Secondly, it was not I, but Leonard Peikoff, who acknowledged that the metaphysical usage, “objective reality,” is just another and (allegedly) “harmless” way of referring to Primacy of Existence. Since the latter is actually less misleading, I am not surprised that Rand stopped using the phrase “objective reality” about 1965, and that she and Peikoff et al almost exclusively instead used the phrase “Primacy of Existence.”
My objection regarding the trichotomy was not about the above, now abandoned metaphysical usage, "objective reality" (meaning: reality being independent of consciousness). My objection was that Rand began so well by seeming to distinguish (in "What is Capitalism?") between two aspects of objectivity, and then she seemed later to abandon or severely delimit one of those aspects.
Again, in any relationship between consciousness and existence, there is an act of awareness and an aspect of reality. The term "objective" applies to them both, and I tried to coin new terms to help avoid confusion with Rand’s (now discarded) metaphysical usage mentioned above. (When you re-read that section, you will see that I needlessly clutter up and confuse the issue by saying "ontological" or "metaphysical" -- and "epistemic" or "epistemological." Please delete in your mind the words following "or" in each case; they only confuse what I am highlighting with what Rand was trying to say in her essay the "final authority" in ethics.)
The act of awareness is epistemically objective, because it is an act of awareness that adheres to the aspect of reality. The aspect of reality is ontologically objective, because it is an aspect of reality that is adhered to by the act of awareness. An act of awareness that does not adhere to an act of reality is not (epistemically) objective. And an aspect of reality that is not adhered to by an act of awareness is not (ontologically) objective. Is that clearer now?
Finally, I am not decrying the fact that Rand abandoned her metaphysical usage “objective reality,” only that she did so without announcement or clarification. What I am primarily decrying and protesting about is the fact that while Rand performed the incredibly important service of uncovering the dual-aspect nature of objectivity (in “What is Capitalism?”), apparently she did not fully grasp what she had unearthed, and instead failed to fully integrate the ontologically objective to the epistemically objective. She overly focused on the latter, and made matters even worse by saying that objectivity (in the epistemic sense of adherence to reality) is impossible except volitionally. As a consequence of this error and distorting focus, she induced Peikoff to rip out one of the most original and illuminating portions of his presentation of her philosophy, his discussion of sense data as being objective, rather than intrinsic or subjective. (See #9 and #10 below, as well as my previous reply to Phil, for more on this.) Fewer things in “official Objectivism” upset me more than this. It will receive prominent attention in my forthcoming book The Errors of Objectivism. (Just kidding, I think. :-/ )
3. I wrote: "Rand's phrase ‘objective reality’ thus was taken to reflect this metaphysical view, that reality is the object, not the subject or creation of consciousness. But is this true? In one sense, no. Consciousness is real, too, and some real aspects of consciousness are generated by, created by, a person’s conscious acts. Both subjective aspects such as dreams or imagination and objective aspects such as sense data are generated by consciousness (i.e., a person’s being conscious).”
Ed comments: “I think that it’s useful to make a distinction between extra-mental reality (which ‘sense’-perception reveals to us) and an inner, strictly-mental reality (which introspection reveals to us). Consciousness of dreams is not direct consciousness of (extra-mental) reality—it is consciousness of an ‘inner’ reality, generated by consciousness, as you correctly say. But this just delineates that (after a necessary and sufficient perception of some parts of reality—along with the functioning perceptual faculty of memory), that there will be mental objects to be aware of (besides the ‘extra-mental’ objects). In a sense then, there is a unique ‘inner’ reality generated by each consciousness—but this has nothing to do with sense-perceived (extra-mental) reality. Also, I disagree that sense data are ‘generated.’ I realize that there is a ‘process’ to perception, but I do not recognize the ‘mental creation’ of sense data. This view seems to fall into the trap of the sense datum theory of perception—as opposed to direct (adverbial) perception.”
My reply: In saying that sense data are “generated” by consciousness, I didn’t mean to imply that we create sense data out of whole cloth. The data are actually the result of the causal interaction between some aspect of reality and our brains, sense organs, nervous systems &c. So, it is the interaction between our consciousness and existence that “generates” sense data, and these data, as Peikoff well explains, are the means by which we perceive reality. However, since the interaction with the aspect of reality and the generation of the data takes place inside our bodies, while the aspect of reality we are interacting with and perceiving is, you know, “way over there,” it makes some sense to think of our conscious brains &c as generating the data. They certainly played a causal role in the generating of the data (as did the aspect of reality, “way over there,” that we are causally interacting with by, for instance, taking in a stream of light or sound waves radiating from it). I’m sorry for any confusion this might have caused, and I hope it’s clearer now.
4. I wrote: “Even subjective phenomena (e.g., fantasies, etc.) have metaphysical primacy over an act of consciousness that holds them as its object! ... Everything that is being held as the object of a mind is uncreated by and thus independent of that act of a mind—even subjective phenomena that are generated by some other act of a mind than the act that views them.”
Ed comments: “Okay, the fantasies are real ‘for’ the subject (though they don’t pertain, at all, to extra-mental reality)—I think I get it.”
My reply: Yup, you got it.
5. I wrote: “Prior to Kant, ‘subjective’ referred to the nature of a thing in itself (i.e., as a thing, a subject), as opposed to ‘objective,’ which referred to the nature of a thing as it is presented to (i.e., the object of) consciousness. After Descartes, the term ‘subjective’ was constricted to refer specifically to the nature of the perceiving or thinking consciousness, while ‘objective’ is used to refer to what is considered as independent of the perceiving or thinking self.”
Ed comments: “These 2 alternatives are misleading, as Descartes was ‘[p]rior to Kant’ and Kant came ‘[a]fter Descartes’—ie. they are each speaking about the SAME time period (the time between Descartes and Kant), yet they postulate different views for that same time period.”
My reply: The period between Descartes and Kant was a transition period, in regard to usage of the term “objective.” Descartes still used it in the Scholastic sense, while Kant no longer used it in that sense, but instead in the new…Kantian…sense. The Oxford English Dictionary gives no further details except to make it clear that Kant was the most prominent, decisive factor in this definition switch of “objective.” No doubt a dedicated scholar could better ferret out exactly did what to whom about this, but I think it’s reasonable to blame Kant for it. J (I’m smiling, because I’m expecting/hoping to hear from Fred Seddon on this.)
6. I wrote: “Once the meaning of ‘subject’ changed from that of an existent, whether conscious or not, to that of a conscious being, it was inevitable that ‘objective’ would lose the meaning of an existent before the mind and instead take on the meaning of an existent apart from the mind.”
Ed comments: “I'm muddled here. Is every act of consciousness awareness BY a subject and ABOUT an object, or not?”
My reply: Yes. The original meaning of “subjective” referred to any existent, including a conscious being, apart from its being the object of awareness—that is, anything that exists, considered “in itself.” The modern meaning of “subjective” was drastically narrowed to refer specifically to the person who is aware. The original meaning of “objective” referred to any existent, insofar as it is the object of awareness. The modern meaning of “objective” was totally switched to refer to any existent apart from its being the product of awareness. You can see how there has been a radical switch between the Scholastic usages and the Kantian et al usages. And in my opinion, the healthiest, most valid developments in Objectivism have been those away from the Kantian usages (e.g., Rand’s “objective reality”) and toward the Scholastic usages (sense data as objective, meaning a thing in reality as one is perceptually aware of it).
7. I wrote: “... referring to mind-independent reality as ‘Objective Reality,’ a phrase she pretty much stopped using after the mid-1960s. Peikoff says in OPAR that this metaphysical usage is ‘harmless,’ since it is really just another label for Primacy of Existence (existence being independent of consciousness). But surely it's not that benign. (Besides, it's Kantian!)”
Ed requests: "Please elaborate."
My reply: Sure. “Objective reality” meaning existence being independent of consciousness is “Kantian” if and to the extent that Kant is responsible for the modern usage of “objective” meaning existence apart from consciousness. It’s not benign, because it’s muddled. Rand improved the clarity of discourse by substituting the term “intrinsic” to mean existence apart from consciousness. To retain clarity, she also (apparently) felt she had to stop saying “objective reality,” because it would sound as though she were confusing the objective with the intrinsic. Furthermore, in its original, core meaning, “object” referred to the aspect of reality involved in an act-object relationship. Thus, an aspect of reality is literally only “objective,” if it is the object of an act of awareness, and to refer to an aspect of reality as “objective” apart from its being the object of an act of awareness is deadly confusing. Which again, it seems to me, is why Rand stopped using the phrase “objective reality.” (Those of you out there with the Rand research CD-ROM—I would be interested, and surprised, to know of any instances where she uses the phrase “objective reality” after 1965.)
8. I wrote: “Thus, there are two aspects of the ‘objective’—an aspect pertaining to existence in relation to consciousness, and an aspect pertaining to consciousness in relation to existence. (To keep them distinct in my mind, I sometimes call the former one the ‘ontological’ or ‘metaphysical’ objective—and the latter one the ‘epistemic’ or ‘epistemological’ objective. But they are inseparable aspects of a single situation.) Much of Rand’s and Peikoff’s subsequent (i.e., post-1965) discussion of the ‘objective’ focused on this second aspect: the nature of a reality-adhering consciousness—rather than the first aspect: the nature of reality when it is in the situation of being adhered to by consciousness.”
Ed comments: “This seems like a distinction without a difference. The law of identity (‘existence is identity’) seems sufficient for a complete validation of metaphysical objectivity, though only after practicing epistemic objectivity—will this become inescapably clear to a rational thinker. The one is utilized, chronologically, prior to the other—yet the other is logically prior. So there is a truth, and a means to know it—and what folks need to learn, is how to recognize the truth (ie. philosophical justifications should be epistemic in nature).”
My reply: It’s no more a “distinction without a difference” than the distinction between the act and object of awareness itself. We used to be encouraged to apply the term “objective” to reality as it exists independent of our awareness. But since 1965, Rand et al quietly stopped using the phrase “objective reality” in their writings and lectures. Instead, they spoke of “Primacy of Existence,” which is fine and definitely less misleading—and for reality independent of or apart from existence they instead consistently used the term “intrinsic.”
So far, so good. But if “objective” in its primary, core meaning pertains to an “adherence” relationship between existence and consciousness, then it is clear that this relationship goes both ways, just as the “spousal” relationship goes both ways between husband and wife. The man is a “spouse” when he is the husband of a woman, and the woman is a “spouse” when she is the wife of a man. An aspect of reality is (ontologically) “objective” when it is adhered to by an act of awareness, and an act of awareness is (epistemically) “objective” when it adheres to an aspect of reality. If this is a distinction without a difference, then you’d better take it up with my wife! J
9. I wrote: What turned Peikoff around (unfortunately) was Rand's argument that only volitional acts of awareness (and not perception) could be ‘objective,’ since one can only adhere to reality by an act of choice. Peikoff later echoed this argument in OPAR. Surely, though, this is not correct. Even though conceptual grasping of reality requires deliberate choice, the perceptual grasp of reality is automatic. We automatically adhere (attach) to reality in perception; but this does not make it any less objective, any less adherent to reality.”
Ed comments: “This sounds contradictory to what I’ve read. If perception can’t be objective, then there is no base (or basis) for knowledge. If I ask Peikoff where he stands on that, what do you think he would say in response? If he’s written a contradiction, please marshal it—in detail—as evidence.”
My reply: Sure. Peikoff wrote it in OPAR. (I’m sure you can find the page it’s on; I’m not home, or I’d look it up for you, but I think it’s in the chapter titled “Objectivity.”) Perception is not volitional. Only the volitional is objective. So perception is not objective. (So the argument goes, anyway.) Peikoff first said it several years earlier in “Objectivism: the State of the Art.” He explained how Rand convinced him that he was in error in portraying perception as being objective in his Modern Philosophy lectures (1970). (See above as well as my previous reply to Phil for more detail on this.)
10. I wrote: “Another is that the initial move Rand made back toward the original meaning of "objective" -- reality held as the object of awareness -- seems to have been largely abandoned, in favor of a focus on awareness holding reality as its object."
Ed comments: “1. ‘reality held as the object of awareness.’ 2. ‘awareness holding reality as its object.’ Please elaborate on how these 2 things are different.”
My reply: They are two inseparable aspects of the relation between consciousness and existence. However, since they can be distinguished in thought, a person can put an undue emphasis on one, while neglecting the other. And if that undue emphasis also has the added factor of ruling out the non-volitional, then the neglected facet will tend to be applied only to the volitional as well. I think that Rand’s focus on #2, and her insistence that only volitional awareness and not perception could be objective, led her to pressure Peikoff into dropping his luminously clear (and valid) discussion of how the trichotomy applies to perception. Sense data are objective, rather than subjective or intrinsic, according to Peikoff in 1970. By 1972 and forever after, they are not objective, because perception is not volitional. Q.E.D. (Not!)
11. I wrote: “For instance, is the good an attribute of a thing one values, apart from one’s conscious rational awareness of it? (Intrinsicism) Or is the good an attribute of a thing one values, apart from the nature of the thing valued? (Subjectivism) Or is the good an attribute of a thing one values that is the product of one’s rational awareness of some aspect of the thing’s identity? (Objectivism) In other words, as Rand (1965) asks: is the good an aspect of reality apart from man's awareness of it, or an aspect of man's consciousness apart from the nature of reality, or 'an aspect of reality in relation to man'."?
Ed comments: “But ANY potential, viable value, ie. something that is really good (for you), is something of which you can, potentially, be aware. If you couldn't ever become aware of something—as a conscious being—then it couldn't ever be a value (as it would then have no potentiality to become one, because values are always and only discovered things).”
My reply: Right, but as such, it’s only a potential value. Actual value, for Rand, was the result of a certain evaluative relationship between a living being and some aspect of reality, and the living being’s subsequent pursuit of that aspect of reality. (She even discussed value in regard to plants, which are not conscious, but do interact with and respond to their environments by seeking things that will help them survive.) If that evaluative/pursing relationship (which requires acts by the living being) does not exist, then value does not actually exist. To speak of value apart from this relationship (and the acts that generate it) is to either speak of value as “intrinsic,” or to speak of value that is merely potential and not actual.
Remember, nothing is “really good for you,” apart from your context and your awareness. One example will suffice: is water good for you? Not out of context. If you’re drowning in the ocean, a glass of water is the last thing you would benefit from. (Literally, even!) It’s potentially good for me, once I’m pulled to safety and feel thirsty. But even then, suppose I’m thirsty and facing a deadline on an essay, and I have to forego the drink, if I am to meet my deadline. Is the water “really good for me” then? Nope, unless my thirst reaches the point that my desire and need to drink is so intense that I may die as the result of continuing to write the essay without taking a drink. But suppose I am a terminal cancer patient, and this essay is the last thing I have any realistic hope of achieving, and I really want to have it as part of my legacy, what I leave behind, and taking a drink (substitute sex, if you like J ) will sufficiently disrupt my writing process that the essay won’t be as good as I want it to be. There really are dilemmas in life, where we have to choose what “really is good for us” (or “best” for us). As Adam Reed says, context matters, especially in regard to the good as objective.
(Edited by Roger Bissell on 2/08, 1:30pm)