I will here retrace some of the course of Rand’s thinking about sensory perception, then her thinking about objectivity. For this short refreshment of our memories, I’ll rely only on texts Rand published. I will then suggest a distinct appropriate realm of application for Roger’s special senses of the objective, but this will be an application harmonious with the realm and role of Rand’s special senses of the objective.
Rand thought that higher animals are guided by percepts. The actions of such an animal “are not single, discrete responses to single, separate stimuli, but are directed by an integrated awareness of the perceptual reality confronting it” [Obj Ethics (1961) 19].
We should note, however, that “an animal has no critical faculty. . . . To an animal, whatever strikes his awareness is an absolute that corresponds to reality—or rather, it is a distinction he is incapable of making: reality, to him, is whatever he senses or feels” [FNI (1961) 17].
Long ago my deceased partner and I took in a young stray cat who evidently had not yet experienced mirrors. She investigated the evident fellow cat in the mirror, as you described. However, later in life, she no longer took any manifest notice of her image in mirrors. I don’t know whether this adaptation is contrary to what Rand asserted in the preceding paragraph.)
But when it comes to human beings, Rand observes, they for sure have an integrated perceptual awareness that includes the ability to identify perceptual illusions [AS (1957) 1041]. We can come to understand illusions in terms of veridical perceptual components of which they are composed. Moreover, we are capable, when awake and healthy, of identifying the phantasmagoria of dreams and hallucinations as occasions of consciousness not fastened upon reality. We can also tell the difference between our episodes of perception and our episodes of memory or imagination [IOE (1966–67) 30]. In Rand’s view, all of those types of human consciousness have a content that “is some aspect of the external world (or is derivable from some aspect of the external world)” [IOE 31].
Rand stressed the primary, foundational kind of consciousness we possess, which is the kind possessed in veridical perception. This essential sort of consciousness is given pride of place in much contemporary philosophy of perception. It is sometimes termed success consciousness. This fundamental sense of consciousness is what Rand articulates when she writes that consciousness is “the faculty of perceiving that which exists” and “if that which you claim to perceive does not exist, then what you possess is not consciousness” [AS 1015].
Rand’s view of perception is a realist view. A human being is able “to perceive a reality undistorted by his senses. . . . ‘Things as they are’ are things as perceived by your mind” [AS 1036]. The mind’s only access to reality is by means of its percepts [KvS (1970)]. “It is in the form of percepts that man grasps the evidence of his senses and apprehends reality. When we speak of ‘direct perception’ or ‘direct awareness’, we mean the perceptual level. Percepts, not sensations, are the given, the self-evident” [IOE 5].
Rand’s most elementary sense of the concept objective is the sense of ordinary parlance. This is the sense she talks of when explaining why she has chosen Objectivism as the name of her philosophy. She credits Aristotle as the first to correctly define “the basic principle of a rational view of existence and of man’s consciousness: that there is only one reality, the one man perceives—that it exists as an objective absolute (which means: independently of the consciousness, the wishes, or the feelings of any perceiver)” [FNI 22].
In 1965, as Roger has recounted, Rand published two refinements of her concept of objectivity. Early in the year, she distinguished a metaphysical from an epistemological aspect of objectivity [FAE 18]. Later that year, Rand refined her concept of objectivity further. She introduced her distinction of the intrinsic, the subjective, and the objective. This was in application to her theory of the good and its relationship to other theories of the good [WC 21–26].
By the following year, it was clear that Rand envisioned a broadened role for the intrinsicist-subjectivist-objectivist way of locating her philosophic theories in relation to others. She applied the tripartition to the theory of concepts and universals. Concepts, for Rand, can be objective and should be objective. Such concepts are “produced by man’s consciousness in accordance with the facts of reality, as mental integrations of factual data computed by man—as products of a cognitive method of classification whose processes must be formed by man, but whose content is dictated by reality” [IOE 54]. Rand’s conception of concepts (and definitions and essence and . . .) and her conception of the good can be rightly characterized as (i) objective with Rand’s metaphysical-epistemological faces of the objective relation and, at the same time, as (ii) objective within Rand’s intrinsicist-subjectivist-objectivist tripartition.
At this time (1966–67), Rand thinks that (as Roger has stressed) “the dichotomy of ‘intrinsic or subjective’ has played havoc with this issue [of universals] as it has with every other issue involving the relationship of consciousness to existence” [IOE 53]. That would certainly seem to include the relationship of sensory perception to existence. In what ways has the dichotomy of intrinsic-or-subjective played havoc in understanding the nature of perception? Should perception have the status objective in Rand’s tripartition? There is fertile ground here, waiting for growers.
An Objectivity in Perception
Rand’s metaphysical sense of objectivity proclaims the recognition of the mind-independence of existence in the relationship of existence and consciousness. Her epistemological sense of objectivity proclaims recognition of the mind’s dependence on logical identification and integration of the evidence of the senses to acquire knowledge of existence [FAE 18]. Both of these senses of objectivity proclaim epistemological and moral norms of volitional, conceptual consciousness.
Roger’s ontological and cognitive senses of the objective relation differ from Rand’s metaphysical and epistemological senses of objectivity in three ways. I’ll mention two of them.
Firstly, the forms of consciousness to which Roger’s ontological and cognitive aspects of the objective relation apply are wider. These aspects apply to all varieties of consciousness, whether or not they are volitional types of consciousness.
Secondly, Roger’s ontological and cognitive aspects of the objective are not necessarily norms for conscious rule-following. They are, however, related to norms in the more general engineering-performance sense. Any system having a function has performance norms. Human perception, pleasure and pain, memory, dreams (perhaps), imagination, judgment-level evaluations, and emotions all have functions and performance norms in the human being. Roger’s ontological and cognitive aspects of the objective figure into the performance norms of the volitional forms of consciousness, and they figure into the performance norms of perception, of pleasure-pain evaluations, of memories, and, perhaps, of dreams.
I better rest.