d

Posts Tagged ‘ayn rand’

Dogma

In fideism, induction on 23/07/2011 at 6:24 am

Nothing is more characteristic of a dogmatist epistemology than its theory of error. For if some truths are manifest, one must explain how anyone can be mistaken about them, in other words, why the truths are not manifest to everybody. According to its particular theory of error, each dogmatist epistemology offers its particular therapeutics to purge minds from error. (Imre Lakatos)

I’ve heard it said from followers of Rand that a theory (usually one of Rand’s own, or a variation thereof) is unassailable, for any criticism of the theory must necessarily assume the theory in order to criticize it. This, somehow, invalidates all criticism.

Is the supposition “Any criticism must assume the validity of the theory being criticized” self-evident?

One problem: how does one know that all possible criticisms employ that theory? Is anyone familiar with all potential arguments against the theory? Of course not: novel ideas are created every day. Therefore, this assertion, that all criticism must assume the theory is true, is based on an inductive inference, which cannot, as a matter of logic, be as demonstrably self-evident or unconditionally immune to criticism as it first appears.

It might be the case that it is true, but it is hardly evident to me, especially once this doubt is raised. Furthermore, whatever theory is used to demonstrate how the initial theory is self-evident must, of course, be scrutinized to determine if it suffers from the same problem: is this new theory self-evident as well? A regress of ‘unassailable’ theories begins in earnest.

The world is far more interesting than we can imagine: asserting that no criticism could possibly exist speaks only to, I think, their limited intellectual horizon. I conjecture that it is better for an idea to stick its neck out as far as it can, therefore inviting many criticisms, and taking them serious. One criticism, if accepted, is enough. As the followers of Rand would have it, the world can only be a constant construction of sandcastles following the blueprints of the Master, and yet no helpful criticism of the blueprints or their faithful execution is permitted. I might go so far as to say that this meta-theory is self-evident, but of course, I don’t.

Assume that everything I have just said is not the case: assume that the Randian (for they are such an easy punching bag, no?) now says that by any criticism that does not assume the same things as Objectivism is then starting from different — incompatible — assumptions, and is not a viable criticism. This might be a possible defensive maneuver for the Randian, for it disallows criticism of its assumptions and criticism of its coherence. Here we have the gestation of the most uninteresting post-modernists within the Randian (or the religious presuppositionalists like Van Til), for the Randian must not be aware of a reductio ad absurdum.

And this, I should note, is a point that deserves no further clarification on my part, for pointing out incoherence is one of the most powerful criticisms available.

//

Certainty

In critical rationalism, fallibilism, fideism on 11/07/2011 at 5:50 am

Over at Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature, Daniel Barnes (who I understand is at least sympathetic to critical rationalism) provides the following quotation from Rand:

“Don’t be so sure—nobody can be certain of anything.” Bertrand Russell’s gibberish to the contrary notwithstanding, that pronouncement includes itself; therefore, one cannot be sure that one cannot be sure of anything. The pronouncement means that no knowledge of any kind is possible to man, i.e., that man is not conscious. Furthermore, if one tried to accept that catch phrase, one would find that its second part contradicts its first: if nobody can be certain of anything, then everybody can be certain of everything he pleases—since it cannot be refuted, and he can claim he is not certain he is certain (which is the purpose of that notion). (Ayn Rand, “Philosophical Detection”, Philosophy: Who Needs It? p.14)

Barnes provides a subjectivist account of the comprehensively critical rationalist’s response, but it should be objectified to explain its true strength: talking about the status of mental states tells us nothing about the epistemological status of statements. Is the statement “Nobody can be certain of anything,” when rephrased as “We cannot know of any statement as justified” justified, true, or believed?

Someone may in due time develop a powerful objection to the statement, but so far none have been raised and survived even the most superficial criticism. If some statement is found that is known to be justified, then the sentence would be false. This negates the first criteria of justification.

It’s then permissible to adopt the statement as true. Adopting a statement as true, provisionally as it may be, does not make the statement true. This means that we cannot know (in the sense of having sufficient reasons) that the statement is true. The statement is then not self-refuting, but a conjecture about a critical failure in justificationist theories of knowledge: they are dealing with a pseudo-problem, a ‘false consciousness’ about ‘knowledge.’

It is not my duty to justify conjectures, for the conjecture asserts that very impossibility. To anyone that adopts the conjecture, according to their own lights, such an activity would be a waste of time, for it is prima facie absurd. It is my duty, and the duty of others, to criticize conjectures.

I do believe the statement is true, in much the same way I believe that I exist, but my beliefs, my psychological states, are unimportant–truth is primary.

//

Rand’s Misunderstanding of Philosophy Post-Kant

In rand on 21/06/2011 at 3:28 am

¶3-4.

Dykes begins his next ‘assault’ on CR with

If it is true that our senses are pre-programmed; if it is true that ‘there is no sense organ in which anticipatory theories are not genetically incorporated’; then what flows into our minds is determined and what flows out of them is subjective. … Since it is ultimately the product of the pre-programmed interpretation of the data which entered Popper’s mind, CR is a theory which can only be applied to Popper. According to his own view of his contact with reality, he would not be able to verify the relevance of CR to anybody else (§3,¶3).

Yes, if Kant is correct in making a distinction between the phenomenal and noumenal, then there could be no such thing as direct and unmediated communication, utterly free creation of theories, and so on. What of it? Does that make CR, or any other post-Kantian stance for that matter, incorrect?

Read the rest of this entry »

Rand’s Problem with the Problem of Induction

In induction, rand on 21/06/2011 at 3:16 am

Dykes:

By careful observation – free from preconception – we are able to discover the identities of the entities we observe. Thereafter, we are fully entitled to assume that like entities will cause like events, the form of inference we call induction. And, because it rests on the axiom of the Law of Identity, correct induction – free from contradiction – is a valid route to knowledge. (¶ 11)

I must address this paragraph, line by line: “By careful observation – free from preconception – we are able to discover the identities of the entities we observe.” (¶ 11) The assumption that we may have unmediated observation, ‘free from preconception’, is just that: an assumption that such an observation may take place. From what we know in neuroscience and basic biology, it appears that all sensory qualities we have are not in any way immediate. It is dubious, to say the least, that it is possible to observe ‘free from preconception’, for it would require a mind wiped clean even of its structure, and perhaps eliminating all its previous content. Simply put, the mind is not in any way a blank slate. To counter the fact that it is impossible to know if one is observing ‘free from preconception’ by declaring that we have observation ‘free from preconception’ is absurd.

Thus, Dykes must first argue that observation is ‘free from preconception,’ and that we may come to know which observations are ‘free from preconception’ and which observations are not.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rand’s Law of Identitiy

In induction, rand on 21/06/2011 at 2:59 am

I’ve learned very few truly valuable things in life. I won’t list them all, and they may be repugnant or less than valuable to some, but I will list one: argument is not about winning. If you win an argument, you lose. Arguments are about getting closer, no matter how hard they are, to the truth. Of course, I choose not to go into a lengthy argument about why this is the case, simply because I’m not out to convert anyone.

That said, there are times that I see arguments that are just wrong. In these cases, I do not mean to say that their conclusions are therefore false, only that the argument is fallacious — not manifestly so, as is often the case. Some times the wrongness is hidden deep within, and only by prying carefully at the edges can we get a glimpse at where the argument runs afoul.

Read the rest of this entry »