Wednesday, June 28, 2017

An Exchange on Ayn Rand and Objectivist Epistemology

FLIGHT: I'm not an Ayn Randian, but this doesn't mean I reject every last thing she said. In many ways she was an excellent, clear thinker. My interest is to interact with those who lean toward the polemical side of Objectivism. I have not found Rand's philosophy to be comprehensive; I have found that it *quickly* shatters under scrutiny. But the thing that really gets me is why people (who profess to possess the objective truth about reality) would be so reluctant (insecure?) to engage in dialogue (most especially if the person is directly interacting with the material)? I want to talk to the person who is well-studied and confident in defending Objectivism.


OBJECTIVIST: Objectivists are generally not interested in polemics. It's in the realm of what I call "academic hedonism," or -- the process of arguing for the sake of arguing because one likes to argue. If there is nothing on offer for us from the exchange, it would be a selfless sacrifice for us to engage it. The only ones who *can* gain from it are specifically those who are not well-studied or confident and need the challenge.


FLIGHT: "...arguing for the sake of arguing because one likes to argue." This is not my cup of tea. Objectivism makes claims about the nature of reality. I have found these claims to be wanting (but am open to their defense).

"If there is nothing on offer for us from the exchange, it would be a selfless sacrifice for us to engage it."

Surely the defense of a position can only serve to strengthen that position. What does one gain by refuting objections? Solidification, affirmation, authority, better understanding (or in the best sense) liberation from error. I imagine a theist making the same claim, but if he was in error how would he know it? Is this really a rational criterion as opposed to a dogmatic one? How would you ever know if Objectivism was false?

"And his basic vice, the source of all his evils, is that nameless act which all of you practice, but struggle never to admit: the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one’s consciousness, the refusal to think—not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know. It is the act of unfocusing your mind and inducing an inner fog to escape the responsibility of judgment—on the unstated premise that a thing will not exist if only you refuse to identify it..." Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual, Galt's Speech

Surely this presumption of a "thing not existing" must include objections?


OBJECTIVIST: I was unaware that Objectivism was shattered. I know you asked to "engage in dialogue". However, I've found that to be a very challenging task. How about an alternative? You have claimed to have shattered or seen Objectivism shatter under scrutiny. Surely you can write down your analysis and share with the rest of us. I for one would be interested to reading it. Thank you.


FLIGHT: I think this is fair, but what would be of great help is if you could direct me to what you consider to be Rand's strongest chapter or essay? The reason for this is that I don't want to interact with a text merely to have someone claim that I should have interacted with something else. (The reason I say chapter or essay is because it would be impractical [given our present medium] to engage an entire book).


OBJECTIVIST: The position doesn't need strengthening so I have nothing to gain by arguing it. Only someone who is unsure would bother to question the nature of reality. Your lack of/misunderstanding of Ayn Rand is one thing; your earnest interest in discovering what it is (rather than proving you are smarter than her) would take a different form.

I find this approach intellectually dishonest. If you were actually interested in learning about Objectivism, the approach would be "what does Objectivism say?" not "Objectivism is flawed -- prove it isn't so." So I don't for one minute believe your true intentions are to learn about Objectivism, but to use my forum as a platform for your own anti-Objectivist voice.

If you have a specific misunderstanding about something Ayn Rand has written or said, I will make a statement to help clarify. I will not debate whether or not what she said is valid or true. That is the extent to which I will engage. The idea that "Objectivism "shatters under scrutiny" is a vague, sweeping declaration. Get specific and do not expect a debate. I will not point/counterpoint on the validity of Objectivism, only make statements to clarify one's understanding of it.

Jersey, you have made a sweeping, vague claim that Objectivism "shatters under scrutiny" and then admit to not having placed Objectivism under any particular scrutiny and have no specific disagreement. I think we're done here.


FLIGHT: Your characterization of my position is false. I have many times scrutinized Miss Rand. The reason I asked for people here to suggest a text is because you are (to use a word you may not like) believers... I prefer to go by your criteria and deal with what you consider to be her strongest arguments. I do the same thing with theism. If we can't discuss the cogency of Ayn Rand's metaphysics here, with people who openly advocate her philosophy, where should we do it? Isn't this a logical place to seek a conversation on the integrity of Objectivist metaphysics? .


OBJECTIVIST: Objectivist metaphysics says that reality exists independently of consciousness, among many other things. If you have a specific question about something Objectivism says about metaphysics, ask it. You may not try to turn this forum into anything else other than the use I have proscribed for it. You are perfectly free to establish other forums for such tomfoolery if you wish, but you may not advertise it in here.

If you are looking for a shortcut around actually reading what Ayn Rand wrote about metaphysics and thinking about it, there isn't any. You will have to do so first before any meaningful discussion can be had. Discussion is not a replacement for reading Objectivism itself, or the introspection required to grasp it.

What I try to provide is guidance during such introspection, if it is requested.

How do you decide you want to "discuss" Objectivist metaphysics when you don't even know what it is about Objectivist metaphysics you want to discuss? There's only one way I can think of.


FLIGHT: This is where the puzzle begins:

"Objectivity is both a metaphysical and an epistemological concept. It pertains to the relationship of consciousness to existence." “Who Is the Final Authority in Ethics?” The Objectivist Newsletter, Feb. 1965, 7

So what about existence's relationship to consciousness? It seems to me that not only does man shape the world by his consciousness, but that his consciousness is equally shaped by the world. It seems that Miss Rand is here advocating a kind of abstract idealism against the concrete nature of reality. Perhaps I misunderstand? What if reality contains contradictions, but Miss Rand denies this based on her idealism, how then can her consciousness have a true relationship to reality? Would you agree, that if reality contains contradictions then Objectivism is a form of false idealism?


OBJECTIVIST: In Objectivist metaphysics, the relationship of existence to consciousness is the corollary: if consciousness is the act of perceiving that which exists, existence is that which consciousness perceives. This leaves perfectly valid the idea of "concepts of consciousness," those things which only a volitional consciousness can construct itself and also perceive. Such things are emotions like love and hate. They do not include things like corporeal objects or "mind over matter" supernaturalism.

In logic, one cannot use floating abstractions (concepts dropped into a vacuum, disconnected from the possibility of definition). Here, you have used the concept "contradiction"­ in the context of metaphysics. The concept "contradiction"­ presupposes a particular metaphysics: you must have a metaphysics in order to say what is or is not a "contradiction."­ You cannot presume a metaphysics and then use that presumption to disprove a different metaphysics. i.e., "contradiction"­ is not an axiomatic concept.

Defining "contradiction"­ and thinking about what that means is important, though. Can the universe contradict itself? Can there be gravity and non-gravity at the same time, in the same place? Can there be matter and not-matter at the same time, in the same place? Can there be energy and non-energy at the same time in the same place? Of course not.

In Objectivism, "contradictions"­ do not exist. If you think you have identified one, what you have actually identified is an error; you must check your premises along two conceptual hierarchies to find your mistake.


FLIGHT: It seems to me I have hit the very crux of the issue. You said, "In Objectivism, contradictions do not exist." Precisely! In theism death does not exist, but only a transference to eternal life, but such idealism does not necessarily represent reality. The question then is whether or not contradictions actually exist in reality? If they do I would argue that Objectivism must be false. Just because Objectivism holds, to the non-existence of contradiction, does not mean that such idealism represents reality. I respect your knowledge in this area, and am going to consider the details of your reply. (I did not prove anything here, my position is merely hypothetical).

Important to provide the context of Rand's position:

"A contradiction cannot exist. An atom is itself, and so is the universe; neither can contradict its own identity; nor can a part contradict the whole. No concept man forms is valid unless he integrates it without contradiction into the total sum of his knowledge. To arrive at a contradiction is to confess an error in one’s thinking; to maintain a contradiction is to abdicate one’s mind and to evict oneself from the realm of reality." For the New Intellectual, Galt’s Speech


OBJECTIVIST: What she means is: if you decide that a contradiction exists and you leave it at that, and do not find the error, you are giving up on reality and existence as valid.


FLIGHT: At any point we negate (or evade) the burden of proof it seems we have equally abolished our right to protest. What Miss Rand says about evading the law of non-contradiction must equally apply to the burden of proof; to shirk it is to destroy our right to criticize or hold the opposition accountable. If we can evade it irrationally, then so can our opponent.


OBJECTIVIST: The burden of proof lies with a claim. My only claims are to my understanding of Objectivism as I have presented them.

Further, proving a claim depends upon the claim being in the affirmative; one cannot prove a negative. If someone claims there is/are a god[s], they must provide evidence to substantiate the claim. The corollary of "prove there *isn't*" is impossible. If you can come up with a single metaphysical contradiction where I cannot demonstrate how it doesn't actually exist, then I cannot support Objectivism's metaphysics to you. If that is your goal, that is what you would have to achieve.

I cannot prove to you there isn't such a thing, that would be proving a negative. The positive claim is that the universe doesn't work that way, metaphysically. There is no evidence anywhere to support the claim that contradictions exist, just as there is none to support the existence of god[s]. You have to "believe" in them.


FLIGHT: "My only claims are to my understanding of Objectivism..." This is false, you have claimed that Objectivism is reality: "Only someone who is unsure would bother to question the nature of reality." This is a bold and all-inclusive metaphysical claim for which you (if you would be rational) bear the burden of proof. This claim is not substantiated merely by asserting it.

One more note on the burden of proof. What I said is correct: 'at any point we negate (or evade) the burden of proof it seems we have equally abolished our right to protest.' You did not refute my premise, you merely qualified the nature of the burden: "The burden of proof lies with a claim." Correct. So what happens if a person shirks the burden of their claim? (see my original premise)


OBJECTIVIST: This is pedantic, but my use of the words "sure" and "unsure" is correct, whereas another (incorrect) formulation of those concepts are being presumed.

If you question something, that means in itself that you are unsure of it. No further evidence is necessary. The evidence that you have questioned it is sufficient to establish your lack of certainty.

If you are certain of your knowledge, and you ask me to contradict your certainty and provide evidence for my contradiction, then we are through with the discussion. I have no interest in such nonsense. Only ask what you are not already certain of. Do not bother to ask me how I would contradict your established certainty, I have no interest in that and it is dishonest to represent otherwise.

I am only interested in honest, earnest questions about the content of your knowledge and understanding -- and this goes in general for everyone, not specifically targeted at you. I do not entertain questions where are you already certain of the answer and just what to see what my response is, for whatever purpose. I am not doing this to provide entertainment.

To that end: in order to grasp a particular metaphysics, you have to set aside your own extant metaphysical system and allow a blank slate. It is difficult, and takes introspective consideration of every detail. You have to root out your metaphysical premises from your own thoughts, and where they conflict with the system you are pondering, set that aside.

All your polemics have metaphysical premises beneath them. You cannot grasp Objectivist metaphysics in anti-Objectivist metaphysical terms.


FLIGHT: (As you claim) I am certain of what exactly? Your reply seems to me like both a straw-man and red herring. My position is what exactly? The point I made has to do with the function of the burden of proof. You seem to think that I'm asking you to prove a negative, when in fact, your claim regarding Objectivism, is the positive basis of my holding you to account. I did not make the claim that Objectivism is reality (and that reality is free of contradiction). (I have not yet made an argument regarding the nature of reality). I simply outlined what's at stake and clarified Ayn Rand's position (by quoting her directly). This is simply to establish context.  

"If you are certain of your knowledge, and you ask me to contradict your certainty and provide evidence for my contradiction, then we are through with the discussion." 

Where did I do this? You misunderstand my position. My position is falsifiable.

It seems, when you say, "I am only interested in honest, earnest questions about the content of your knowledge and understanding," that you are really only interested in the affirmation of your premises. This is not my position. I am interested in questions that challenge my position and thereby strengthen my understanding of reality. I would like to know if what Ayn Rand claims is actually the case in reality (and because I'm intelligent) I want to discuss this with people who have considered her ideas. (At least this strikes me as an intelligent thing to do).

"I do not entertain questions where you are already certain of the answer and just what to see what my response is, for whatever purpose."

This is a false characterization of my position, which also has the dual function of being an ad hominem. It is a way of dismissing and evading me without actually having to engage my objections. You are free to do it, but please don't pretend that it's rational. Further, the only one who has demonstrated psychological dogmatism (certainty) in this situation, is you. What I want to see is if my objections fall by the wayside or if Rand's philosophy succumbs to contradiction. I want to know if her metaphysical claims are true. This requires more than the citation of unexamined assertions regarding the nature of reality; it requires letting reality speak for itself.

"To that end: in order to grasp a particular metaphysics, you have to set aside your own extant metaphysical system and allow a blank slate. It is difficult, and takes introspective consideration of every detail. You have to root out your metaphysical premises from your own thoughts, and where they conflict with the system you are pondering, set that aside."

Here I think we are very close. My approach is to weigh metaphysical claims in light of reality (not merely to assume the nature of reality as being equivalent to Objectivist description). The formula you gave equally applies to Objectivism itself. But the problem is that you start with the premise of Objectivist idealism, in contrast, I am interested in comparing these premises with the material world. As per "blank slate," there is no such thing as a presuppositionless philosophy. But this does not leave us in despair; the material world stands outside our thought. The question is whether or not we impose our idealism on the world, or allow the world to shape our view of itself? 

"All your polemics have metaphysical premises beneath them." We agree. But here you seem to assume that the identity of what lies beneath is merely abstract (which is the consist response of an idealist) when in reality, it is nothing other than the material world itself (and this is a premise we both share).


OBJECTIVIST: I don't know if its honest, earnest questioning regarding your own understanding or not. I can't know that. I'm asking you to be sure, because the polemic approach is suspicious and tiresome, especially when words like "unsure" come into question. If "unsure" does not mean, in your mind, what it means in mine when I use it, there is a *metaphysical* disconnect. We can't talk about metaphysics with metaphysical hang-ups in the way.

Any concept of metaphysics is itself a concept: it cannot be purely "out there." If it were, it would not be a concept. Our understanding/grasp of knowledge is purely conceptual; to that extent, there is no means available to us to knowledge other than a conceptual one.

We represent "the material world," i.e. "out there," in purely conceptual terms. It's not a matter of imposing a conceptual idealism on the world, its a matter of "that's all we've got."

What is "out there" is the universe, it will be what it is and behave as it does whether we form accurate concepts to describe it or not. That is Objectivist metaphysics in a nutshell. The idea that what is "out there" is created or modified by what we believe or how we understand it is against this, and is anti-Objectivist metaphysics. There is no means of mixing the two and forming a ruleset as to when you can use one and when you can use the other; the only means of doing so would be pure whim. There is either an objective reality or there is none at all.


FLIGHT: "What is "out there" is the universe, it will be what it is and behave as it does whether we form accurate concepts to describe it or not...The idea that what is "out there" is created or modified by what we believe or how we understand it is against this, and is anti-Objectivist metaphysics."

As an analogy of clarity: merely noting that a metaphysical position is anti-theistic is not an argument for the justification of theistic metaphysics. It is merely a reaffirmation of what has already been asserted regarding one's belief about the accuracy of theistic metaphysics. This is dogmatic not scientific.

That the universe is external is what allows us to qualify our metaphysics.

You have once again incorrectly inferred my position. We do modify the world in light of our consciousness, but the world *also* modifies our consciousness. This is an accurate statement about reality. However, if we were to consistently follow Miss Rand's idealism, we would have to deny one aspect of this reality in order to retain our idealism.

You seem to think that I'm exclusively claiming that we shape the world by our ideas (which is actually the legitimate reduction of Objectivist idealism) (in one sense this is empirically correct), but one cannot idealistically stop here, our ideas are also shaped by the world (both views taken together comprise the genius of dialectical comprehension). However, Objectivism will not allow us to understand this because it begins (a priori) with the assumption that there are no contradictions in reality. This premise then stands above reality in such a way that it limits the epistemological influence of the world; it serves to prevent us from viewing the complexity of the world, denies us access. Instead of allowing the facts to speak for themselves, it determines, in advance, what the facts can and cannot say. Hence, "there are no contradictions in reality, contradictions exist only in thought." This merely proves that an idealist cannot understand the world at every point it transcends his idealism.  

You argue that we must begin a priori with a preset understanding of the world (here's the difference between us): I claim we must allow the nature of the world (which is comprised of material relationships and interactions) to shape our view of itself. You assert, "It's not a matter of imposing a conceptual idealism on the world, its a matter of "that's all we've got."

Then clearly (if "that's all we've got," which is an entirely abstract premise void of empirical justification) then it is a matter of imposing idealism on the world! You have now confessed to what I have been articulating throughout the course of our exchange.

This brings us to the crux of our disagreement. You claim that we cannot derive our epistemology from the world, but worse than this, the Objectivist begins with the presumption that there are no contradictions in reality. How can she possibly know this if she admits that she begins with a non-empirical, idealistic assumption regarding the metaphysical nature of the world? Even worse, if this is all she has, if this is all she can do, how can she possibly begin to construct an accurate idealism? How does she know if she has, at any point, made contact with the world, given her pre-established assumptions?


OBJECTIVIST: There is no "scientific" when it comes to metaphysics. "Science" is a concept built on top of metaphysical principles: it is circular (and invalid) to try to deduce metaphysics from scientific analysis. Philosophy *preceeds* all science in the hierarchy of knowledge. Science depends on philosophy, not the other way around.

You must start somewhere. If you cannot presume that contradictions don't exist, why is it valid to presume they do, and proceed from there?

In fact, Objectivist metaphysics does not "presume there are no contradictions," it starts by presuming only the axiomatic "existence," "consciousness"­, and "identity." The idea of "contradiction"­ does not arise from the formulation *at all*. Just as one cannot prove a negative, one cannot ask questions for which there is no cause to ask them: that is extraordinary illogical and "unscientific."­

What causes one to start from only those 3 axioms, and then from nowhere suddenly interject "but there might be contradictions?" Is isn't there. It never comes up.

The idea is thus not "a priori," but validated by the lack of any need to consider it at all. When it arises in application of principles to concretes, we can identify the true nature of "contradiction"­ then, but we do not need to fold it back in and "allow" it in philosophical premises.

Any shaping of your views by the world is indirect and perhaps subconscious, but the shaping is not directly caused by the world. It is caused by your own volition, whether you want to admit to it or not. Reality expresses no force against will itself, except to constrain it for what it is.

The only evidence and only proof for this is introspection: Ayn Rand would say "Look. And. See." With a stern and very serious look on her face.

Throughout history, all metaphysical polemics boils down to the question: Reality or consciousness, which comes first?

Objectivism says: reality comes first. Consciousness is the act of perceiving it, not the act of creating it. It can't be both. It's one or the other if you want to be consistent. If you don't care about consistency, then the mixture of objectivity/subjectivity­ can only be controlled by arbitrary whim.



"You must start somewhere. If you cannot presume that contradictions don't exist, why is it valid to presume they do, and proceed from there?"

The existence of contradiction is not a presumption but an empirical fact. One does not idealistically presume that there are contradictions in the world, one learns this from the world itself.*

"Dialectical thought thus becomes negative in itself. Its function is to break down the self-assurance and self-contentment of common sense, to undermine the sinister confidence in the power and language of facts, to demonstrate that unfreedom is so much at the core of things that the development of their internal contradictions leads necessarily to qualitative change: the explosion and catastrophe of the established state of affairs... Dialectical logic is critical logic: it reveals modes and contents of thought which transcend the codified pattern of use and validation. Dialectical thought does not invent these contents; they have accrued to the notions in the long tradition of thought and action. Dialectical analysis merely assembles them and reactivates them; it recovers tabooed meanings and thus appears almost as a return, or rather a conscious liberation, of the repressed!" Marcuse, A Note on Dialectic, from Preface of Reason and Revolution, Beacon Press 1960 

Contradiction is the concrete unity of mutually exclusive opposites. Even the notion of non-contradiction necessarily relies on its opposite as a contingency of its intelligible existence. To deny this would be to delude oneself about reality. Further, an idealism, which proceeds in ignorance of this fact, would be powerless to comprehend a world in motion. The axiom of reality is the fluctuating nature of reality itself, but we do not presume this as a form of idealism, we derive it precisely from the material world; precisely by noting the interrelations between objects. What appears to be mutually exclusive, and therefore contradictory, is actually unified in the process of existence, in bringing the object itself into being. 

But there is more, our consciousness, which includes our understanding of contradiction, is itself a product of social/material fluctuation... consciousness, knowledge itself, is historical, it always presupposes history. To deny this is simply to exchange idealism for reality in defiance of the material world.

The answer, as to how we know this is true, is obtained by noting the presuppositions which our categories assume as a necessary component of their existence. That is to say, by all-the-more-carefully scrutinizing the concept which appears to be autonomous, we discover that it is entirely contingent, that it emerges in history, not from eternity, but from a contradictory process which brings it into being. Being itself presupposes the existence of contradiction!

This awareness is precisely where intelligent thought begins. The power of authentic solution is only contained in a dialectical awareness of reality, because dialectics does not distort the nature of reality. Contradictions are allowed to be themselves, but more than this, a dialectical understanding is the only consciousness which has the power to overcome contradiction, precisely because it does not deny it; precisely because it allows it to hold its place in reality without assaulting it through an abstract idealism.

There is only one question before us: does contradiction exist? In order to obtain to this understanding it is only necessary to take note of what existence itself entails. All man's concepts are born in the community of his social relations, but these relations necessarily presuppose production in order to realize the form of existence necessary to the formation of concepts (which is to say) the concepts produced by a society hinge on the material quality of its existence. No society drops out of the sky fully furnished from eternity, societies and their concepts (individual and collective components) presuppose inheritance in the form of productive history.

What then is an individual? If you subtract society, can you still account for his existence? What then is a concept? Is it an eternal form that man discovers, or a product of social life? To confess the existence of an individual, is by default, to presuppose the existence of the causes which account for his existence. But why does this matter? Because the isolated existence of an individual (as formally conceived by idealism) is contradicted by the history which that individual's existence presupposes. The existence of an individual necessarily entails the unification of its opposite: without society there can be no individual; without heteronomy there can be no autonomy.

This is what we learn when we look beyond the mere appearance of realty; when we do not deceive ourselves by the delusion of the fixity of time; when we allow the world in motion to speak for itself. Contradiction is not a finality, but the starting point of higher comprehension. In dialectics we do not stop at contradiction, but without minimizing its concrete being, press through it. Contradiction serves as the material premise upon which all accurate awareness must be based. We say 'must' because contradiction is the creating force of existence.

To view the world idealistically is to alienate oneself from a comprehension of it; it is to render oneself powerless in the face of contradiction. Only an awareness that does not minimize the concrete facts of reality is actually capable of transcending the contradictions of reality. This is because such an awareness does not deny reality in an attempt to resolve the contradictions contained therein.

To say that "reality comes first" is vague. Dialectics explores the nature of what this statement means. Reality is not one thing but a diversity of things; it is made up of opposing forces and contradictory relations. In order to comprehend reality one must explore the diverse nature of its inner and outer connections; one must locate the unity contained in these relations, but one must also note their hostility.   

"In fact, Objectivist metaphysics does not "presume there are no contradictions," it starts by presuming only the axiomatic "existence," "consciousness"­, and "identity."

And yet these categories, are not, in reality, isolated from contingency. Their very existence is located in the history of the material and social world. To merely cite "existence," as though it were an isolated phenomena, as though this isolation was comprehensive, seems like a refusal to think about what this category presupposes in the nature of its being. Its function appears as a form of anti-contemplation, which can only translate into a distorted, one-sided comprehension.

In reality it would seem that Objectivism posits these categories (without content) and then proceeds to impose them comprehensively on existence. And of course, they are part of existence, but not as isolated phenomena. Existence is not an isolated phenomena, but is made up of many diverse components, not only that, but the very existence of existence itself (consciousness of the concept) presupposes a necessary social history. So how can our comprehension of existence, consciousness, identity, be comprehensive if it lacks an awareness of its own interconnected being?        

"[In Objectivism] The idea of "contradiction"­ does not arise from the formulation *at all*." 

Precisely! And this is the problem with Objectivism.

As a thinker/intellectual I cannot be an Objectivist, because in order to do so I would have to commit intellectual suicide by means of a shallow idealism. I would have to alienate myself from reality in order to convince myself that I understand it. I would have to render myself powerless in the face of contradiction by denying its existence. If I were to adopt this simplistic approach to reality, I would be required to deny the diverse nature of reality; how then could I possibly begin to understand its complexity?

So far from delivering the world to man, Objectivism alienates man from the world.                                   

"The old materialism set out from a conception of man as part of nature but, not bringing materialism as far as history, it could not understand man in all his peculiarities as a product of labour transforming both the external world and man himself. By virtue of that the ideal could not be understood as the result and active function of labour, of the sensuously objective activity of social man, as the image of the external world arising in the thinking body, not in the form of the result of passive contemplation, but as the product and form of active transformation of nature by the labour of generations succeeding one another in the course of historical development. " Ilyenkov, Dialectical Logic, Chap.8, pg.253-254, Progress Publishers 1977      


* According to CERN: "At the scale of elementary particles, an almost perfect symmetry between matter and antimatter exists. On cosmological scales, however, the amount of matter outweighs that of antimatter. Understanding this profound contradiction demands that physicists compare the fundamental properties of particles and their antiparticles with high precision."


"Objectivism says: reality comes first. Consciousness is the act of perceiving it, not the act of creating it. It can't be both. It's one or the other if you want to be consistent. If you don't care about consistency, then the mixture of objectivity/subjectivity­ can only be controlled by arbitrary whim."

"Reality comes first," means what exactly? If consciousness is the act of perceiving reality, then how is consciousness itself created? Further, does consciousness not act on reality; is not the history of society the history of reality being shaped by consciousness, as well as consciousness being shaped by society?

Now you say, "It can't be both. It's one or the other if you want to be consistent." But in reality it is both, it is only a preset idealism which dogmatizes consistency above that of the actual material facts of existence. In reality, it can be both, in idealism, it cannot!  

When you say, "If you don't care about consistency," what you really mean (when we contrast this with reality) is that one is committing the sin of blaspheming idealism with the concrete facts of reality (you pit consistency against reality). In antithetical contrast we reply with much greater force: 'if you don't care about comprehending reality then simply adhere to your idealistic concept of consistency against the facts of reality.' The antithesis to your idealism is reality itself. 

[Of course one cares about consistency, but not at the cost of reality. One cares enough about consistency (in the context of reality) not to preset the nature of reality, thereby distorting the very concept of consistency itself. We must allow reality to speak for itself when it comes to the nature of its consistency. And what marvel shall it be, if the consistent nature of reality, stands against the idealistic notion of consistency itself?]

"...then the mixture of objectivity/subjectivity­ can only be controlled by arbitrary whim."

Here your conclusion is not based on the concrete tension of reality, but is idealistically deduced from the arbitrary nature of your a priori abstraction. You posit, metaphysically, what reality must be prior to the events of reality; prior to the examination of being. Your idealism speaks for reality, it does not let reality speak for itself.  

What is the true result of accepting the contradictory nature of reality (society from man/ man from society) it is not that "the mixture of objectivity and subjectivity can only be controlled by arbitrary whim," but that consciousness is itself a mixture of both, man cannot have total control over objectivity and subjectivity. The true distortion is not a concrete dualism between opposites, but the elimination of tension by means of idealistic axioms which serve to negate and distort the nature of reality itself. This (and not the other) is what it means to control reality by an "arbitrary whim;" to not allow it to speak for itself; to shape it in advance; to demand that every occurrence of contradiction be interpreted and reduced to the whims of an arbitrary idealism.

The Objectivist might say that "reality comes first," but this is precisely what Objectivism does not permit. In reality Objectivism says, "idealism must come before reality." If reality comes first, then one must allow it to shape their ideals, but Objectivism clearly begins with a preset notion of what reality is and can be (it matters not whether this ideal adheres from reality, or for that matter, serves to distort it, this question is not raised by the Objectivist because his idealism renders him incapable of raising it). But where does this leave the Objectivist in terms of comprehending the world? This is precisely why I cannot be an Objectivist, my goal is not to distort the world but to understand it.

"Our thoughts cannot and must not agree with their objects in an exaggerated, metaphysical sense of the word. What we desire and may and should desire, is to gain an approximate idea of reality. Hence, also reality can only approach our ideals. There can be, outside the idea, no mathematical point, no mathematical straight line. In reality all straight lines contain an admixture of crookedness, just as even the highest justice must still contain a grain of injustice. Truth is of a substantial nature and not of an ideal one; it is materialistic; it is not to be conceived through thoughts alone, but also through the eyes, ears and hands; it is not a product of thought, but on the contrary, the thought is a product of universal life. The living Universe is incarnate truth." Joseph Dietzgen, Some of the Philosophical Essays by Joseph Dietzgen, Charles H. Kerr, Chicago 1906, from section pp. 263-362

OBJECTIVIST: You misunderstand my intent entirely if you think I wish to convince you that Objectivism is correct. I have no such intention, never did, and never will. In return, I also expect that no one will attempt to convince me that it isn't, which is why I tend to get ruffled when it happens. You do you, and I do me. We don't have to agree, that's perfectly acceptable.

If you believe you have any further misunderstandings about the content of Objectivism, let me know.

If you have a terse, one sentence or one paragraph response to where we left things, I might respond to that. But I'm not going to spend an hour or more reliving the past conversation, where each sentence is ripped from context and counterpointed, endlessly and forever. I would rather shove razor blades under my fingernails.

I think perhaps this is it: "The existence of contradiction is not a presumption but an empirical fact. One does not idealistically presume that there are contradictions in the world, one learns this from the world itself."

An Objectivist would say that when you think you have learned that contradictions exist, you have made an error. I've said this previously. You think contradictions exist and you can convince yourself they do, but they don't. A lack of epistemological tools or metaphysical objectivity notwithstanding: believing that a contradiction actually exists doesn't make it so.

The only act of consciousness, in a metaphysical context, is to perceive reality. Further action result s from much more than perception, there is a whole chain of events leading through epistemology and abstract thought that is way above the metaphysical before any further action occurs.

All that metaphysics has to say about epistemology is that it exists; what consciousness does beyond perception and how it interacts with reality beyond perception is entirely within the other branches of philosophy.

Objectivism does not agree that reality is man-made. What is man-made is artificial, and in this context may exist but exists only in the minds of men. Concepts are man-made and do not exist as anything other than concepts; they are excluded from "out there."

If I use the word "rock," I am communicating an *idea*, not the rock itself. None of the rocks change form or energy by the act of my using the word, it isn't a rock or not a rock because I call it one or call it something else. It still is what it is, no matter what symbols or noises I use to communicate its existence.

Men can create lots of abstract things which are real, but they are not given by nature. Example: Men can create a situation. The situation might be real, but the situation does not exist outside of the minds of the men who are aware of it. It doesn't just spring forth from nothingness out of the universe, like divine creation or something. It isn't a thing "out there" that you can measure with a scientific instrument. If you take away the consciousness minds of men, the situation vanishes from existence. It is a real concept of consciousness, creatable, changeable, and resolvable. But it is not part of reality as such. It isn't a rock, whose existence is not up to the minds of men to decide upon. The rock is not created in the minds of men, its nature is not changeable by will alone, and it cannot be made to vanish from existence by closing ones eyes and pretending really hard that it isn't there.


Once upon a time there was a biologist named Alexander Fleming. He was a good idealist. He began with the assumption that mold was dangerous to human health. Everyone knew this as a common sense fact of reality. Mold was purely a negative entity. But one day he woke up and discovered that some of the bacteria samples he had left in his lab had been contaminated with fungus and that the bacteria surrounding the fungus had been destroyed. "What's this," he thought to himself, "but mold is a negative substance, how could it ever bring about something positive?" And yet, there it was right before his eyes, the real world had obliterated his idealism. What was presumed to be fixed and known in its identity turned out to contain contradictory value. Dr. Fleming's idealist assumption had been destroyed by the phenomena of reality.



"If you have a terse, one sentence or one paragraph response to where we left things, I might respond to that."

That you are only willing to consider "one sentence" or "one paragraph," has nothing to do with the accuracy or inaccuracy of my position... if your assumption against complexity is false, then your criterion of simplicity merely serves to limit your understanding.

The demand for simplicity, in this sense, is not only authoritarian but anti-intellectual. It presumes that only simplicity is or can be valid; it assumes that only simplicity can explain reality (which ultimately assumes the simplicity of reality). More importantly, it cuts one off from comprehending, all the attributes of reality, which cannot be explained in terms of simplicity. Such metaphysics manifests, not only an intellectual laziness, but a pessimism regarding the power of the intellect in general. Unmasked it is a form of resignation to the categories of common sense.       

Reality is both simple and complex*, but if we begin with the premise of simplicity, and demand that all phenomena, which contradict this premise, "must be false"... how can we comprehend the complexity of reality when we will not take it on its own terms? There is a serious intellectual defect in demanding that all explanations conform to simplicity. When such a metaphysics clashes with a complex reality, it obliterates one's comprehension of it. This can only be a concern for the thinker who desires to comprehend, as opposed to one who wants to give off the appearance of comprehension.

The defect of such metaphysical simplicity is that it is powerless to solve the problems which occur in reality. Indeed, it can offer solutions, but only in the form of one-sided abstractions. A concrete resolution must be born of a comprehensive comprehension of the concrete scope of the problem; it must not seek resolution by means of evasion or denial [suppression]. Multiplying categories to avoid contradiction will (in the long run) merely compound the problem, leading to a lopsided proliferation (crisis born from an ignorance and inability to cope with or comprehend contradiction). One must first make contact with the problem by means of comprehension, before they can proceed to construct a solution. Again, this can only be of concern to those thinkers who desire concrete resolution, as opposed to the quick, but fleeting fix, of abstraction.

But this approach is also incomplete in another way; it closes off the possibility of progress. With the construction of new words (and more sophisticated uses) consciousness advances. Some thinkers use words to express common knowledge in an unnecessary and complex way. These thinkers merely convolute, they do not liberate. However, when a thinker's thoughts have legitimately transcended the limitations of the linguistic structure in which they were partially born, new constructions must be invented in order to express the advancement of thought. If those who seek to understand are only looking for what is familiar; if they gauge the value of what is articulated in terms of what is understood, then they will never be able to transcend consciousness through the medium of words. It is only when a thinker allows the new construction to come into collision and obliterate what is familiar, that he is liberated from limitations that he does not yet discern.

One thinker articulates obscurely in order to give the impression of profundity, while another thinker articulates obscurely because he has no other way to articulate what is profound. This is not something he wants to do, but something the experience of his thought requires, insofar as it cannot be conveyed through the present linguistic structure. We lose nothing if we ignore the former; we remained stagnant and ignorant if we ignore the latter.           

"An Objectivist would say that when you think you have learned that contradictions exist, you have made an error."

This admission merely confirms the credibility of my analysis. If the charge of idealism is false, then the question is how does the Objectivist know that one has made an error in thinking, as opposed to one's thinking making an error of reality? The notion, that the existence of a contradiction is impossible, is an idealistic presupposition that Objectivism seeks to impose on the world. The premise is that one cannot arrive at a legitimate contradiction in the process of analyzing the world (because one starts out with the assumption that “contradictions do not exist”). This is the very opposite of what it means to let reality speak for itself. It would seem that idealism negates concrete experience. 

Further, this proves that the error of idealism is not contained in the position which seeks to take its thinking from reality, but the position which seeks to interpret reality in light of preset assumptions. It should be clear at this point, to any discerning reader, that Objectivism does indeed begin with the notion of non-contradiction as a preset methodology by which to approach reality.

It is important to note this, because the claim is being made that the dialectical approach to the world is a reverse form of idealism. This claim is false. Dialectics tries to understand the world as it is premised on the fact that the world is constantly in motion. Further, it becomes irrational to impose an a priori rationality on a world that contains irrationality, just as it would be irrational to impose an absolute irrationality on a world that contains rationality. 

It is important to note that dialectics does not begin with the assumption of contradiction (neither does it deny the value of non-contradiction), but dialectics does its best to allow the world to speak for itself. The empirical reality of dialectics exempts it from the charge of idealism; the same cannot be said for Objectivism.

"The premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas, but real premises from which abstraction can only be made in the imagination. They are the real individuals, their activity and the material conditions of their life, both those which they find already existing and those produced by their activity. These premises can thus be verified in a purely empirical way." The German Ideology, pg.31, Marx and Engels Collected Works Vol.5, International Publishers 1976   

If there is an idealism associated with dialectics, it can only be the idealism required by the world, the starting point of matter in motion. Dialectics does not seek to impose idealism on the world, but merely seeks to understand it, by allowing the thing in question, to shape our approach to its understanding. This is what we might call the empirical consistency of dialectics.

 [Any preset notions in dialectic do not easily fall under the charge of being arbitrary because they are taken from the world itself.]

"The only act of consciousness, in a metaphysical context, is to perceive reality."

This assumes that consciousness has but a one-sided nature. It is also an act of consciousness to shape reality. Consciousness does not merely perceive, it also acts. Consciousness is not born in passive contemplation, but takes shape through action. Even more, consciousness is an organic attribute, which means it has its origin, not in some eternal form, but derives precisely from the material and social world in which man exists. Consciousness is always a contingency predicated by causality. 

"Before the individual entering upon life there is not Heidegger’s ‘nothing’, but the objective world transformed by the activity of generations. But this world of objects embodying human capabilities and built up in the development of socio-historical practice is not given to the individual initially in this quality. For this quality, this human aspect of surrounding objects to be opened to the individual, he must perform overt activity in relation to them, activity adequate (though not, of course, identical) to that in which they are crystallised. That also applies, naturally, to the objective ideal phenomena created by humanity, i.e. to language, concepts, and ideas, music, and works of the plastic arts. The individual, the child, does not simply ‘face’ the world of human objects. In order to live it must act overtly and adequately in this world. But that is only one condition of the specific process that we call assimilation, appropriation, or mastering. Another condition is that the individual’s relations with the world of human objects should be mediated by his relations with people, and that these relations should be included in a process of intercourse. This condition is always present.  For the notion of an individual, a child, who is all by itself with the world of objects is a completely artificial abstraction. The individual, the child, is not simply thrown into the human world; it is introduced into this world by the people around it, and they guide it in that world." The Development of Human Mind, A. N. Leontyev, Erythrós Press 2009       

"Further action results from much more than perception, there is a whole chain of events leading through epistemology and abstract thought that is way above the metaphysical before any further action occurs."

This is exceedingly vague. The chain of events of which you speak cannot be isolated from the society in which man exists. Epistemology and abstraction are components that arise from the material conditions of man's social relations. To negate the latter is to negate the former. Action is at the same time determined by consciousness, insofar as action also determines consciousness. Action is predicated by society, even as society is predicated by action. The nature and content of a man's metaphysics is contingent on the nature and content of society (past and present). To be unaware of this is to be unaware of the historical reality of consciousness, and therefore, reality itself.       

"Objectivism does not agree that reality is man-made. What is man-made is artificial, and in this context may exist but exists only in the minds of men."

The social world is a real world; a world that shapes consciousness, and yet it is a world shaped by consciousness. (Miss Rand) and all her ideas, are the product of the social world as it has changed and accumulated throughout history. Her consciousness presupposes the social formation of a consciousness that came before it. 

Objectivism is not an eternal idealism inherent in the nature of the universe; it is, in all material respects, a product of the movement of social history. The society in which you live is every bit as real as the non-social reality you seek to contrast it with. 

"In science, just as in all the other fields of spiritual culture, actual progress is always attained by further development of the values created by previous development, not by starting from scratch... It goes without saying that the assimilation of the results of previous theoretical development is not a matter of simply inheriting ready-made formulas but rather a complex process of their critical reinterpretation with reference to their correspondence to facts, life, practice. A new theory, however revolutionary it might be in its content and significance, is always born in the course of critical reassessment of previous theoretical development." Ilyenkov, The Dialectics of the Abstract and Concrete, pg.159 Aakar Books reprinted 2013

"Men can create lots of abstract things which are real, but they are not given by nature."

Man is not separate from nature. What men create is part of nature. Just because something is not found in nature, just because it happens to be the product of man's labor, does not decrease its concreteness as a real, material thing. 

"It is a real concept of consciousness, creatable, changeable, and resolvable. But it is not part of reality as such."

Here you have said that a thing which is real is also "not part of reality." Surely this must stand as a contradiction of your logical idealism? But this is precisely what one expects of idealism. It must continually (and arbitrarily) divide reality in order to prevent reality from contradicting its premise.  

"Formal logic cannot generate new concepts any more than a knowledge of the laws of mechanics are sufficient to design a motor car. While dialectical logic sees contradiction as the source of new, more general concepts, formal logic denies the validity of the extension of a concept absolutely, deplores contradiction, which it hopes to avoid by endless amendment of the initial abstract premises." Dialectics and Mathematics, Andy Blunden. Labour Review February 1984

"The rock is not created in the minds of men, its nature is not changeable by will alone, and it cannot be made to vanish from existence by closing one’s eyes and pretending really hard that it isn't there."

You are correct that there are objects that are not created by men, but when you say "its nature is not changeable by will alone," your idealism begins to encroach on reality. Men grind rocks to powder and alter their form. This act is predicated by consciousness. While a rock cannot be made to vanish from reality merely by closing one's eyes, there are other actions that can vanish its form, merely by acting upon the object in consciousness. There are places on the earth where rock has been moved and reshaped; the consciousness of man has acted upon it. Nature acts upon itself to negate itself.

As noted by Blunden:

"Water is water whether it be hot or cold, and whatever the amount of solubles it contains. Things continually change, and like the frog who gets boiled because it does not notice the increasing temperature of the water, we "lay aside" the quantitative changes in Being, and say "A= A". Water is good for drinking, making concrete or irrigating our crops whatever its temperature and color. But A = A only up to a point; water eventually becomes steam or ice, water becomes poison if contain too many salts and metal solutes. What is A one moment, is not-A the next." The Meaning of Hegel's Logic, IV The Meaning of Reflection



The Objectivist continues to cry out, "give us an example of contradiction." I suppose one cannot see a contradiction per se, at least not in the way that the Objectivist is asking for verification. The reason for this is that contradictions always imply movement beyond a fixed point. What the Objectivist is asking for is a contradiction of the nature of contradiction itself. The Objectivist is demanding comprehension of the diverse nature of reality within a fixed point of time. The confusion is contained in the nature of the thing demanded (in the assumption of what constitutes a legitimate "example," “proof” or “demonstration”). In other words, the assumption is that contradiction must manifest itself precisely in the way the idealist demands. But once again, this is a failure to let reality speak for itself; a failure to come to grips with its diverse being on its own terms.

*[Kant’s second antinomy is an example of a contradiction: Every composite substance in the world is made up of simple parts, and nothing anywhere exists save the simple or what is composed of the simple. No composite thing in the world is made up of simple parts, and there nowhere exists in the world anything simple.]

One can observe simplicity, but in order to observe the same object's complexity, one must move beyond the moment of simplicity. The contradiction exists, but it is contained within the relational substance of the object observed... one has no choice but to penetrate within the object in order to discover its essence or diversity, and this, of necessity, takes us beyond the idealist's fixed point of time.

" the world of appearance is opposed the world that is reflected into itself, the world of essence." Hegel, The Science of Logic, 1038

In other words contradiction is a thing of essence, as opposed to mere appearance. A thing can appear in a moment, but contradiction is only comprehended in essence, which necessarily entails going beyond mere appearance.

To ask for an example of contradiction, a mere appearance, within a fixed point, is to ask an ignorant and loaded question. It is impossible to observe the negative and positive in the same phenomenological moment; it is only possible to observe the immediacy of the object. (One either sees the positive or the negative, but neither of these exhausts the nature of the object). In order to get at a comprehension of its contradiction (all that its existence presupposes) one must penetrate into the diversity of the object ["essence"]. (In all reality, one is in fact, viewing contradiction in the immediacy of the object, but this contradiction is not apparent at the fixed point, the existence of the object, of necessity, presupposes it as a component of its existence)! However, in order to comprehend it one is required to go beyond a fixed point of time. That is the nature of essence, and the ontology of contradiction is precisely that of essence.

Hence Hegel (which proof he establishes both logically and phenomenologically): “On the contrary, every determination, every concrete thing, every Notion, is essentially a unity of distinguished and distinguishable moments, which, by virtue of the determinate, essential difference, pass over into contradictory moments.” The Science of Logic, 963   

But the idealist, beginning as he does with a preset notion of reality, denies the linear movement of comprehension, he denies the motion of nature's diverse being. What he demands is that the contradictory nature of reality manifest itself in the simplicity of the moment. But every object is the simplicity of itself as well as the diversity of its components. Simplicity [one-sidedness] is what is given to the stupidity of the senses; diversity is what is discovered by going beyond the immediate appearance. Hence, the very nature of contradiction, in its linear comprehension, presupposes moments of time. To relegate reality to a fixed point therefore, is not only to distort the nature of reality, but also to misunderstand the ontology of contradiction. What the idealist criteria demands, in order for contradiction to exist, defines contradiction out of existence through sheer abstraction, makes it impossible (not because existence is void of contradiction) but because the criteria demands what is impossible for contradiction itself, which is to say, demands that the senses perceive diversity in a single moment of time. (This is consistent with the idealist's metaphysics of simplicity). The problem here is not the existence of contradiction, but the ability of the senses to perceive diversity in an instance of time. What does the comprehension of contradiction require? The understanding of a series of steps in time; it requires the unfolding of "essence" in the linear act of understanding, which necessarily presupposes penetrating into the unity of opposites [Hegel: “identity, difference, opposition”]. One must get beyond the mere appearance of reality so as not to be deceived by its immediacy.  

The situation can also be clarified by the following question: how does one know that contradiction is the kind of thing that can be demonstrated in a fixed point of time?

To quote C. L. R. James:

"Common sense thinks one is one, and over here, and many is some, and over there. In other words. One has a special quality, and they begin there and stay there. Hegel says No. Philosophy tells us that One presupposes Many. The moment I say One, I have thereby created the category Many. In fact it is the existence of the Many which makes the One possible at all. If there were no Many, One would be whatever you wish but it would not be One meaning this one, in contrast with many others. The One therefore is repellent. To be, it repels the Many. It is exclusive, but it is not quiescent. It is actively repelling the Many, for otherwise its specific quality as One would be lost." Notes on Dialectics: Part II The Hegelian Logic, The Doctrine of Being, Preliminary Exercises    

 To once again quote Blunden: "Identity is the affirmative connection between two different moments of perception which asserts that they are one and the same and specifically denies that they are in fact "two different moments of perception" at all. It is also the assertion that in a proposition being true, the denial of that proposition is specifically excluded." The Meaning of Hegel's Logic, Section IV The Meaning of Reflection

What this means is that the law of non-contradiction, for example (+A cannot be -A) is in fact an instance of two separate moments. One cannot make sense of the first moment (+A) without passing into the second moment (-A). Hence the law in itself cannot even be stated (or comprehended) in a fixed moment of time. In order to comprehend it one must pass beyond the fixed point. How then can one demand demonstration of its opposite in a fixed moment of time? Surely this stands as a violation of the fixity required in order to retain and establish the existence of non-contradiction. In other words, what is demanded by the idealist logician (the classical Aristotelian) is equally contradicted by the assumptions of his logic. What the idealist demands of his opponent he cannot solidify himself; his own logic does not pass its own criteria!

But there is more. The idealist bears the burden of proof to demonstrate that his concept of non-contradiction can be made intelligible without its opposite. But Hegel was aware that "Abstract self-identity has no vitality." We are here dealing with the existence of positive and negative categories. If the idealist claims that the negative doesn't exist, then his notion of logic must not presuppose its existence (which thing is required) in order to make sense of his positive claim! This is what Hegel means when he says, "contradiction is… immediately represented in the determinations of relationship." It is every bit an intelligible question then, given the assumptions of the idealist logic, to demand a demonstration of the intelligibility of his positive claim apart from the assumption of its required opposite. If the idealist logician cannot do this (without presupposing the existence of the negative) then he has already provided the ground of its being, merely by assuming the intelligence of his claim. 

"We can begin to see how dialectics is the logic of reality, of the world of concrete things, really connected, abstracted by thought yes, but thought which is perceiving reality cannot rest, but is driven deeper and deeper, and comes to contradiction: it not only both is and is not, but is and is not essentially...Being can find its Other only in Notions which have their Ground in this dialectical unfolding which leads to inherent, essential contradiction. It is a universal law of the objective world and thus the world of thought, that "Identity comes to Difference"..." Ibid. Blunden


 It occurs to me that there is no such thing as logical perfection proceeding from human beings. The way I see the world, and our logical formations about it, is that we simply do our best to describe it, to make it intelligible (we work in terms of approximation). We are forced to work with what is (this includes the limitations of our perception). To me, one of the most interesting differences between Ayn Rand's position and that of dialectics is stated here: "It is a universal law of the objective world and thus the world of thought, that Identity comes to Difference" If true, this is absolutely devastating to the idealistic notion of identity.

To say this in more Hegelian terms, it's not that Ayn Rand's premises are false per se, but that they are too general to contain meaning (taken in themselves they come to naught)... while she has identified attributes of being, her philosophy cannot be called a philosophy of essence, and if it's lacking essence, it cannot claim to know the thing as it is in itself, precisely because identity comes to difference in order to make sense of itself. The only way around this is to bury our heads in the sand and apply a metaphysics of simplicity against the diversity of the world. But such a procedure is contrary to the ethics of comprehension, and must therefore be considered a kind of suspension or suppression of the intellect. It is quite literally, anti-intellectual. This can never be the procedure of a thinker who desires to know. It is too dogmatic and insecure, rejecting everything that challenges its authority and comprehension, it assumes the conclusion from the outset in attempt to convince itself (and others) that it understands the world.



"Instead of speaking by the maxim of Excluded Middle (which is the maxim of abstract understanding) we should rather say: Everything is opposite. Neither in heaven nor in Earth, neither in the world of mind nor of nature, is there anywhere such an abstract 'either-or' as the understanding maintains. Whatever exists is concrete, with difference and opposition in itself. The finitude of things will then lie in the want of correspondence between their immediate being, and what they essentially are. ... its only being consists in its relation to its other. .... Contradiction is the very moving principle of the world: and it is ridiculous to say that contradiction is unthinkable. The only thing correct in that statement is that contradiction is not the end of the matter, but cancels itself. But contradiction, when canceled, does not leave abstract identity; for that is itself only one side of the contrariety. The proximate result of opposition (when realised as contradiction) is the Ground." Hegel, Shorter Logic § 119n

"This style of reasoning which makes and clings to the false presupposition of the absolute separateness of being and non-being is to be named not dialectic but sophistry. For sophistry is an argument proceeding from a baseless presupposition which is uncritically and unthinkingly adopted; but we call dialectic the higher movement of reason in which such seemingly utterly separate terms pass over into each other spontaneously, through that which they are, a movement in which the presupposition sublates itself. It is the dialectical immanent nature of being and nothing themselves to manifest their unity, that is, becoming, as their truth." Hegel, The Science of Logic, 175

"...It is of the greatest importance to perceive and to bear in mind this nature of the reflective determinations we have just here considered, namely, that their truth consists only in their relation to one another, that therefore each in its very Notion contains the other; without this knowledge, not a single step can really be taken in philosophy." Ibid. 951

"This law [of excluded middle] implies first, that everything is an opposite, is determined as either positive or negative. An important proposition, which has its necessity in the fact that identity passes over into difference, and this into opposition. Only it is usually not understood in this sense, but usually means nothing more than that, of all predicates, either this particular predicate or its non-being belongs to a thing." Ibid. 953

"But it is one of the fundamental prejudices of logic as hitherto understood and of ordinary thinking that contradiction is not so characteristically essential and immanent a determination as identity; but in fact, if it were a question of grading the two determinations and they had to be kept separate, then contradiction would have to be taken as the profounder determination and more characteristic of essence. For as against contradiction, identity is merely the determination of the simple immediate, of dead being; but contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality; it is only in so far as something has a contradiction within it that it moves, has an urge and activity." Ibid. 956

"Now as regards the assertion that there is no contradiction, that it does not exist, this statement need not cause us any concern; an absolute determination of essence must be present in every experience, in everything actual, as in every notion. We made the same remark above in connection with the infinite, which is the contradiction as displayed in the sphere of being. But common experience itself enunciates it when it says that at least there is a host of contradictory things, contradictory arrangements, whose contradiction exists not merely in an external reflection but in themselves. Further, it is not to be taken merely as an abnormality which occurs only here and there, but is rather the negative as determined in the sphere of essence, the principle of all self-movement, which consists solely in an exhibition of it. External, sensuous movement itself is contradiction's immediate existence. Something moves, not because at one moment it is here and at another there, but because at one and the same moment it is here and not here, because in this 'here', it at once is and is not. The ancient dialecticians must be granted the contradictions that they pointed out in motion; but it does not follow that therefore there is no motion, but on the contrary, that motion is existent contradiction itself." Ibid. 958

"Abstract self-identity has no vitality, but the positive, being in its own self a negativity, goes outside itself and undergoes alteration. Something is therefore alive only in so far as it contains contradiction within it, and moreover is this power to hold and endure the contradiction within it." Ibid. 959

"Therefore though ordinary thinking everywhere has contradiction for its content, it does not become aware of it, but remains an external reflection which passes from likeness to unlikeness, or from the negative relation to the reflection-into-self, of the distinct sides. It holds these two determinations over against one another and has in mind only them, but not their transition, which is the essential point and which contains the contradiction. Intelligent reflection, to mention this here, consists, on the contrary, in grasping and asserting contradiction. Even though it does not express the Notion of things and their relationships and has for its material and content only the determinations of ordinary thinking, it does bring these into a relation that contains their contradiction and allows their Notion to show or shine through the contradiction. Thinking reason, however, sharpens, so to say, the blunt difference of diverse terms, the mere manifoldness of pictorial thinking, into essential difference, into opposition. Only when the manifold terms have been driven to the point of contradiction to they become active and lively towards one another, receiving in contradiction the negativity which is the indwelling pulsation of self-movement and spontaneous activity." Ibid. 961

"In general, our consciousness of the nature of contradiction has shown that it is not, so to speak, a blemish, an imperfection or a defect in something if a contradiction can be pointed out in it. On the contrary, every determination, every concrete thing, every Notion, is essentially a unity of distinguished and distinguishable moments, which, by virtue of the determinate, essential difference, pass over into contradictory moments." Ibid. 963

"Now the inadequacy of the standpoint at which this philosophy stops short consists essentially in holding fast to the abstract thing-in-itself as an ultimate determination, and in opposing to the thing-in-itself reflection or the determinateness and manifoldness of the properties; whereas in fact the thing-in-itself essentially possesses this external reflection within itself and determines itself to be a thing with its own determinations, a thing endowed with properties, in this way demonstrating the abstraction of the thing as a pure thing-in-itself to be an untrue determination." Ibid. 1063 



OBJECTIVIST: Well, its not true so it doesn't matter. Have you read Dr. Peikoff's book, "The DIM Hypothesis?" He tackles "the problem of induction" head on, quite successfully, and then draws conclusions about the future based on history as examples.

Hegel was a straight-up student and contemporary of Kant, who Ayn Rand regarded as the most evil individual to ever walk the Earth.

FLIGHT: My reply has nothing to do with induction. "Hegel... who Ayn Rand regarded as the most evil individual to ever walk the Earth." Without some kind of substantive rebuttal, this is nothing more than an ad hominem. The point of identity coming to difference through the consistency of the logical structure itself, is no small premise. It must either be denied, refuted or ignored.


OBJECTIVIST: Sure. The "problem" of induction takes care of it conclusively. The comment about Ayn Rand's view of Hegel was meant as a direction to take: why did she think that? It's too long of an answer for me to type here or anywhere else, not that I would want to.


FLIGHT: "Well, its not true so it doesn't matter." C. L. R. James answers: "To create a category is to “determine” something. But every time you determine something, you negate something. Every time." Can you give me an example of identity, where you do not assume its opposite in order to make sense of the thing you identify? Can you make sense of identity without difference? 

[Hegel, unlike Miss Rand, does not merely establish his position through arbitrary assertion. His principles proceed from the assumptions inherent in logic itself.] 

To once again quote James (because he articulates complexity with great clarity): "Whenever you do something, you at the same time do not do something else. A silver coin on a green table negated the green cover on the particular spot where it rests. It creates the spot where the coin is and the spot where the coin is not." Hence: "It is a universal law of the objective world and thus the world of thought, that Identity comes to difference." Ibid.


OBJECTIVIST: The problem of identifying identity itself is an epistemological problem, not really a metaphysical one.

There is no "meta" in metaphysics without a primary means of knowledge. Ayn Rand and Objectivism assumed it; Dr. Peikoff goes straight at it in that book.


FLIGHT: But what you have said here does not make contact with the issue. Can you make sense of identity without presuming a variant? If Peikoff does this perhaps you can give the pages numbers? If we want to be rational it seems we have to follow logic wherever it goes, even if it flows into the contradiction of itself. I am not trying to manufacture sophistries here, the actual reality is that identity always requires difference. Any thinker who leaves you incapable of understanding this has cheated you out of reality. But this is what idealism has always done to the human race. It simply becomes harder to detect in more subtle forms... Gods are easy to identify and refute, idealistic notions in logic and being are hard to discern, which is the only reason they are hard to refute.

"In mathematics proper, it should be remembered, "A" indicates absolutely anything; it is quite meaningless (Being = Nothing) and in the proposition "A = A", the operative symbol is the "=". The proposition is an empty tautology in so far as it is deemed to make any statement about A. If we make a non-mathematical interpretation of "=", such as "this A is the same as that A" then the statement is tautological if we allow that the A refers to one and the same. If we allow that the first A is distinct from the second A, then the statement is real and valid and dialectical..." Blunden, The Meaning of Hegel's Logic, Part V, Formal Logic and Dialectics.

"Hegel did not disprove or eradicate formal logic at all, he merely defined its immanent limits and uncovered its inner contradictions, its origin and its own limits, beyond which it necessarily passed over into something else, its life and its death; he negated it; he sublated it: formal logical is both overcome and maintained with dialectical logic. Formal logic is at its most powerful, not at all when it is treated as something of little use to be violated at will, but on the contrary, when it is utilised with the maximum consistency and thoroughness, but with consciousness of its immanent limits and an understanding of when and how it supersedes itself. Nothing is more valueless than uncritical playing with logical contradiction and inconsistency justified by thoughtless and shallow reference to dialectics." Ibid. Blunden


OBJECTIVIST: It seems to me you are following a particular principle which happens to be flawed. The principle being that induction is invalid, and only deduction is valid. Or at least, induction is not valid in this context.

The flaw there is in metaphysics you wind up in a vicious circle. You can't deduce whether the operand of a deduction is valid. Somewhere, at some basic level, you *must* induce rather than deduce.


FLIGHT: So far as I can tell this is the first time "induction" has entered this conversation. My responses were specific to the notion of contradiction. I don't understand 1) your specific point regarding induction and 2) how it relates to the existence of contradiction?


OBJECTIVIST: You (and Hegel) are trying to force "identity" out of deductive reasoning. It won't work. Objectivism holds identity as a axiom. It. Just. Is.

How you arrive at "identity" is the same way a baby does: by inducing it, which means: to grasp that that's how the universe works, and make the logical leap that all things have it.

FLIGHT: "You (and Hegel) are trying to force "identity" out of deductive reasoning."

How exactly are we trying to "force" identity out of deductive reasoning?  What has been dealt with is the bare notion of identity itself. The question I asked, regarding the nature of identity (as it must necessarily presupposes antithesis) applies across the board. It is comprehensive, the question encompasses both induction as well as deduction.

I don't see how you think induction will resolve the fact that identity and difference are not the same thing, and yet, one requires the existence of the other in order to make sense of itself. I repeat the empirical and logical truth regarding the nature of identity: "It is a universal law of the objective world and thus the world of thought, that Identity comes to difference" Ibid.

Dialectical thinking is not idealistic, it makes use of concepts without allowing those concepts to usurp authority over the material world.

Dialectical thinking derives a methodology of understanding from the world, even as it uses the abstraction it derives and develops, to shape the world it surveys. It is neither exclusively empirical or exclusively rationalistic, but contains a combination of both.

Dialectical thinking does not deny the relevance of history or material conditions when it comes to understanding and explaining existence.

"Induction and deduction belong together as necessarily as synthesis and analysis. Instead of one-sidedly lauding one to the skies at the expense of the other, we should seek to apply each of them in its place, and that can only be done by bearing in mind that they belong together, that they supplement each other." Engels, Notes and Fragments, Dialectics of Nature, pp. 211-242

We can discuss what Hegel is trying to say, but in order to do that, we must interact with what he actually said. 

I think you have changed the subject. My argumentation has been directed at the claim that contradiction doesn't exist.

"You (and Hegel) are trying to force "identity" out of deductive reasoning." 

The burden of proof here is not mine.


Monday, June 26, 2017


"The concrete in thinking also appears, according to Marx's definition, in the form of combination (synthesis) of numerous definitions. A logically coherent system of definition is precisely that 'natural' form in which concrete truth is realized in thought. Each of the definitions forming part of the system naturally reflects only a part, a fragment, an element, an aspect of the concrete reality -- and that is why it is abstract if taken by itself, separately from other definitions. In other words, the concrete is realized in thinking through the abstract, through its own opposite, and is impossible without it." E. V. Ilyenkov, The Dialectics of the Abstract and the Concrete in Marx's Capital, pg.37 Aakar Books 2013 

To be stuck in the "fragment" (to mistake it for the totality) is both the beginning and end of juvenile thinkers. Such a methodology seals the fate of all those who utilize it. The concrete is realized by thinking through the abstract, not stopping at it as a comprehensive representation of reality. One must take reality as it is, not try to force it into an idealistic mold.

The isolation of fragments from their authentic unity is what has hitherto made up man's view of the world. But the point of comprehending is to comprehend the fragments of reality in their interconnected unity. Without this (more comprehensive purview) man will continually distort the world around him. He will not only be deceived, but he will also become a deceiver. 


Sunday, June 25, 2017


 This quote from Ayn Rand struck me as peculiar:

"We inherit the products of the thought of other men. We inherit the wheel. We make a cart. The cart becomes an automobile. The automobile becomes an airplane. But all through the process what we receive from others is only the end product of their thinking. The moving force is the creative faculty which takes this product as material, uses it and originates the next step. This creative faculty cannot be given or received, shared or borrowed. It belongs to single, individual men. That which it creates is the property of the creator. Men learn from one another. But all learning is only the exchange of material. No man can give another the capacity to think. Yet that capacity is our only means of survival." For the New Intellectual, The Soul of an Individualist pg.79

This is full of several false premises as well as confusions. While it's true that we "inherit" our thinking (as we are all part of a causal social chain running backward in time) it's utterly false to isolate the "creative faculty" from this causal chain. What is created presupposes a quality of necessary conditions in order for the created thing to even exist. We do but err if we isolate the object of creation from the world in which it is created. We do but err if we try to present the creating individual as something autonomous; there has never been an autonomous man or woman and there will never be an autonomous man or woman.

Ayn Rand is correct in her first premise, we inherit the thoughts of others (just so long as by "inherit" she is not referring to biological magic). As children we might as well be born dumb, deaf and blind, we are in constant need of support (we have not an independent bone in our body). Man is not an autonomous being (he never has been and he never will be). Consciousness is impossible without heteronomy; the very existence of consciousness presupposes heteronomy. Man is a social being, he cannot exist outside the group. Even the nomad relies on the goods of society to continue his life; what would its quality be without the productive forces of the group? Does he sport a winter coat; does he hunt game with a rifle? Did he make these things, and yet, how contingent is his life on the material goods he has not made; goods which presupposes the existence of a community of creators. Mutual aid renders social quality (community is the necessary presupposition of a quality life).  

Contrary to Ayn Rand, without the material conditions required to produce consciousness there would be no "creative faculty."

She acknowledges the fact that "men learn from other men," but then she seeks to minimize the significance of this interaction by stating that "all learning is only the exchange of material." This is like complaining about the fact that words are only symbols... so what! Does this negate their value; do they suddenly become unnecessary? Most certainly not! 

Ayn Rand proves that she's good at producing trite rubbish: "No man can give another the capacity to think. Yet that capacity is our only means of survival."

But didn't Miss Rand just tell us that "we inherit the products of thought from other men?" Here she wants to play a game of petty semantics. "The products of thought are not the same as thinking," is no doubt what she would say. But if we merely inherit the product, mindlessly and magically, from whence comes our capacity to think?

{Such idealism leads to the conclusion of elitism.}      

If what Miss Rand says is true then how do we learn to think? If a child was placed in a white room and never given any instruction what would happen to that child, how would it developed; how would it learn to think? Didn't Miss Rand tell us that "men learn from other men?" How then does she go on to negate this process? Further, all learning is not "merely a material exchange," it is also an impartation of that which is conceptual or abstract; it is the imparted ability of abstraction itself.

It would seem that Miss Rand is in the position to claim that learning is spontaneous and instinctual, bestowed upon us by the magic of a biological Holy Ghost. But if this is the case why take note of the fact that men learn from other men? What proof does she have to support her magical premise? What happens if you subtract the premise that men learn from other men? Can Miss Rand give us an example of a learned man who has not learned from other men? Can Miss Rand give us an example of a person who has the capacity to think and yet did not learn this from other thinkers? Can she prove her claim of automated inheritance

Further, if no man can impart the capacity to think, and yet this capacity is our only means of survival (which belief manifests the most fanatical idealism) then how can we insure our survival as a species? From whence comes the capacity to think? Perhaps Miss Rand is a mystic; perhaps she is altogether superstitious and irrational?    

The great fallacy of Miss Rand is that she assumes the existence and legitimacy of an idealism known as autonomy (a mere abstraction). But man is not an autonomous being; he never has been and he never will be. Once we shatter the fallacy of Rand's loaded premise (that of autonomy) her entire way of looking at the world comes tumbling down; her authority is cast to the wind. 

The burden of proof lies on the shoulders of those who claim the existence of autonomous men: show us these men, prove they exist! And yet the very consciousness, of the one speaking, presupposes the existence of heteronomy. To make the case against heteronomy is to prove that one is not, and has never been, autonomous! 

Autonomy is Ayn Rand's superstitious idealism; in rejecting all crude forms of deity, it would seem she has erected a new one, that of autonomy.