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Charlotte Philosophy Discussion Group Message Board › Is it really true that "Existence Exists," as the Objectivists claim?

Is it really true that "Existence Exists," as the Objectivists claim?

Bill Van F.
Group Organizer
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 1,700
The Objectivists use that statement as an axiom, to prove that they are the ones that are on the right track.

In the book I am currently struggling to finish writing regarding the mind-body problem, I created the following little side note. See what you think. Straighten me out, especially if you are an Objectivist.

(Actually, my understanding is that Objectivists will not talk to you if you question this axiom, but maybe I am wrong.)

Note, however, that we can say again that we bring some entities into existence, so to speak, simply by defining words. We can choose a word that currently has no meaning assigned (by anyone so far) and then draw a circle on a wall, and finally assign the word to the area within that circle. Now there is an “entity” where there was none before, an entity brought into existence, and therefore “existing,” by definition only. I believe if we look closely at this issue, we can see that we have many, many entities that exist by definition only. One way we could attempt to identify such entities would be to ask whether, if an alien from another galaxy came to Earth and did not know any of our languages, that alien on his or her own would ever come across and be able to identify the entity. He or she would undoubtedly find chairs and houses, but would he or she find North Carolina? Your family? A corporation? Democracy? So some “entities” are brought into existence only because we humans have undergone the first exponential change, the ability to use symbols and the rules of syntax, or language, essentially to an infinite extent.

And let us recognize, even more thoroughly and generally, that something qualifies as an entity only because, so to speak, a line has been drawn around it. If we identify a particular entity as a "door," that entity might consist only of some wood, or it might also include some hinges on it, or even additionally a doorknob, and it might also include the paint (or dirt) on the door or not, this being a matter of arbitrary definition. And we know from modeling developed in modern physics that nowhere “in nature” (the physical world) can it be said that there is a precise boundary up to one side of which there is something that is not on the other side of that boundary also.

So it is we that populate “existence” with "entities," by virtue of our attention being drawn to what we generally call "things," and especially by virtue of our assigning names to those “things” that have attracted our attention. And our attention may even be drawn to some “things” that “exist” only in imagination, or are parts of “things” that “exist” only in imagination.

And to be real thorough, we could look at the problematic word “exists.” Let us start with “X exists.”

How will this sentence be useful? It might be useful if we are trying to communicate with each other, sharing and comparing our beliefs to see if we agree, so that we can improve our knowledge and our ability to cooperate. But for the sentence to be useful, it will have to have the same meaning to both of us, and therefore we would have to mean the same thing by the same words. Well, we have not yet developed an agreed-upon meaning of “X.”

This difficulty could be removed if, for the purposes of this particular discussion either I gave “X” a different label, a word in general usage, and said that it meant what it usually means to people, i.e., its usual definition, or if I gave it my own definition.

But suppose I did one of those two things. Then there is the question as to what “exists” means.

Does it have one meaning that would apply to any word that “X” was replaced by (or any definition I gave of “X”)? What can we say we mean about “X” if we say that “it exists”? Is there one thing that we can mean by “exists” that would apply to anything that we meant by “X”?

Try to come up with one answer, using as replacements for “X” the examples already given (North Carolina, your family, a corporation, democracy) and add things like “abstraction,” “contradiction,” “explanation,” “the unimaginable,” “the absence of something,” “existence,” etc.

Is there one meaning that we can give to “exists” that would allow us to arrive at a conclusion with regard to each of those examples as to whether it exists or not? (And what if I said that “X” exists in my imagination only?)

And I don’t mean simply to substitute another word or phrase for “exists” that is just as problematic, such as “is” (as in saying that “to exist” is “to be”).

The closest concept that has the broadest meaning I believe would be something like “My attention is on this ‘thing.’ And I have some belief about it, that can most easily be conveyed by saying that I believe it exists (or doesn’t exist), and from the context you will have to guess what I mean.”

We could then work out together an agreed-upon method (set of criteria) that would enable us to decide whether we were in agreement or not, that is, had the same belief or not.

So, Objectivists, if Objectivism is built upon the axiom “Existence Exists,” and that axiom is to lead to further irrefutable knowledge, demonstrating that at least with regard to basic concepts Objectivists have finally found the answers to get us on the right track, wouldn’t it be important to know what the axiom actually means, meaning what the sentence means, meaning what each of the words in the sentence means? Please help!
A former member
Post #: 1,045

There Is No Progress in Philosophy
Except for a patina of twenty-first century modernity, in the form of logic and language, philosophy is exactly
the same now as it ever was;
it has made no progress whatsoever.

We philosophers wrestle with the exact same
problems the Pre-Socratics wrestled with.
Even more outrageous than this claim, though, is the blatant denial
of its obvious truth by many practicing philosophers.
The No-Progress view is explored and argued for here.
Its denial is diagnosed as a form of anosognosia, a mental condition where the affected person denies there is
any problem.
The theories of two eminent philosophers supporting the No-Progress view are also examined.
The final section offers an explanation for philosophy’s inability to solve any philosophical problem, ever.
paper closes with some reflections on philosophy’s future.

2. How Philosophy differs from Science
Philosophy does not even stumble forward.
Philosophy does not move forward at all.
It is the exactly the same today as it was 3000 years ago;
indeed, as it was from the
beginning. What it does do is stay current;
philosophers confuse this with advancing, with making progress.
Staying current is not moving forward any more than staying up
on the latest fashions or music is movement toward greater social justice.

I know this claim of mine strikes philosophers as obviously false, crazy, and
I get two kinds looks.
One kind is one of utter confusion, as if I’d just sincerely asserted, “One plus one equals three.”
The other is one of disgust as if I just sincerely asserted, “Slavery is morally required.”

A former member
Post #: 1,046

On the Limits of Philosophical Progress
David J. Chalmers

Here’s a central thesis:
There has not been large collective convergence to the truth on the big
questions of philosophy.
Here the big questions of philosophy are things like:
What is the relationship between mind
and body? How do we know about the external world?
What are the fundamental principles of morality?
Large collective convergence on these questions requires a high average degree of agreement among members of the philosophical community on the answers to the questions (aver-aged over the questions, given some appropriate measure of agreement).
Convergence to the truth requires that this agreement involves true beliefs about the answers.
A high degree of agreement requires as much or nearly as much agreement as there is in scientific communities on big ques-tions in the sciences.
There has been a good deal of collective convergence on the big questions in
many areas of science:
physics, chemistry, biology, and so on.
There has arguably been much less
collective convergence in philosophy.
Here is an argument for the central thesis. It has two premises, an empirical premise and a
logical premise.

Bill Van F.
Group Organizer
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 1,837
I don't quite agree. One kind of progress that we have made is the recognition of the flaws in the answers that have arisen in the past. Another kind of progress is the kind that occurred in my first and third books (at­ I believe I have made a real contribution.

However, there is a problem with my belief. The problem is that although I know the most about what is in the books, my viewpoint automatically is of no value because it was I that wrote them. Whether I am right or not has to be determined by others, not me.

And there is a problem with that, also. The problem is that almost no one is actually going to read and study the books. There are several reasons why that is true.

First, the actual understanding of the books, especially the third one (on the mind-body problem), involves intense studying, with reading and re-reading, because they involve new ways of thinking, and brain tissue only gradually changes, with repetition. What instead happens is that individuals will rapidly skim over the material, and the words that go into the brain get "recognized" by that brain as belonging to what is already in that brain (the individual’s own belief system), and the little discrepancies that ought to warn the reader that something is going wrong are just ignored, because the assumption is made by the reader that the reader already understands, and that such discrepancies are just due to the imperfections bound to be present in anything that is written. The bottom line is that the reader thinks, "Yeh, that sounds like what I have heard before, and I already know that's been debunked. Bill is just another (label)."

Second, people don't want to study; they want to enjoy. My books have been criticized because they won't sell (they are free anyway). I am told they need to be written so as to appeal to the emotions, whereupon more people will read them. And they need to be “dumbed down” (their term, not mine), with more use of more commonly used words, rather than the strict use of strictly defined words. Of course the only way I can do that is to abandon my original determination to write as precisely and accurately as possible and have the book's value be determined only by whether it makes sense, not by how it makes the reader feel. If I did appeal to the emotions, each of the books would be "just another book," possibly popular for a while (somewhat doubtful, I think), but not a lasting reference work and a major contribution.

Third, most people have belief systems that are important to them, despite not being supported by anything close to irrefutable recognitions, so when they read my books and find that their belief systems are not supported by my books, the motivation to misrepresent what is in them appears. So I have the occasional experience of someone reviewing the books and negatively evaluating them, but with examples given from the book that are misrepresented by, for instance, taking some sentences out of their context or using the words that are in those sentences with different meanings than those given in the books, such as to make the books sound like they are saying things that indeed most people would not agree with, including myself. Or what I have written is presented, but then something from the belief system of the reader is presented as an alternative, with a different lexicon that makes it impossible to compare the ideas being examined, the ideas in the book being left far behind and discussion then proceeding instead about the validity of the reader’s belief system with its different lexicon. The primary effort is to defeat the book and replace it with a different belief system, not to understand it.

Occasionally, someone will tell me that the books are great, but they are friends, and that disqualifies them.

So, I just have to be satisfied with knowing what I have done and its potential value, and the fantasy that after I am dead someone will recognize that value and that my books will indeed make a contribution to making the world a far better place than it has ever been so far. I fully understand why no one else has written such books. It takes somebody really strange to put all the time and effort that I have into something with, all along, the full recognition that I am unlikely ever to see the books make a difference (be a “success”). I am motivated by the fact that the eventual successful beneficial effect of the books is not a completely zero probability, and as long as there is the tiniest possibility that I can make a contribution of this significance to our species, I cannot just toss the effort aside. Too much has been done for me, making my life really wonderful, by other somewhat strange people, for me not to want to give something back.

But you can disregard this post as obviously being egotistical. Everyone knows that there is no hope, and there are better things to do before the end than to spend time with this sort of thing. And everyone also knows how dangerous agreement is. Time for a beer.
A former member
Post #: 1,061
Somehow people might need to see that whatever qualities that may be in their existing
belief system by whatever legitimization processes they use would be improved by reading
and studying your books.

By me not reading your books I would hold onto my existing beliefs.

I would believe what improvement meant in my own metaphoric aquarium of a head with
my already recognized fish swimming around, a fish representing a belief I may have in my
aquarium of a head.

What I might do, is that I may have fish that your book appeals to and other fish in my head
which your book doesn't appeal to.

But, my fish may be dumb asses and haven't spent the effort to know what other fish exists
in other aquariums and how other aquarium owners acquired their fish.

I should understand how to reel in the big fish, the good beliefs and how to acquire them! and
get away from my own dumb ass fish.

This would require study, practice, and review to do this of your 3 books.

for me and everyone.

Bill Van F.
Group Organizer
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 1,838
I was fishing around for the right words to say in response, when it occurred to me that, yes, there is a growing school of fish that is very adaptive to its aquarium. But I would hesitate to call some of those fish that do not belong to that school "dumb ass," in that, even though they are not as well adapted to the aquarium, they manage somewhat, and also can be quite beautiful.
A former member
Post #: 1,062
Making myself feel bad does not increase my speed to better beliefs or better
relations with my fellow beings.
A former member
Post #: 1,068
I apologize for using 'dumb ass' to describe mine or anyone else's beliefs.
Our human situation is a difficult one requiring as much understanding from everyone as possible.
Bill Van F.
Group Organizer
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 1,839
You were simply speaking metaphorically, using a manner of speech that is commonly used, as subtle humor. No need to apologize.

But your contribution and other comment do allude to a very important issue, namely, the absolutely ubiquitous and unending effort we humans engage in to make each other, and consequently ourselves, feel bad.

We do terrible things to children as we punish them over and over, not just with spanking, standing in the corner, taking something away, grounding, etc., but with what we say to them, "You dumb ass kid, why can't you do your homework like you should?" And those poor kids grow up to be the poor adults we are, calling ourselves "dumb ass" when we make mistakes and demonstrate that the brain is imperfect.

And so we band together to make each other feel good, or less bad, and we focus on making the others feel bad, or just on making ourselves feel good because we are not those "dumb ass" people that are not in our group.

We are a very punished and angry and demoralized species. And suicidal.

Look how little interest there is in Humanianity, and in the idea that we can become far, far better than we ever have been, by working together, coming together for the development of a basic ethical philosophy that is not dependent upon non-verifiable beliefs that must be maintained as an act of obedience (reinforced of course by punishment) rather than maintained because of being consistent with beliefs legitimated by the rules of logic and the rules of evidence. We are more pleased by the idea that the world is coming to an end soon, in some big holocaust. Best just to have as good a time as possible while this lasts, and that means being one of us rather than being one of them.

And so we try to find ways to stop punishing ourselves over and over for our imperfections, by avoiding as much as possible the awareness of our imperfections, and by agreeing that our imperfections are not important anyway. So let's not think too much about the future, we say. Let's call any idea about a better way of life simply a "Utopian" way of thinking, not worth spending our time thinking about. Let's go down the tubes together. It's all basically hopeless, anyway.
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