On Tue, Sep 22, 2009 at 11:24:57AM -0400, Bill Van Fleet wrote:
> In the discussion last time, I mentioned that I had done an analysis of
> Peikoff*s summary of Objectivism, interspersing between its paragraphs my
> comments regarding the problems I have seen in that philosophy. Interest
> was expressed in reviewing my write-up.
Here is my response to the first part of Bill's "critique":
A frequent error Bill makes is to drop context. There are several
instances of that error in his 'critique'. The first is evidenced in the
title he uses.
Note that Peikoff's article is "...A Brief Summary..." and yet Bill
writes as though it were "...A Comprehensive Presentation..." His
comments and criticisms *are* dealt with in other places in the
Objectivist literature. Until Bill has read and understood *all* the
relevant material he can legitimately only ask questions.
Nonetheless, I will attempt to point out where and how Bill has gone
wrong in his search for errors in Objectivism.
Bill: "The purpose of this critique, however, is primarily to examine
the presumed persuasiveness of the arguments..."
Here Bill attempts to convert a "brief summary" into a series of
arguments in favor of the ideas. Context, context, context.
Peikoff: "[Objectivism] is the antidote to the present state of the
Bill: "To be the antidote, it will have to be accepted."
Wrong. Whether or not it is *accepted* does not affect the nature of the
ideas themselves. It *is* the antidote. To be *effective* and to cure
what ails the current state of society it must be accepted. Anti-venom
*is* the antidote to a snake bite whether or not the victim avails
himself of it.
Bill: "To be accepted, its claims must be inspiring of confidence in
Only for those who base their beliefs on their emotions. Rational people
are concerned only with the validity of the ideas.
Peikoff: "Most philosophers have left their starting points to unnamed
implication. The base of Objectivism is explicit: 'Existence exists-and
the act of grasping that statement implies two corollary axioms: that
something exists which one perceives and that one exists possessing
consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which
Bill: "We cannot expect any first statement to include the answers to
its meaning, but we also shouldn't forget that such questions exist. So
we should just make note of a few questions, hopefully to be answered
Huh? "Answers to its meaning" -- what does *that* mean.
Bill: "First, there is the question as to what a 'faculty' is, and
whether in the future this meaning of "consciousness" will be
maintained... Here the implication is that, no, we are just talking
about an 'ability' or 'faculty.'"
Why is Bill's *first* question about a word in the *last* clause of the
Anyway, most people know what a faculty is so why it should be
problematic for Bill is a mystery to me. That being said, Bill's problem
is not that he doesn't understand what a 'faculty' is, rather it's that
he doesn't understand what a *concept* is.
The evidence for this is in his last sentence above: "we are *just*
talking about." [emphasis added]
A concept refers to *all* the attributes of *all* the units subsumed
under the concept. A concept does *not* refer *just* to its defining
characteristic. A concept's defining characteristic is that attribute
that is *most* fundamental, that *best* serves to distinguish the units
of the concept from everything else (specifically from other units of
the concept's genus).
Our human consciousness has other faculties in addition to the faculty
of awareness. For example, memory, imagination, regulation of certain
bodily functions, coordination of certain bodily actions, etc.
Bill: "Now the question is whether later a different meaning is
associated with "consciousness," implying that it is not an "ability" to
do something, but instead is something that has the ability to do
something. I would maintain that this second meaning is the usual,
man-in-the-street idea of what "consciousness" is."
Actually it is *we* who have the ability to do something by means of our
consciousness. Saying that our consciousness does something is merely a
Bill: "But we should also note that Objectivists use the word "mind"
fairly frequently. I cannot find where this is defined by them."
'Mind' refers to a *human* consciousness. If Bill were paying attention
to *context* he might have figured that out.
Bill: "Does what is perceived always, sometimes, or never exist?"
Always. We can perceive *only* that which exists. How could we possibly
perceive something that isn't there?
Bill: "We know we at times have perceptions of what actually does not
exist, as in hallucinations, mirages, dreams, optical illusions, etc."
No. We do not *perceive* any of those things. Rather, they are
(mistaken) *interpretations* of what we perceive, or, in the case of
dreams, (mixed up) memories of previous perceptions and/or
interpretations of previous perceptions.
Bill: "We also know that one person's perception of an entity will be
different than that of someone else."
Well, duh! Of course the perception is different. It's processed by a
different (ie, someone else's) sense organ.
Bill: "and that our perception of an entity therefore certainly can't be
considered the same as the perceived entity itself,"
Duh! again. Why would anyone possibly think that a perception and what
is perceived are the same thing?
Bill: "which must therefore remain a postulated entity."
Non-sequitur. In order for us to perceive something that something
Bill: "So this would appear to support the idea that that which exists,
and is 'perceived,' is a postulated entity."
Not at all. See my previous comment.
Bill: "There is 'reality,' and then there is our perception of it."
Well, duh! Of course, since our perceptions happen *in* reality they are
also a part of reality.
Bill: "And does the 'faculty of perceiving that which exists' enable us
always, sometimes, or never to do so. We know that there is much that
exists that we cannot perceive, such as radio waves, and physicists tell
us that what we consider to be objects really consist of empty space and
fields of force and point-like particles that cannot be observed with
the naked eye. If these entities are what actually exist, then they are
not perceived, but instead postulated. So if we are talking about what
actually exists, do we perceive it?"
What a silly question and terribly confused paragraph.
All philosophy can say is that *if* we perceive it *then* it exists.
Whether or not we can perceive it depends on the nature of the thing
*and* the nature of the sense organ by means of which we perceive it
*and* their relationship to each other.
That previous sentence is crucial to understand so it would be good for
Bill and others to re-read it several times and *think* about what it
means and its implications.
Bill: "Third, we certainly can agree that perception, or our experience
in general, is indicative that something exists, and we can indeed lump
all those things into a category called 'existence,' but there will be
substantial disagreement as to what goes into that category,"
Irrelevant. If it exists then it is part of existence. It makes
absolutely no difference whether anyone *agrees* about anything or even
if anyone currently or has ever perceived it.
Existence exists. Existence is that which exists.
The concept of 'existence' is *not* simply another category like 'apple'
or 'sweet.' That's why it's called an *axiom*.
The reason we *need* the axiom of existence is to keep us grounded in
reality, to help us make sure that our ideas are about reality, to
prevent us from treating flights of fancy as being about reality.
Of course Bill would know all this if he had read OPAR -- a book he
claims to own. On page 5 Peikoff writes: "The concept of 'existence' is
the widest of all concepts. It subsumes everything -- every entity,
action, attribute, relationship (including every state of consciousness)
-- everything which is, was, or will be."
Bill: "And what is meant by the word 'exist' may be dependent upon what
it is that we are saying exists."
This is nonsense and another example of Bill's not understanding what
concepts are. I've already previously explained this, but I'll add one
additional clarification. There are many different *forms* in which
different things exist, but that in no way changes the fact of their
existence or the meaning of the concept "exist."
Bill: "So, in conclusion, what seems to be a simple, undeniable,
rock-bottom assertion cannot yet inspire us with confidence, I believe.
That there is something rather than nothing I will go along with, but I
don't think that this proposition furthers our understanding any."
All that matters is whether or not it is *valid*.
So *my* conclusion is that Bill goes wrong in at least two fundamental
ways. First, he frequently drops context. Second, he tries to impose his
own meanings on what is being said rather than trying to understand what
the author is actually saying.
I may or may not deal with further sections of Bill's "critique" at a
later time. Nonetheless, if anyone has any *questions* about Objectivism
I'll be glad to try to answer them
"Philosophy studies the *fundamental* nature of existence, of man, and
of man's relationship to existence. As against the special sciences,
which deal only with particular aspects, philosophy deals with those
aspects of the universe which pertain to everything that exists."
-- Ayn Rand "Philosophy: Who Needs It?"
Rick Pasotto [address removed] http://www.niof.n...