Objectivism vs. Intrinsicism vs. Subjectivism: A Short Summary

Objectivism-The Philosophy of Ayn RandAt root, subjectivism, intrinsicism and Objectivism are theories of the nature of concepts or “universals.” Here, I summarize them in regard to their view of the nature of truth and knowledge. Since truth is an attribute of statements composed of concepts, each school’s view of truth is a direct outgrowth of its view of concepts.

Subjectivism holds that truth, in effect, resides only in the mind. For a subjectivist, a particular statement can be true for one person and false for another, based solely on one’s mental choices, subjective processing, or emotions. (Kant (by implication), Wittgenstein, James, Sartre, etc.) “Truth” amounts to whatever one believes, and there is no such thing as “knowledge” of reality; only some sort of “experience” inside one’s own mind.

Intrinsicism holds that truth resides disembodied out in the world. Typically, intrinsicists hold that all people have to do is somehow “open their hearts to God,” or “pay attention to their intuitions,” or “open their minds to the light of truth,” and the “external truth” will infallibly push its way in. If the truth is already “out there,” then there’s no reason to think that any special processing is required to reach it; one merely has to absorb it. (Plato, Aristotle (partially, in regard to essences), Apostle Paul, Augustine, etc.) For an intrinsicist, conceptual knowledge is whatever external truths one happens to have absorbed. A particular statement is “true” for everyone, whether they have any evidence or not. (And it’s an arbitrarily answerable question whether various people can be held responsible for not grasping all the “floating truth” out there.) (1)

Objectivism holds that truth and falsehood are aspects of conceptual knowledge. Truth (and perceptual knowledge) is a relationship between a consciousness and reality. Truth is reality, as conceptually processed by a consciousness. Truths do not exist disembodied in external reality. Only physical entities (and their aspects–including other consciousnesses) exist in external reality. I can only reach a truth when I choose to conceptually process percepts by reasoning (by the method of logic.) For an Objectivist, a particular statement can be true for one person and false for another, only when there is a radical difference in the relevant perceptual evidence available to the two people. It does not depend on mental choices, subjective processing, emotions, or whims. (2) A statement can also be arbitrary for one person and either true or false for another: People can have different levels of evidence that change how the statement ranks on their “epistemological determinacy” scale. (From arbitrary, to possibly true or false, to probably true or false, to certainly true or false.)

There is much more to be said about this topic, and I recommend Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, by Leonard Peikoff, for more.

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(1) To be clear, most modern, intellectual intrinsicists (and many such subjectivists) go to great pains to cloak their theory of knowledge in the appearance of reasoning from observation. They use the language of natural science and the formalism of deductive arguments. But this is all rationalization or inconsistency, because, for intrinsicists, the ultimate basis of “knowledge” is just to “feel the [allegedly external] truth.” For subjectivists, whatever their pretenses about subjectivism being necessitated by objective science, that self-contradiction wipes out objectivity on their part, and they thus imply that there’s no such thing as knowledge of reality. (What distinguishes knowledge of reality from fantasy is that knowledge is objective.)

(2) Some clarification on mental choices and truth: When I say that truth does not depend on mental choices, I am referring to what one might call “normative truth”: what the person ought to consider true. This depends solely on what parts of reality the person has observed, (i.e. what evidence he has.) What the person will actually claim as truth does depend on a mental choice: the choice to think about the evidence or not. This is why I say, “I can only reach a truth when I choose to conceptually process percepts by reasoning…” The normative truth is a potential I have, based on my current context of perceptual evidence. Reaching this truth is exercising the choice to fulfill (recognize) the normative truth.

Note also that the position of one’s body can be affected by prior mental choices. Only in this narrow sense can what one perceives–and thus one’s normative truth–be affected by mental choices. Once one has actually perceived something, mental choices are irrelevant to the normative truth.

[Substantial Edit: 2/28/15: My statement that, “For an Objectivist, a particular statement cannot be true for one person and false for another, (2) but it can be arbitrary for one person and either true or false for another,” in the fourth paragraph was altered to say that it is possible for something to be true for one person and false for another, based on evidence. I no longer agree with the old statement, and I don’t think Objectivism supports it. Footnote (2) was also altered to explain the current view.]

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Proceeding from Axioms in Objectivism – YouTube Edition

The Proof of Free Will (Libertarian Volition)

Taking Philosophy Seriously…

A Refutation of the Argument from Design

Ayn Rand on Politicians, Ideas and Compromise

Quote

“Commentators often exhort some politician to place the interests of the country above his own (or his party’s) and to compromise with his opponents–and such exhortations are not addressed to petty grafters, but to reputable men. What does this mean? If the politician is convinced that his ideas are right, it is the country that he would betray by compromising. If he is convinced that his opponents’ ideas are wrong, it is the country that he would be harming. If he is not certain of either, then he should check his views for his own sake, not merely the country’s–because the truth or falsehood of his ideas should be of the utmost personal interest to him.”

–Ayn Rand, “Selfishness Without a Self,” Philosophy: Who Needs It

The Scope of Evidence Pertinent to a Proposition Corresponds to the Scope of the Proposition

General evidence can prove generalizations. Specific evidence is required for specific propositions. The scope of sensory data that can tie a statement to reality (serve as evidence) varies with the scope of the statement.

If I make the statement, “All men have heads,” then the scope of potential, direct evidence for this statement (and counterexamples) is all men. I can observe a few random men and have a sensory basis to at least hypothesize that “All men have heads,” is true. (Exactly when I can logically say that a generalization is proven, is the subject of the epistemology of induction. While the principles of general induction are not yet fully known, the philosophy of Objectivism and the principles of modern science/technology show that induction works. I recommend Dr. Peikoff’s course, Objectivism Through Induction.)

If, on the other hand, I make the statement that “Julius Oglethorpe III lives at 10 Warkworth Terrace in Cambridge, England,” then I can’t gain a basis for hypothesizing that statement (let alone proving it) by observing a few random men. I need evidence that pertains to the specific statement at hand. To hypothesize, I need to see effects of the fact that Julius Oglethorpe III exists, or the fact that 10 Warkworth Terrace exists. To prove this statement, I need to see a set of facts that all evidence shows can only come from the fact that a man with this name lives at this address.

In both cases, the evidence that warrants the hypothesis or conclusion reduces to sensory data. But the evidence for the specific statement is much more specific than that for the general statement.

[Note: This short article was derived from a longer comment I made at “The Christian Egoist” blog: D’Souza vs. Bernstein: Is Either Good for Mankind?]

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Related Posts:

Proceeding from Axioms in Objectivism – YouTube Edition

The Proof of Free Will (Libertarian Volition)

Taking Philosophy Seriously…

A Refutation of the Argument from Design

America Before The Entitlement State

This article by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins should be seen by all Americans, and indeed, everyone else. It describes how people dealt with sudden injuries, deaths and the various disasters that can befall people, before government welfare programs and Social Security:

America Before The Entitlement State

Here’s a video reading of a part of an essay from Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand:

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19th-Century Capitalism Didn’t Create Poverty, But Reduced It

Here’s an article by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins on the near-laissez-faire capitalism of the 19th Century:

Capitalism In No Way Created Poverty, It Inherited It

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How to Show That Taxation is Robbery

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Why “Anarcho-Capitalism” is Wrongheaded

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A Philosophy Professor Discusses Ayn Rand in his Ethics Class

Dr. Gregory Sadler of Marist College recently discussed Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness in his Spring 2013 Ethics class and posted the video to YouTube:

Dr. Sadler is not an Objectivist, but he gives what is, in my view, a good introductory presentation on Rand’s ethics. I encourage anyone interested in the broader study of Rand in academia, to watch this video (at least in part) and leave polite comments on the YouTube video page.

My main critiques of Dr. Sadler’s presentation have already been voiced in the page comments. They are the following:

Overall, this is a very good presentation of Rand’s ethics. Thank you, Dr. Sadler.

Just a few points: Contrary to 52:48, Rand wouldn’t say the choice of friends is arbitrary, but ought to depend on their objective virtues/values. Vicious people harm one’s own life when you’re involved with them; virtuous people typically benefit one’s own life.

Also worth emphasizing: Man *creates* wealth/values (material and spiritual) by acting on proper reasoning. There isn’t a fixed “pie.”

Also, Rand regards virtues as eminently practical. A breach of integrity has very real, self-destructive consequences in the long-term. There is no gap between morally principled action and practical action. (Practical for achieving long-term flourishing.)

Finally, “Ayn” rhymes with “mine.” : )

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The Nature of the Morality of Rational Egoism: Short Notes

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Values Are Relational But Not Subjective

Values Are Relational, But Not Subjective

There are many people in the world who will say that values are subjective. You may or may not be one of them. For many, the reasoning behind this stance is that they see that different people value different things, and they think that if values were objective, then everyone would value the same things. So they conclude that all values are the opposite of objective, which is subjective.

This article will give evidence and argument that this view is mistaken; that this reasoning is based on a confusion about what it means for values to be objective.

First, let’s consider a simple physical situation: Two men are standing on opposite sides of a pole, as shown in Case 1 of the figure below. We are looking down on them, and they are both facing upward. For Person A, the pole is on the right. For Person B, the pole is on the left. Does this mean that the position of the pole is subjective? No. Both men can look objectively at the relationship of the pole to each one. If they specify whose relationship to the pole they are talking about, they can both agree on the fact of the relationship.

Relational and Objective Values Diagram

When Person A observes that the pole is on his right, Person B can observe that Person A is correct: relative to Person A, the pole is objectively on the right. They can also both agree that, relative to Person B, the pole is objectively on the left. The position of the pole is objective, but its physical relationship with Person A is different than with Person B. Continue reading

The Social Metaphysics of Communism: MiG Pilot

MiG_PilotThe book, MiG Pilot, is the true story of a Soviet pilot who defected to the United States in 1976. As a MiG-25 pilot, Lieutenant Viktor Belenko was among the most elite officers of the Soviet military. Like all Soviet military men of the period, he was thoroughly indoctrinated in Communist ideals and fed misinformation about the West his whole life. Yet through many years of observation and logical thinking, he came to see that there was something deeply wrong with the USSR. The rampant drunkenness, dishonesty and economic stagnation he witnessed eventually drove him to fly his MiG-25 to Japan, seeking asylum in the United States–the very heart of the “Dark Forces” he had been taught to fear.

The following incident is from Lt. Belenko’s time as a MiG-25 pilot stationed at Chuguyevka in Southern Siberia. Belenko’s thoughts at the time are represented in {green braces.} Again, I stress that this book is nonfiction; as in, this actually happened:
Continue reading

God: The Immovable Mover

Some deep discussion of causality and metaphysics. My refutation of this “First Cause” argument for God appears in the comments under “Sword of Apollo.”

God: The Immovable Mover.

[Note: Jacob T. Brunton is philosophically sophisticated and usually argues civilly. These characteristics led me to give him the benefit of every doubt when it came to intellectual honesty. I am not one who is quick to judge such a person an incorrigible evader or intellectually dishonest, since I think that there are many deep, yet honest errors that smart people can make in thinking about philosophy. But through argument with Mr. Brunton on multiple occasions, I have been given the evidence to conclude, beyond any doubt, that he is not honest in his philosophical viewpoints; especially in his regard for the Bible.

My past discussions with Mr. Brunton can still be informative to others, and so I will leave them as they are. But he will no longer be allowed to comment on this blog, and I will make no further comments in direct response to him on any blog. —  6-27-2013]

QuickPoint 2: Altruism Supports Coercion…

…or “A Problem With Libertarianism”

Under altruism, (the morality of self-sacrifice,) an act of self-sacrifice can be good, even if the person sacrificing doesn’t choose to do it.

If someone’s interests are sacrificed by government force, the person committing an unwilling sacrifice doesn’t get moral credit for the act, because it was unchosen. But the act itself can still be considered “good”, apart from the choices of the “self” being sacrificed. A sacrifice is a sacrifice, regardless of whether it was freely chosen or imposed by a legal authority. Thus, under altruism, any sacrifice can be good, so long as it “benefits those in need.”

In practice, the forced imposition of sacrifice is justified on dual grounds: it will benefit those in need, while simultaneously punishing those who violate morality by being selfish. Since everyone, according to the altruist morality, really should be self-sacrificial anyway, who can object to the overall project of forced charity? We can quibble about the practical details, say the altruists, but if we want a moral society, how can we leave the needy at the mercy of other individuals’ choices?

Under the morality of altruism, the advocates of government coercion are right: A moral society requires forced charity, because without it, those who don’t sacrifice for the welfare of others will be rewarded and encouraged, and those “noble altruists” who are in need will be “left at the mercy of the selfish.”

The only way to fight this thinking is to fight for the morality of rational egoism, as established and advocated by Ayn Rand. For rational egoism, an act can only be good if it is freely chosen by the acting individual.

I highly recommend this book on how to fight for a free market: Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand’s Ideas Can End Big Government.

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Related Posts:

Atlas Shrugged, Altruism and Egoism

The Morality of Rational Egoism: Short Notes

Link Highlight: Introduction to Objectivism Playlist