Merry Christmas, Happy Natalis Invicti, Happy Saturnalia!

“The charming aspect of Christmas is the fact that it expresses good will in a cheerful, happy, benevolent, non-sacrificial way. One says: “Merry Christmas”—not “Weep and Repent.” And the good will is expressed in a material, earthly form—by giving presents to one’s friends, or by sending them cards in token of remembrance….”

Ayn Rand

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sol_Invictus#Sol_Invictus_and_Christianity_and_Judaism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturnalia

QuickPoint 5: Any Claim to a Probability is Also a Claim to a Certainty

Are you saying you're certain that that's the probability distribution?

Are you saying you’re certain that that’s the probability distribution?

Whenever anyone says that some statement’s truth is probable, whether they give a numerical percentage or not, they are making a definite knowledge claim: that the statement’s truth is probable. Whether the probability is measured by a percentage, or relative to some other statement(s), the person is claiming that that is the probability’s measure.

In other words, the person claiming a probability is claiming a certainty about the probability, itself.

If such a person claims that his estimate of the probability is based on another probability, then the question becomes, “What is the prior probability based on?” The failure to provide at least one certainty at the foundation of one’s estimate of such probabilities leads to an infinite regress, or to a baseless circle–neither of which is rationally tenable.

Thus, for any claim of probability to be based in reason, it must be founded on at least one absolute certainty. And so a claim about the probability of any statement’s truth implies at least one claim to certain knowledge.

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Related Posts:

Taking Philosophy Seriously…

Objectivism vs. Intrinsicism vs. Subjectivism: A Short Summary

The Arbitrary (from The Objectivism Seminar)

The Bible (New Testament) as Evidence

Proceeding from Axioms in Objectivism – YouTube Edition

The Wages of Altruism: Domestic Abuse

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”    — Jesus of Nazareth

Altruism is not the equivalent of helping friends, or general benevolence to strangers. Altruism is putting the interests of others first, before your own. It is harming yourself and your life so that others may be better off (allegedly.) It is giving of yourself to others when it is against your long-term interests (mental and physical) to do so.

Christianity manifestly preaches this self-sacrifice for others–this altruism–with respect to one’s own interests in the real world:

“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” –Jesus (Matthew 5:39-44)

Continue reading

The Arbitrary (from The Objectivism Seminar)

The Objectivism Seminar is a podcast series that features informal discussions of the works of Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff, and others, (mostly Objectivist intellectuals.) It takes the form of a conference call between a number of Objectivists/Students of Objectivism, where they summarize, discuss and mull over the ideas presented.

This episode features a nice discussion of the section of Leonard Peikoff’s Objectivism (OPAR), titled “The Arbitrary as Neither True Nor False.”

The Objectivism Seminar: The Arbitrary

Here’s the TalkShoe page for the podcast.

Here’s the Ayn Rand Lexicon page on the Arbitrary.

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Related Posts:

Objectivism vs. Intrinsicism vs. Subjectivism: A Short Summary

The Bible (New Testament) as Evidence

A Refutation of the Argument from Design

The Nature of the Morality of Rational Egoism: Short Notes

The Bible (New Testament) as Evidence

It should not take a professional historian to know that the Gospels are inadequate as evidence for their miraculous/bizarre claims, just as it should not take a legal scholar to observe that the claim of a trial witness, that the defendant resurrected a corpse, needs corroboration by physical evidence.

When we weigh evidence for a claim, the physical evidence that is closest to our first-hand experience should be given the greatest weight. Physical evidence further removed from our experience (say, a photograph in an old book, or a digital photo that could have been altered) should be given a somewhat lesser weight. The testimony–without immediate physical evidence–of a well known and trusted friend should initially be given moderately high weight. The testimony–without immediate physical evidence–of a stranger should be given a low weight. The testimony–without immediate physical evidence–of a known liar should be given no weight. Claims that produce no further evidence when reasonably investigated should be dismissed as baseless. (A large amount of mutually consistent evidence that is far removed from one’s first-hand experience can still be properly convincing.) Continue reading

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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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

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]

Fossil Fuels and Environment: McKibben vs. Epstein, Full Debate

On November 5th at Duke university, renowned environmentalist and AGW proponent, Bill McKibben debated Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress, on the effect that fossil fuels have on the human environment. Bill McKibben took the position that fossil fuels were harmful and an immediate threat to the human environment, while Alex Epstein took the position that fossil fuels continue to improve the environment we live in.

Here is the YouTube video of the full debate:

Here is a debate highlight from the question period: What does Bill McKibben really advocate?

Another highlight: Are affordable fossil fuels a “market failure”?

The Proper Intellectual Attitude of an Objectivist

“No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it. It is only with your own knowledge that you can deal. It is only your own knowledge that you can claim to possess or ask others to consider. Your mind is your only judge of truth—and if others dissent from your verdict, reality is the court of final appeal.”
–John Galt in Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

The fundamental intellectual attitude proper to an Objectivist is that of being an independent thinker first, and an Objectivist second. Any so-called Objectivist that accepts anyone as an authority over his mind is violating the philosophy of Objectivism at its root. An individual can learn concepts, methods and principles from others and obtain factual information from others, but if he is to be successful in finding truths and living happily, it is he who must judge for himself what is true and false by means of his own reasoning. He should not take anyone else’s word on faith, including Ayn Rand’s.

An individual should consider himself an Objectivist, not because he takes Ayn Rand’s ideas on faith, but because he has come to an intellectual agreement with Rand through his own observation and thought. He may have learned a lot from her writings, but a part of actual, conceptual learning is thinking critically about what one is learning and comparing it to reality, thus making it one’s own knowledge.

A student of Objectivism may suspend final judgment on the overall correctness of Rand’s ideas, due to his incomplete understanding of them, while learning about her philosophy and its arguments. Learning about Objectivism is a long process, (years) so in some issues, the student may suspend final disagreements for a significant period of time, based on his understanding and agreement with major principles he has already learned from the philosophy. (1) At every point along the way, however, the student should always act on his own best judgment at the time. He should never just assume Rand was correct and act on what he thinks Objectivism advocates, when he hasn’t seen a rational justification for it. If the student finds some tenet in the philosophy that, after an extended consideration of the evidence and arguments, he still would judge as incorrect, then he should make that judgment and regard Objectivism as wrong on that point. This attitude is inherent in being an independent thinker, and Objectivism wouldn’t have him anyway, if he weren’t (so to speak.)

To quote Atlas Shrugged again:
“Accept the fact that you are not omniscient, but playing a zombie will not give you omniscience—that your mind is fallible, but becoming mindless will not make you infallible—that an error made on your own is safer than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, but the second destroys your capacity to distinguish truth from error.”

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(1) The student in this case is not putting Ayn Rand’s mind or anyone else’s before his own. He is simply taking into account the full context of his knowledge, including the fact that he regards Ayn Rand as having made brilliant, sweeping integrations in philosophy. Thus, he takes extra care to understand and objectively assess her arguments before dismissing them.

[Edited: 5-11-12]