Hot off the digital press is my “Introduction to Objectivism” page. It conveys the basics of Ayn Rand‘s philosophy in an overview summary. It also explains some of the benefits of learning about her philosophy–called Objectivism–a little about the nature of moral and philosophical principles, and a little about how this rational philosophy fits in with modern science.
Exploring Objectivism is an intellectual adventure that really gives you a greater appreciation for your life, the world around you, and the power of abstract ideas to bring good or evil, success or failure.
Are definitions a matter of arbitrary social convention?
Well let’s find out if it makes sense to say that they are. Let’s imagine that Adam’s culture defines “space pixie” as “one of the living creatures that has wings, and whose species is solely responsible for bringing water to Earth.”
If definitions are arbitrary matters of social convention, then Adam can reason like this:
Premise 1: If there is water on Earth, it was brought by space pixies.
Premise 2: There is water on Earth.
Conclusion 1: Therefore, (only) space pixies brought water to Earth.
Premise 3: All things that bring water must exist at the time it is brought.
Conclusion 2: Therefore, space pixies must have existed.
This argument is deductively valid: If the premises are true, then the conclusions must also be true.
Furthermore, this argument is sound (has true premises and is valid–irrefutably correct) given the stated definition of “space pixie.” If definitions are arbitrary cultural inventions, then Premise 1 is “analytic”–that is, it is true purely by definition: One need only examine the definition of “space pixie” to find that Premise 1 is true. Premise 2 is an empirical truth, obvious to anyone who observes Earth and holds the common definition of “water.” Premise 3 simply states an indubitable fact: that things that act in reality must also exist.
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.
Determinism is the doctrine that all events, including human choices, are the necessary results of prior events, and that no human decision could have been different than it was.
Objectivism holds that determinism, specifically with respect to human conceptual consciousness, is self-refuting, because it makes conceptual knowledge of any kind impossible. Since this includes the premise of determinism itself, such determinism is incoherent. This self-refutation of determinism extends not only to so-called “hard determinism,” but to compatibilism, as well. In fact, it extends to any theory that does not recognize a fundamental choice made by the individual that determines conceptual beliefs.
(The only way to self-consistently hold determinism is to hold that conceptual beliefs are completely infallible, and that there is no such thing as a false belief. And then there would be no need to argue for determinism or even to assert it: everyone would agree on every issue with which they had experience.)
Thus, a libertarian theory of free will is the only type that is tenable. The rest of this post will explain how and why this is so. First, for intuitive simplicity, I will make use of a very apt analogy for human minds, beliefs, and truth. Then I will present a formal reductio ad absurdum of physical-mental determinism in both an unabbreviated and an abbreviated form. Then I will briefly describe the Objectivist theory of free will (volition) and its consistency with the Objectivist view of causality and the laws of physics. Continue reading →
I observe long-term survival that I may objectively define human flourishing,* and the means to it. I aim at my objective flourishing that I may achieve happiness.
[ * “Flourishing” is fulfilling one’s natural goal as well as possible. For living organisms, this means fulfilling an ideal pattern or mode of life as the type of organism each is. For man, this means choosing to make maximal use of his basic, distinctive means of survival–his conceptual faculty. Rand identifies this as the “survival of man qua man.”]
This is, in my understanding, the most basic summary of Rand’s program in “The Objectivist Ethics,” an essay within The Virtue of Selfishness. I think that keeping these two sentences in mind while reading the essay will help many people understand Rand’s points more fully.
Note: I recommend reading the entire article, but if you really need just a summary, scroll down to the bottom of the post and see the “Summary” section.
I often hear people say that morality is evolved, especially those who are in the naturalist-humanist camp. But what would it mean for morality to be “evolved,” and is it true? Physical evolution by natural selection is a well established fact, but is the view of human moral theories and practices as products of evolution, in the same category?
To start to answer this, we need to clarify what we mean when we say that “morality is evolved.”
The first part of this statement is “morality.” What is morality? Ayn Rand defined morality as “a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life.” (1) So morality is a code or set of fundamental values accepted by choice, in order to guide particular choices toward some ultimate goal. Along with the basic, primary values in morality, come the basic types or modes of action by which the basic values are to be achieved. These basic modes of action are called “virtues.” Continue reading →
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.”