Philosophy of Perception: Naïve Realism vs. Representationalism vs. Direct Transformative Process Realism

Painting of a beautiful woman in a garden - Shows the richness of perceptionWithin epistemology, which is the branch of philosophy that studies human knowledge, one of the most fundamental topics is the nature of perception. Philosophers from the Ancient Greeks to the present have offered various theories of what perception is and how it occurs. Because it is a topic so fundamental to human knowledge, specialized natural science can’t answer the basics about it. Science relies on perceptual observations of reality. Thus science itself relies on the idea that perception allows us to be aware of an external reality. If perception does not give us awareness of external reality, then scientific study of the external world is not possible: We would always, at best, be inspecting the contents of our own minds.

Thus, it is the job of philosophy to answer the most basic question: Does perception give us an awareness of reality, and if so, at the most basic level, how?

In this essay, I’ll explain three different theories of perception. To the question of whether perception gives us an awareness of reality, all three of them attempt to answer, “Yes.” Where they disagree is on the “how,” or the basic nature of perception. The three basic theories are naïve realism, representative realism, and Direct Transformative Process Realism (DTPR.) (“Representative realism” here is a synonym for representationalism. Note that these theories are all variants of “realism” in perception. Theories that answer “No” to the question of whether we can observe mind-independent reality would be variants of “idealism.”)

Philosophers sometimes use “naïve realism” as a synonym for “direct realism,” and there are many different theories that could be called “direct realist.” But here I will take “naïve realism” to be one specific sort of direct realist theory: the sort of approach to perception exemplified by the Ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle. Representationalism too has quite a few variants, but they all share a common thread. I will focus largely on the version of representationalism associated with the English philosopher, John Locke. Direct Transformative Process Realism (DTPR) is my term for the theory of perception put forward by Ayn Rand and Objectivist intellectuals after her. It’s a form of direct realism that is very different from Aristotle’s approach. I’ll explain this term in more detail when I explain this theory later in this essay.

Continue reading

Biblical Inerrancy

It is the official belief of the Southern Baptist Convention that the Bible is the perfect revelation of God and that it is the perfect source of moral instruction. From the SBC website:

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

Here is all the response that that belief needs or deserves:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple." -- Jesus, (Luke 14:26)

This is one of many details that varies between the four Gospels, causing them to contradict each other in their content and, to an extent, in their message. Biblical inerrancy is clearly an article of dogmatic, blind faith.

[Bible quote source]

Here’s one more from the Old Testament for good measure:

Biblical inerrancy - In the Bible, order of creation is different between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. God creates animals before man in 1 and man before animals in 2.


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Why the Philosophy of Objectivism is Still Relevant and Needed in the Age of Modern Science

Why the Philosophy of Objectivism is Still Relevant and Needed in the Age of Modern Science

Barred spiral galaxy in space. Represents science and philosophy.Many people distrust abstract philosophical ideas and ideals. There are a couple of related reasons for this: 1) They hold that abstract ideas “oversimplify” reality, ensuring that they always fail to properly capture it, and 2) They think that abstract ideas outside of the natural sciences are generally faith-based dogma, or “armchair” speculation. (In either case, this means they think the ideas are put forward without sufficient supporting evidence.)

In regard to Number 1, I’d like to point out that all human concepts “simplify reality” in a sense: they all ignore differences between particular objects to focus on features common to a class of objects. For example, the concept “chair” refers to every particular chair you have ever encountered or will encounter. This means that it omits the countless differences between any two particular chairs. (Even if two chairs look identical at a macroscopic level, they almost certainly have countless differences at a microscopic level.) All other concepts function in a similar way: they ignore certain differences between things, for the sake of classifying them and integrating them into a single mental unit, represented by one word (“chair,” “dog,” etc.)

Yet the similarities that proper concepts such as “chair” capture are real and important, and it is not an oversimplification to say that all things called “chairs” (without qualification or modification) are made to allow someone to sit on them. Virtually no one accuses ideas about chairs of “oversimplifying reality”: Someone who speaks of chairs typically understands that he can always give more information about a particular chair by providing a description.

Classifying and simplifying reality by means of concepts is the human way of dealing with reality in thought, and it is very powerful, when done properly. Human beings have used the simplifying concepts of the natural sciences to cure diseases, increase food production per farmhand manyfold, extend the average human lifespan by over thirty years, build skyscrapers, and land on the moon. Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that simplifying concepts stop working at any level of abstraction (breadth of generalization) or at any level of complexity. The simple principles of Einstein’s relativity are highly abstract: they apply to all physical phenomena in the known universe, (when the scale under consideration is not too small) and to all the immense complexity of gravitational interactions between visible objects and light rays in galaxies. Continue reading

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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The Formal Refutation of Determinism and The Validation of Free Will (Libertarian Volition)


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

Why a Proper Ethics is Not a Set of Social Rules, But a Complete Way of Life

ayn_rands_normative_ethics_the_virtuous_egoist_300Note: 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. Also, the image on the right is not meant to imply that this article is from Dr. Smith’s book. This is my essay.

Many people today–especially in the atheist/skeptic/naturalist subculture–think of ethics as a set of rules that applies only to interactions with other people. They don’t think that primarily personal decisions can be considered immoral, but only actions that harm (or don’t help) others.

One will find, however, that a great many historical philosophers considered ethics to encompass a complete way of life; both the personal and the social aspects. Aristotle, Epicurus, the Stoics, Thomas Aquinas, Immanuel Kant and Ayn Rand all regarded ethics as defining the proper way to live. Indeed, the dictionary definition of ethics as “the branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of actions and the goodness and badness of motives and ends,” does not specify that “goodness and badness” must be “social.”

Were all these philosophers wrong in their idea of the basic place of ethics in human life? Were they fundamentally misguided in their whole approach to ethical questions? Is the dictionary definition of ethics wrong? Here I will examine the facts of the case for morality as a set of principles that provide guidance for a complete way of life, versus morality as a set of rules for promoting “proper” social interaction. Continue reading

What Interdependence Means and Why Society Isn’t Interdependent

Morpheus on Society-WatermarkInterdependence is a state of a group in which removal or destruction of one portion (subset) of the group necessarily results in the destruction of all members of the group. (1)

One example of interdependence is the set of critical organs in a human body. Taken as units in themselves, the brain, heart and lungs are interdependent: removal or destruction of one of them necessitates the destruction of the others. Another example of interdependence is the caste system in eusocial insects like bees, ants and termites. The reproductive caste and worker caste are each needed to keep the hive (and thus the other) productive and alive.

A division-of-labor society of human beings takes on a superficial appearance of interdependence. Different people do different jobs and rely on those in other specialties for raw materials and general trade. But unlike real interdependent systems, individuals in a society can exercise independent judgment and change occupations. An individual’s job is not set for life in his genetics, but chosen by the individual. People can and do get promoted, change jobs, change career types, etc. Companies in a free market can and do expand into new fields of business.

If, in a hypothetical, laissez-faire capitalist society, all those who performed one sort of productive job were suddenly removed, then it is still possible for those in other professions to take over the job and maintain a similar division of labor. There might be great hardship for a while from such a sudden displacement, but since most other individuals would be able to adapt and survive, the society fails the test for interdependence. (This is to say nothing of the more realistic, gradual removal of people from an occupation, which a capitalist society can undergo with most people hardly noticing. In contrast, if lung tissue were gradually removed from your body, it would become harder and harder for your other organs to function, and your heart would not transform to replace the missing lung tissue.)

Moreover, not all activities undertaken by all other individuals in a society are valuable to a given individual. In fact, some are positively harmful, such as dishonest schemes, irresponsible investment plans, and theft. Since each individual has free will–the choice to think or not, to judge or not, and the capacity to behave destructively toward self and others–it is up to the independent judgment of each individual to determine friend from foe. Other people can’t be dissolved into an undifferentiated mass of beneficence, let alone all be considered critical to one’s own survival. (Easily observable facts refute this collectivist notion.)

If one individual is physically injured to the point of mental damage or paralysis, then that person can become genuinely dependent on other individuals who provide his care and sustenance. But this metaphysical dependence goes only one way: the injured is dependent on the uninjured, not vice versa. There is no “interdependence” here.

Ordinary, healthy, adult human beings are fundamentally independent creatures, and assertions to the contrary are spurious. I have only ever heard vague assertions of “interdependence” from people. I have never heard “interdependence” defined, even though such a definition is a prerequisite to any rational argument about whether or not a society of human beings is “interdependent.” (2)


(1) This is existential interdependence–i.e. interdependence for continued existence as entities of a certain class. The common definitions of “interdependence” and “dependence” are philosophically vacuous.

(2) Dictionary definitions are unhelpful: interdependent – mutually dependent; depending on each other.”

dependent – relying on someone or something else for aid, support, etc.” [Webster’s College Dictionary, 1996]

Relying, in what way? Aid from whom? What happens if the support doesn’t come from whomever? This definition is useless philosophically, since it can encompass everything from an appointment with one doctor out of many to have a wart removed, to being fed through a tube because you’re paralyzed for life. The required definition is one of metaphysical (inter-)dependence, which is philosophically significant, and is the definition I gave at the start of this article.


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