The Anti-Truth Laws: Objectivist Epistemology

Balance

Ayn Rand railed, with eloquent precision, against many modern evils in the realms of morality and politics. She was able to pierce through the “moral grayness” of our culture in order to see the heart - the principle - behind any moral issue, and then dismantle it with fierce and articulate moral clarity. But she failed to do in the realm of epistemology what she so stringently demanded (and marvelously provided) in the realm of morality: to clearly state one’s principles. Just as in the realm of morality, when epistemological principles are left undefined, the result is a type  of grayness - an intellectual grayness, which is potentially far more destructive than it’s moral counterpart. Epistemology is, in a sense, the court of the intellect - and as such, it requires clearly defined and understood laws which must be adhered to consistently in order to guide one’s worldview into conformity with reality. When left undefined, epistemological principles decay into arbitrary, contradictory and subjective reactions such that the result is an intellectual climate which resembles the political-economic climate under the Anti-Trust Laws which were so adequately denounced by Ms. Rand in the following quote:

The Antitrust laws—an unenforceable, uncompliable, unjudicable mess of contradictions—have for decades kept American businessmen under a silent, growing reign of terror. Yet these laws were created and, to this day, are upheld by the “conservatives,” as a grim monument to their lack of political philosophy, of economic knowledge and of any concern with principles. Under the Antitrust laws, a man becomes a criminal from the moment he goes into business, no matter what he does. For instance, if he charges prices which some bureaucrats judge as too high, he can be prosecuted for monopoly or for a successful “intent to monopolize”; if he charges prices lower than those of his competitors, he can be prosecuted for “unfair competition” or “restraint of trade”; and if he charges the same prices as his competitors, he can be prosecuted for “collusion” or “conspiracy.” There is only one difference in the legal treatment accorded to a criminal or to a businessman: the criminal’s rights are protected much more securely and objectively than the businessman’s.

Similarly, The Anti-Truth laws - an inarticulable, unintelligible, uncompliable mess of contradictions - are the un-named epistemological “laws” by which Objectivists operate - not on their worldview, but on the worldview or positions presented by those with whom they disagree. Under these Anti-Truth laws, a position becomes irrational from the moment it is conceived, no matter what it’s foundations. For instance, if it uses logic to an extent which some objectivists judge too much, it is dismissed as rationalism; if it uses abstraction to an extent which some objectivists deem too high, it is smeared as a “floating abstraction”. There is only one difference between positions which are accepted by Objectivists and those which are rejected on these auspicious epistemological grounds: the conformity (or nonconformity) of the position to the Objectivist’s subjective whim.

For all of the Objectivist’s talk of cutting edge innovations in the realm of epistemology, they are remarkably incapable of explicitly articulating (and then consistently following) their epistemological laws - which is why it is more appropriate to place Miss Rand’s innovations regarding concept formation in the realm of cognitive science rather than in the realm of epistemology. As argued in a previous post, epistemology is primarily truth criteria - meaning that epistemology primarily requires clearly defined and consistently followed laws. Suspend the need to explicitly state your epistemological laws and you can play it deuces wild - which is exactly what many Objectivists do.

Test this though. Ask an Objectivist to clearly and explicitly state their epistemological laws. Then, before checking to see if the rest of their worldview adheres to the laws, first check to see that the laws adhere to themselves. You will find, particularly with the “laws” which they wish to impose on Christian arguments, that they do not.

Stay tuned for examples of such self-contradictory laws as well as my articulation of proper epistemological laws.

8 thoughts on “The Anti-Truth Laws: Objectivist Epistemology

  1. Well, there are some misunderstandings here.

    "The Anti-Truth laws – an inarticulable, unintelligible, uncompliable mess of contradictions – are the un-named epistemological “laws” by which Objectivists operate"

    Um…what are those laws? examples? Also, "uncompliable" isn't a word.

    "Under these Anti-Truth laws, a position becomes irrational from the moment it is conceived, no matter what it’s foundations."

    That's simply not true. You could say "…SOME positions become irrational from the moment…" or
    "…a position CAN BE irrational from the moment…" -- that would be correct. Also, "its" not "it's".

    "For instance, if it uses logic to an extent which some objectivists judge too much, it is dismissed as rationalism;…"

    You can never use logic too much. You might make a mistakes in attempting to apply logic, in which case you can fix the mistake by correctly using more logic. More importantly, "rationalism" is not "using too much logic", according to Objectivism. It's building a logical structure of any size (possibly very complex) on a base that's not tied to reality. Religion is a good example.

    "… if it uses abstraction to an extent which some objectivists deem too high, it is smeared as a “floating abstraction”." <-- Objectivism doesn't use a high level of abstraction as a basis to reject something. A floating abstraction is a concept that's not grounded in reality (the concept is like a rationalistic system, in that it's not tied to reality).

    "For all of the Objectivist’s talk of cutting edge innovations in the realm of epistemology, they are remarkably incapable of explicitly articulating (and then consistently following) their epistemological laws" <-- Have you read "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology"? Rand wrote 150 pages or so about epistemological laws. If any particular Objectivist can't articulate it or doesn't follow it, that's a problem for that person, but it doesn't refute Objectivism.

    "epistemology is primarily truth criteria – meaning that epistemology primarily requires clearly defined and consistently followed laws." <-- Epistemology is the science of studying knowledge — what it is and how to get it. Some approaches — Objectivism among them — advocate clear definitions and logical consistency; others say there's no such thing as absolute truth, reality is shaped by our definitions of words (which can be fluid), etc.

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  2. "That’s simply not true. You could say '…SOME positions become irrational from the moment…' or
    '…a position CAN BE irrational from the moment…' — that would be correct.

    Almost any supporter of the Antitrust laws would say the same thing in response to Rand's claim regarding businessman as criminals. The point is that the determining factor for whether one is considered a criminal (or irrational in this case) or not is the subjective whim of another rather than an objective and clearly defined law/standard/criteria.

    So, you say that the problem in both rationalism and in floating abstractions is a lack of connection to reality. This seems to suggest that the law which they are violating is the law that ideas must be connected to reality. This is where an *explicit* and clearly defined law would be helpful (and necessary). What constitutes "connection to reality" and what does not? What is the *standard* (law/criteria) for determining whether an idea is "connected to reality"?

    Yes, I've read ITOE. Rand had many valuable insights in that book, but, in general her insights are based in description. A description of how we come to develop concepts in general is not the same as clearly defined laws for determining a concept's truthfulness (or "connection to reality"). Please see my previous post on epistemology, here: http://thechristianegoist.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/epistemology-truth-criteria/

    I have not found (anywhere) a clear and *explicit* articulation of the laws of Objectivist Epistemology. I have found a lot of vague laws, like "don't be a rationalist", "don't use floating abstractions", etc... all of which *imply* that there is some sort of objective standard for differentiating between a position which commits those errors and a position which does not - but no such standard has been objectively and explicitly stated in a way that can be consistently followed.

    So that challenge still stands. Please clearly and explicitly state the laws of Objectivist epistemology (particularly ones which are supposedly violated by arguments like the one presented in my "Immovable Mover" post), and *if* that can be done - we can then check to see if those laws can hold up against themselves, let alone the rest of the Objectivist worldview.

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  3. An idea is connected to reality, and thus objective, if it can be reduced to sense perception. That might involve a long chain of reasoning. You may or may not know that Rand and her early students played "The Game", in which they took an abstract concept like "justice" and analyzed it back to sense perception. Even consciousness itself isn't a physical phenomenon, but no honest person could deny that they observe it within themself and in others.

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  4. And when these ideas/concepts are "reduced to sense perception", is there any remainder after the reduction? Is it reduced to perception and nothing else (which would seem to imply that it was nothing more than perception to begin with) OR is it reduced to perception and something else? If the latter, what is that something else, and is it considered a connection to reality? Why or why not?

    I ask because fleshing this out goes a long way in showing the inconsistency of following this "rule".

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  5. Sense perception is the raw material that consciousness has to work with. But that doesn't mean perceptions are all there are to concepts or ideas. Human consciousness performs an integration of the common element(s) of perceptions to form simple concepts, then of the common element(s) of simple concepts to form more complex ones, and so forth. Objective concepts are a combination of sense perceptions, human consciousness, and the mental effort required to integrate the perceptions. So when going backwards in this process (analyzing), you undo the integrations one by one until you arrive (back) at sense perceptions and human consciousness.

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  6. And when Human consciousness performs integrations, does it add or apply anything at all to the elements of perception being integrated? Is there anything other than perception which consciousness and mental effort add to form concepts?
    Don't worry, if you don't say what I'm getting at this time, I'll give it to you anyways... but I think you'll see where I'm going here.

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