Sunday, August 27, 2017

Objectivist Volition Versus Alternative Theories

The previous essays in this series presented the Objectivist concept of free will, and demonstrated how it operates in the mental and physical realms. In this essay, the Objectivist view of volition will be compared with some past theories of free will. Three broad views of volition will occupy the first half of this paper: free will as the choice of actions, as the choice of motives, and finally, as the choice of ideas. Afterwards, a response will be given to each of these views, pointing out certain missing information or other flaws. The essay’s conclusion will discuss how the Objectivist theory of free will is a more holistic version of human choice than these past theories have offered.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Freedom of Human Action

Human action has several forms. Involuntary actions exist, such as reflexes and subconscious prompts like the involuntary recall of a memory. In the realm of voluntary action, we’ve established that the primary choices are focus and non-focus (as either drift or evasion). The choice to be completely out of focus prevents a person from carrying out a wealth of other actions that were otherwise possible to them. A mind fully out of focus can merely react passively to whatever stimuli reaches their consciousness. However, the choice to focus opens up endless possibilities, possibilities which can be explored only if the person chooses a goal and directs his mind and body towards its attainment.

I’ll elaborate a bit on the idea that untold amounts of actions, both mental and physical, become available once a person chooses to focus. Mentally, a person can choose what one wants to think about, whether it’s about the next day’s weather forecast, which math problem will be solved first, or what workouts will be included on a weekly fitness schedule. We can think and make decisions regarding our personal lives, social lives, family ties, and careers; in short, we can decide what we want to cognitively deal with. Physically, we control our bodies’ muscles and thus can decide where we want to go and what we want to do, whether it’s going to the movies, cooking a steak dinner, or investing in a promising company. Our control of our respective minds and muscles allows us to tie our thoughts to our bodily actions in order to perform a wide diversity of complicated actions, sometimes only lasting a few seconds (e.g. carrying food to throw it out in a nearby trashcan), sometimes spanning the course of years (e.g. training to compete as an Olympian) or even the majority of one’s life (e.g. a life-long career or raising a family).

I’ll start with the relationship between causality and the primary choices which I discussed in the previous essay. Following that, I’ll show how cause-and-effect operates with our choice to think and what causes can affect our thoughts. After that, the causality involved in human actions will be discussed. The conclusion will focus on this principle as another intuitive induction, and with a word of caution about “living” an unfocused life.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Free Will and the Primary Choice

In my earlier essay about the perceptual level, I mentioned that the sensory and perceptual levels of consciousness are automatic, but the conceptual level is not. Our brains, nervous systems, and minds as well as those of other animals are biologically set to have sensations or perceptions with an environmental stimulus or a change in one’s perceptual field. There is no choice or alternative in the matter. But the same cannot be said for the conceptual level of consciousness.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Hobbes and Hume on the Senses: a Response

This essay is a follow-up to “The Perceptual Level as Given.” It will discuss a philosophical school that tried to answer the question of what the mind starts with: the sensualists/empiricists. The bulk of this essay will be an extended presentation of the sensualist approach of consciousness and knowledge as expounded by key sensualists like Hobbes and Hume. That section will be followed by a couple of my own problems with sensualism as they relate to the perceptual level of consciousness. (My issues with the sensualist view of the conceptual level will have to wait until I work through the inductions of concept-formation. I’ve also modernized the words in Hobbes’ and Hume’s quoted statements.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Perceptual Level as Given

One of the questions that philosophy asks is, “what information does the mind start with, what is ‘given’ with regard to our consciousness”? To answer this question, let’s briefly survey the levels of information that the mind deals with from the Objectivist perspective. As this principle sort of encapsulates the Objectivist view of perception, I’ll elaborate on some aspects of perception that I covered in previous essays. After giving this overview, I’ll discuss this principle’s relation to the previous intuitive inductions I’ve written about. The conclusion will discuss some overall lessons to be learned about epistemology from the Objectivist principles about perception that have been explained.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Consciousness as Possessing Identity

My previous essay on sensory qualities indicated that past philosophies generated doubts about the validity of the senses. As would be expected, historically there have been criticisms levied against all of the standard forms of gaining knowledge: perception, as we’ve already seen, but also the conceptual faculty/faculty of reason, and the art of logic. The principle that consciousness has identity gives a general answer to these kinds of criticisms. It also highlights what should be regarded as the proper starting point for an epistemology.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Sensory Qualities as Real

If Objectivism had been created earlier in history, perhaps a mere mention of the validity of the senses combined with the consciousness axiom would have sufficed. However, this is not the case: centuries, even millennia of philosophical debates have clouded and casted doubts on the issue of sense-perception. Several problems and purported solutions were advanced long before Objectivism was formed, and merit responses or clarification. This principle, the validity and metaphysical status of sensory qualities, is one such issue that will be tackled in the foregoing.

The Metaphysical Status of Sensory Qualities

Philosophy acknowledges that perception is an activity that people engage in. Epistemology generally holds that an “object” is “that which a cognitive subject perceives, knows, is aware of, describes, refers to, etc.”[1] A perception is understood to be a type of awareness of an object by means of a sensible system.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Senses as Necessarily Valid

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature and means of human knowledge.  The field lays out the rules and principles to guide the formation of concepts, the construction of logic, and generally how to gain knowledge and show its validity.  Objectivism holds that metaphysics and epistemology combined are the theoretical base of any philosophy.[1]

There is a little more context needed than metaphysics to fully confront the issues in epistemology. We must first discuss 2 topics that make the field of epistemology possible: sense-perception and volition (free will).  I’ll also cover the axiomatic concept of “self” at the end of this series, as I think it’s a subject that needs to be discussed for a complete understanding of Objectivism.

Now we can begin with the role and validity of human sensory-perception.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Objections to the Axioms (Part 6)

This will probably be my last response to the metaphysical axioms for some time.

A commenter raises the following issue:
It's often said that to deny axiom[sic] is to engage in self contradiction - and that wouldn't be a valid objection because in order to classify contradiction as an error one has to assume axioms to be true. I see circular reasoning in this answer against axiom deniers.[1] 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Objections to the Axioms (Part 5)

Objection: The Axioms Equivocate on Their Content

This objection concerns exactly what it is that the axioms are explaining and implying.  It highlights a seeming equivocation:
[…]In the Logical Structure of Objectivism, David Kelley makes the following observation:
Notice that neither [the axiom of existence nor the axiom of identity make] any specific statement about the nature of what exists. For example, the axiom of existence does not assert the existence of a physical or material world as opposed to a mental one. The axiom of identity does not assert that all objects are composed of form and matter, as Aristotle said. These things may be true, but they are not axiomatic; the axioms assert the simple and inescapable fact that whatever there is, it is and it is something.
Very well. Now consider what Rand draws from these very same axioms:
To grasp the axiom that existence exists, means to grasp the fact that nature, i.e., the universe as a whole, cannot be created or annihilated, that it cannot come into or go out of existence. Whether its basic constituent elements are atoms, or subatomic particles, or some yet undiscovered forms of energy, it is not ruled by a consciousness or by will or by chance, but by the law of identity. All the countless forms, motions, combinations and dissolutions of elements within the universe—from a floating speck of dust to the formation of a galaxy to the emergence of life—are caused and determined by the identities of the elements involved. 
In other words, she draws from these axioms: (1) that the universe is permanent and can neither be destroyed nor created; (2) the universe is not ruled by will or chance, but by the ‘law of identity’; (3) everything that happens is caused by the ‘identities’ of the elements involved. She also implies that the basic constituents of the universe, whatever they may happen to be, are non-mental (i.e., atoms, particles, or forms of energy). How does Rand draw all these things from these axioms when, according to Kelley [quoted earlier in the blog post] (who, in this instance, is being entirely orthodox) these axioms only assert that ‘something’ distinguishable exists?[1]
I’ll sum up this objection as: “Objectivism equivocates between axioms not specifying content (e.g. specific identities, specific actions), and inferences about reality that supposedly follow from the axioms (e.g. the universe cannot be created or destroyed, reality isn’t ruled by chance).”

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Objections to the Axioms (Part 4)

Objection: The Axioms are Circular
The axioms rest on the law of noncontradiction for their validity, but the law of noncontradiction itself rests upon the axioms.[1] 
The Validity of the Axioms

The (basic) axioms do not rely on each other for their validity. Direct experience or sense-perception is the means of validating the basic axioms.[2] Derivative axioms like "self" and "volition" rely on the fact of the basic axioms and direct experience for their validity, but not the basic axioms themselves. Further, the basic axioms being part of the validation of derivative axioms does not mean that the derivative axioms are deductions from the basic ones, or logical consequences. In Objectivism, the material required to form the basic axioms of existence, identity, and consciousness are discovered simultaneously. Peikoff mentions in a lecture course that: "'A is A' is independent of consciousness for its truth, but it’s not independent of the existence of consciousness to be grasped."[3]

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Objections to the Axioms (Part 3)

Previous: Objections to the Axioms (Part 2)

Question: “Are Axioms Proven or Merely Assumptions?”

“Are first principles or the axioms of logic (such as identity, non-contradiction) provable? If not, then isn't just an intuitive assumption that they are true?[...]”[1]

The axioms are neither “proven” nor “assumed.” 

(In the Objectivist view of axiomatic corollaries, Aristotle’s “Laws of Thought” are corollaries of the Existence axiom.  And more specifically, the Law or Principle of Non-contradiction and the Law of the Excluded Middle are restatements/corollaries of the Law of Identity, which is a corollary of “existence exists.”[2] So I’ll consider this question as broad enough to encompass any first principle, including the Objectivist axioms.)

I’ll make several points about why this can’t be the case when speaking of actual axioms.