Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ayn Rand & Epistemology 7

Fallacious Presumptions: The validity of knowledge depends on "proper" concept formation. Rand assumes that the "validity" of conceptual knowledge (and therefore knowledge in general) depends on how scrupulous and careful individuals form concepts:

The status of automatized knowledge in his mind is experienced by man as if it had a direct, effortless, self-evident quality (and certainty) of perceptual awareness. But it is conceptual knowledge --- and its validity depends on the precision of his concepts, which require as strict a precision of meaning (i.e., as strict a knowledge of what specific referents they subsume) as the definitions of mathematical terms. (It is obvious what disasters will follow if one automatizes errors, contradictions and undefined approximations.)

This paragraph provides the very core of what is wrong with Rand's epistemology; and it will require a number of posts to identify and elucidate all the various fallacious branches that sprout from this one trunk. Right now I wish to concentrate on the final sentence, the one embalmed in parenthesis: It is obvious what disasters will follow if one automatizes errors, contradictions and undefined approximations. Is it really obvious? Rand's assertion assumes the following: (1) concepts can be erroneous; (2) concepts can be contradictory; and (3) improper concept formation leads to concepts that are ill defined and merely approximate. I will contend that these three presumptions are wrong.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ayn Rand & Epistemology 6

Fallacious Presumptions: Rand's implicit theory of mind. Although Rand never developed a complete theory of mind, an implicit theory of the mind underlies many of her epistemological assertions. Indeed, it could be argued that Rand doesn't have just one but actually several implicit theories of mind, and that she makes use of which ever one is needed for the situation at hand.

The more fully developed theory underlies Rand's view of "automatization":

Learning to speak is a process of automatizing the use (i.e., the meaning and the application) of concepts. And more: all learning involves a process of automatizing, i.e., of first acquiring knowledge by fully conscious, focused attention and observation, then of establishing mental connections which make that knowledge automatic (instantly available as a context), thus freeing man's mind to pursue further, more complex knowledge. [IOTE, 65]

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ayn Rand & Epistemology 5

Fallacious Presumptions: the facts upon which epistemology is based are discoverable through introspection. Early on in her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Rand makes the following observation:

Two questions are involved in his every conclusion, conviction, decision, choice or claim: What do I know?—and: How do I know it?

It is the task of epistemology to provide the answer to the “How?”—which then enables the special sciences to provide the answers to the “What?”

Epistemology, according to Rand, tells us how we know? But how does epistemology know how we know? What gives epistemology its special authority to answer such a question? Rand never thinks to raise this query, let alone answer it. Yet it's a question that cuts to the very heart of Rand's epistemological project. It's a question Rand herself could never have answered, because her epistemology, as she conceived and practiced it, is a fraud.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Ayn Rand & Epistemology 4

Fallacious Presumptions: over-emphasizing how one attains knowledge. In his book on logic, John Stuart Mill asserted the following: "By far the greatest portion of our knowledge, whether of general truths or of particular facts, being avowedly matter of inference, nearly the whole, not only of science, but of human conduct, is amenable to the authority of logic." This is the predominant view of what might be called the classical tradition in philosophy, running through Aristotle, Aquinas, and the early moderns. It is largely consistent with what Objectivism holds:

Logic is man’s method of reaching conclusions objectively by deriving them without contradiction from the facts of reality—ultimately, from the evidence provided by man’s senses. If men reject logic, then the tie between their mental processes and reality is severed; all cognitive standards are repudiated, and anything goes; any contradiction, on any subject, may be endorsed (and simultaneously rejected) by anyone, as and when he feels like it.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Ayn Rand & Epistemology 3

Fallacious Presumptions: Active Consciousness.  In my last post, I discussed what I described as the primary fallacy behind the Objectivist epistemology, which involves Rand's conviction that justifying our knowledge is necessary to save western civilization. This fallacy, however egregious, merely touches the setting of the Objectivist epistemology within the larger body of Rand's philosophy. It doesn't actually touch upon the doctrines that constitute Rand's epistemology. The ad consequentiam fallacy upon which much of the persuasive force of the Objectivist epistemology rests does not, in itself, prove that this epistemology is fallacious; it merely serves as a distraction to objective analysis. Once we remove the cloud of danger in which Rand cloaks her speculations, we can begin to look at the Objectivist epistemology with colder, more analytical eyes.