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Dennis Hardin

Prof. George Walsh on Rand and Kant

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In terms of scholarly credentials, the late George Walsh, formerly professor emeritus at Salisbury State University, had few peers. He was also a prominent and outspoken advocate of Objectivism. Along with David Kelley and Allan Gottthelf, he was a co-founder of the Ayn Rand Society of the American Philosophical Association. David Kelley once said of Walsh that he had “read the collected works of philosophers I had never heard of.” According to Kelley, Walsh “could teach courses on the varieties of Buddhism, or on Freud and his warring intellectual descendants, as easily as he could on Plato, Aristotle, or Kant.”

In November, 1993, Walsh was interviewed by Full Context, an Objectivist magazine (long since defunct). In that interview, Walsh discussed a paper he had recently presented to the Ayn Rand Society on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Walsh expressed profound disagreement with Ayn Rand’s interpretation of Kant. He stated that Rand was mistaken in attributing to Kant the view that “human knowledge is a distortion and a delusion…Kant is thus ranked as an arch skeptic moved by the desire to destroy the mind. Now I maintain that if Kant is read carefully in context and without commentaries or secondary sources, he will be seen to hold no such doctrine as the thesis that human knowledge is a distortion or a delusion.”

Walsh summarizes Kant’s basic argument this way:

George Walsh:

“All human knowledge falls necessarily under the categories of space and time…These forms cannot be characteristics of things as they are in themselves, for if they were, their nature would be known by accumulating observations and by induction, and we could also imagine space and time as absent….But if they are not learned by inspection of the objects we know, they must have some other origin. By elimination, the only other possible source is the mind. The mind, then, must act as a grid imposing the forms of space and time on the content of our knowledge…Kant then proceeds to the further conclusion that space and time, as imposed by the mind, are forms of the way things appear to us. Within the array of spatio-temporally organized objects, it is possible to distinguish ‘empirical reality’ from delusions. In other words, [Kant] provides a criterion of objectivity. The criterion is order and regular sequence, in terms of which he distinguishes between ‘empirical reality’ and delusion.

“Now, in spite of her claim that ‘on every fundamental issue, Kant’s philosophy is the exact opposite of Objectivism,’ Rand’s position is closer to Kant’s than [she] realized. She too holds that our percepts contain elements that are not intrinsic qualities of things…Can Rand say that the ‘ultimate constituents’ of the universe are extended in space? No, she says, we cannot claim that. As Leonard Peikoff says, they may be mere ‘puffs of energy.’ So, in some sense, between the ‘ultimate constituents’ and the final percepts, space gets added. Is such a radical addition a distortion? If it isn’t for Rand, it isn’t for Kant…”

“Now these similarities do not obscure the vast differences between Rand and Kant, because for Kant the world of ‘things in themselves’ is cut off from our knowledge, forever, thereby leaving room for faith. And according to Rand, nothing is cut off from our possible knowledge and we can learn the ultimate properties of things, perhaps, in due time, by abstracting and by making inferences logically from our perceptions. And in my view Rand is right against Kant on this substantive issue.

“Thus a big difference between Rand and Kant is that she does not postulate any gulf between our perceptions and the ultimate constituents of the universe, whereas he does. She is right to emphasize this, and the fact is of vast importance. However, in her zeal over making this point, and in her conviction that it is her mission to save civilization from Kant, she makes several errors in interpreting his position. One is to attribute to Kant the view that man’s consciousness is a delusion. Two is to claim that he derived this alleged conclusion from the fact that consciousness has identity. Three is to assert that consciousness is, in Kant’s view, creative in the very act of knowing and to imply, or at least hint, that Kant thereby subjected existence to the ‘wish’ of consciousness.”

Walsh attributes Rand’s misconceptions to numerous secondary sources, and cites two in particular. One is Arthur Schopenhauer, who used Kant to support his own view that the physical world was a veil of illusion, even though Kant warned against this interpretation in The Critique of Pure Reason. The other is a nineteenth century statement by Henry Mansel, the Dean of St. Paul’s in London, which she quotes in the second edition of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Mansel states that Kant’s doctrine leads to the conclusion that “to obtain a knowledge of the real, we must go out of consciousness.” According to Walsh, both Mansel and Schopenhauer were dead wrong.

This is only a brief summary of an extended and fascinating interview with Walsh. Later in the same interview, Walsh describes Kant as “the father of idealism.”

George Walsh:

“…[Kant] regards the noumenal world as unknowable, not merely unprovable, but unknowable in principle…

“…[The] major difference between the Kantian theory of knowledge and the Objectivist theory of knowledge [is that, metaphysically, Kant’s universe is discontinuous as between the phenomenal and the noumenal]. There is a continuity between objects as perceived and objects as they are in themselves in the Objectivist view. There is no break at all; that is, one starts with perceptual objects, and one abstracts from them, and one forms scientific theories of photons and neutrinos and things like that. We get closer and closer, by a rational process, to what Ayn Rand calls the ‘ultimate constituents’ of reality. But in the Kantian view the reality of 'things in themselves,' as he calls them, is utterly cut off….”

In other words, Kant does reach what could be called an “ultimate skeptical conclusion” regarding man’s ability to know the scientific nature of “things in themselves,” but he did not hold, as Rand concluded, that this disqualified all human knowledge. Walsh makes clear that Kant never intended this delimited scientific ignorance to extend generally to all our claims to knowledge of the world.

If you are interested, you can read the text of Walsh’s 1992 address to the Ayn Rand Society here. The original Full Context interview (volume 6, number 3, Fall, 1993) which touches on a variety of related philosophical topics (e.g., Rousseau and John Rawls) may still be available here.

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Dennis,

Walsh is definitely on my to do list. I enjoyed these excerpts.

It seems like my position is close to Kant's when I propose the possibility (I repeat, possibility--on a speculation level only) that we have not stopped evolving and might acquire new sense organs for aspects of existence we do not perceive, or might further develop ones which only currently provide "glimpses" (say, intuitions).

Apropos, I am rereading ITOE with a view to simplifying some of it for people who want to understand it, but give up because of the language (especially the constant long jargon-laden passive voice sentences). Maybe I will do some flow charts and simple explanations of recurring terms like conceptual common denominator, etc.

Anyway, I came across this quote at the end of Chapter 4 - "Concepts of Consciousness," which is probably one of the strongest metaphysical statements Rand made, although it appears on the surface to be epistemological.

If anything were actually "immeasurable," it would bear no relationship of any kind to the rest of the universe, it would not affect nor be affected by anything else in any manner whatever, it would enact no causes and bear no consequences—in short, it would not exist.

In other words, a fundamental condition of existence is being able to be measured by a human consciousness. She simply closes off the entire concept of existence with the stipulation that a human consciousness must be able to measure everything in it. Parts that do not meet this stipulation (if some should ever be found) simply do not exist.

I cannot call this anything other than a belief. Especially as she claims elsewhere that things exist whether a consciousness perceives them or not. And her belief is grounded on the premise that human consciousness already--at this stage of evolution--has total capacity to grasp everything that exists (and can even measure it).

I am more of the view that the part of existence we grok, we actually do grok. The part that we don't know, well, we don't know. We don't even know if there is such a part. Unlike Kant (at least as I understand him with my limited reading of him), I do not claim something is unknowable to humans. I consider the possibility that something might be unknowable if it falls outside the limits of human capacities at this stage of our evolution. And if we continue evolving, we might come across some pleasant (or not so pleasant) surprises in the future.

Michael

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Dennis,

Walsh is definitely on my to do list. I enjoyed these excerpts.

It seems like my position is close to Kant's when I propose the possibility (I repeat, possibility--on a speculation level only) that we have not stopped evolving and might acquire new sense organs for aspects of existence we do not perceive, or might further develop ones which only currently provide "glimpses" (say, intuitions).

Apropos, I am rereading ITOE with a view to simplifying some of it for people who want to understand it, but give up because of the language (especially the constant long jargon-laden passive voice sentences). Maybe I will do some flow charts and simple explanations of recurring terms like conceptual common denominator, etc.

Michael,

The unfortunate thing about George Walsh is that he didn’t write that much, at least not books. The only book I am aware of is The Role of Religion in Human History, which may just be a transcription of his excellent lectures on the history of religion. He did publish some essays in The Objectivist and various philosophical journals. I have a lot of his audiotapes from summer conferences, both the Jefferson School (when even Peikoff seemed to idolize him) and later from IOS conferences.

Your project sounds worthwhile. I think Objectivists should make a lot more use of charts, graphs and outlines. I have often thought that a lot of people who have very limited patience for studying the written word might well respond to simplified visual displays which clearly show certain crucial connections and integrations.

In other words, a fundamental condition of existence is being able to be measured by a human consciousness. She simply closes off the entire concept of existence with the stipulation that a human consciousness must be able to measure everything in it. Parts that do not meet this stipulation (if some should ever be found) simply do not exist.

I cannot call this anything other than a belief. Especially as she claims elsewhere that things exist whether a consciousness perceives them or not. And her belief is grounded on the premise that human consciousness already--at this stage of evolution--has total capacity to grasp everything that exists (and can even measure it).

When Rand claimed that anything which exists can be measured, all she was really saying was that anything that exists can be compared and contrasted with other existents. She used the word measurement in a somewhat metaphorical sense to apply very broadly to all situations where we omit specificity along a dimension of comparison.

I am more of the view that the part of existence we grok, we actually do grok. The part that we don't know, well, we don't know. We don't even know if there is such a part. Unlike Kant (at least as I understand him with my limited reading of him), I do not claim something is unknowable to humans. I consider the possibility that something might be unknowable if it falls outside the limits of human capacities at this stage of our evolution. And if we continue evolving, we might come across some pleasant (or not so pleasant) surprises in the future.

As far as Kant is concerned, to claim that anything is unknowable seems utterly self-contradictory to me. The only way you could know that we cannot know something is from a paradoxical position of omniscience where the person knows everything, including the fact that certain things cannot be known.

David Kelley once said something to me which I have always found fascinating with regard to the nature of the ‘ultimate constituents.’ His comments underscore the metaphysical complexity of the issue of the relationship between our minds and ‘things in themselves.’

David Kelley in private correspondence (1-12-91)

The question is: could a skeptic maintain the possibility that the existence of entities is relative to our senses? You answer that the concept ‘entity’ refers to existents, so that the existence of entities is a corollary of the axiom that existence exists. I see two problems here. First, this equates the concepts of entity and existent. But the first concept is used to distinguish certain existents from others, such as attributes, relationships and actions. The latter are existents, but not entities. Secondly, from an epistemological standpoint, this approach is unnecessary. Even if entities do exist only in relation to our means of perception, the fact remains that entities are given in perception, just as colors are, and the concept of entities would refer to a real category of phenomena (just as the concept of color does).

So far as I can see, therefore, there is no ground for any epistemological doubt about the validity of the concept. But there is a metaphysical question that does seem to depend on the status of entities. The law of causality rests on the fact that any action is the action of an entity; actions are derivative, entities primary. That’s why an action is dictated by the identity of that which acts. But if entities existed only in relation to our senses, in the way colors do, then what grounds would we have for saying that the law of causality applies outside that realm?

This is one of the questions raised by quantum physics. The wave-like nature of elementary particles suggests that they aren’t really entities, so it isn’t surprising that many people claim that the law of causality breaks down at this level, and things just happen, by chance.

This is one of the issues raised at a recent Institute colloquium on quantum physics, and in the course of the discussion, we tried to separate the concept of entity from that of particle. The idea is that particles or discrete objects as we know them perceptually are only one form of entities. An entity can also be a kind of stuff, and it remains true that an action must be the action of something (some stuff). But this is pretty vague, and needs to be worked out.

That was in 1991, and it was unfortunately my last communication with David, so I have no idea what he might say about this issue today.

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When Rand claimed that anything which exists can be measured, all she was really saying was that anything that exists can be compared and contrasted with other existents. She used the word measurement in a somewhat metaphorical sense to apply very broadly to all situations where we omit specificity along a dimension of comparison.

Come on, Dennis. It isn't what she "really said", i.e. literally. It is your generous interpretation of what she really said. Given how often she claimed to use words precisely, don't you think that if what you say she really meant matched what she really meant, she would have found the words you did?

As far as Kant is concerned, to claim that anything is unknowable seems utterly self-contradictory to me. The only way you could know that we cannot know something is from a paradoxical position of omniscience where the person knows everything, including the fact that certain things cannot be known.

I agree if you mean unknowable in principle, which seems to be what Kant meant. Unknowable to somebody, or even anybody, in particular circumstances is another matter.

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The only book I am aware of is The Role of Religion in Human History, which may just be a transcription of his excellent lectures on the history of religion.

It is just transcriptions of his lectures, and unfortunately it's strewn with copyediting errors, as well as having some problems of organization and repetition. He wanted to get it published before he died (he was dying of Parkinson's), so it was done hastily. I found it well worth reading despite glitches.

Thanks very much for posting that note from David Kelley. I've copied it for discussion with my physicist husband. I have no idea where David's thinking on the subject might have gotten to since 1991. Best I recall the topic of q.m. didn't come up when Larry and I attended a few days each of the 1999 and 2000 Summer Seminars, and Larry hasn't mentioned it coming up during any of his occasional get-togethers with David since then.

Ellen

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Ellen,

I gather from an earlier note, that the seminar on QM was in April of 1991. I was there, and that is probably when I first met Larry. He was the presenter. It was in a conference room of the Dana building in New York. We had good discussion. Roger Donway worked on writing up a summary of the seminar, but as I recall, it got away from him.

A peek of my own work on entity and measurement is in the last paragraph here.

Dennis,

I will try to write a comment on George’s Kant paper in the future.

—Stephen

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When Rand claimed that anything which exists can be measured, all she was really saying was that anything that exists can be compared and contrasted with other existents. She used the word measurement in a somewhat metaphorical sense to apply very broadly to all situations where we omit specificity along a dimension of comparison.

Come on, Dennis. It isn't what she "really said", i.e. literally. It is your generous interpretation of what she really said. Given how often she claimed to use words precisely, don't you think that if what you say she really meant matched what she really meant, she would have found the words you did?

There were times when Ayn Rand left certain things to implication and expected her readers to work out the obvious conclusions. I once attended an NBI lecture by Nathaniel Branden at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York in which he made a statement that seemed to contradict another principle. (Ayn Rand and Frank O'Connor were sitting two rows in front of me.) Branden said (I am paraphrasing from memory): "Purists in the group, does this contradict what I previously said? No, it doesn't. Why? Figure it out for yourself."

I would say the same thing about this issue. In ITOE, Rand discusses concepts such as materials and motion, explaining how specific materials and motions are isolated conceptually. She does not address the specific concepts--materials and motion--per se. It seems clear to me that those are examples of concepts where, at a certain level of abstraction, we omit something on the order of kind rather than degree, but the essential principle is the same. Different materials and motions can obviously be compared and contrasted in the same way that specific materials and motions can be quantified.

She seems to acknowledge this in the discussion portion of the expanded version of ITOE (p. 277): "...the process by which you form concepts of materials is somewhat different from the process of forming other concepts--it's the same in principle but the actual details are somewhat different." I think she expected her readers to be able to extend that beyond the example of specific materials and motions.

Perhaps I am being overly generous to her in this interpretation. I think it is much more important to acknowledge her genius than to pick her apart because she didn't cover every conceivable nuance.

NOTE: I changed the Branden quotation. I originally quoted him as addressing "Puritans" in the audience. I now recall that he used the word "Purists."

Edited by Dennis Hardin

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The only book I am aware of is The Role of Religion in Human History, which may just be a transcription of his excellent lectures on the history of religion.

It is just transcriptions of his lectures, and unfortunately it's strewn with copyediting errors, as well as having some problems of organization and repetition. He wanted to get it published before he died (he was dying of Parkinson's), so it was done hastily. I found it well worth reading despite glitches.

Thanks very much for posting that note from David Kelley. I've copied it for discussion with my physicist husband. I have no idea where David's thinking on the subject might have gotten to since 1991. Best I recall the topic of q.m. didn't come up when Larry and I attended a few days each of the 1999 and 2000 Summer Seminars, and Larry hasn't mentioned it coming up during any of his occasional get-togethers with David since then.

Ellen

Ellen,

I agree with you about Walsh's book on religion. It is a great book despite the glitches. I only wish we had transcriptions of more of his lectures.

I would be interested to hear your husband's comments on Kelley's remarks. I hope you will take the time to summarize them here.

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Ellen,

I gather from an earlier note, that the seminar on QM was in April of 1991. I was there, and that is probably when I first met Larry. He was the presenter. It was in a conference room of the Dana building in New York. We had good discussion. Roger Donway worked on writing up a summary of the seminar, but as I recall, it got away from him.

A peek of my own work on entity and measurement is in the last paragraph here.

Dennis,

I will try to write a comment on George’s Kant paper in the future.

—Stephen

Thanks, Stephen. I would love to read your analysis.

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Since the issue of quantum physics has come up in this discussion, I cannot resist posting the following excerpt from today’s Los Angeles Times. It is from a review of a new book, Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality, by Manjit Kumar. The review was written by Sara Lipponcott:

The principals in this great debate are Bohr, whose physics institute championed the counterintuitive "Copenhagen interpretation" of quantum physics, and Einstein, who objected to Bohr's "renunciation of the representation of a reality ... independent of observation." Einstein believed, to put it simply, that an electron exists — and exists in a particular place — regardless of whether it is being observed. Bohr, and his disciple Heisenberg, believed that "until an observation or measurement is made, a microphysical object like an electron does not exist anywhere," and that "it was no longer possible to make the separation that existed in classical physics between the observer and the observed."

Take another look at the quotation from David Kelley above before you dismiss the Bohr-Heisenberg hypothesis as utter nonsense. There are serious issues that must be addressed here.

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Dennis,

I will try to write a comment on George’s Kant paper in the future.

—Stephen

Thanks, Stephen. I would love to read your analysis.

Signed, sealed, delivered, . . . here.

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If anything were actually "immeasurable," it would bear no relationship of any kind to the rest of the universe, it would not affect nor be affected by anything else in any manner whatever, it would enact no causes and bear no consequences—in short, it would not exist.

In other words, a fundamental condition of existence is being able to be measured by a human consciousness. She simply closes off the entire concept of existence with the stipulation that a human consciousness must be able to measure everything in it. Parts that do not meet this stipulation (if some should ever be found) simply do not exist.

I cannot call this anything other than a belief. Especially as she claims elsewhere that things exist whether a consciousness perceives them or not. And her belief is grounded on the premise that human consciousness already--at this stage of evolution--has total capacity to grasp everything that exists (and can even measure it).

When Rand claimed that anything which exists can be measured, all she was really saying was that anything that exists can be compared and contrasted with other existents. She used the word measurement in a somewhat metaphorical sense to apply very broadly to all situations where we omit specificity along a dimension of comparison.

Come on, Dennis. It isn't what she "really said", i.e. literally. It is your generous interpretation of what she really said. Given how often she claimed to use words precisely, don't you think that if what you say she really meant matched what she really meant, she would have found the words you did?

There were times when Ayn Rand left certain things to implication and expected her readers to work out the obvious conclusions.

Dennis, and Rand, are absolutely correct. Michael's paraphrase is not Rand's position.

Rand was very exact with her language, and she most certainly did not say what Michael says she said in his paraphrase: "In other words, a fundamental condition of existence is being able to be measured by a human consciousness."

To be is to be something. To have some effect. An existent that had no effect on anything whatsoever would have no attributes and stand in no relation to anything. It could not be sensed, because causing a sensation is to have an effect on a being with a nervous system. It could not have mass or energy, since we know of those things by their effects. It could not be said to have volume or location, because we measure such things either directly through our senses or indirectly by action on certain instruments which we sense.

Of course, it is possible for things to exist that we have not yet measured. The neutrino, for example, only has the most subtle of effects. It is through their effects, that neutrinos can cause atoms to decay, that we know them. Neutrinos were only measured in the last century. But they existed at least a few years before that.

To be is to have some real effect, which means to be measurable, in principle, if one has the proper tools, directly, or indirectly. To assert that some immeasurable entity exists is simply arbitrary, and, as I have argued elsewhere, it applies to the incoherent idea of an infinite universe as much as it applies to entities without properties. To exist is to be measurable, in some way, in principle. That it actually be measured is not a "condition of existence." Nor does the potentially measurer have to be human. Stars which existed during the early universe, before life had had time to evolve, must have had planets that were destroyed when they went nova. Had some conscious being then existed, those planets could have been observed or "measured."

Finally, imagine that there are two separate things which exist, each of which has no effects on anything. How could we distinguish them from each other, or for that matter, from nothing? Nothing does not exist, but to deny the truth of Rand's position is to argue that it does.

Edited by Ted Keer

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Ted,

I have no idea what you imagine Rand wishes something to be measured with if not a human consciousness. But you are wrong as per Rand's own words.

Let's cut her phrase down to the bare basic stem just to make sure. "If anything were actually "immeasurable," ,,, it would not exist."

Yup.

That's pretty clear. In other words, for something to exist, it must be measurable. That's a condition of existence according to Rand.

As a nuance, I believe she means "ultimately measurable with future science," not "measurable at this time with what we already know," since she always says knowledge is contextual. But I do not believe she would have entertained the development of a new human organ of knowledge for that to happen. "Ultimately measurable" would mean the human mind at the present stage of evolution.

You are, of course, free to disagree.

What's really weird is that after saying I am wrong, you go on to say the same thing I do:

To be is to have some real effect, which means to be measurable, in principle, if one has the proper tools, directly, or indirectly.

You even repeat it:

To exist is to be measurable, in some way, in principle.

That's exactly what I say.

But then you follow it with this odd thought:

That it actually be measured is not a "condition of existence." Nor does the potentially measurer have to be human.

So which is it?

To exist is to be measurable? Or not?

I didn't say a nonhuman could not measure the thing. I said Rand's position is that it had be able to be measured by a human for it to exist. (Measurement is an epistemological tool in her literature, and that means human beings. The few places where she did discuss measurement by other consciousnesses, like with her crow epistemology, she considered them to be perceptual consciousnesses, not conceptual ones. And in her hierarchy, percepts turn into concepts, not the other way around.)

Nowhere did I say that it had to already have been measured. That would be outright silly.

You are claiming some kind of third alternative here that doesn't make any sense to me.

I hope you are not going to claim that principles are not elements of human cognition. thus being measurable "in principle" could exclude human consciousness. That's what your argument looks like to me right now, though.

That might be your belief (or it might not), but I find nothing in Rand's literature to support any view other than what I said.

Here are a couple of other quotes from her epistemology workshops at the end of the second edition of ITOE where she gets even more explicit about it:

p, 273:

Since everything is finite, the universe is finite. But we can't ascribe space or time or a lot of other things to the universe as a whole.

p. 196:

... let us say that you cannot go into infinity, but in the finite you can always be absolutely precise simply by saying, for instance: "Its length is no less than one millimeter and no more than two millimeters."

In other words, in the finite universe, everything is measurable (by a human consciousness), and for something to exist, it must exist within the universe, i.e., the finite universe. The only conclusion you can draw from this--if you put it in a syllogism--is that for something to exist, it must be measurable by a human consciousness.

I can probably dig up a boatload of other Rand quotes if you like.

But if you have something by her that says otherwise, let's look at it.

Michael

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Ted,

I have no idea what you imagine Rand wishes something to be measured with if not a human consciousness. But you are wrong as per Rand's own words.

Let's cut her phrase down to the bare basic stem just to make sure. "If anything were actually "immeasurable," ,,, it would not exist."

Yup.

That's pretty clear. In other words, for something to exist, it must be measurable. That's a condition of existence according to Rand.

As a nuance, I believe she means "ultimately measurable with future science," not "measurable at this time with what we already know," since she always says knowledge is contextual. But I do not believe she would have entertained the development of a new human organ of knowledge for that to happen. "Ultimately measurable" would mean the human mind at the present stage of evolution.

You are, of course, free to disagree.

What's really weird is that after saying I am wrong, you go on to say the same thing I do:

To be is to have some real effect, which means to be measurable, in principle, if one has the proper tools, directly, or indirectly.

You even repeat it:

To exist is to be measurable, in some way, in principle.

That's exactly what I say.

But then you follow it with this odd thought:

That it actually be measured is not a "condition of existence." Nor does the potentially measurer have to be human.

So which is it?

To exist is to be measurable? Or not?

I didn't say a nonhuman could not measure the thing. I said Rand's position is that it had be able to be measured by a human for it to exist. (Measurement is an epistemological tool in her literature, and that means human beings. The few places where she did discuss measurement by other consciousnesses, like with her crow epistemology, she considered them to be perceptual consciousnesses, not conceptual ones. And in her hierarchy, percepts turn into concepts, not the other way around.)

Nowhere did I say that it had to already have been measured. That would be outright silly.

You are claiming some kind of third alternative here that doesn't make any sense to me.

I hope you are not going to claim that principles are not elements of human cognition. thus being measurable "in principle" could exclude human consciousness. That's what your argument looks like to me right now, though.

That might be your belief (or it might not), but I find nothing in Rand's literature to support any view other than what I said.

Here are a couple of other quotes from her epistemology workshops at the end of the second edition of ITOE where she gets even more explicit about it:

p, 273:

Since everything is finite, the universe is finite. But we can't ascribe space or time or a lot of other things to the universe as a whole.

p. 196:

... let us say that you cannot go into infinity, but in the finite you can always be absolutely precise simply by saying, for instance: "Its length is no less than one millimeter and no more than two millimeters."

In other words, in the finite universe, everything is measurable (by a human consciousness), and for something to exist, it must exist within the universe, i.e., the finite universe. The only conclusion you can draw from this--if you put it in a syllogism--is that for something to exist, it must be measurable by a human consciousness.

I can probably dig up a boatload of other Rand quotes if you like.

But if you have something by her that says otherwise, let's look at it.

Michael

It is possible, Michael, that you agree with what I mean. But what you have said does not express it clearly, and does have implications that are incorrect.

There is no such thing as an epistemological "condition for existence." To imply that measurability is a "condition of existence" is to imply the priority of consciousness. To be is to be something. To have effects. Things can be known by their effects, directly, or indirectly. Thus, after the fact, they can, in principle, be measured. But that doesn't make measurability a condition, a reuirement, a pre-requisite of their existence. It is a result of their existence.

You said: "In other words, for something to exist, it must be measurable." Again, I respond that that statement is only true if you add "in principle."

You said "I didn't say a nonhuman could not measure the thing. I said Rand's position is that it had be able to be measured by a human for it to exist." The emphasis on "by a human" is yours. Do please provide the quote where Rand says that a human measurer is necessary.

Your emphasis on future developments and the evolution of human organs sounds like science fiction at best. Rand certainly does not make the argument that for something to exist it would need to be measurable either now or in the future by humans. For example, fewer than one in a thousand (likely fewer than one in a million) organisms fossilizes. There is no way that we can detect the existence of most animals that have ever lived. Many species will have existed that no human will ever know of, now or in the future. Would we say, then, that they didn't exist, because they cannot be measured? Of course not. All that is implied by Rand's theory is that they could have been measured, because they actually had effects on things.

Edited by Ted Keer

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Ted,

I'm still waiting for something by Rand from you to back up what you are saying.

Not opinions of what Ted thinks Rand means.

As to what I think possible, I think it might be possible you don't have anything by Rand.

And I think it might be possible that you don't really understand what I am getting at, nor interested.

I think it might be further possible that you are trying to shove what I am talking about into some kind of Rand-diminishing misrepresentation so you can try to trounce it and save the day for Rand--i.e, a competitive game instead of a discussion..

I don't play that, so I will stick to my ideas of what Rand said, using her own words as basis, until I encounter something of substance that convinces me otherwise.

btw - There is a primary mistake in your reasoning--one that I believe that Rand herself would not condone based on the way she answered similar things in her Q&A's. Rather than discuss it, though, I prefer to let you think about it for a while until the urge to play competitive games goes away.

Michael

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Ted,

I'm still waiting for something by Rand from you to back up what you are saying.

Not opinions of what Ted thinks Rand means.

As to what I think possible, I think it might be possible you don't have any.

And I think it might be possible that you don't really understand what I am getting at, nor interested.

I think it might be further possible that you are trying to shove what I am talking about into some kind of Rand-diminishing misrepresentation so you can try to trounce it and save the day for Rand--i.e, a competitive game instead of a discussion..

I don't play that, so I will stick to my ideas of what Rand said, using her own words as basis, until I encounter something of substance that convinces me otherwise.

btw - There is a primary mistake in your reasoning--one that I believe that Rand herself would not condone based on the way she answered similar things in her Q&A's. Rather than discuss it, though, I prefer to let you think about it for a while until the urge to play competitive games goes away.

Michael

If you think I am interested in anything from you than a clearly expressed coherent argument, you are wrong.

Things are measurable because they exist. They do not exist because they are measurable. That's called the primacy of existence.

There is no burden on me to find Rand saying that she did not mean what she did not say. There is no burden on me to find where Rand anticipated your incorrect paraphrase and said that "no, measurability is not a 'condition of existence.'" You offered to find a bunch of references to back up your paraphrase. Just find me one where she says that a thing must be measurable by a human in order to exist, if that is a point you want to maintain.

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Ted,

Human in this context means conceptual consciousness. So even if a Martian with a conceptual consciousness appears, that does not stop humans from having a conceptual consciousness. Thus anything at all measurable (which is a concept) will--by definition--have to be measurable by humans.

Knowledge in Objectivism is hierarchical. Philosophy is the study (by human beings) of the fundamental nature of existence. Epistemology falls under philosophy--which is the study (or science as Rand claimed) of knowledge for men (i.e., conceptual consciousnesses). If you believe that Rand meant measurement, which to her is an epistemological concept, pertained to to something other than a conceptual consciousness, we really have no common ground.

I'm not preaching primacy of consciousness, nor am I claiming Rand is preaching primacy of consciousness, but you are hell-bent on going there and I knew that was exactly where you were going right from the first post.

It's extremely tedious to discuss something with someone who does that..

Like I said, I'm not playing the game of defend Rand's honor. You're going to have to find your Rand-enemies somewhere else.

I'm tired of this discussion. I detect little or no interest by you in the actual idea I'm presenting, but great interest in creating a strawman (and a bromide strawman at that), so I'm bowing out.

If someone else is interested, I will discuss it with them.

As to the rest, carry on.

Michael

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For anyone else reading this, let me be clear.

I said earlier that Rand held that, "a fundamental condition of existence is being able to be measured by a human consciousness. She simply closes off the entire concept of existence with the stipulation that a human consciousness must be able to measure everything in it."

Obviously I mean a conceptual consciousness as human consciousness. After all, I was talking about Rand. And I was talking about her theory of concept formation.

This was distorted as meaning human consciousness creates existence or governs existence (primacy of consciousness). That actually establishes a false dichotomy, i.e., which creates/governs which, consciousness or reality. The answer is neither--they are all part of the same thing. And that is never a question in Rand's works. Consciousness and existence coexist, they are not antagonists, especially since you cannot imagine existence without being a conceptual consciousness to imagine it. Rand does say that whim can be destroyed by reality, but it is a mistake to imagine that whim is the basis for human awareness in her writing.

In other words, her fundamental axioms are not separate from each other. A is A also means that there is something thinking A is A.

In that sense, she held that everything in existence was able to be abstracted into a concept and that all concepts are based on measurement. Thus if something cannot be measured, it does not exist. To repeat her own words from ITOE once again (my bold):

If anything were actually "immeasurable," it would bear no relationship of any kind to the rest of the universe, it would not affect nor be affected by anything else in any manner whatever, it would enact no causes and bear no consequences—in short, it would not exist.

In her concept of existence, a condition for something to exist is being able to be measured by a conceptual consciousness, i.e., a human being. Condition here means something like "fundamental attribute," nor creator or governor. And there can be no concept of existence without a brain to think that concept.

Hopefully that's clear enough to see the error of calling this conclusion "primacy of consciousness."

Michael

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Hopefully that's clear enough to see the error of calling this conclusion "primacy of consciousness."

Michael, I didn't see Ted calling your position "primacy of consciousness" anywhere. It looks to me that you two are quibbling over expressing "primacy of existence" in other words. If you agree with the following, then I see no need to continue the controversy.

Things are measurable because they exist. They do not exist because they are measurable. That's called the primacy of existence.

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Subject: Michael Never Admits Error???

Ted and Merlin are correct. Michael has had it pointed out to him that Rand never said anything like:

"In other words, a fundamental condition of existence is being able to be measured by a human consciousness. She simply closes off the entire concept of existence with the stipulation that a human consciousness must be able to measure everything in it. Parts that do not meet this stipulation (if some should ever be found) simply do not exist."

Michael, adding myself, you have now had three people quite knowledgeable about Objectivism point out a simple error of yours, a failure to grasp primacy of existence.

It would be great if - once in a while - I saw an Oist back down and retract when it is **quite clearly** pointed out to them when they are wrong!

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If you agree with the following, then I see no need to continue the controversy.

Things are measurable because they exist. They do not exist because they are measurable. That's called the primacy of existence.

I half-agree. There is a nuance. Things are measurable because they exist and because there is a conceptual consciousness to measure them.

If there is a conscious to measure them and they are not measurable, Rand holds they do not exist. She said that about as clearly as you can say it. Once again, Rand's words:

If anything were actually "immeasurable," it would bear no relationship of any kind to the rest of the universe, it would not affect nor be affected by anything else in any manner whatever, it would enact no causes and bear no consequences—in short, it would not exist.

I don't understand why there is such an issue with not understanding this.

Michael

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It would be great if - once in a while - I saw an Oist back down and retract when it is **quite clearly** pointed out to them when they are wrong!

Phil,

You have a wonderful opportunity right now to be a good example.

You are totally wrong about my understanding of primacy of existence. Let's see if you own up.

Here are Rand's words once again. What do you think they mean if not what she said?

If anything were actually "immeasurable," it would bear no relationship of any kind to the rest of the universe, it would not affect nor be affected by anything else in any manner whatever, it would enact no causes and bear no consequences—in short, it would not exist.

I keep repeating Rand's words because people are ignoring them, including you now.

Michael

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Michael, I didn't see Ted calling your position "primacy of consciousness" anywhere.

Merlin,

He called it "priority of consciousness." It means the same thing.

To imply that measurability is a "condition of existence" is to imply the priority of consciousness.

What's worse, Rand didn't imply that measurability was a condition of existence. She outright stated it by saying if something wasn't measurable, it didn't exist. I refer you once again to her own words.

The way I reconcile this is that Rand considered the human mind (the conceptual part) as a perfect fit to reality--as perfectly capable of integrating everything in reality.

I do not reconcile it by pretending there is some kind of metaphysical contest between the two (consciousness and reality). I find that to be a false dichotomy. Frankly, I believe Rand would have, also. She certainly ranted and railed enough about the mind-body dichotomy as being a false one.

Michael

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Michael, while you have good common sense on many issues of everyday life, ethics, politics, psychology, you have a way of getting really bollixed when you try to do metaphysics or epistemology and I find your imprecision with language and failure to edit your posts to be quite trying. I'll make this one point, and if you don't acknowledge that at the very least your initial statements were confusing or ambiguous, I'm done:

1. Rand's statement "If anything were actually "immeasurable," it would bear no relationship of any kind to the rest of the universe" is about potentiality. Every thing has components and those, potentially, must be measurable in some way. "immeasurable" means **not even in principle**.

Your statement seems slightly different: Since you said this: "her belief is grounded on the premise that human consciousness already--at this stage of evolution--has total capacity to grasp everything that exists (and can even measure it).", that seems to suggests we must actually now be able to measure everything.

2. Nor does she say this: "Rand's position is that it had be able to be measured by a human for it to exist." It could be that something is out of our ken entirely but graspable by another species.

I refer you once again to Rand's own words. Read them like a legal document in which every word counts; do not translate them into "Mikeish". <_<

Edited by Philip Coates

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Phil,

You may find this hard to believe, but I don't mind being wrong (other than the normal biological resistance everyone has). I do mind someone not understanding what I mean, attributing a wrong meaning to what I say, then saying I'm wrong and crowing triumph.

btw - I just reread Rand's words without translating. You know what she said? If something is immeasurable, it doesn't exist.

How's them apples? It's weird how that meaning just won't go away, ain't it?

Now how does your word "potentially" alter her meaning? If something is "potentially" measurable, then it is measurable, period. There is no such metaphysical thing that is "potentially" measurable, but ultimately not measurable. In Rand's own words, such a thing does not exist. Read 'em and weep, sweetheart. The meaning is clear. For something to exist, it must be measurable.

Now I admit, I do make a couple of presumptions based on hierarchical knowledge:

1. The first is that Rand created Objectivism for human beings, and that includes writing ITOE, and that includes epistemological elements she dealt with in it like measurement. It is not within my universe to accept that she could have written a work on concept formation for a non-conceptual mind. This is my presumption, I admit, since she did not specifically say the words, "I am writing my books and creating my philosophy for human beings." But imagining otherwise is so silly I won't discuss it seriously. Only in the Objectivist subculture could I possibly ever imagine this to be in doubt. We're supposed to learn conceptual thought in Objectivism, but look at that nonsense. Even you are saying it.

2. The second is a presumption that I have inferred from reading Rand's works long and deeply over decades and reading about her. I have stated it as such, too. Rand was quite ambivalent about evolution and, from everything I have read so far, she did not entertain the idea of the human mind evolving other than in her essay on the anti-conceptual mentality, and even then it was a humongous maybe. The essay is from The Ayn Rand Letter and is called "The Missing Link." Here is a quote at the end of Part 2:

I am not a student of the theory of evolution and, therefore, I am neither its supporter nor its opponent. But a certain hypothesis has haunted me for years; I want to stress that it is only a hypothesis. There is an enormous breach of continuity between man and all the other living species. The difference lies in the nature of man's consciousness, in its distinctive characteristic: his conceptual faculty.

Thus I conclude that she considered the human mind fit to deal with all of reality at the mind's present stage of evolution. Dealing with what we don't yet know would take conceptual work, but it would be graspable by our minds as they currently exist. If you can find where she thought differently, I would be interested in reading it.

Apropos to this, I decided to do some searching and I did find a very interesting quote from her Journals dated July 18, 1945 (p. 285):

... as an "instinct" species—man certainly is on his way out. (Perhaps we are really in the process of evolving from apes to Supermen—and the rational faculty is the dominant characteristic of the better species, the Superman.)

I certainly consider that the mind might still be in evolution and I say it. That's what I mean by a possible new sense organ evolving. I presume that you do realize that Rand held that our minds--including our entire epistemology of concepts--are not divorced from our senses, but are based on them.

As to clarity, if you think I am unclear about anything, how about asking, "Do you mean xxxxx or yyyyy?" or "What do you mean?" or something like that. Instead you guys attribute my words with a wrong meaning and claim I don't understand something from Elementary Objectivism like primacy of existence, or am preaching "priority of consciousness" or stuff like that. This is just plain stupid. Sorry to use a term like that, but it's true. It's stupid to do that to someone's words. And it has nothing to do with me or anyone not wanting to be wrong.

I call this habit of judging without understanding correctly the process of engaging your normative abstractions before your cognitive ones. A much more precise form of thinking is to identify something correctly, then evaluate it, but that habit is reversed in much of our subculture, especially when Objectivists deal with other people..

In short, you are free to disagree with anything I say, but at least get it right before disagreeing.

If you do that, I assure you I will consider it with all due attention and without worrying about being right or wrong. To paraphrase a former President, "It's the idea, stupid."

(Please take that as a quip, not an insult.)

Michael

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