"The Arbitrary" in "Basic Principles of Objectivism"


Robert Campbell

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For a current project, I'm trying to trace the origins of the doctrine of the arbitrary assertion. The published presentation of the doctrine in its final form is by Leonard Peikoff in OPAR. This was derived from a slightly different presentation in Dr. Peikoff's 1976 series of lectures on Objectivism.

Well before that, however, Nathaniel Branden published on "the arbitrary" in The Objectivist Newsletter (1963) and covered the topic in his lecture series on Basic Principles of Objectivism.

I don't own a copy of these lectures. I'm sure some participants here do.

If you're familiar with NB's treatment of arbitrary assertions in these lectures (I'm assuming the topic comes up in Lecture 4 on "The Concept of God," but I could be mistaken about that), I'd be most grateful if you could tell me whether

(1) Nathaniel Branden says that an arbitrary assertion should be dismissed without argument;

(2) He says that an arbitrary assertion is neither true nor false;

(3) He says than an arbitrary assertion cannot be cognitively processed or has no cognitive context (or words to that effect);

(4) He gives examples of arbitrary assertions other than claims about God or gratuitous, unsupported accusations that someone committed a crime.

Robert Campbell

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Some of the roots internal to Objectivism would be these:

"When he declares that an axiom is a matter of arbitrary choice and he doesn't choose to accept the axiom that he exists, he blanks out the fact that he has accepted it by uttering that sentence, that the only way to reject it is to shut one's mouth, expound no theories and die" (AS 1040).

"Its exponents dismissed philosophical problems by declaring that fundamental concepts---such as existence, entity, identity, reality---are meaningless; they declared that concepts are arbitrary social conventions . . ." (KvS 2nd paragraph).

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Some of the roots internal to Objectivism would be these:

"When he declares that an axiom is a matter of arbitrary choice and he doesn't choose to accept the axiom that he exists, he blanks out the fact that he has accepted it by uttering that sentence, that the only way to reject it is to shut one's mouth, expound no theories and die" (AS 1040).

"Its exponents dismissed philosophical problems by declaring that fundamental concepts---such as existence, entity, identity, reality---are meaningless; they declared that concepts are arbitrary social conventions . . ." (KvS 2nd paragraph).

Self reference is a characteristic of some philosophical axioms. As you point out, existence is one of these. I.E. something exists. To deny the axiom is to assert it. This in turn rests on the most basic assumption of all, to wit, the law of non-contradiction. This is as close to an a priori true and necessary proposition as we will ever get. It is required to establish the axiomatic character of some philosophic assumptions.

There are other assumptions we make that do not have this character. For example, the laws of thermodynamics. Denying a law of thermodynamics does not automatically produce a logical contradiction, yet all our our observations (so far) support the laws of thermodynamics. To put it another way, the laws of thermodynamics are NOT self evident. They are true a posteriori based on observations and have not yet been empirically falsified. A similar remark holds for the well known conservation laws of physics.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Stephen,

Ayn Rand used the word "arbitrary" fairly often. It also crops up several times in ITOE.

But her published usage never seems particularly technical to me. "Arbitrary" can be read as "nonobjective" or "subjective" without losing anything. (And I've never seen a definition of "arbitrary" anywhere in Rand's writings.)

The doctrine of the arbitrary assertion, as expounded by Leonard Peikoff, is meant to apply to propositions and assertions not involving axioms. What's wrong with arbitrary assertions is supposed to be different from self-referential inconsistency.

And Dr. Peikoff makes a series of strong claims about arbitrary assertions:

--they are neither true nor false

--they have no context, and no place in the hierarchy (of concepts), therefore they "cannot be cognitively processed"

--sentences asserted arbitrarily have no more meaning than sentences mimicked by a parrot

--the same sentence asserted by one person may constitute an arbitrary assertion, whereas when asserted by another person it may convey a proposition that is true or false

--no one is responsible for refuting arbitrary assertions, or everyone is obliged not to try to refute them (Dr. Peikoff never makes up his mind)

--no epistemological progress ever results from refuting arbitrary assertions

--some, but not all, arbitrary assertions can be redeemed, by supplying them with a context and a place in the hierarchy that their proponent failed to supply for them (but no one is obliged to redeem them, or everyone is obliged not to redeem them--same ambiguity)

In 1963, Nathaniel Branden was already saying that an arbitrary assertion should be treated as though nothing has been said.

What I'm trying to learn is how much farther NB went in his lectures. Did he make any of the above claims about arbitrary assertions before LP did?

Robert Campbell

PS. I need to compare hardback and paperback page numbers, but I believe the bit you quoted from Galt's Speech is the same one that Dr. Peikoff cites in OPAR. It is the only citation that he makes, anywhere in his published discussion of "the arbitrary."

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Bob,

The funny part about what you said is that when you mention this fact from an Objectivist slant, you often hear complaints that the law of identity or law of existence (or even law of noncontradiction) don't tell you anything about the world. Yet all knowledge rests on them, so they must tell you something. My impression is that we both exist and have knowledge of existence and that axioms are the interface between those conditions on a fundamental level, even allowing us to have knowledge of our knowledge.

Michael

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Robert; I would make one warning. The recorded Basic Principles is an earlier version than the final one Branden was giving to NBI.

There were two new lectures on art given by Miss Rand and Mrs Sures. I don't know if Dr. Branden added material about the "arbitrary".

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The funny part about what you said is that when you mention this fact from an Objectivist slant, you often hear complaints that the law of identity or law of existence (or even law of noncontradiction) don't tell you anything about the world. Yet all knowledge rests on them, so they must tell you something.

Non sequitur.

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Bob,

The funny part about what you said is that when you mention this fact from an Objectivist slant, you often hear complaints that the law of identity or law of existence (or even law of noncontradiction) don't tell you anything about the world. Yet all knowledge rests on them, so they must tell you something. My impression is that we both exist and have knowledge of existence and that axioms are the interface between those conditions on a fundamental level, even allowing us to have knowledge of our knowledge.

Michael

The law of identity and the law of non-contradiction (equivalent in classical logic) are always true under all possible applications. So they tell you nothing -specific- about the world. However when an assertion contradicts either, you know for certain sure that it is false. Hence these two general laws act agents of constraint on categorically false statements.

Let me give you some examples: Suppose I say the U.S. has fifty-one states. This is -factually- false but not logically contradictory. At one time we had 49 states and before that 48 states etc all the way back to the original thirteen states. There is nothing inherently absurd or contradictory about having fifty one states. Congress, can if it so chooses make this happen.

On the other hand if I say this triangle has 5 sides, that is a priori absurd. Why? Because it asserts that

5=3 which clearly contradicts 5=5 and equivalently says the 5=5 and not 5=5 at the same time. These assertions contradict the law of identity and the law of non-contradiction hence the assertion that there is a five sided triangle is categorically absurd and impossible, rather than being, it so happens, false.

So having these a priori laws comes in handing for rooting out and rejecting categorically false statements.

But these laws tell us nothing positive and specific about the world. One cannot deduce a physical law or a physical constant from them. To do that, one must look and measure.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Chris,

Thanks for the warning about a later version of that lecture series.

One of the complaints Ayn Rand supposedly made about Nathaniel Branden before the break was that he hadn't updated his Basic Principles lectures in a long while.

This doesn't rule out a tweak or two to the treatment of "the arbitrary," though.

Robert Campbell

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Robert;

I remember a statement in ON that there was new material in Basic. I think this was '63 or '64.

Branden did a new course on Romantic Love in 1966. I also think he added a course Theories of Neurosis about that time.

Some of Rand's complaints sound like sour grapes.

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Robert,

I started looking into this on the CDROM and saw the word "arbitrary" all over the place in Rand's works. I did not look at all the instances, but not once did I see "arbitrary" used with the meaning of "neither true nor false" or anything developed from that premise. What I did see was that it was always used to mean "caused by whim or chance" or something along those lines and it was always used with a highly negative emotional load, as if the meaning were anti-reason or the opposite of reason. I get the constant implication from Rand that an "arbitrary" decision is the result of a conscious choice: of rejecting rational thought.

Notice that "caused by whim or chance" is not the same as "causeless," even on an epistemological level, which is what Peikoff implies. You are absolutely correct to hone in on this as a fundamental difference between his thinking and Rand's.

Michael

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Michael,

In OPAR Leonard Peikoff frequently says (or implies) that "the arbitrary" is perpetrated deliberately. He uses such epithets as "brazen," and castigates "the apostles of the arbitrary."

This part of what he is saying seems consistent with Rand's usage.

The problem is that, for Peikoff, such propositions as "The soul survives the death of the body" are arbitrary.

So Dr. Peikoff thereby insinuates that every time someone asserts such a proposition, he or she is being purposely irrational.

To put it mildly, this is hard to credit.

Robert Campbell

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Michael,

I think the published statements of Rand that have the closest connection to the view on arbitrary assertions that Peikoff (& Rand) reached in 1976 are the two I quoted in the first response to Bob's query above plus one more statement, which I will quote below.

The first quote above (1957) pertained to the non-arbitrariness of starting points, of philosophical axioms. The second (1970) pertained to modern empiricism, rationalism, and philosophy of science (Feyerabend).

The third one is from ITOE (1969):

"There is no room for the arbitrary in any activity of man, least of all in his method of cognition . . ." (82).

I wouldn't be surprised but what Nathaniel Branden's remarks on agnosticism (and onus of proof) and ESP (?) in Rand's journals in the 1960s contained additional close relatives.

Another question (of greater interest to me, actually) is: What is the story external to Objectivism on the semantics of arbitrary assertions and conjectures? What external resources could assist the designers of Objectivism in this area in the 1960's? What is in Blanshard or Schlick, for example?

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Stephen,

There's no question about Nathaniel Branden's 1963 piece on agnosticism being a "close relative" of Peikoff's treatment of "the arbitrary." Parts of Leonard Peikoff's treatment in Lecture 6 from 1976, and later on in OPAR, were taken straight from it--without attribution, of course.

I'll have to check NB's [sorry, I misremembered--it's Robert Efron's] review of the book on ESP research by C. E. M. Hansel. Dr. Peikoff insists that all assertions about ESP are arbitrary; I don't recall whether Robert Efron went that far in the review.

What I'm still trying to work out, historically speaking, is the origin of the more extreme claims made by Dr. Peikoff in the 1976 lectures, and in the book. The 1963 article by Nathaniel Branden does not, for instance, declare that "the arbitrary" is a third truth value. In fact, NB's examples (claims about God) are ones that he says have already been refuted or shown to be self-contradictory, implying, of course, that he believes these assertions to be false.

Whoever came up with the various portions of the final doctrine, Ayn Rand was obviously satisfied with the 1976 formulation. But when did she come to agree with all of the claims that Peikoff made in that lecture?

The ongoing problem I have with Rand's published uses of "arbitrary" is that none require the full-blown doctrine of the arbitrary assertion, and hardly any of them even seem to allude to it. Meanwhile, her discussion of invalid concepts in ITOE seems to be leading into a direct statement of the doctrine of the arbitrary assertion--but she doesn't make the statement. She says that an invalid concept invalidates any proposition that presupposes its validity--not that that it renders the proposition arbitrary.

And these non-technical uses continue. Tara Smith's book on Rand's ethics uses the word "arbitrary" a lot, but Dr. Smith never states or refers to the doctrine of the arbitrary assertion.

As for what guidance Rand et al. could have gotten from other philosophers, I don't know, because the other philosophers would have had to treat the Peikovian "arbitrary" as a single category, and I can't think of anyone else who does.

Obviously, you have to be a foundationalist to define "arbitrary" as "devoid of evidence" (that's Peikoff's official definition in OPAR). So Karl Popper would not have been seen as helpful. Blanshard wasn't a foundationalist, either. Schlick I don't know nearly well enough to be able to make a judgment.

Robert Campbell

[Edited to correct an error about the review of C. E. M. Hansel's book on ESP research. The reviewer was Robert Efron.]

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Robert Efron's book review appeared in the March 1967 issue of The Objectivist. The book, by a British researcher named C. E. M. Hansel, was titled ESP: A Scientific Evaluation.

You might expect the doctrine of the arbitrary assertion to show up in this kind of article, and it does--almost. Here are the first two paragraphs:

Prove that pink elephants do not exist. Prove that you did not assassinate J. F. Kennedy. Prove that extrasensory perception (ESP) does not exist.

To accept such a challenge is to invite an epistemological disaster. Any attempt to disprove an assertion for which no positive evidence is provided, sanctions the legitimacy of the unsupported assertion and the use which may be made of your failure to disprove that assertion. (p. 8)

Efron never uses the word “arbitrary” in his review. He refers to “unsupported” assertions. Despite his invocation of sanction, he also does not urge the reader to dismiss such assertions as though nothing has been said. Instead, he applies the onus of proof principle. Efron praises Hansel for asking what evidence is taken to support alleged ESP powers, for examining that evidence, and for showing that none of it actually does support the existence of ESP.

Robert Campbell

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Some External Background: Verificationism and Non-Existent Subjects

Bob,

I can be a little more specific now on where to look for the external influences. Take a look at Chapter 5, “The Theory of Meaning,” in Blanshard’s Reason and Analysis (1962). See especially his discussion of Peirce (5.5–5.6) and Schlick (5.20) and Ayer (5.36–5.37). Compare Blanshard’s treatment of verificationist theories of meaning with Peikoff’s treatment of them in his history of philosophy lectures (in the second series, modern philosophy).*

Rand and Peikoff opposed verificationism and replaced it with validationism. An idea whose relationship to reality is established by perceptual evidence or by induction or deduction upon such evidence, they called validated. Naturally, validations of ideas can have various degrees of quality. Moreover, validationism can be posed in varieties of strength parallel its verificationist cousins. The variety validation-in-principle entails: an idea that in principle cannot have its relationship to reality established by perceptual evidence and logical inference is meaningless.

There is also a controversy of logic standing in the relevant external background for Rand and Peikoff and for all of us. There is a tradition from Boethius, Abelard, and Buridan that any universal affirmative or particular affirmative statement in which the subject does not truly exist is false; and no such blanket verdict is given for universal negative and particular negative statements. Within this theory, we can argue:

1. Affirmative statements concerning nonexistent subjects are false.

2. Assertions of the existence of a subject for which there is no evidence is presumptively false; the existence of such a subject is presumptively false. (Onus of Proof)

3. Arbitrary assertions are assertions for which there is no evidence (no validation, so no evidence).

____________________________________________________________

Affirmative statements concerning arbitrarily asserted subjects are presumptively false.

It would surely be correct to drop the word presumptively from 2. and from the conclusion when the arbitrary assertion is one that cannot be invalidated in principle. From the Buridan et al. view of truth concerning nonexistent subjects we get presumptive falsity and unqualified falsity for affirmative statements concerning arbitrarily posed subjects. Whether negative statements concerning arbitrarily posed subjects would be meaningless rather than assessible for truth is unsettled on this view, but they are not automatically false.

There is another tradition (P.F. Strawson and H.L.A. Hart) that instead takes existence of the subject to be presupposed in any universal or particular affirmative or negative statement. Under this approach, we get that arbitrary assertions are presumptively (or unqualifiedly) neither true nor false. They are presumptively (or unqualifiedly) meaningless.#

There is a third tradition, the one predominate today, in which any particular affirmative or particular negative statement in which the subject does not truly exist is false; and no such blanket verdict is given for universal affirmative and universal negative statements . . . . **

Determining which of these three approaches fits best with Rand’s philosophy is work remaining to be accomplished. I would examine the first and third as they look when their not-definitely-false pairs on the square of opposition are taken as meaningless.

~~~~~~~~~

* The debate over verificationism is continued and advanced by Michael Dummett’s “The Metaphysics of Verificationism” and Ayer’s reply in The Philosophy of A. J. Ayer (Open Court 1992).

** On these three traditions and a fourth, see Laurence Horn’s A Natural History of Negation (CSLI 2001 [1989]).

~~~~~~~~~~

#PS

Strawson would object to my use of the word meaningless here, which he would reserve for a use more narrow. He would call such statements spurious or failures to refer. All the same, he would agree that his approach casts all such statements, and singular statements such as "The king of Texas has a Cadillac," as not assessible for truth.

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The review was by Nathaniel Branden and the review is posted with his reviews.

The review is not on the CD if the review was by either of the Brandens.

I think Blanchard was very well thought because I once saw Dr. Branden reading one of his books at a lecture.

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There is a tradition from Boethius, Abelard, and Buridan that any universal affirmative or particular affirmative statement in which the subject does not truly exist is false; and no such blanket verdict is given for universal negative and particular negative statements. Within this theory, we can argue:

1. Affirmative statements concerning nonexistent subjects are false.

2. Assertions of the existence of a subject for which there is no evidence is presumptively false; the existence of such a subject is presumptively false. (Onus of Proof)

3. Arbitrary assertions are assertions for which there is no evidence (no validation, so no evidence).

____________________________________________________________

Affirmative statements concerning arbitrarily asserted subjects are presumptively false.

It would surely be correct to drop the word presumptively from 2. and from the conclusion when the arbitrary assertion is one that cannot be invalidated in principle. From the Buridan et al. view of truth concerning nonexistent subjects we get presumptive falsity and unqualified falsity for affirmative statements concerning arbitrarily posed subjects. Whether negative statements concerning arbitrarily posed subjects would be meaningless rather than assessible for truth is unsettled on this view, but they are not automatically false.

Stephen,

Much food for thought in this one post...

Let's begin with the Boethius-Abelard-Buridan position that you outlined above.

In 1963, Nathaniel Branden appeared to be taking this position.

In his 1976 lectures and in OPAR, Leonard Peikoff claims not to be taking it. (Although he sometimes writes as though he believes that the assertions he calls arbitary are of false propositions.)

Robert Campbell

PS. In the sentence I put in bold, did you mean to say "invalidated in principle" or "validated in principle"?

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There is another tradition (P.F. Strawson and H.L.A. Hart) that instead takes existence of the subject to be presupposed in any universal or particular affirmative or negative statement. Under this approach, we get that arbitrary assertions are presumptively (or unqualifiedly) neither true nor false. They are presumptively (or unqualifiedly) meaningless.

[...]

#PS

Strawson would object to my use of the word meaningless here, which he would reserve for a use more narrow. He would call such statements spurious or failures to refer. All the same, he would agree that his approach casts all such statements, and singular statements such as "The king of Texas has a Cadillac," as not assessible for truth.

Stephen,

Leonard Peikoff once followed the Strawson/Hart tradition.

In his early 1970s lectures on logic, Dr. Peikoff claimed that statements like "The King of Texas has a Cadillac" are "metaphysically meaningless" because, for instance, they presuppose the existence of a King of Texas and there is none.

Such statements are not "epistemologically meaningless," however, because we can tell what the speaker is trying to say, even though he or she has failed to produce a metaphysically meaningful statement. Dr. Peikoff contrasted this analysis with Bertrand Russell's theory of definite descriptions, which he strongly opposed.

In OPAR, some of the claims about arbitrary assertions suggest that they are metaphysically meaningless (e.g., "Gremlins are convening to discuss Hegel's Logic on Venus" wrongly presupposes the existence of gremlins).

Other claims in OPAR suggest that arbitrary assertions are epistemologically meaningless. For instance, when Dr. Peikoff declares that "2 + 2 = 4" when recited from memory by a "savage" is no more meaningful than "2 + 2 = 4" mimicked by a parrot. Or when he says that "the arbitary" "cannot be cognitive processed."

However, he never uses the phrases "metaphysically meaningless" or "epistemologically meaningless" in OPAR, and never refers, anywhere in his published discussion of the arbitrary, to his lectures on logic.

In fact, in the OPAR discussion, he never uses the word "meaningless" at all (though he did use it in his 1976 lectures).

I have no idea why.

Robert Campbell

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Rand and Peikoff opposed verificationism and replaced it with validationism. An idea whose relationship to reality is established by perceptual evidence or by induction or deduction upon such evidence, they called validated. Naturally, validations of ideas can have various degrees of quality. Moreover, validationism can be posed in varieties of strength parallel its verificationist cousins. The variety validation-in-principle entails: an idea that in principle cannot have its relationship to reality established by perceptual evidence and logical inference is meaningless.

Stephen,

I think you are right about replacing verifying with validating.

But "validationism" has two obvious problems.

One is that there is no inductive validation without valid argument forms in inductive logic. And neither Ayn Rand nor Leonard Peikoff have supplied such argument forms. In fact, Rand admitted not having a "philosophy of scientific induction" and being in need of one.

The second is that instead of a primary distinction between truth and falsity, validationism is in danger of substituting a distinction between validated (and therefore true) versus arbitrary (and therefore meaningless).

In OPAR, Dr. Peikoff declares that the distinction between arbitrary and non-arbitrary is fundamental. He also contrasts the validated with the unvalidatable (the arbitrary) in such a way that falsehood becomes an afterthought or, in places, drops out of the discussion.

Robert Campbell

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Bob, concerning your PS of #19,

I think it can go with either because in-principle verificationism would say that an idea or statement is meaningful if and only if it is verifiable at least in principle. I went with "cannot be invalidated in principle" because I was thinking of cases in which a posit is crafted so as to exempt it from any possible invalidation. A statement not susceptible to validation even in principle would not be susceptible to invalidation even in principle.

Drawing this out brings out a curious transit from meaninglessness to falsity when we put the Buridan stance to work as I have done. The term meaningless does not appear in the argument. But I guess that it is reasonable to still take in-principle verificationism (or in-principle validationism) as relevant to the primises and conclusion because the idea of assertions for which there is no evidence goes straight to the idea of a requirement of verifiability (or susceptibility to validation/invalidation).

PS

Also concerning #19,

The Buridan view is only this much: "There is a tradition from Boethius, Abelard, and Buridan that any universal affirmative or particular affirmative statement in which the subject does not truly exist is false; and no such blanket verdict is given for universal negative and particular negative statements." The argument I go on to make is my own creation and application of Buridan's formula. The paragraph immediately after the conclusion of the argument is also not Buridan, but me, and not me talking about Buridan's formula.

Quite apart from this particular use to which I have put Buridan's formula, determining whether Buridan's logical formula or the formula we all learn today in elementary logic best fits with Rand's metaphysics and epistemology is work not yet taken up by anyone. A paper making that determination would be an important part of the Objectivism-Logic program I pointed to in my article posted here titled "Parsing Existence" in the METAPHYSICS sector.

PPS

Congratulations on completing another orbit around the sun.

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Bob, concerning #21,

The parallel of the Rand-Peikoff validationism to verificationism holds only so far. There is no counterpart to the verificationist view that truth should be defined in terms of the verifiable. Truth is more primitive than validation for Rand and for Peikoff.

I have not traced the development internal to Objectivism of the specially defined validation idea (OPAR 8), but it fits well with Rand's 1967 definition of knowledge as "a mental grasp of the fact(s) of reality, reached either by perceptual observation or by a process of reason based on perceptual observation" (ITOE 35).

A first serious step in a theory of induction tailored to Rand’s metaphysics and epistemology is my 1991 essay “Induction on Identity.” It can be read at Objectivity Archive. Click on V1N2 and V1N3. Anyone here who reads the essay in its entirety and then would like to discuss it with me is surely welcome. I will print its Abstract below as an inducement to read the essay.

ABSTRACT

“Induction on Identity” by Stephen Boydstun

Part 1 Volume 1, Number 2, Pages 33–46

The Aristotelian and Leibnizian roles of non-contradiction and identity in metaphysics and in deductive logic are reviewed. Beyond those roles, Boydstun proposes that Rand’s existential law of identity can fully justify inductive inference.

The two types of induction articulated by Aristotle are rehearsed. These are the abstractive induction and the ampliative induction. Rand had noted that the integration of facts into concepts is a type of induction. This is abstractive induction à la Rand, and Boydstun resolves this type into two components: the bare recursive induction we use in mathematical induction and the ampliative induction needed for the construction of concepts adequate to the concrete existents in the world.

Part 2 Volume 1, Number 3, Pages 1–56

Boydstun examines the critiques of the rationality of induction put forth in the fourteenth century by Nicolaus of Autrecourt and in the eighteenth century by David Hume. The stage for Nicolaus was set by Ockham. On this stage were the metaphysical and logical platforms for arguing that there can be no logically necessary connection between distinct existents. Nicolaus’ hour on the stage articulates how to hold fast to identity, non-contradiction, and the existential presentations of immediate perception, while barring any logically justifiable inference to the existence of material substance. Boydstun disputes Nicolaus’ account of our experience of substance and of our rational inferences to the existence and character of substance not directly experienced. The defense of our knowledge of substance here marshals logical considerations, findings of modern developmental psychology, and the history of modern science.

Hume’s accounts of our experience of cause and effect and of our reasonings to cause or to effect are closely examined and roundly criticized. Various statements of the law of causality in the history of philosophy are recounted and assessed, with due consideration of modern physics. A version of the law of causality logically supportable by Rand’s rich principle of identity is formulated. It does not require that in a given circumstance a given kind of thing could do only the same single thing on repeated trials. It is argued also that Rand’s principle of identity is the broad base of Mill’s methods of induction and of the hypothetico-deductive method of science.

Beyond the corrected law of causality, Boydstun formulates a “principle of substantive propagation.” This is an application of Rand’s principle of identity to all alteration and constancy in time. He argues that the principle of substantive propagation is a fundamental justified justification for our inductive causal inferences and indeed all of our modes of scientific explanation. He concludes with a proposal of how predication can be cast as a triple-identity abstract form, a derivative of Rand’s fundamental thesis that existence is identity.

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  • 7 months later...
For a current project, I'm trying to trace the origins of the doctrine of the arbitrary assertion. The published presentation of the doctrine in its final form is by Leonard Peikoff in OPAR. This was derived from a slightly different presentation in Dr. Peikoff's 1976 series of lectures on Objectivism.

Well before that, however, Nathaniel Branden published on "the arbitrary" in The Objectivist Newsletter (1963) and covered the topic in his lecture series on Basic Principles of Objectivism.

I don't own a copy of these lectures. I'm sure some participants here do.

If you're familiar with NB's treatment of arbitrary assertions in these lectures (I'm assuming the topic comes up in Lecture 4 on "The Concept of God," but I could be mistaken about that), I'd be most grateful if you could tell me whether

(1) Nathaniel Branden says that an arbitrary assertion should be dismissed without argument;

(2) He says that an arbitrary assertion is neither true nor false;

(3) He says than an arbitrary assertion cannot be cognitively processed or has no cognitive context (or words to that effect);

(4) He gives examples of arbitrary assertions other than claims about God or gratuitous, unsupported accusations that someone committed a crime.

Robert Campbell

Ayn Rand would ask for evidence.

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Rand and Peikoff opposed verificationism and replaced it with validationism. An idea whose relationship to reality is established by perceptual evidence or by induction or deduction upon such evidence, they called validated. Naturally, validations of ideas can have various degrees of quality. Moreover, validationism can be posed in varieties of strength parallel its verificationist cousins. The variety validation-in-principle entails: an idea that in principle cannot have its relationship to reality established by perceptual evidence and logical inference is meaningless.

Stephen,

I think you are right about replacing verifying with validating.

But "validationism" has two obvious problems.

One is that there is no inductive validation without valid argument forms in inductive logic. And neither Ayn Rand nor Leonard Peikoff have supplied such argument forms. In fact, Rand admitted not having a "philosophy of scientific induction" and being in need of one.

The second is that instead of a primary distinction between truth and falsity, validationism is in danger of substituting a distinction between validated (and therefore true) versus arbitrary (and therefore meaningless).

In OPAR, Dr. Peikoff declares that the distinction between arbitrary and non-arbitrary is fundamental. He also contrasts the validated with the unvalidatable (the arbitrary) in such a way that falsehood becomes an afterthought or, in places, drops out of the discussion.

Robert Campbell

It seems to me that when Ayn Rand said "Reality is the final arbiter" that that answers the issue. Reality validates whether a claim is a valid (or an intellectual) representation of what it [reality] is.

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