Saturday, December 15, 2012

OTI post #8

Given the long time since I've done any OTI work, from me always finding unsatisfactory how I began it and my procedures for working, I reviewed what I wrote so far.I didn't like how it simply dove in and started with a context that was taken rather arbitrarily, and had no connection as to why the axioms of Objectivism were indeed the proper places to start. For instance, how I addressed that back then, in post 5, has always struck me as seriously wrong somehow. There was something wrong right from the get-go.

I figured out what it was: a grossly inadquate context and non-use of the spiral theory of knowledge. My old introduction in post 1 had three parts: reasons, two elements of context, and an outline of methodology. I retain the reasons, but I am breaking up the rest, beginning with interposing a sequence on the search for foundations that leads to a basic discussion of the axioms. Then I will give Objectivism up to epistemology a once-over and use that to ground the proper context and methodology for the real chewing to come later.

So far I've done that first interposition, and have started work on the once-over. Here, then, is the first installment of that new work.


(1.1 is still my reasons, unchanged)

1.2    The search for foundations
I find myself in a world and having a need to act in it. This gives rise to three questions: What kind of world am I in? What should I do? And how do I find the answers to questions?

This much is not unique to me. No philosophising-proper can be done in the state of early childhood. By the time someone comes to ponder philosophical questions with any seriousness, this someone has spent years observing the world, learning how to speak and how to think, sometimes making his own discoveries, sometimes by hearing what others say and him making considered judgement that brings him to agreement with those others, and sometimes accepting what is taught to him without question. By the time he philosophises, he has come to possess an enormous amount of what he takes to be knowledge about what is real and how to act. This is a position common to us all. We each of us have the capacity to perceive and are constantly doing so, we each of us (reading this at least) have the capacity to use words and concepts, we each have the capacity to make judgements and consider others' judgements, we each have a whole pile of bits of knowledge with varying degrees of internal integration of various subject-matters, we each have the capacity to feel this way and that, and we each of us in fact do feel to varying degrees about a number of things.

It also appears that some of it has seemingly been validated directly, other parts make sense (with varying degrees of confidence for this) on the basis of that which we have validated, and at least some sense of order appears to be possible. But this content of mind is still haphazard, disjointed, and sometimes greatly at odds either within itself or in contrast to what is observed. How are we to untangle all this? Where does one even start??

What makes things more problematic is that the three kinds of content of awareness can contradict each other and also contradict variants of themselves. For instance, a perception of something (say, that an object is a real material thing) can contradict a judgement (that perception of objects is an illusion) and both of those can further contradict with a feeling (say that a Holy Text prescribes that objects are expressions of a Divine Intelligence). And, one perception can appear to contradict another perception (eg the infamous hands in water example), one judgement can contradict another (Heraclitus' claim that nothing existed but Change itself versus Parmenides' claim that no change ever took place and all that existed was One itself), and one feeling can contradict another (countless competing religions and competing sects within religions). So we have three candidates for starting points, but they seemingly contradict themselves as well as each other: mystic revelation, inference from observation, and deduction from basic statements that need no proof.

This - and yet further problems besides, such as the “problem of universals” - is the philosophic state of the world in which we neophytes find ourselves. What the blazes do we do now??

My first step

I have very little to offer in philosophy that is original. All I can say is there is posited an integrated approach to understanding things. This approach begins with perception, cements it with formal recognition of what has been implicit in perception from the get-go, shows how abstractions are formed from the material of perception, gives strong leads for how to proceed to making propositions, goes on to show how to form ever more complex judgements all the way to the heights of erudition, and normative rules about how to do all this properly. It then purports to give a reconciliatory account of the nature of perception, judgements, and feelings.

It is this approach - which was begun by Aristotle, with its latest development being Objectivism and additional work by various Objectivists - that most makes sense on the face of it, and so justifies me giving it more consideration. This approach is what I want to validate for myself. If successfully validated then it is what I want to integrate into my mode of thinking and acting. If it is not validated then I will look elsewhere - the need to act makes saying "to hell with it" indefensible and unviable.

The question then immediately arises: what do I mean by making sense? What do I take to be validation of the approach of objectivity? I’ll go into what ‘valid’ means in depth later, but something as to what validity means is required now, before a single step further can be taken. The only thing that “making sense” can mean is reconciliation between perception, judgement, and feeling, in turn providing an account of all of three by beginning with that about which there can be no meaningful denial, and then using that account to answer the first two questions. More formally, “valid” can only mean the non-contradictory identification of what reality is, and on that basis go on to determine my place in it and what I should do in it.

But why non-contradiction? There are many in history who have revelled in contradiction, so on what grounds can I reject it at the outset? Here I find it easiest to reiterate what Aristotle said in his own defence of the matter: if contradictions can exist, no sense can be made of anything, no meaning can be ascribed to argument (even to the positing of the existence of contradictions), no reality exists, and no meaningful action can be undertaken so as to remain in it. Just to say “there are such things contradictions in reality” already requires non-contradiction in order for that statement to be agreed with, because it implies that to contradict that statement is to commit an error, which then obliterates that statement. For that reason, Aristotle said that whosoever posits contradictions is no better than a vegetable, for a positor of contradictions has nothing to say insofar as he maintains his advocacy of contradictions. The positing of contradictions is also indefensible and unviable. What the non-existence of contradictions suggests about the clash of the three is that at least two are wrong, either in how they are obtained or in how we interpret them. In turn, reconciliation consists of explaining the apparent clash.

That much about contradiction is only polemics, however valid it may be. But where do we get this Law of Non-Contradiction from? This is a separate question to its being true and a law. I must come back to it at some point.

My starting points
A hint of a criterion of validity is not an actual starting point; it has no content. All it does is delimit what may be acceptable content. What content-proper should we actually start with?

Much of what we have as adults is derivative of earlier development as children, but these disparate bodies of knowledge are not well tied with each other, and so that still leaves open the question of foundations. What are these foundations and how do we validate them? That being the case, where should I start, and why? Unadulterated scepticism is out of the question, so that leaves either the three candidates already identified or me figuring out a fourth, though what such a fourth might consist of I have neither a shred of evidence for nor the faintest clue.

But from looking at the three I have already I notice a particular commonality among them (specifically, I got it from Objectivism and recognise for myself that it is common), such that at this stage I need not bother pursuing the notion of a fourth. I further notice that one of these three is the most consistent with what that commonality implies, and I notice further again that the account suggested by the combination of that commonality with the procedures of that one is consistent both with the history of discovery of philosophic concepts and the apparent development of men. That commonality is the fact that there is something to have perception of, there is something to make judgements regarding, and there is something to have feelings about. What the something may be in each case is irrelevant, what’s common is that there is a something as such. Something exists. I am not stating anything about what, where, how, how much of, or why, I state only that.

(Banal, you say? So what, I ask. The universe is not obliged to satisfy anyone’s need for high drama. Parmenides in this regard is correct: what is, is. If you don't like it, that's your problem. The cookie won't crumble any differently just because some twit doesn’t feel that the way it does crumble is sublime enough for his tastes. Besides - and this is entirely secondary to the truth identified above - the fact that it is an observable and non-contradictory firm standing-point, already thereby indicating a basis for reconciliation of much of what caused a great many deaths throughout human history, suggests that this identification is actually very important indeed. Consider it this way: that one has an unshakeable start consisting of real informational content about reality (howsoever vague that content may be, the key being that it identifies a truth about reality) suggests that this identification vastly more momentous than say an unassuming little man by the mildly ridiculous name of Frodo Baggins placing what appears to be a simple ring of gold of one ounce’s weight upon a table before a council of war, which council is gathered to deal with one of the greatest evils ever to beset the world, and which council’s recognition of the fact that the ring is changes the whole course of that war. So much for banality.)

This recognition of the existence of something also most consistent with the inference-from-observation approach, through recognition of my own development and subsequent observation of the development of other children (I have none of my own, but I am familiar with those of family and friends). From very early on, a long time before the capacity to speak arises, children are observers and investigators of a world. Every blessed thing they do shows an implicit acceptance of that something exists. They're forever investigating it, often to the consternation of parents anxious to keep their inquisitive children from harm such as from sticking knives in power-points or prodding ants' nests. I can remember that much myself, and to this day regularly act accordingly. I can remember all the way from my youth to but a one second ago wordlessly looking at what lay about me and then interacting with it. I move my mouse around and type on the keyboard without paying direct attention to the fact of either’s existence, which acts imply me taking their existence for granted now. There’s something that is. I need not even use words in my personal agreement, as all I need to is observe that there is anything at all to observe, independently of the what, and affirm silently that whatever and wherever that lot (waving my hands about) actually is, is - determining what and where that lot is is for another time. And that much is evident and possible to an infant even in the very first moment of wakefulness, never mind before the ability to speak begins.

That is also the beginning of Objectivism. And that is enough for me to say about Objectivism that I find it worthwhile to keep going. The progression continues: implicit in the recognition that something exists, however implicit the recognition itself is, is the further recognition that I know something exists. I can perceive for myself that something exists, just as above, and I have a whole history of perceiving existents in a great variety of manners. And at this very moment I can recognise my own acts of remembering, imagining, feeling, thinking, and so on. From all these I recognise the same commonality, that I too exist and that I am conscious.

Score two for Objectivism, and we can go for a third. Every single thing I ever come across, or that anyone has ever come across, has always been something in particular. And further, within all acts of consciousness, the content has always likewise been something in particular. The same applies to the experiences of everyone I have ever met. It turns out there is a reason for all this, and that it is in fact impossible for anything to be other than something in particular, for to be something is of necessity to be something. Everything that exists is of a certain nature - all that exists is of a particular identity. Objectivism speaks of a Law of Identity - there's that third.

So now we have three statements to start with. What is, is. I am. What is, including me, is what it is. Objectivism states these three less colloquially. Existence exists. Consciousness is conscious. A is A. Well and good, yes, but now what?


I then start, in 1.3, my once-over of Objectivism, starting with a validation of the axioms and the first indication of the validity of perception. That is as much as I have written on that score, with next being causality (straight forward enough), then volition, then conceptualisation, proposition-making, and logic. That much, in a simple form and validated as I go, also spiraling back as required, should be enough to end the once-over. After that, what I have currently as 1.3 and 1.4 need to be rewritten and renumbered in manners I am yet to determine are appropriate. With that in place then I can actually chew in detail, starting from the axioms.


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