Sunday, December 23, 2012

OTI post #9

Continuing my interposed beginnings, here is another installment. It is not all of what I have numbered as 1.3, because that section is large and admits of being broken up into separate subsections (as in fact it is).

This extract only grounds the practice of starting in philosophy as babies, by looking at the world, even though we are now many years into life. After that I then begin looking at the three axioms in a bit more detail, give a quick indication of the validity of perception in defending their self-evidency, and so on.

By the way, the two lecture series on The History of Western Philosophy have turned out to be far more useful than I had imagined they would be. I owe quite a lot of my growing understanding to learning from them, especially the part one on the the founders from Thales to Hume. In particular, they ram home how vital the question of Universals is and why getting Objectivist Epistemology into the universities is a necessity if there is to be a future for civilisation. The discussions of Objectivism given at the ends were also valuable, and have heavily influenced what I have written (in some places, I figured out things for myself, then listened to the lectures, and discovered to my delight that I was not in danger of contradicting Objectivism). Together, they also give a far greater context to how and why Dr Peikoff wrote what he did and how he did in OPAR. I strongly recommend you buy the MP3s: link to part one, link to part two.

 1.3    Once-over A: Metaphysics

I now have three concepts and statements built on them that, although I obtained the idea of where to look from Objectivism, I have satisfied myself as being good candidates for starting points. This candidacy initially arose by asking over and over what any idea or concept presupposed for its validity, and finding that (or rather, agreeing with Objectivism that) the three statements - and more specifically, their key concepts of existence, consciousness, identity - were presupposed by everything and which did not themselves presuppose other ideas or concepts for their own truth and validity. That principle, too, is part of Objectivism: that is an instance of what is called "Rand's Razor".

That work, however, was predicated on dealing with the bewildering enormity and complexity of content already present in the consciousness of an adult. What I did was only a series of acts that were the first taking of control over a moving vehicle that was in danger of skidding irretrievably into the ditch or being driven blindly into districts unknown but for reputations of unwholesomeness. Instead, I have shown how to bring the vehicle to a standstill with its motor still running. The driver lives, and is in a position to start over. What hasn't been done is show how to drive the vehicle properly, which has to begin with the fundamentals. What are those fundamentals?

Proper beginnings
Now that it is possible to be intellectually much calmer and more confident, I can see that the three statements are indeed the most consistent with the inference-from-observation approach. I can see that the three statements, particularly the three critical concepts in them, are implicit in what is evident to an infant. Within seconds of his first moment of wakefulness he can and does form an implicit concept that can be summed up in a single word that he will learn in a few years' time: "IS!" Within a few weeks or months after birth, after making many more observations of the strange and exciting world he finds himself in, he then can and does go on to form two more implicit concepts that can be summed up in two more single words: "AM!" and "THAT!" And while the infant will not learn these words for a few years yet, what they denote has been available to his observation from the get-go or quickly thereafter, and on that basis will become incorporated implicitly in all else he does and thinks thereafter.

What this means therefore is that the proper place to start philosophy is with those facts implied by all possible observations, starting right from the very first moments of wakefulness even in newborn infancy. As an adult, I am not starting with concepts as such but instead am only using my adult knowledge of how to speak to state in conceptual form that which is evident to newborns on up. Instead of a top-down approach that came from philosophising in-media-res, I know where to start with a bottom-up approach. The proper start of philosophy is to articulate that which is evident from the start of wakeful life.

What is existence? It is all that (waving my arms about). What is consciousness? It is the faculty of becoming aware of all that and bits thereof. And what is identity? It is that to be something is to be something. All else that one may come to know is in some way an instance of one or more of these (in fact, it is from integrating these instances that one comes to recognise explicitly the concepts used by the three statements). All else is exemplar of that there is something of which I am aware. No feeling, judgement or other content of conscious may contradict these three or any of its rightful instances.

What is, is, it is what it is, and I know both of these facts. How does one come to know about what is? The correctness of what I have discovered so far suggests following Objectivism further as pointers to finding more answers. But I am not simply going to present it in linear fashion as found in OPAR and other Objectivist works. Rather, I will follow the path of what necessitates what (because metaphysics and epistemology are simultaneous) and also going back to add to what I have said previously by means of what new material I can support (which Objectivism calls the spiral-theory of knowledge). Only when I have that done may and will I do a linear exposition of my induction of Objectivism for myself following the structure in OPAR.

A first attack on the other two candidates
The inference-from-observation approach to starting points makes the most sense to me, both intellectually and from the fact that I must and do take the truth of those three statements for granted in all that I think and do. Further, it is also the most consistent with what all other men not obviously insane must and do take for granted in all the minutiae of daily life. Certainly, there are still technical issues with sensory-perception to be dealt with, but attacks on perception even at this early stage seem to be the making of mountains out of molehills - and the status of being mere molehills is itself still questionable at that.

And, yes, there are also questions relating to connecting perceptions with universals and the making of propositions therewith. However, no amount of conclusion-drawing by the advocates of the other candidates can shake what has been established so far (which these advocates must also take for granted in their thoughts and actions), which then implies that connection of perceptions with universals can be made and leaving only the question of how such connection is made. Objectivism claims to have this covered, and my look at these claims finds them worth investigating, which I will cover later.

In comparison to the inference-from-observation approach, the other two candidates are far more problematic. This is not only that they have to accept the three concepts and statements established so far if they do not want to be contradictory but also that they are untenable of themselves.

Take the notion of revelation, the idea of propositions popping into our heads and feeling with high conviction that they are true. However, observe that there are a great many people - myself included - who have never had revelations, and, of those who do say they’ve had them and claim authority over those of us who have not, what these people have to say is totally at odds with what many others also have to say subsequent to other alleged revelations of their own. That makes revelation as such extremely suspect, though the phenomenon itself is still to be explained. At this point all I want to do is point out that people can be very arbitrary, and note that history shows that this arbitrariness may be combined with people’s need for meaning and moral guidance to result in the countless numbers of cults, belief-systems, and other mystic movements that have sprung up since man first used his mind.

Western philosophy was born 2600 years ago when one intelligent thinker - Thales of Miletus - noticed this for himself over the course of his international travels around the Mediterranean and Middle-East. This realisation, along with his observation of a host of perfectly natural phenomena as contrasted against various mystic claims (such as rejection of mystic claims of cosmology in favour of the kinds of entirely natural processes he saw in river-beds and estuaries etc), prompted him to dispense with the entire mystic approach to answering the question of how the world worked. Certainly, Thales gave wrong particular answers to that question (he claimed that everything was water) and made other errors besides, but his reasons for abandoning mysticism did have solid basis and his inference-from-observation approach was on the right track.

I see no reason why an arbitrary statement that is touted as a philosophic starting point should be accorded a special thou-shalt-not-question status that is not accorded to an equally arbitrary assertion on a more mundane topic. I see no just cause against recognising the arbitrary for what it is and dismissing it as such, independent of ascribed importance. It is one thing to argue that one must go with what one has in the heat of crises and only reconsider what one has later at leisure, but quite another to prohibit questioning when the later becomes the now and the leisure time becomes available. Should the appeal be made, an appeal to fear of consequences arising from a lack of a moral grounding is just not good enough, for that is then to state that the arbitrary assertion is in fact a deliberate lie, and an allegedly-noble lie is still a damn lie. When the lie is found out, that discovery will add vehemence and righteous anger to the wantonness that the lie was intended to hold back.

But not all faiths make that kind of appeal, and some do try to give thoughtful responses to challenges against them. Today, the title of religion is accorded to those faiths that have gone on to develop a measure of intellectual sophistication on top of the claimed revelations at their base. To that extent, actual religions - particularly those that have grown in the light of Western philosophy - deserve a degree of respect commensurate with that philosophic sophistication; certainly one must find fault with, but one may not sneer at, an intelligently-informed faith.

Now take the notion of exclusively deduction from foundational propositions. To a minor extent, the question of where these foundational propositions come from is dealt with above. That is, one can see that their advocates choose their various foundational propositions arbitrarily. However, these propositions are frequently actually true, such as Leibniz beginning by stating that the complex is composed of the simple, so this method cannot be dismissed only by pointing out the arbitrariness in choosing them.

The problem with their approach is that they - the propositions and advocates thereof alike - presuppose the ability to speak as itself an implied independent starting point in its own right. The words of which all propositions are formed are taught, and the content of the propositions formed with them is not discoverable until quite some time into life. That leaves open the question of the validity of speaking. Admittedly, I am yet to deal with that issue myself, but remember that all I am doing here is putting into words that which can be affirmed to ourselves without words, that I am only articulating as an adult that which is implicit in the observations of an infant not yet six months old - the practice of deducing from propositions that are true but nevertheless chosen arbitrarily doesn’t have a patch on that. So I know enough to rule out this class of candidates insofar as they are touted as philosophical starting points.

However, while the blow thus given to the other two candidates is serious it is still not fatal, for I am yet to address a very important question: from whence came the content of consciousness that either is not or not remembered as being based on perception and inference? There are many ways of raising this question to attack inference from observation, and many ways of answering it to give basis to the other candidacies - the question of universals is a major part of this, but it is not the only part. So there is much more that needs to be discussed, though now I can say that the practice of inference from perceptual observation is ahead by a country mile and that I have enough to move onward with.

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