Friday, May 16, 2008

A Rebuttal to Some Arguments Against Objectivism

(This post may be hard to follow if you're not familiar with objectivist philosophy, but I'll try to make my rebuttal as concise as possible)

Well, the inspiration for this post comes from the following video. :

Please watch the video as I'll be destroying the objections raised therein one by one.

(First of all: the Axioms)

The video claims that objectivist axioms are not automatically accepted by anyone trying to attack them. I hold that they are. Let us see what his arguments are.

(1.1 Existence exists)

The video claims that the statement of identity is tautological and that this renders it meaningless? It's an axiom. Axioms are simply statements of reality. They are the bedrock upon which an argument is based. A tautological axiom would seem to be a given. I fail to see what the problem is in starting a logical derivation from something which is universally accepted (i.e. tautological).

The video then goes on to propose this question as being the truly essential point, "Is there existence apart from my experience in the first place?" Well, in short....yes. And of course the creator of this video accepts this because they went to the trouble of making the video in the first place. If this person truly rejects the idea that there is a common existence outside of his experience, then to make the video in spite of that would be truly mad. That, in itself, would be enough to disqualify this person from the status of "rational".

He then proceeds to prove that he is mad by proposing that "existence can be denied". How then is it possible that I am writing this critique of something which he created, put on the internet, and I subsequently viewed? Existence exists. This statement, which the video's creator initially conceded was a TAUTOLOGY (something which is ALWAYS true), is now contradicted by the statement "existence can be denied." This is a contradiction and renders this line of argument invalid. At best, this approach is intellectually dishonest. To paraphrase koenichfuerst, I think that's a sneaky way of pushing relativist nonsense down your throat from the very start. If "existence" exists by definition, as it would have to in order to be a tautology, then, by definition, it cannot be denied.

He then moves on to suggest that the great debate of metaphysics is to establish whether or not sense perception actually exists or if we are all Keanu Reaves in the Matrix. (Oh, boy....pop analogies here we come...). Once again, if all of our perceptions are wrong, and he truly believes this, then why are two human beings able to communicate at all? Why are we able to read each other's words and understand the content? How are we able to reach any agreements on anything whatsoever if the nature of existence is indeed so subjective?

I'm jumping ahead but koenichfuerst later invokes evolution as a support of a later argument. Evolution would have no meaning if our perceptions were all illusory. The whole theory of evolution is based on the idea that living beings change bit by bit over time. But one of the agents of that change is the environment in which they live. The better adapted to that environment they are, the better they are at surviving and in passing along their genes. Those who aren't as well adapted die off without the chance to pass them along. Evolution demands a direct correlation between survival and reality, between existence and life. You can't dismiss the identity principle as "begging the question" and subsequently use a theory which would be meaningless without it for support. This is another sign of intellectual dishonesty. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I hope that this is sufficient to brand koenichfurst as a charlatan and a liar. No wonder he didn't want to stick his face to this nonsense.

But, let's continue just to clean up all his inaccuracies.

koenichfuerst: 0
American Antitheist: 1

(1.2 Free Will)

Basically he is saying that free will cannot exist in a deterministic system. So, he says that if we accept physics, evolution, short the scientific explanation of existence and rule out any supernatural mumbo jumbo, that there is no room left for free will. If the man had any familiarity with cognitive science at all, then he would realize that this is just not so.

Of course objectivism supports the scientific view of our existence which rules out the possibility of a metaphysical soul. But, if you take a look at cognitive science, and in particular the work of Douglas Hofstadter, you will begin to see that it is possible to explain consciousness from within a deterministic framework. The window is called self-referentiality. For a detailed exploration of this concept I recommend you to Hofstadter's book, Godel, Escher, Bach. Although I must note that Hofstadter is in no way connected with objectivism and some of his personal opinions run definitely counter to it. However his initial theory of strange loops and tangled hierarchies seems to have a lot of value in the fields of cognitive science and artificial intelligence. And it is an eloquent depiction of just how likely it is that deterministic science and free will can co-exist.

Never say never, dude.

koenichfuerst: 0
American Antitheist: 2

(2. Ethics)...oh, goody...let's see what he has in store for us....

He is saying that the biological goal of life is reproduction not survival.

Well, he's half right, but mostly wrong.

The biological goal of genes is reproduction. And they have worked under evolutionary laws for so long that the "gene machines" or bodies they have constructed to carry and reproduce them have become highly effective at enabling them to do so. From a post-Dawkins Darwinian perspective, genes are the principle actors in evolution and from the gene's perspective it is most definitely concerned with survival. A gene can survive for thousands and thousands of years and the gene's "goal", so to speak, is to survive indefinitely. It is by the process of evolution that it "hopes" to do so. Of course the gene doesn't actually "hope" for anything or have goals, but the analogy helps to visualize the aggregate effects of natural selection at the gene level. Of course, this is too highly intricate a concept to be dealt with in a paragraph. I refer the reader to Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene for a fuller treatment of the idea. Of course, Dawkins is not an objectivist either, but since objectivism is a philosophy of reason, it can freely draw from science to support itself. And Dawkins is a brilliant evolutionary biologist.

The problem here is that genes are intent on survival which means that we have a drive to replicate, but for the genes to continue to exist and to optimize their chance for survival, their hosts or bodies must survive, and be able to survive for as long as necessary. And even then, aside from gene theory, let's just look at observations of the animal kingdom. How many animals knowingly commit suicide? Let's see..........ZERO. The reason is that any animal that had a genetic propensity to kill itself off, would succeed and would no longer exist. Evolution would allow it its wish and it would cease to be. Let's weaken it then, would any animal even exist which worked against it's own survival? NO. Why? Well, same thing. If an animal worked against itself (or did not work to preserve its own life) then this would be a huge disadvantage and it would become extinct due to evolutionary pressures. So, you can't use evolution to say that animals don't try to sustain their lives.

Furthermore, Ayn Rand does not claim that life is the ultimate value of all living beings. Animals cannot have values, because they do not have choice, they are merely programmed by those genes. Human beings, on the other hand, have that already established free-will. So, they can CHOOSE not to live and commit suicide. They CAN work against themselves if they wish. Only IF you choose life as your ultimate value, will the is-ought gap be bridged. Why? Because then the answer to things' optimal use is answered. If the ultimate goal is life, then all things, all rules of existence must be utilized in the way which is optimal for your own survival and then again survival in accordance with your nature as a human being. Continued survival in a state which is in accordance with your human nature is what we call happiness. If you choose to hold death as your ultimate value, then you are free to do so, but it will not bring you happiness.

Of course, if you choose not to hold life as your ultimate value, then you are in an immoral state, as he points out. As such, you can leech off of whoever is willing to support you, whether it be the blood money raped from the labor of others and dispensed by a welfare state, or if it is simply the charity of others upon which you can depend (or demand as the case may be). Of course, you can also die as do people who commit suicide, or do suicidal things.

As for the example of the praying mantis, it is highly debatable whether the male is aware of the fate that will meet it when it copulates. Most likely, it is simply driven by its genes as are all animals. I'm sure that it would much prefer to go on living if it could, but once again a praying mantis has no choice in the matter. People do. And I fail to see how surviving genetically equates with existing. The male CEASES to exist. It dies. Once again (third time) this is a case of intellectual dishonesty where koenichfuerst is switching definitions mid-sentence. The intent is to confuse your frame of reference so as to cram his argument down your throat, so to speak. (Pardon the paraphrase.)

koenichfuerst: 0
American Antitheist: 3

Finally, the Albert Ellis defense holds absolutely no weight whatsoever. Ellis developed Rational Therapy. And just by checking out the Wikipedia article here:

we find,

"RT required that the therapist help the client understand — and act on the understanding —that his personal philosophy contains beliefs that lead to his own emotional pain. This new approach stressed actively working to change a client's self-defeating beliefs and behaviors by demonstrating their irrationality and rigidity. Ellis related everything to these core irrational beliefs such as "I must be perfect" and "I must be loved by everyone". Ellis believed that through rational analysis, people can understand their errors in light of the core irrational beliefs and then construct a more rational position."

I fail to see how this is an attack on objectivism. Demanding that everyone love you would seem to be a chronic problem of someone without self-esteem or self-worth who is desperately seeking validation from everyone around them. As for the seeking of perfection, it depends entirely upon what your concept of "perfect" is. If it is based on the irrational, then of course pursuing it will lead to problems. If it is based on the rationally attainable, then there is nothing impossible about it. Perfection can be attained as long as your notion of perfection is defined by reality and does not consist of an attempt to redefine reality to meet your conception. As a philosophy which preaches that full acceptance of the reality of the world is fundamental to all else, objectivism would demand that people keep their goals realistic. If anything, given this article, I would think that RT is fully compatible with objectivism. Of course I'm not fully versed in the method, but the principles seem non-contradictory.

koenichfuerst: 0
American Antitheist: 4

Obviously, he's too busy to read any of the works he refers to, or research any of the ideas he's criticizing. Remember, koenichfuerst...ignorance is not a rebuttal. Just because you don't understand it, doesn't mean it isn't true.


(If you're interested, Koenichfuerst replied to this post, and I posted a link to his rebuttal along with my counter. It should be interesting to note that he has yet to respond to it. Here's the link:

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