Re: virus: existence / representation
Tue, 23 Mar 1999 20:07:41 EST

In a message dated 3/11/99 12:10:24 AM Central Standard Time, writes:

<< Ontological discussion (such as we
have seen far to much of recently, IMO) degenerates into a hopeless mire over the question of what is more real. Such discussion rambles on without apparent progress toward any explanation. In contrast, an epistemological discussion, centered around 'processes' for gathering knowledge to build pictures of the world, is the sort of thing needed to smoothly connect consciousness and its underlying physical basis. Such discussion may lead to a rich frame of explanation. Why not try it. It might make a pleasant change.

So how do you make a start? Before you can begin with epistemology, you need to grasp a few points from metaphysics. Metaphysics studies the most fundamental nature of the universe (which we will show exists in a little while), what is true of everything by virtue of its existing. Metaphysics boils down to a collection of axioms that define the realm of knowledge; thus, it is the starting point in a study of epistemology. >>

Hmmm -- how strange. A suggestion that we ignore questions of ontology, proceed epistemologically, and start by grasping a few points from metaphysics, an ontological proposition to begin with if I ever heard one. I guess the desire to escape the taint of anything remotely as subjective or phenomenological as ontology, justifies the use of such word games. Basically lets use the most stable propositions that ontology has to offer and pretend that they aren't ontological.

I would agree that ontology unhinged from questions about epistemology goes nowhere fast, other than philospical meta-masturbatory musings, floating abstractions, and supernatural conjecture. But I would suggest that ontology and epistemology properly yoked, are about the way that most people proceed, even without knowing the words for such things. Indeed, I think this is about what you are suggesting yourself, even after suggesting that you are not (in different words).

>>Axiom of existence. Existence is the fundamental, unquestionable fact. It's
the self-evident starting point beyond which it is not correct to venture. Questions such as "Why is existence here?" and "Why is it this way instead of that?" are self-contradictory; they lead to an explanation in terms of non-existence, which is nothing (thus we are lead to such absurdities as "nothing precedes beingness"). Existence is our starting point.<<

If by existence you mean "that I have a starting point", that may be true, but does not invoke any concept of "existence". I have a starting point. As best I can recall it was sometime when I was about 1 and 1/2 years old (or did I decide that later?) in an apartment that I later learned (or decided?) was in Alexandria, Virginia, in the year that I later learned (or decided?) was about 1970. Is that the particular starting point that you had in mind? If not, I think that a concept of "existence" is in order. Of course I put the parenthesis in because that is not what I really think of as existence, but without a concept to invoke, that is the only self-evident thing that I can point to.

>From here on out, your lesson sounds like a lot of things said to make us feel
more reasonable about the place where we are (obviously some time past our starting point(s)) - a backwards rationalization about mental machinations that would have begun long before we were actually capable of pasting words onto them. Not to get me wrong, because I accept the rationalizations every bit as much as you do. But they ARE rationalizations, and I wonder if you have convinced yourself otherwise.

We grab hold of them long after the fact - not when we really are grasping the starting points, but when we are in media res long after the fact. In fact try to cover these issues with an infant or toddler, and I bet you cause more confusion, than clarity. Their (and of course our) genetic prewiring, is far superior to our backwards looking rationalizations about it. Evolution is smarter than us that way.

Do the rationalizations match up with observations down the road - in media res? - of course they do! Because they are rationalizations for one. And for number two they survive rational criticism. But this is precisely where we have invoked concepts of "existence", "Consciousness", "identity" and so forth, not just the fact that we have a starting place, and once invoked, they are in principle subjectable to rational criticism - as all epistemological things. And how did those concepts get "in here" epistemologically - into our body of knowlege? We pointed to them "out there" ontologically, before we knew what they were - before we could rationally access representations ABOUT them.

And of course representations is what pancritical rationalism is all about. All REPRESENTATIONS are in principle subjectable to rational criticism. We cannot rationally criticize the thing itself, in raw physical form, until we have an accessible representation ABOUT the thing. In its ultimate ontological non-epistemological sense, I would assume that there would be no purpose to rational criticism, since it is being ABOUT things and not the things themselves, that make the error/inconsistency resolving function of rational criticism necessary.

The major problem that I had with your lesson on Objective Metaphysics was as follows:

>>Axiom of existence. Existence is the fundamental, unquestionable fact. It's
the self-evident starting point beyond which it is not correct to venture.<<

I guess this depends on what you mean by "unquestionable", and "incorrect to venture". If by this you mean, "in principle not subject to rational criticism", then I cannot agree, because it is only through a principle of rational criticism that I can agree that this backwards-looking rationalization is anything more than a rationalization. Indeed, a mere practice of rational criticism is not sufficient for an objective epistemology - many faith thinkers PRACTICE rational criticism on a daily basis otherwise they couldn't survive, but hold some representations in principle not subjectable to rational criticism.

This is sufficient to smuggle in many supernaturalisms, and conceal many contradictions in their worldviews despite the otherwise appearance of practiced rationality. Because they do not hold ALL representations in principle subjectable to rational criticism, they cannot themselves tell when they are rationally criticizing vrs. when they are really just rationalizing.

One other small point though:

>>Questions such as "Why is existence here?" and "Why is it this way instead
of that?" are self-contradictory; they lead to an explanation in terms of non-existence, which is nothing (thus we are lead to such absurdities as "nothing precedes beingness"). Existence is our starting point.<<

Non-existence is not nothing. Non-existence is a contradiction. Nothing is nothing only in relation to something. Non-existence needs a concept of existence to mean anything, and once you have that, non-existence is obviously not possible. Therefore the correct form of criticism (which I contend would need to be articulable by a pancriticial rationalist, even though they may not in practice be currently engaged in the criticism) of a statement about "the universe existing", would not be "the universe does not exist", but rather "the universe does not exist AS REPRESENTED."

Which, if engaged, would presumably require more ontological pointing "out there" (outside our body of knowlege) to access more epistemological representations "in here" (within our body of knowlege) about existence. Because rational criticism requires representations to criticize other representations. Without multiple representations there is no possibility for inconsistencies that would call the functions of rational criticism into play.

Once again:
>>Questions such as "Why is existence here?" and "Why is it this way instead
of that?" are self-contradictory; they lead to an explanation in terms of non-existence, which is nothing (thus we are lead to such absurdities as "nothing precedes beingness"). Existence is our starting point.<<

There are no explanations in terms of non-existence. "This way instead of that", is alternative concepts of existence, which is really the same as "This way instead of that1, or that2, or that3, or that4, . . . etc." not existence vs. non-existence. In fact future projections of possibilities, goal-setting etc. is dependent on our basic ability to conceptualize alternative ways that things can be in the future. Scientific debates always revolve about around conflicting alternative explanations (or ways) about how things are now or in the past, and presumably with implications for the future.

Anyways, back to this whole Objective thing. The problem that I see is that many "Objectivists", be they Randian or otherwise, tend to have this problem that I percieve. They very reasonably wish to embrace rational criticism, the very "soul" of consistency (if I may be poetic), but wish it to be in principle inconsistenty applicable. Often wishing to claim certain axioms that are in principle not subjectable to rational criticism.

Although I can appreciate the value of an axiomatization, this kind of axiom is not one that I can abide. I don't know if it is one that you are suggesting, but it sounds that way when you say things like "unquestionable" and "not correct to venture." Formal systems are useful and require axioms, but we cannot ignore the fact that they always exist within greater contexts. Axioms are not questionable FROM WITHIN the formal system, but that does not make them unquestionable.

I continue to not be entirely sure what Objectivists mean when they talk about their "axioms" - whether they propose to be describing an actual formal system that encompasses all of existence OR are just saying that they aren't in practice questioning the obviously reasonable assumptions. If it is the latter, I accept them too, but do not generally use the word "axiom" that way. If it is the former, I remain deeply skeptical. That's entirely too religious for me. And if it is that they are not in principle subjectable to rational criticism, then I just have to say "no" to faith.

Never the less, they seem to progress from these points in very reasonable, if occasionally quirky fashion, so I am tempted to call myself an "Objectivist" of sorts, but when I bring this up with many of them, I seem to often get a fairly vicious treatment. Is it possible to be a pancritical rationalist objectivist?

I think it is, but most self-proclaimed "objectivists" that I have had the opportunity to speak with on these matters have gotten very indignant with me on these matters. So it leaves me wondering, "what am I seeing that they aren't? And does seeing it make me a non-objectivist?" Certainly I don't recall a burning bush, or hearing the voice of a "God" thingy, but some seem to treat me as if I were claiming such a thing.

Anyhow, I will see if I can glean any more thoughts from your lesson. Actually, in a quick reread, not too bad. The criticisms I offer, despite the length of my ramblings, cover only a fraction of your content, most of which I did not find objectionable, though some of that which is still being digested.