Reason as the Leading Motive

Instant Objectivism

Posted by Jerry on January 20, 2007

I have realized that the philosophy of Objectivism is still profoundly radical today as it was when Rand first formulated it. When engaged in philosophical discussions with people, I have often found myself arguing from such a radical point of view–based on fundamentally very different premises–that it becomes incredibly difficult to have a discourse on a higher level topic without first exposing and clarifying all the underlying premises. And this task is often exasperating because not only is it tedious and overwhelming to begin from “the beginning” but also because the fellow interlocutor is often surprised at the level of depth needed to be reached and unsure of its logical connections to the original topic of discussion, thereby finding himself confused, defensive, or simply disinterested.


For example, my conversations at work on political issues are an uphill task because we start out at specific problems and soon I realize that in order to validate my arguments, I have to reveal fundamental principles underlying politics, which include the principles identifying man’s nature (metaphysics), his faculty of reason (epistemology), and the necessity of individual rights (ethics).


Similarly, in a discussion on religion or on the existence of god, souls, etc., I realize that I cannot sound properly convincing and present an honest argument without getting to the principles of logic, the primacy of existence, the nature of man’s conceptual faculty, the meaning of the concept of “knowledge” and “certainty,” and so on.


Then, on a discussion of morality and ethics–specifically, when I was engaged in a discussion on capital punishment–I realized that I was unable to provide a brief argument without explaining what are rights, where do rights come from, who do rights apply to, what is the nature of reality, what is the nature of man’s conceptual faculty, etc.


Perhaps, I just don’t know how to distill the complex philosophy of Objectivism and its interconnected principles into compact, convincing, and satisfactory statements. Which gives me more reason to be amazed at how Rand recited the essence of her entire philosophy while standing on only one foot in front of an audience! Ah, such is the nature of genius.



9 Responses to “Instant Objectivism”

  1. Mike N said

    I sympathise completely. I have just about given up on people over 25 0r 30 years of age. Carl Sagan once said IIRC, “If you want to bake a cake from scratch, you have to recreate the universe.” Well, that’s almost what one has to do with people over 30, re-explain everything from the big bang. I am literally not kidding. I can’t count the times people, upon discovering my atheism, asked “If you don’t believe in god, then how did the universe get here?” Sigh! I’ve been working on various responses to this question but so far they have been unsatisfactory. Maybe I’ll blog on this subject soon. Keep up the good work.

  2. Ergo said

    Yea, that “how did the Universe get here” question is indeed tricky. My typical arguments are that just because one finds something unexplained does not give them the license to invent an imaginary Being to “explain” away the question. Ignorance is not proof for the existence of god.
    Moreover, asking the question of how existence (which is the sum of all things, including conscious entities) came into existence assumes that it is possible to sit at a vantage point *outside* existence, i.e., non-existence, and answer this question–which is an impossibility because it is a contradiction. Indeed, the questioner–by making that question–*demands* that the contradiction be ignored in order to justify the existence (note the contradiction again here) of an imaginary Being.
    Further, questions of causality (what *caused* existence) are invalid–infact, meaningless–if abstractly evicted from the domain of existence itself. Causality is a phenomena that is applicable only within the domain of existence. Nothing cannot cause existence. And it is arbitrary to produce an imaginary Being to put a stop to the infinite regression caused by such a question.

    Properly, the details of how our *present* universe came to be should be examined and answered by our scientists. Philosophers provide the fundamental groundwork to possible scientific answers.

  3. Roderick Fitts said

    I’m not sure how effective this is, since I tend to not argue with theists, but I’ll link it anyway.

    The Argument from the fact of Existence:

  4. Ergo said

    Roderick, appreciate the link. I have come across Anton’s site earlier through Eastbrook linking it here too. Anton’s site on atheism is impressive and thorough. I have reservations on how effective his methods are in a discussion with a theist, but nonetheless, I am impressed with his work.

  5. Rob Heusdens said

    One other side remark. Objectivism starts out from the idea that the universe (meaning in this post: ALL OF EXISTENCE) EXISTS ABSOLUTELY. This assumption can be shown to be a wrong point of view, since it assumes a false dichotomy between being and non-being (being and non-being as ONLY and ABSOLUTELY seperate).
    Let us show how and why this notion of an ABSOLUTE existence of the universe is WRONG. The notion of OBJECIVE EXISTENCE simply means that for instance an apple exists to me, not only as an subject of thought, but also in the objective sense, as an object of sensory perception. The apple is an object to me, and I am an object for the apple. Between the apple and me there can be OBJECTIVE RELATIONS defined. The apple and myself exist in the OBJECTIVE sense.
    However, it is quite clear that such a notion in the case of the universe, is simply impossible. For the universe (all of existence) we are now allowed to take in mind some object that exists strictly independend, apart from and outside of the universe. The universe has no object outside, independent and apart of it, neither is there an object that has the universe as an object that is outside, independend and apart of it.
    In that way it is already clear that for the universe (for existence as a whole) THERE ARE NO OBJECTIVE RELATIONS, objective relations can only be defined striclty WITHIN the universe, between objects in the universe, but not for the whole of existence.

    The universe (in the meaning of ‘all of existence’) is just a handy concept, but which is a subjective concept and clearly NOT an OBJECTIVE concept. In the real world, there IS NO THING that represents the concept of universe.

    Clearly the way in which the universe exists is a dialectical one, it is a dialectical unity of opposites (the unity of Being and Nonbeing) which has Becoming as their truth.

  6. Ergo said


    Unfortunately, your understanding of the axiom “Existence exists” is incorrect. However, before I get into that, I want to remind you that Objectivism does not begin with a premise and deduce an entire system out of it. It is not a rationalistic philosophy.

    Now, with regard to the axiom. Existence exists simply states that the primacy of existence is undeniable, irrefutable, self-evident, and that every attempt at its deniel presupposes its acceptance as a necessary condition.
    Therefore, “existence” here does NOT refer to some *thing* which comprises the totality of all things that exists. In other words, it DOES NOT refer to the UNIVERSE as an *existent*. “Existence” here refers to reality in general, the external world; and the axiom indicates that this external world is independent of man’s consciousness.

    And an additional point: the axiom “existence exists” does not imply any relationship between entities because any such relationship will have to be either subsumed by the concept of “existence” itself or will have to require the primacy of consciousness. However, we do know that the primacy of consciousness is impossible.

    Hence, existence exists as an objective metaphysical fact.

  7. Rob Heusdens said


    Thanks for your reply. Well I hope then that we can both agree that the concept of “the universe” (in the meaning as “all of existence”) – in merely the same way as the theologists imagines the existence of God/Higher being – DOES NOT EXIST IN THE OBJECTIVE WAY (there are no objective relations between the “universe” and something strictly outside/apart and independend of it).

    Taken this as a truth, this would not urge us to somehow “doubt” the existence of all objective relations and all objective existents we already discerned, so the truth of this previous (that the universe and all of existence in total, has no objectiv e existence, since it is not objectively related) does not lead us to then conclude that “therefore nothing exists”.
    Of course: you and I, the chair on which I sit and the computer on which I type all are existent in the objective sense, since they are objects of sensory perception, they have existence apart and outside and independent of the mind itself.

    The real problem with absolutes as “existence exists” and “non-existence does not exist” is that these notions are taken as absolutely seperate.
    There is not even an infinitesimal small bridge of turning existence into non-existence, or vice versa.
    Something that exists then, would have to be in existent in all of eternity, since it can never cease to be or come into existence since existence and non-existence are absolutely seperate, that is, if we take the absolute seperateness of existence and non-existence quite literally (which in fact, objectivism urges us to).


    Also, when taken together with the law of identity (something is equal to itself, as an absolute truth, which means, it is always and everywhere and under all circumstances the case) we have however a real problem.
    If something is always equal to itself at all time and under all circumstances, this would imply that this something never changes. And not only that something, but any other something as well.

    But anything that exists DOES change, there realy is nothing in existence that does not change. Yet the universal application of the law of identity would merely indicate that at every given moment a thing is always equal to itself, and in other words, would never change at all!

    Again, contradiction!

    So the strict application of the law of identity is valid ONLY for the abstract world of thought, but it contradicts with the real world of matter in motion!

    The law of identity is quite usefull in and for itself when dealing with abstract concepts, and in that particular framework, still has meaning, which is not to be neglected.

    The real world however is full of change at all time and every place. That is why one needs to apply a different logic when leaving the world of abstract thought and dealing with the real world, that of matter in motion and change.

    This form of reasoning that is able to deal with reality, with the world of matter in motion and change, is dialectics.
    Dialectical logic does not merely “get rid of” of or “does away with” formal logic, since it acknowledges to it’s essence and it’s truth (although limitly applicable), but merely transcends it and supersedes it.

    For dialectical reasoning the notions Being and Nonbeing, each on their own, do not mean something. They are just empty (abstract) concepts. Being and Nonbeing taken seperate are just nothing.
    Dialectics does not acknowledge the absolute seperateness of being and non-being, but acknowledges to their higher unity, which is becoming, in which being and nonbeing are seperate moments of becoming.

    So, dialectics would instead claim that (the notions of) existence and non-existence do NOT exist as absolute seperate concepts, but only exist in their dialectical union of opposites, in their higher unity of becoming.

    See: http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/works/hl/hlbeing.htm

    (Objectivist metaphysical concepts have a lot more problems, but for now, I just lay out some of the basic problems with these concepts).

  8. Ergo said


    You’re more than welcome to post comments on my blog. However, I’d ask that your comments be relevant atleast to some degree to the topic of the post. I ask this only so that it becomes easier to follow a train of thought in the discussion and address all points raised.

    I assume you’re not very familiar with Objectivist philosophy, given what I have read from your comments around my various posts. Your concepts still take their roots in traditional philosophy, and the nonsense of Hegel clearly has some grip over your thoughts.

    The Law of Identity as you explain it is correct from the traditional philosophical perspective. Objectivism–given the radical (in the proper sense of the word) philosophy that it is–views the law of Identity as more than a tautology. When A is A, A also *acts* in all ways consistent with its own IDENTITY as A. Thus, the Law of Identity also implies causality. Causality implies change and becoming. However, existence is not a state of flux, nor is it static (and these are not the only two positions, as you are taught to believe). In order for change and becoming, something has to *be* as it is first.

    A thing is what it is, and acts/changes/becomes according to what its nature permits. THat is the Law of Identity. For example, A rock is a rock and will act in all manners consistent with its nature as a rock; it will not act as a glass would.

    With regard to non-existence, there is no such thing by definition. The concept is man’s creation merely for methodological purposes. I quote myself from other posts:

    “The only sensible manner of speaking about nothingness is in its relation to something. One can only speak of nothing as being bounded by something. Thus, it is purely for methodological purposes that we use the concept of “nothingness.” Nothing such as nothingness exists as such.”

    Also, read Epistemic Urges-II

    Anyway, I would strongly request you to refrain from attributing your mistaken understanding of Objectivism to the philosophy itself. You are permitted to only state your *own* views, your philosophical perspectives, your Hegelianism, and your Dialecticism. Please refrain from stating what you *think* Objectivism advocates or propounds–atleast until you do infact have a thorough and proper understanding of what Objectivism *really states*.

  9. Rob Heusdens said


    I will refrain from talking about how I “think” Objectivism approaches. I am actively learning it’s propositions.
    By the way I am not a real follower of Hegel’s Philosphy (after all his Philosophy is *still* Idealism) since I would call myself a Philosophical Materialist (matter is primary; consciousness is secondary) as opposed to Idealism (consciousness is primary; matter is secondary), just that the dialectical method is a good and usefull tool.

    Actually I have seen some debates between Objectivists about (the usefullness) of the dialectical method. Dialectics is not a philosophical position, but a method. For most people the dialectical method is something they are not familiar with and is contrary to formal (abstract) thinking.

    I could give you some examples on how dialectical thought would treat things, and how that would differ from the more traditional philosophical point of views, esp. formal logic. The logic of Aristotle is quite ancient of which we inherit for example the law of Identity (and in that form, or elaborated form it is introduced in Objectivism).
    Like in your example, the identity of the rock, all in fact what this law of identity would prescribe is that a rock will always be a rock and not something else. Not that the rock could not change or move, or whatever, but it would still be a rock, at least that is what we have to understand if we stick to a concept of a ‘fixed’ identity of a stone.
    That is an ancient perspective on things, especially since we live in a world of change. Never ever you see matter which is not in motion or change.
    The way dialectics sees it, there is not just identity (something equals itself) but also opposition, and both tendencies are inherently active in all things. Most people (who are used to formal logic) see this merely as contradiction, and reject it.
    Dialectics, however, is not a logic that deals with the world in abstract form only, but deals with how the world realy is. Formal logic is not rejected by dialectics, but it is both incorporated into it, and overcome (or superseded) by it.
    In formal logic, on the terms of having a ‘fixed’ identity, it would be impossible for a stone to becomes something different then a stone. Yet, if we take the material sciences seriously, this is indeed what happens, because a stone and all other things change. The stone we see is just part of a geological structure which has been changed in it’s history many times due to geological processes and originated in the material ejected by supernovae that formed the elements of which all of earths material (including ourselve) exist. And all the stars and galaxies have evolved from the original composition that came into being after the big bang in mainly hydrogen and some helium atoms.
    The stone itself gets eroded and water flows and other natural causes form this stone eventually into sediments and soil deposits on which grow plants that feed themselves with these soil deposits, and the plants get eaten by animals, which in turn gets eaten by humans and now form components in your body.
    Now check this for yourself that all these organic and inorganic processe in nature *do* exist and that this perception is in full accordance with objective material sciences.
    What we conclude from that of course is that the very concept of a ‘stone’ (which we initially formulated as it’s identity and formalized that into saying that this stone is and acts according to it’s nature/identity, but in which this identity is thought as something static) in this whole process gets changed many times!!
    In fact from clouds of atomic elements (Hydrogen and Helium) into living things, plants, animals, humans.
    That is how the living nature works, and it are dialectical processes at work!
    This whole idea is of course something that you have to establish into your mind and into your thinking, just to escape from narrow boundaries that ancient thoughts and philosophies (and esp. religion!) have told us, but which we can now ascertain (given the body of evidence from the material sciences) that this whole idea of some ‘static’ identity in things, simply is incorrect.
    Such an idea of a ‘static’ identity of things, simply is in direct conflict with how the material world is and changes.
    Let me remind you that for instance the religious indoctrinated have a big problem in understanding such concepts. They are mislead into thinking that a fish is a fish and always will remain a fish. They might accept some variety in the fish itself (genetic changes, micro evolution), but never that a fish evolves over millions of years into amphibians and later on reptiles and mamals, etc. Let alone that from non-living material complex living organisms could arise. They just can’t comprehend it! Their religious doctrine blocks that from their thought. Therefore they keep sticking with their ancient beliefs of a ‘creator’ that created everything according to their kind (which is another form of ‘identity’ and thought as some static property).
    Now I suppose you would, same as me, reject such superstitious beliefs and thoughts. Objectivism is of course directly opposed to such religious beliefs.
    But then, it would also mean that such a concept of identity, although it is of course partly correct, is not all there is to a ‘stone’ or anything else, but that this identity is something not fixed, that the acting forces active in nature shape and form everything, and that nothing in nature is without change or motion. Change is permanent, rest is only temporarily or illusion. Anything that is, is not only or just equal to itself, but also at the same time opposing itself, which forms the ground for change, development, motion, etc.
    That is in big lines how dialectics looks onto such matters, and how it graps the active processes active in nature at all levels of reality.
    You might think of it as follows: dialectics stands to formal logic as general relativity and quantum mechanics stand to classical (Newtonian mechanics) physics.
    The classical concepts in physics are not merely rejected by general relativity and quantum mechanics, but have being incorporated into and superseded into relativistic and quantum mechanics.
    In most cases, one could still work with Newtonian physics and mechanics without problem, their results are still valid within a certain domain. Both general relativity and quantum mechanics predict the same results for these cases, only when you go outside this domain, you need these new physical theories.
    For the subatomic scales, you need quantum physics, for relativistic velocities you need special relativity, for cosmological scales you need general relativity.

    As a last remark, do notice for example that quantum mechanics, when approaching it with formal logic, shows clearly the limitations of (classical) formal thought.
    The EPR paradox and Bell Inequality clearly show us the limitations of formal (abstract) thought that work with the limitation of concepts as ‘identity’ (for example it would lead one to think that there is such a thing as a photon which has a fixed state or property, like polarization angle, which as experiments clearly show, lead to paradoxes). There is no possible way you can fit these aspects into formal thinking, you clearly need to think outside of the boundary and limitations of formal thought. Dialectics is just equipped to handle such cases.

    This is not to claim that formal / abstract logic is useless, quite to the contrary, for our daily perception of the world, it works just fine, just like Newtonian physics and mechanics works fine within it’s domain of application.

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