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Epistemology is hard. Does a person have to master it to understand Objectivism? Why or why not?

asked Sep 21 '10 at 16:19

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c_andrew ♦
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edited Sep 22 '10 at 11:48

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Greg Perkins ♦♦
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Since Oism is so much about how to think properly, it's pointless to "agree" with Oism without really understanding Rand's way of thinking. Oism requires independent, first-hand integration and those who haven't mastered it yet are not really effective as Oists. Repeating Oist "talking-points" without first-hand understanding, is second-hand imitation. You can guess what AR thinks about that.

(Sep 22 '10 at 22:14) Chris Cathcart Chris%20Cathcart's gravatar image

A person does not have to master Objectivist epistemology in order to understand Objectivism but one should understand that as far as the validation of knowledge goes, that it is through the use of reason that men identify and integrate sensory data from the world surrounding them. Which is to say we do not gain any sort or kind of knowledge from supernatural revelation nor are we born "knowing" anything.

The reason this basic knowledge needs to be understood is that it is required axiomatically to grasp the relationship between existence and identity, consciousness and identification.

answered Sep 22 '10 at 09:07

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Martin Gasser ♦
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Axioms, such as existence, identity, and consciousness, cannot have prerequisites.

(Nov 08 '10 at 19:20) Mindy Newton ♦ Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

I think it is critically important to understand the essentials of Ayn Rand's unique approach to ideas, for several reasons: 1) it is the approach she used to develop Objectivism, and is thus the logical approach to develop an understanding of it; 2) it is an extremely powerful method, with application well beyond Objectivism and philosophy; and 3) those who try to integrate Objectivism on the wrong epistemological terms have historically not done well by the philosophy, and often end up as bitter enemies of it, not because it is wrong, but because they could not challenge their own ideas, understand Objectivism, and reconcile the two.

There are a few critical components to her method. I informally refer to it as the "objective/inductive method". Its most important feature is its emphasis on deriving new knowledge by induction from facts and observation (rather than through deduction from abstract principles.) The two most important principles that must be kept in mind, are: 1) hierarchy, and 2) integration. Hierarchy means that ideas exist in a hierarchy in relation to each other and to facts--you must always strive to keep track of where in a hierarchy of ideas a particular idea falls. Integration means that all knowledge is interconnected, and you must relate all particular ideas to all other ideas generally, most especially, you must always strive for consistency, such that no ideas contradict each other (or facts, obviously.) As an example of hierarchy, it is a fact that politics is more derivative than ethics, and this is why people who claim to support capitalism but who are ethical altruists, end up actually supporting socialism (e.g. George W. Bush's brand of "compassionate conservatism.) An example of integration, is observing that government interference in utilities, banking, and, other industries causes widespread problems, and thus accepting that as important context in examining interference in medicine and other industries.

One thing I found very helpful to give me an explicit understanding of Ayn Rand's unique approach was to dissect some of her essays. I would analyze each paragraph, and describe what it was doing, and how it related to the overall essay. For example, one paragraph might describe a set of factual observations. The next might isolate what was common about the items. The next might list several historical ideas. The next might show how the data contradicted the ideas. Etc.

I wish I could say I knew of an effective guide on these matters, but I haven't encountered it. Leonard Peikoff's book Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand does have a chapter on this, but I'm not sure it is tutorial, instead of being theoretical. Others might have taken courses or read works that provide some guidance.

answered Sep 23 '10 at 23:22

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BradAisa ♦
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Ayn Rand did NOT discover integration, hierarchy, induction, or objectivity. Rand developed a theory of abstraction, called measurement-omission, that allows her to hold conceptual meaning as determinate (means everything about its referents, including the unknown,) and that allows a solution to the Analytic/Synthetic Dichotomy. To promote Obj., you would have to know such things, possibly. To practice it, you only need to know that existence is independent of your mind, that your mind knows reality, and perception, thought, science, and reason are reliable. Common sense is very Objectivst.

(Nov 05 '10 at 19:49) Mindy Newton ♦ Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

Dr. Peikoff addresses essentially the same question in his podcast: "I am an Objectivist. Why should I make a detailed study of the epistemological ideas that Ayn Rand originated?"

In brief, he says that a detailed study of Objectivist epistemology is not necessary for the average Objectivist.

answered Nov 14 '10 at 06:21

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Because we live in the time that we do, in a culture that is hideously anti-intellectual, in a social milieu that is racially and religiously fanatic, and in a political atmosphere that is collectivist, it is more important than it would be otherwise to understand epistemology at the level of applications.

Practicing freedom, as well as protecting it, requires the capacity for certainty. "It sounds alright to me," is insufficient to make one's way through the jungle of supernaturalism and cultural and religious dogma, and socio-political justifications that make up the everyday background for our choices and decisions. Since our educational system has been in severe degeneration for many decades, the degree to which our intellectual abilities have been neglected and undercut, both actively and passively, is both great and invisible within each generation.

The pervasiveness of media, and the greater and greater influence media producers have in informing and influencing everyone's daily view of the world and its major events creates still another dimension needing epistemological evaluation. We are less affected by what the people we know think than by a canned message designed by interests not all of which are aligned with reason and truth.

What is needed in response to all of this is not, however, the study of epistemology per se, but a general renewal of the sensibilities and practices of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. How much an educated person was in command of, how adept he was at discussing his own and alternative opinions, how much pride he took in being knowledgeable and unfailingly reasonable, along with the social manners and attitudes that are the natural accompaniment of these things would make all the difference to today's individual. What is really needed is to rediscover Western culture, not to study epistemology.

answered Nov 14 '10 at 15:55

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Mindy Newton ♦
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Unless you’re going to be an Objectivist philosopher, you don’t need to “master” Objectivist epistemology. However, you do need to understand its basic ideas. If you don’t understand Objectivist epistemology, you won’t see why reason is an absolute. If you don’t understand the Objectivist meaning of concept formation, the validity of the senses, logic, context, hierarchy, certainty, and the rest of the basic Objectivist epistemological concepts, you won’t really know when something can be objectively classified as knowledge, and, just as important, when it can’t.

Almost as important is the fact that basic principles in other branches of philosophy, ethics and politics, rest on epistemology. Without a firm grasp of Objectivist epistemological principles, you can’t go up the chain of knowledge to understand why rational egoism is proper for a human being. From there, you can’t go further up the chain to see why laissez-faire capitalism is the only moral political system. You also can’t go back down the chain to validate Objectivist ethical and political principles.

Even if you claim Objectivist principles in ethics and politics, without the understanding of Objectivist epistemology, those principles are really, to you, nothing more than floating abstractions, unconnected to reality and of little use in guiding your life on a day-to-day basis. Those principles will collapse at the first serious challenge, whether from another person or from yourself.

answered Nov 20 '10 at 15:36

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Roger Theriault ♦
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Asked: Sep 21 '10 at 16:19

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Last updated: Nov 20 '10 at 15:36