O.P.A.R. – Chapter 1: Reality

The unwritten book of Ayn Rand.

SUMMARY[1]: This is a series of posts that summarize and comment each chapter of the book “Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand” (O.P.A.R., for short). This book was written by Leonard Peikoff, heir and greatest disciple of Ayn Rand, and may be regarded as the book she would have written had she not been so attached to fiction. As we have “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead,” we forgive her.

According to Ayn Rand, you “have no choice to integrate your observations, your experiences, your knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e., into principles”. Your choice is whether your principles are true or false, rational or irrational, consistent or contradictory. The only way to know which they are is to integrate your principles: what integrates them is philosophy. Therefore, man needs philosophy.

A philosophy, however, is a system of ideas, so for a philosophic idea to function properly as a guide one must know the full system to which it belongs. In order to approach philosophy systematically, therefore, one must begin with its basic branches. Metaphysics is the first: the study of the nature of the universe as a whole.

According to Objectivist metaphysics, the first axiom is: “Existence exists”. First, there must be something, and one must grasp that there really is. This does not, however, specify that a physical world exists. But it does specify a second axiom: that you exist possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists. “There is something — of which I am aware.”

The third axiom is the Law of Identity: to be is to be something, to have a nature, to possess identity. Existence differentiates a thing from nothing, from the absence of the thing; identity differentiates one thing from another.

A corollary of identity is the Law of Causality. It is based on the fact that the whole of reality is constituted of entities. They form the content of the world men perceive. There is nothing else to observe. Attributes, actions and relationships have no metaphysical primacy: none has independent existence; all represent merely aspects of entities. Such entities must act in accordance with their natures. Cause and effect, therefore, is a universal law of reality. “The law of causality is the law of identity applied to action.”

Man is an entity which has consciousness, and consciousness is consciousness of an object: therefore, existence comes first. This is known in Objectivism as the “primacy of existence”, one of its fundamental principles. Things are what they are independent of consciousness. The opposite approach is the “primacy of consciousness”, the view that the function of consciousness is not perception, but creation of that which is. “‘A’ does not need to be ‘A’ if consciousness does not wish it to be so.”

If existence is independent of consciousness, then knowledge of existence can be gained only by extrospection. Every step and method of cognition must procede in accordance with facts — every fact must be established, directly or indirectly, by observation. This is to follow reason.

Any fact in existence apart from human action is the “metaphysically given”. They are opposed to “man-made facts”. A fact is necessary, i.e., absolute, if its nonexistence would involve a contradiction. Nothing more is required to ground necessity. Metaphysically given facts are reality, and as such must be accepted without valuation — they are necessary. Man-made facts, in turn, must be judged, then accepted or rejected and changed when necessary.

 


Footnotes

1. Short summaries indicated by the word “SUMMARY” in bold at the beginning of posts don’t go into the 500 word count, just like footnotes such as this one.

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