Man lives amidst shadows. He creates opinions about things that he is not even sure if they exist. And even these things are not entirely real. The scientist can transcend the flawed world of the senses — of the things as they appear to us — and elaborate hypotheses about reality. But only the philosopher comes to see the light and, from it, he can see things as they really are. This is the Platonic theory about the world, a fascinating blend of theory of knowledge and metaphysics.
As we saw in Porphyry’s quotation in Universalia, he abstained from the fight for the truth about universals. But by referring to the problem only with respect to genera and species, I think that he might have created another problem, a bias in the study of universals that crossed the whole of the Middle Ages and onwards up to our times to befuddle our ignorant minds on the topic — my ignorant mind, at least.
“Philosophy can tell us only this much: reality is a unity; to depart from it at a single point, therefore, is to depart from it in principle and thus to play with a lighted fuse. The bomb may not go off. The liar may blank out the power of his nemesis: that which is, and may get away with any given scheme; he may win the battle. But if such are the battles he is fighting, he has to lose the war.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 271.
To lie is to declare war on reality.
(A demonstration of a flame fougasse somewhere in Britain during World War II. )
“Honesty” is the refusal to fake reality, that is, to pretend the facts are different from what they really are. If rationality is commitment to reality, honesty is the rejection of unreality. The rational man recognizes that existence exists; the honest man, that only existence exists.
“All knowledge is interconnected. To cut off a single field — any field — from the rest of cognition is to drop the vast context which makes that field possible and which anchors it to reality. The ultimate result, as with any failure of integration, is floating abstractions and self-contradiction.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 127.
(The Hindenburg disaster. This is just a visual metaphor for a floating abstraction: when the context is dropped and reality sets in, concepts become a dangerous thing.)
Earlier when I talked about epistemological evasion I mentioned our mental laziness, how we avoid the effort to think correctly because it hurts. The problem is that if we really go through each idea thoroughly, we become responsible for it when we use it, and that is something we hate. This may sound offensive, but I have no doubt that this is the case with the vast majority of us, during the vast majority of our waking time. Of course, I include myself in this team of evaders.
“Mr. Chamberlain treated Hitler’s demand as an isolated fact to be dealt with by an isolated response; to do this, he had to drop an immense amount of knowledge. […] The prime minister wanted ‘peace at any price.’ The price included the evasion of political philosophy, history, psychology, ethics, and more. The result was war.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, pages 124-125.
(Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returns to Great Britain after signing the Munich Agreement, effectively handing Czechoslovakia to Hitler. Any new knowledge, proposal or idea must always be integrated to its full context, which is ultimately the sum of available knowledge. Such all-encompassing integration, far from being easy, demands a lot of effort, but is made possible through philosophy. The price of not heeding to it can be war. “Combat as philosophy of life – Philosophy as only alternative to combat.”)
According to Leonard Peikoff, objectivity means accepting that “thinking, to be valid, must adhere to reality”. Concepts do not belong only to consciousness or only to existence. They are the product of a specific type of relationship between the two, guided by a human method: logic.
“As an aid to the conceptualizing process, men select from the total content of the concept a few characteristics; they select the ones that best condense and differentiate that content at a given stage of human development. Such a selection in no way shrinks the concept’s content; on the contrary, it presupposes the richness of the concept. It presupposes that the concept is an integration of units, including all their features.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, pages 102-103.
(There is a lot that is wrong in Kant’s conclusion that “There must exist synthetic a priori judgements.”, but the “synthetic” part of it is due to a faulty theory of concepts, one that conflates a concept’s definition with its content.)
I don’t partake of Ayn Rand’s (and Leonard Peikoff’s) animosity toward Kant. Yet his theory makes no sense at all to me.
“The experiment was an attempt to discover the ability of birds to deal with numbers. When crows were gathered in a clearing in some woods, one man entered the clearing and walked on into the woods. As soon as he appeared, the crows hid in the treetops; they would not come out until the man returned and left the area. Then three men entered; again the crows hid. This time only two of the men left, and the crows did not come out; they knew that one still remained. But when five men came and then four left, the crows came out, apparently confident that the danger was now over. These birds, it seems, could discriminate and deal with only three units; beyond that, the units blurred or merged in their consciousness. The crow arithmetic, in effect, would be: 1, 2, 3, many.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 105.
(The “crow epistemology”, as Ayn Rand called it informally, is the principle that underlies the fundamental utility of concepts: to integrate a group of concretes into a single mental whole — a device to achieve unit-economy.)
An animal knows only a handful of perceptual concretes, and acts on them automatically. A man, by contrast, goes beyond his observations, he generalizes and identifies natural laws, he hypothesizes causal factors, and he projects alternative courses of action and long-range consequences. Man, in sum, is a conceptual being. That’s the theory, at least; in practice, we see animals all around.
“The drifter does not integrate his mental contents; the evader disintegrates them, by struggling to disconnect a given item from everything that would give it clarity or significance in his own mind. In the one case, the individual is immersed in fog by default; he chooses not to raise his level of awareness. In the other case, he expends energy to create a fog; he lowers his level of awareness.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 61.
(“The Fog Warning”, by Winslow Homer, 1885, depicts a fisherman spotting his mother ship on the horizon, ahead of ominous clouds approaching. Like him, we must work hard to achieve security; all it takes is that we do nothing to be swallowed up by the fog of evasion.)
Man’s distinct capacity is his conceptual faculty, the ability to focus, integrate, think. But all that depends on his volition. He may, instead, let himself “go out of focus, relax his concentration, drop his purpose, and lapse into a state of blur and drift”. That’s evasion, and as far as I know, everybody does it — routinely — with less or greater frequency. I fit into the second group.
“No type of sense perception can register everything. ‘A is A’ — and any perceptual apparatus is limited. By virtue of being able directly to discriminate one aspect of reality, a consciousness cannot discriminate some other aspect that would require a different kind of sense organs. Whatever facts the senses do register, however, are facts. And these facts are what lead a mind eventually to the rest of its knowledge.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, pages 43-44.
(A pencil or a stick appears bent in water. The ancient assumed, therefore, that the senses are invalid. The problem is when the modern keep repeating the same thing.)
Epistemology is the science that tells a fallible, conceptual consciousness how to gain knowledge of an independent reality. This implies a volitional process operating on valid data. Therefore, before studying epistemology per se, Objectivism must establish two facts: that the senses are valid, and that man is free to think or not.
“…a New York City skyscraper, with everything that it implies, with the thirteenth story labeled ‘fourteen’ because thirteen is an unlucky number.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “History of Philosophy” course, ARI, Lesson 1.
(A building without the 13th floor. Man is a mixture of extreme rationality and irrational mysticism. The blame is on philosophy — the solution, too.)
In this introductory lesson of the History of Philosophy course, Peikoff first invites us to look at the world around us today: What do we see?