Metaphysics and Epistemology

Metaphysics

I agree with the metaphysics of objectivism, as it sounds – to me – very plausible:

The primacy of existence (of reality) is the axiom that existence exists, i.e., that the universe exists independent of consciousness (of any consciousness), that things are what they are, that they possess a specific nature, an identity.

Ayn Rand, The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made (Philosophy: Who Needs It)

So, there is an objective (i.e. observer-independent) world which has concrete entities with a specific nature which therefore act in a certain way. That’s why science works.
For a more detailed explanation of the objectivist metaphysics visit atlassociety.org.

Epistemology

Human nature: Reason & Concepts

Reason integrates man’s perceptions by means of forming abstractions or conceptions, thus raising man’s knowledge from the perceptual level, which he shares with animals, to the conceptual level, which he alone can reach. The method which reason employs in this process is logic — and logic is the art of non-contradictory identification.

Ayn Rand, Faith and Force: The destroyers of the modern world (Philosophy: Who needs it)

A concept is a mental integration of two or more units which are isolated by a process of abstraction and united by a specific definition. By organizing his perceptual material into concepts, and his concepts into wider and still wider concepts, man is able to grasp and retain, to identify and integrate an unlimited amount of knowledge, a knowledge extending beyond the immediate concretes of any given, immediate moment. 


In any given moment, concepts enable man to hold in the focus of his conscious awareness much more than his purely perceptual capacity would permit. The range of man’s perceptual awareness — the number of percepts he can deal with at any one time — is limited. He may be able to visualize four or five units — as, for instance, five trees. He cannot visualize a hundred trees or a distance of ten light-years. It is only his conceptual faculty that makes it possible for him to deal with knowledge of that kind.


Man retains his concepts by means of language. With the exception of proper names, every word we use is a concept that stands for an unlimited number of concretes of a certain kind. A concept is like a mathematical series of specifically defined units, going off in both directions, open at both ends and including all units of that particular kind. For instance, the concept “man” includes all men who live at present, who have ever lived or will ever live — a number of men so great that one would not be able to perceive them all visually, let alone to study them or discover anything about them.

Ayn Rand, The Psycho-Epistemology of Art

Humans have no automatic knowledge, they need to discover it. And unlike animals, humans don’t have automatic processes (instincts) which guide them and keep them alive. Thus, humans need to identify the facts of nature (i.e. its entities and their relations to one another). Men need to apply reason, that is logic and conceptualization, to systematically integrate their perceptions and gained knowledge of concretes into an abstract system (i.e. a philosophy or a scientific theory) to build tools, machines etc. to compensate for their physical shortcomings or to transform their environment to their needs. In contrast to animals, who adapt themselves to their environment.

Consciousness is a philosophical and scientific axiom. It requires a brain. It is real but not material. It is our means of knowing reality (though existence is the primary axiom). The conceptual (rational) faculty builds on the material provided by the senses. Consciousness as a faculty includes the conscious mind and material stored in the subconscious, which can become conscious. Both aspects work together, with the conscious mind being active and the subconscious relatively passive. Reason is fallible and requires an epistemology and the choice to expend effort. Consciousness is our main means of survival and of human progress.

Edwin A. Locke, The Illusion of Determinism

Free Will

The process of reasoning is volitional, you have to choose to think. See for example the impossibility to treat someone, who isn’t open to therapy. The only thing therapists can do is point you in the right direction, but you have to make the effort to implement the new behaviour and/or knowledge gained in therapy into reality (I know this from experience).

Through our capacity for abstract, conceptual thinking, we are able to make choices. So, unlike animals, we can consciously choose between alternative actions. This constitutes our free will, because we are not determined by causality. We may be influenced by it, but we’ll always have a choice, as long, as we are able to think.

“Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.”

Francis Bacon, Novum Organum

This also raises the exciting question of whether AI can ever develop a consciousness without (free) will (if it is even possible to produce a consciousness or an awareness-process on a purely digital basis).

See also my post What is consciousness?

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