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    Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand

    Johnathan R. Razorback
    Johnathan R. Razorback

    Messages : 7712
    Date d'inscription : 12/08/2013
    Localisation : France

    Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand Empty Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand

    Message par Johnathan R. Razorback le Sam 18 Aoû - 17:14

    « Philosophy, in Ayn Rand’s view, is the fundamental force shaping every man and culture. It is the science that guides men’s conceptual faculty, and thus every field of endeavor that counts on this faculty. The deepest issues of philosophy are the deepest root of men’s thought (see chapter 4), their action (see chapter 12), their history (see the Epilogue)—and, therefore, of their triumphs, their disasters, their future.
    Philosophy is a human need as real as the need of food. It is a need of the mind, without which man cannot obtain his food or anything else his life requires.
    To satisfy this need, one must recognize that philosophy is a system of ideas. By its nature as an integrating science, it cannot be a grab bag of isolated issues. All philosophic questions are interrelated. » (p.13)

    « For a philosophic idea to function properly as a guide, one must know the full system to which it belongs. An idea plucked from the middle is of no value, cannot be validated, and will not work. One must know the idea’s relationship to all the other ideas that give it context, definition, application, proof. One must know all this not as a theoretical end in itself, but for practical purposes; one must know it to be able to rely on an idea, to make rational use of it, and, ultimately, to live.” (p.14)

    “This axiom must be the foundation of everything else. Before one can consider any other issue, before one can ask what things there are or what problems men face in learning about them, before one can discuss what one knows or how one knows it—first, there must be something, and one must grasp that there is. If not, there is nothing to consider or to know.
    The concept of “existence” is the widest of all concepts. It subsumes everything—every entity, action, attribute, relationship (including every state of consciousness)—everything which is, was, or will be.” (p.16)

    “Consciousness, to repeat, is the faculty of perceiving that which exists. (“Perceiving” is used here in its widest sense, equivalent to “being aware of.”) To be conscious is to be conscious of something.” (p.16)

    “A third and final basic axiom is implicit in the first two. It is the law of identity: to be is to be something, to have a nature, to possess identity. A thing is itself; or, in the traditional formula, A is A. The “identity” of an existent means that which it is, the sum of its attributes or characteristics.” (p.17)
    “There is—existence; something—identity; I am aware of— consciousness. These three are the basic axiomatic concepts recognized by the philosophy of Objectivism.” (p.18)

    “Axioms are perceptual self-evidencies. There is nothing to be said in their behalf except: look at reality.” (p.19)

    “The three axioms I have been discussing have a built-in protection against all attacks: they must be used and accepted by everyone, including those who attack them and those who attack the concept of the self-evident.” (p.20)

    “Every entity has a nature; it is specific, noncontradictory, limited; it has certain attributes and no others. Such an entity must act in accordance with its nature.
    The only alternatives would be for an entity to act apart from its nature or against it; both of these are impossible. A thing cannot act apart from its nature, because existence is identity; apart from its nature, a thing is nothing. A thing cannot act against its nature, i.e., in contradiction to its identity, because A is A and contradictions are impossible. In any given set of circumstances, therefore, there is only one action possible to an entity, the action expressive of its identity. This is the action it will take, the action that is caused and necessitated by its nature.” (p.24)

    “The explicit identification of causality (by the Greeks) was an enormous intellectual achievement; it represented the beginning of a scientific outlook on existence, as against the prescientific view of the world as a realm of miracles or of chance. (And here again the worst offenders philosophically are not the primitives who implicitly count on causality yet never discover it, but the modern sophisticates, such as David Hume, who count on it while explicitly rejecting it.)
    Causality is best classified as a corollary of identity. A “corollary” is a self-evident implication of already established knowledge.” (p.25)

    “The concept of “cause” is inapplicable to the universe; by definition, there is nothing outside the totality to act as a cause. The universe simply is; it is an irreducible primary.” (p.26)

    “The law of causality states that entities are the cause of actions—not that every entity, of whatever sort, has a cause, but that every action does; and not that the cause of action is action, but that the cause of action is entities.
    Many commentators on Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle claim that, because we cannot at the same time specify fully the position and momentum of subatomic particles, their action is not entirely predictable, and that the law of causality therefore breaks down. This is a non sequitur, a switch from epistemology to metaphysics, or from knowledge to reality. Even if it were true that owing to a lack of information we could never exactly predict a subatomic event—and this is highly debatable—it would not show that, in reality, the event was causeless. The law of causality is an abstract principle; it does not by itself enable us to predict specific occurrences; it does not provide us with a knowledge of particular causes or measurements. Our ignorance of certain measurements, however, does not affect their reality or the consequent operation of nature.
    Causality, in the Objectivist viewpoint, is a fact independent of consciousness, whether God’s or man’s. Order, lawfulness, regularity do not derive from a cosmic consciousness (as is claimed by the religious “argument from design”). Nor is causality merely a subjective form of thought that happens to govern the human mind (as in the Kantian approach). On the contrary, causality—for Objectivism as for Aristotelianism—is a law inherent in being qua being. To be is to be something—and to be something is to act accordingly.
    Natural law is not a feature superimposed by some agency on an otherwise “chaotic” world; there is no possibility of such chaos. Nor is there any possibility of a “chance” event, if “chance” means an exception to causality. Cause and effect is not a metaphysical afterthought. It is not a fact that is theoretically dispensable. It is part of the fabric of reality as such.” (p.26-27)

    “Things are what they are independent of consciousness—of anyone’s perceptions, images, ideas, feelings. Consciousness, by contrast, is a dependent. Its function is not to create or control existence, but to be a spectator: to look out, to perceive, to grasp that which is.
    The opposite of this approach Ayn Rand calls the “primacy of consciousness.” This is the principle that consciousness is the primary metaphysical factor. In this view, the function of consciousness is not perception, but creation of that which is. Existence, accordingly, is a dependent; the world is regarded as in some way a derivative of consciousness.
    A simple example of the primacy-of-existence orientation would be a man running for his life from an erupting volcano. Such a man acknowledges a fact, the volcano—and the fact that it is what it is and does what it does independent of his feelings or any other state of his consciousness. At least in this instance, he grasps the difference between mental contents and external data, between perceiver and perceived, between subject and object. Implicitly if not explicitly, he knows that wishes are not horses and that ignoring an entity does not make it vanish. Contrast this approach with that of a savage who remains frozen under the same circumstances, eyes fixed sightless on the ground, mind chanting frantic prayers or magic incantations in the hope of wishing away the river of molten lava hurtling toward him. Such an individual has not reached the stage of making a firm distinction between consciousness and existence. Like many of our civilized contemporaries who are his brothers-in-spirit (and like the ostrich), he deals with threats not by identification and consequent action, but by blindness. The implicit premise underlying such behavior is: “If I don’t want it or look at it, it won’t be there; i.e., my consciousness controls existence.”
    The primacy of existence is not an independent principle. It is an elaboration, a further corollary, of the basic axioms. Existence precedes consciousness, because consciousness is consciousness of an object. Nor can consciousness create or suspend the laws governing its objects, because every entity is something and acts accordingly. Consciousness, therefore, is only a faculty of awareness. It is the power to grasp, to find out, to discover that which is. It is not a power to alter or control the nature of its objects.” (p.28-29)

    “Since knowledge is knowledge of reality, every metaphysical principle has epistemological implications. This is particularly obvious in the case of the primacy-of-existence principle, because it identifies the fundamental relationship between our cognitive faculty and existence. To clarify the principle further, I shall indicate here the kind of epistemology to which it leads.
    If existence is independent of consciousness, then knowledge of existence can be gained only by extrospection. In other words, nothing is relevant to cognition of the world except data drawn from the world, i.e., sense data or conceptual integrations of such data. Introspection, of course, is necessary and proper as a means of grasping the contents or processes of consciousness; but it is not a means of external cognition. There can be no appeal to the knower’s feelings as an avenue to truth; there can be no reliance on any mental contents alleged to have a source or validity independent of sense perception. Every step and method of cognition must proceed in accordance with facts—and every fact must be established, directly or indirectly, by observation. To follow this policy, according to Objectivism, is to follow reason.” (29)

    “The primacy-of-existence principle (including its epistemological implications) is one of Objectivism’s most distinctive tenets. With rare exceptions, Western philosophy has accepted the opposite; it is dominated by attempts to construe existence as a subordinate realm. Three versions of the primacy of consciousness have been prevalent. They are distinguished by their answer to the question: upon whose consciousness is existence dependent?
    Dominating philosophy from Plato to flume was the supernaturalistic version. In this view, existence is a product of a cosmic consciousness, God. This idea is implicit in Plato’s theory of Forms and became explicit with the Christian development from Plato. According to Christianity (and Judaism), God is an infinite consciousness who created existence, sustains it, makes it lawful, then periodically subjects it to decrees that flout the regular order, thereby producing “miracles.” Epistemologically, this variant leads to mysticism: knowledge is said to rest on communications from the Supreme Mind to the human, whether in the form of revelations sent to select individuals or of ideas implanted, innately or otherwise, throughout the species.
    The religious view of the world, though it has been abandoned by most philosophers, is still entrenched in the public mind. Witness the popular question “Who created the universe?”—which presupposes that the universe is not eternal, but has a source beyond itself, in some cosmic personality or will. It is useless to object that this question involves an infinite regress, even though it does (if a creator is required to explain existence, then a second creator is required to explain the first, and so on). Typically, the believer will reply: “One can’t ask for an explanation of God. He is an inherently necessary being. After all, one must start somewhere.” Such a person does not contest the need of an irreducible starting point, as long as it is a form of consciousness; what he finds unsatisfactory is the idea of existence as the starting point. Driven by the primacy of consciousness, a person of this mentality refuses to begin with the world, which we know to exist; he insists on jumping beyond the world to the unknowable, even though such a procedure explains nothing. The root of this mentality is not rational argument, but the influence of Christianity. In many respects, the West has not recovered from the Middle Ages.
    In the eighteenth century, Immanuel Kant secularized the religious viewpoint. According to his philosophy, the human mind—specifically, the cognitive structures common to all men, their innate forms of perception and conception—is what creates existence (which he called the “phenomenal” world). Thus God’s will gives way to man’s consciousness, which becomes the metaphysical factor underlying and ordering existence. Implicit in this theory is the social version of the primacy of consciousness, which became explicit with the Hegelian development from Kant and which has dominated philosophy for the past two centuries.
    According to the social version, no one individual is potent enough to create a universe or abrogate the law of identity, but a group—mankind as a whole, a particular society, a nation, a state, a race, a sex, an economic class—can do the trick. In popular terms: one Frenchman alone can’t bend reality to his desires, but fifty million of them are irresistible. Epistemologically, this variant leads to collective surveys—a kind of group introspection—as the means to truth; knowledge is said to rest on a consensus among thinkers, a consensus that results not from each individual’s perception of external reality, but from subjective mental structures or contents that happen to be shared by the group’s members.
    Today, the social variant is at the height of its popularity. We hear on all sides that there are no objective facts, but only “human” truth, truth “for man’ ‘—and lately that even this is unattainable, since there is only national, racial, sexual, or homosexual truth. In this view, the group acquires the omnipotence once ascribed to God. Thus, to cite a political example, when the government enacts some policy (such as runaway spending) that must in logic have disastrous consequences (such as national bankruptcy), the policy’s defenders typically deal with the problem by fudging all figures, then asking for “optimism” and faith. “If people believe in the policy,” we hear, “if they want the system to work, then it will.” The implicit premise is: “A group can override facts; men’s mental contents can coerce reality.”
    A third version of the primacy of consciousness has appeared throughout history among skeptics and is well represented today: the personal version, as we may call it, according to which each man’s own consciousness controls existence—for him. Protagoras in ancient Greece is the father of this variant. “Man,” he said—meaning each man individually—“is the measure of all things; of things that are, that they are, and of things that are not; that they are not.” In this view, each man’s consciousness creates and inhabits its own private universe. Epistemologically, therefore, there are no standards or data of any kind to which a person must conform. There is only truth “for me” vs. truth “for you” —which truth is, for any individual, whatever he arbitrarily decrees it to be.
    In regard to fundamentals, it makes no difference whether one construes existence as subservient to the consciousness of God, of men, or of oneself. All these represent the same essential metaphysics containing the same essential error. Objectivism rejects them all on the same ground: that existence exists.
    If existence exists, then it has metaphysical primacy. It is not a derivative or “manifestation” or “appearance” of some true reality at its root, such as God or society or one’s urges. It is reality. As such, its elements are uncreated and eternal, and its laws, immutable.
    There were once Western philosophers who upheld the primacy of existence; notably, such ancient Greek giants as Parmenides and Aristotle. But even they were not consistent in this regard. (Aristotle, for example, describes his Prime Mover as a consciousness conscious only of itself, which serves as the cause of the world’s motion.) There has never yet been a thinker who states the principle explicitly, then applies it methodically in every branch of philosophy, with no concession to any version of its antithesis. This is precisely what Ayn Rand does. Her philosophy is the primacy of existence come to full, systematic expression in Western thought for the first time.” (p.30-32)

    “The distinction between the metaphysically given and the man-made is crucial to every branch of philosophy and every area of human life. The two kinds of facts must be treated differently, each in accordance with its nature.
    Metaphysically given facts are reality. As such, they are not subject to anyone’s appraisal; they must be accepted without evaluation. Facts of reality must be greeted not by approval or condemnation, praise or blame, but by a silent nod of acquiescence, amounting to the affirmation; “They are, were, will be, and have to be.”.” (p.34)

    “Man-made facts, by contrast, being products of choice, must be evaluated. Since human choices can be rational or irrational, right or wrong, the man-made cannot be acquiesced in merely because it exists; it cannot be given the automatic affirmation demanded by a fact of reality.” (p.34-35)

    “To confuse these two kinds of facts is to court a series of disastrous errors. One kind of error consists in regarding the man-made as immutable and beyond challenge; the other, in regarding the metaphysically given as alterable.
    The first is typified by the idea that “You can’t fight city hall, or tradition, or the consensus of the times—that’s reality.” “Reality” is equated here with any decisions men make and cling to, whether right or wrong. “Realism,” accordingly, becomes a synonym for mindless conformity. In this view, it is “unrealistic” to reject the supernatural if one’s ancestors were religious—or to fight for capitalism if big government is the popular trend—or to reject racism when Hitler is in power—or to create representational art when the museums feature only smears—or to uphold principles when the schools turn out only pragmatists. This approach leads to the sanctioning of any status quo, however debased, and thus turns its advocates into pawns and accessories of evil. It makes sacrosanct any human conclusions, even those that contradict metaphysically given facts. The essence of this so-called “realism” is the evasion of reality.
    The other kind of error consists in regarding the metaphysically given as alterable. This amounts not merely to evading reality, but to declaring war on it.
    The attempt to alter the metaphysically given is described by Ayn Rand as the fallacy of “rewriting reality.” Those who commit it regard metaphysically given facts as nonabsolute and, therefore, feel free to imagine an alternative to them. In effect, they regard the universe as being merely a first draft of reality, which anyone may decide at will to rewrite.
    A common example is provided by those who condemn life because man is capable of failure, frustration, pain, and who yearn instead for a world in which man knows nothing but happiness. But if the possibility of failure exists, it necessarily exists (it is inherent in the facts that achieving a value requires a specific course of action, and that man is neither omniscient nor omnipotent in regard to such action). Anyone who holds the full context—who keeps in mind the identity of man and of all the other relevant entities—would be unable even to imagine an alternative to the facts as they are; the contradictions involved in such a projection would obliterate it. The rewriters, however, do not keep identity in mind. They specialize in out-of-context pining for a heaven that is the opposite of the metaphysically given.
    A variant of this pining is the view that the fact of death makes life meaningless. But if living organisms are mortal, then (within the relevant circumstances) they are so necessarily, by the nature of the life process. To rebel against one’s eventual death is, therefore, to rebel against life—and reality. It is also to ignore the fact that indestructible objects have no need of values or of meaning, which phenomena are possible only to mortal entities (see chapter 7).
    Another example of rewriting reality, taken from epistemology, is provided by those skeptics who condemn human knowledge as invalid because it rests on sensory data, the implication being that knowledge should have depended on a “direct,” nonsensory illumination. This amounts to the claim: “If I had created reality, I would have chosen a different cause for knowledge. Reality’s model of cognition is unacceptable to me. I prefer my own rewritten version.” But if knowledge does rest on sensory data, then it does so necessarily, and again no alternative can even be imagined, not if one keeps in mind the identity of all the relevant entities and processes (see chapter 2).
    As with so many other errors, the historical root of the fallacy of rewriting reality lies in religion—specifically, in the idea that the universe was created by a supernatural Omnipotence, who could have created things differently and who can alter them if He chooses. A famous statement of this metaphysics was offered by the philosopher Leibnitz in the eighteenth century: “All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.” In Leibnitz’s view, the universe is only one of many worlds; the others happen not to exist, because God in His goodness chose the present one as the best; but the others have always been possible and still are so today. This is the kind of metaphysics that tempts men to spend their time projecting and wishing for alternatives to reality. Christianity, indeed, invites such wishing, which it describes as the virtue of “hope” and the duty of “prayer.”
    By the nature of existence, however, such “hope” and “prayer” are futile. Leaving aside the man-made, nothing is possible except what is actual. The concept of “omnipotence,” in other words, is logically incompatible with the law of identity; it is one or the other.
    As with the doctrine of the primacy of consciousness, so with the idea of “possible universes”: it has been taken over uncritically from religion by more secular thinkers, including even those who call themselves atheists and naturalists. The result is an entire profession, today’s philosophers, who routinely degrade the actual, calling it a realm of mere “brute” or “contingent”—i.e., unintelligible and rewritable—facts. The lesson such philosophers teach their students is not to adhere to reality, but to brush it aside and fantasize alternatives.
    Respect for reality does not guarantee success in every endeavor; the refusal to evade or rewrite facts does not make one infallible or omnipotent. But such respect is a necessary condition of successful action, and it does guarantee that, if one fails in some undertaking, he will not harbor a metaphysical grudge as a result; he will not blame existence for his failure. The thinker who accepts the absolutism of the metaphysically given recognizes that it is his responsibility to conform to the universe, not the other way around.” (p.35-37)

    “Nature is existence regarded as a system of interconnected entities governed by law; it is the universe of entities acting and interacting in accordance with their identities. What then is a “super-nature”? It would have to be a form of existence beyond existence; a thing beyond entities; a something beyond identity.
    The idea of the “supernatural” is an assault on everything man knows about reality. It is a contradiction of every essential of a rational metaphysics. It represents a rejection of the basic axioms of philosophy (or, in the case of primitive men, a failure to grasp them).
    This can be illustrated by reference to any version of idealism. But let us confine the discussion here to the popular notion of God.
    Is God the creator of the universe? Not if existence has primacy over consciousness.
    Is God the designer of the universe? Not if A is A. The alternative to “design” is not “chance”, it is causality.
    Is God omnipotent? Nothing and no one can alter the metaphysically given.
    Is God infinite? “Infinite” does not mean large; it means larger than any specific quantity, i.e., of no specific quantity. An infinite quantity would be a quantity without identity. But A is A. Every entity, accordingly, is finite; it is limited in the number of its qualities and in their extent; this applies to the universe as well. As Aristotle was the first to observe, the concept of “infinity” denotes merely a potentiality of indefinite addition or subdivision. For example, one can continually subdivide a line; but however many segments one has reached at a given point, there are only that many and no more. The actual is always finite.
    Can God perform miracles? A “miracle” does not mean merely the unusual. If a woman gives birth to twins, that is unusual; if she were to give birth to elephants, that would be a miracle. A miracle is an action not possible to the entities involved by their nature; it would be a violation of identity.
    Is God purely spiritual? “Spiritual” means pertaining to consciousness, and consciousness is a faculty of certain living organisms, their faculty of perceiving that which exists. A consciousness transcending nature would be a faculty transcending organism and object. So far from being all-knowing, such a thing would have neither means nor content of perception; it would be nonconscious.
    Every argument commonly offered for the notion of God leads to a contradiction of the axiomatic concepts of philosophy. At every point, the notion clashes with the facts of reality and with the preconditions of thought. This is as true of the professional theologians’ arguments and ideas as of the popular treatments.” (p.39-40)

    “Epistemology is the science that tells a fallible, conceptual consciousness what rules to follow in order to gain knowledge of an independent reality.” (p.45)

    “A so-called sensory illusion, such as a stick in water appearing bent, is not a perceptual error. In Ayn Rand’s view, it is a testament to the reliability of the senses. The senses do not censor their response; they do not react to a single attribute (such as shape) in a vacuum, as though it were unconnected to anything else; they cannot decide to ignore part of the stimulus. Within the range of their capacity, the senses give us evidence of everything physically operative, they respond to the full context of the facts—including, in the present instance, the fact that light travels through water at a different rate than through air, which is what causes the stick to appear bent. It is the task not of the senses but of the mind to analyze the evidence and identify the causes at work (which may require the discovery of complex scientific knowledge). If a casual observer were to conclude that the stick actually bends in water, such a snap judgment would be a failure on the conceptual level, a failure of thought, not of perception.” (p.47)

    “Nor, as Aristotle observed, is there any difficulty in distinguishing dreams from perception. The concept of “dream” has meaning only because it denotes a contrast to wakeful awareness. If a man were actually unable to recognize the latter state, the word “dream” to him would be meaningless.” (p.48)
    “Our sensations are caused in part by objects in reality. They are also—an equally important point—caused in part by our organs of perception, which are responsible for the fact that we perceive objects in the form of sensations of color, sound, smell, and so forth. A being with radically different senses would presumably perceive reality in correspondingly different forms.
    Ayn Rand observes, however, that a difference in sensory form among perceivers is precisely that: it is a difference in the form of perceiving the same objects, the same one reality. Such a difference does not pertain to cognitive content and does not indicate any disagreement among the parties. The senses of a man with normal vision, to take the standard example, do not contradict those of a color-blind man. When the former says about some object, “It is red,” he must in reason mean by the statement: “It is an entity in reality of a specific nature such that, when it acts on my senses, I perceive it in the form of red color.” That is true; that is what it is. Similarly, if the color-blind man says “It is gray,” he has to mean: “It is an entity in reality of a specific nature such that, when it acts on my senses, I perceive it in the form of gray color.” That also is true; that is what it is. Neither statement conflicts with the other. Both men are perceiving that which is and are doing so in a specific form.” (p.48-49)

    “A thing may not be condemned as unreal on the grounds that it is “only an effect,” which can be given a deeper explanation. One does not subvert the reality of something by explaining it. One does not make objects or qualities subjective by identifying the causes that underlie them.” (p.52)

    “We can know the content of reality “pure,” apart from man’s perceptual forth; but we can do so only by abstracting away man’s perceptual form—only by starting from sensory data, then performing a complex scientific process. To demand that the senses give us such “pure” content is to rewrite the function of the senses and the mind. It is to demand a blatant contradiction: a sensory image bearing no marks of its sensory character.” (p.54)

    “In regard to the senses, the standard argument, long a staple of skeptics, has already been indicated: “A certain object looks red or sounds loud or feels solid, but that is partly because of the nature of human eyes, ears, or touch. Therefore, we are cut off from the external world. We do not perceive reality as it really is, but only reality as it appears to man.” Here is the same argument as presented by Kantians, in regard to the conceptual faculty: “Certain abstract conclusions are incontestable to us, but that is partly because of the nature of the human mind. If we had a different sort of mind, with a different sort of conceptual apparatus, our idea of truth and reality would be different. Human knowledge, therefore, is only human; it is subjective; it does not apply to things in themselves.” Here is the argument a third time, as applied to logic: “Even the most meticulous proof depends on our sense of what is logical, which must depend in part on the kind of mental constitution we have. The real truth on any question is, therefore, unknowable. To know it, we would have to contact reality directly, without relying on our own logical makeup. We would have to jump outside of our own nature, which is impossible.”
    We cannot escape the limitations of a human consciousness, the argument observes. We cannot escape our dependence on human senses, human concepts, human logic, the human brain. We cannot shed human identity. Therefore, the argument concludes, we cannot gain a knowledge of reality. In other words: our consciousness is something; it has specific means and forms of cognition; therefore, it is disqualified as a faculty of cognition.
    This argument is not confined to human consciousness. It is an attack on all consciousness, human, animal, or otherwise.” (p.55)

    “Objectivists reject the key skeptic claim: that man perceives not reality, but only its effects on his cognitive faculty. Man perceives reality directly, not some kind of effects different from it. He perceives reality by means of its effects on his organs of perception. Nor can one reply that man’s perception of reality, since it is mediated by the senses, is only “indirect.” What then would “direct perception” denote? It would have to denote a grasp of reality attained without benefit of any means.
    Ayn Rand rejects all these errors, because she rejects their root: she begins not by bewailing the nature of human consciousness, but by insisting on it. The fact that man’s cognitive faculties have a nature does not invalidate them; it is what makes them possible. Identity is not the disqualifier of consciousness, but its precondition. This is the base from which epistemology must proceed; it is the principle by reference to which all standards of cognition must be defined.
    Every process of knowledge involves two crucial elements: the object of cognition and the means of cognition— or: what do I know? and How do I know it?6 The object (which is studied by the special sciences) is always some aspect of reality; there is nothing else to know. The means (which is studied by epistemology) pertains to the kind of consciousness and determines the form of cognition.
    The start of a proper epistemology lies in recognizing that there can be no conflict between these elements.” (p.56-57)

    “Man, according to Objectivism, is not moved by factors outside of his control. He is a volitional being, who functions freely. A course of thought or action is “free,” if it is selected from two or more courses possible under the circumstances. In such a case, the difference is made by the individual’s decision, which did not have to be what it is, i.e., which could have been otherwise.
    To identify the exact locus of human freedom is a difficult task since it requires that one describe and distinguish complex states of consciousness. Once this has been done, however, the fact that man is free follows readily. Before we turn to validate free will, therefore, we must devote considerable space to defining its nature.” (p.60)

    “The actions of consciousness required on the sensory- perceptual level are automatic. On the conceptual level, however, they are not automatic. This is the key to the locus of volition. Man’s basic freedom of choice, according to Objectivism, is: to exercise his distinctively human cognitive machinery or not; i.e., to set his conceptual faculty in motion or not. […]
    Man’s power of volition is the power to seek such awareness of reality or to dispense with it. His choice is to be conscious (in the human sense) or not.” (p.61)

    “Focus” (in the conceptual realm) names a quality of purposeful alertness in a man’s mental state. “Focus” is the state of a goal-directed mind committed to attaining full awareness of reality.” (p.62)

    “The choice to focus, I have said, is man’s primary choice. “Primary” here means: presupposed by all other choices and itself irreducible.” (p.64)
    “Nor can a primary choice be explained by anything more fundamental. By its nature, it is a first cause within a consciousness, not an effect produced by antecedent factors. It is not a product of parents or teachers, anatomy or conditioning, heredity or environment (see chapter 6). Nor can one explain the choice to focus by reference to a person’s own mental contents, such as his ideas. The choice to activate the conceptual level of awareness must precede any ideas; until a person is conscious in the human sense, his mind cannot reach new conclusions or even apply previous ones to a current situation. There can be no intellectual factor which makes a man decide to become aware or which even partly explains such a decision: to grasp such a factor, he must already be aware.
    For the same reason, there can be no motive or value-judgment which precedes consciousness and which induces a man to become conscious. The decision to perceive reality must precede value-judgments. Otherwise, values have no source in one’s cognition of reality and thus become delusions. Values do not lead to consciousness; consciousness is what leads to values.” (p.64-65)

    “In short, it is invalid to ask: why did a man choose to focus? There is no such “why.” There is only the fact that a man chose: he chose the effort of consciousness, or he chose non-effort and unconsciousness. In this regard, every man at every waking moment is a prime mover.
    This is not to deny that a person’s ideas can have effects, positive or negative, on his mental state. If an individual accepts a philosophy of reason, and if he characteristically chooses to be in focus, he will gradually gain knowledge, confidence, and a sense of intellectual control. This will make it easier for him to be in focus. After he practices the policy for a time, focusing will come to seem natural, his thought processes will gain in speed and efficiency, he will enjoy using his mind, and he will experience little temptation to drop the mental reins. On the other hand, if an individual accepts an anti-reason philosophy, and if he characteristically remains out of focus, he will increasingly feel blind, uncertain, and anxious. This will make the choice to focus harder. After a while, he will experience focus as an unnatural strain, his thought processes will become relatively tortured and unproductive, and he will be tempted more than ever to escape into a state of passive drift.
    Both these patterns, however (and all the mixtures in between), are self-made. Human volition produced each condition, and the opposite choices remain possible. The first kind of man still has to throw the switch the next time, which takes an expenditure of effort. The second still has the capacity to focus, as long as he is sane. He has the capacity gradually (and painfully) to work his way out of his inner chaos and establish a better relationship to reality.” (p.65)

    “The choices involved in performing a thought process are different in an important respect from the primary choice. These higher-level choices, as we may call them, are not irreducible. In their case it is legitimate to ask, in regard both to end and means: why did the individual choose as he did? what was the cause of his choice? Often, the cause involves several factors, including the individual’s values and interests, his knowledge of a given subject, the new evidence available to him, and his knowledge of the proper methods of thinking.
    The principle of causality does not apply to consciousness, however, in the same way that it applies to matter. In regard to matter, there is no issue of choice; to be caused is to be necessitated. In regard to the (higher-level) actions of a volitional consciousness, however, “to be caused” does not mean “to be necessitated.”
    An ancient philosophic dilemma claims that if man’s actions, mental or physical, have no causes, then man is insane, a lunatic or freak who acts without reason. (This anticausal viewpoint is called “indeterminism.”) But, the dilemma continues, if man’s actions do have causes, then they are not free; they are necessitated by antecedent factors. (This is the determinist viewpoint.) Therefore, either man is insane or he is determined.
    Objectivism regards this dilemma as a false alternative. Man’s actions do have causes; he does choose a course of behavior for a reason—but this does not make the course determined or the choice unreal, It does not, because man himself decides what are to be the governing reasons. Man chooses the causes that shape his actions.
    To say that a higher-level choice was caused is to say: there was a reason behind it, but other reasons were possible under the circumstances, and the individual himself made the selection among them.
    The factors shaping a thought process, to stay with our example, do not work automatically. A man’s previous knowledge, I have said, is one possible determinant. Such knowledge, however, does not apply itself automatically to every new topic he considers. If he relaxes his mental reins and waits passively for inspiration to strike him, his past conclusions, however potentially germane, will not necessarily thrust themselves into prominence. On the contrary, the man who thus turns inwardly sloppy may know a certain point perfectly well, yet end up with a conclusion that blatantly contradicts it. The contradiction eludes him because he is not paying full attention, he is not working to integrate all the relevant data, he is not ruled by a commitment to grasp the truth. As a result his own knowledge becomes ineffective, and his mental processes are moved instead by factors such as random feelings or associations.13
    The same principle applies to the other factors shaping a man’s thought. The new evidence available is a factor, if a man chooses to seek out that evidence. His knowledge of the proper methods of thinking is a factor, if he monitors his mental processes and tries to make use of such knowledge. His values and interests are a factor, if he is alert to grasp their application to a new situation. But if (as is possible) a person decides that all this is too much work, or if he dislikes some piece of evidence or some required method and starts to evade, then the above factors will not shape his mental activity. Instead, by his choice, they will be causally impotent.
    A man’s power of choice in a thought process is to maintain the tie between his mind and reality, or not to do so. This means: to concentrate on a question, on everything he knows to be relevant to it, and to keep this content clear and operative by a continuous, conscientious directing of his full attention—or to let some or all of the data lapse into fog, to let past knowledge fade, new evidence blur, methodological standards relax, and then drift to groundless conclusions at the mercy of random material fed by his subconscious.
    If a man chooses the reality orientation, then the higher- level choices he makes will be shaped by causal factors relevant to a process of cognition. If he does not choose the reality orientation, then the flow of his mental contents will be shaped by a different kind of cause. In either case, there will be a reason that explains the steps of his mental course. But this does not imply determinism, because the essence of his freedom remains inviolable. That essence lies in the issue: what kind of reason moves a man? Has he chosen the reality orientation or its opposite? sustained full focus or self-made blindness?
    Such is the choice, in each moment and issue, which controls all of one’s subsequent choices and actions.
    The same principle applies to the realm of physical action. Like mental processes, man’s existential actions, too, have causes. Just as one cannot perform a thought process without a reason, so one cannot perform an action in reality without a reason. In general, the cause of action is what a man thinks, including both his value-judgments and his factual knowledge or beliefs. These ideas define the goals of a man’s action and the means to them. (The relation between thought and feeling is discussed in chapter 5.)
    Again, however, as in regard to processes of consciousness, cause and effect does not negate the reality of choice. Man’s actions do reflect the content of his mind, but they do not flow from a specific content automatically or effortlessly. On the contrary, action involves continual choice, even after one has formed a full range of mental content, including a comprehensive set of value-judgments.
    In regard to action, a man’s choice—one he must make in every issue—is: to act in accordance with his values or not.
    To act in accordance with one’s values (in the sense relevant here) is a complex responsibility. It requires that one know what he is doing and why. He has to assume the discipline of purpose and of a long-range course, selecting a goal and then pursuing it across time in the face of obstacles and! or distractions. It requires that one heed the hierarchy, the relative importance, of his values. This means: he keeps in mind the fact that some of his values are primary or immediately urgent, while others are subordinate or less imperative— and he determines the time and effort to be spent on a given pursuit accordingly. Thus he integrates the activity of the moment into the full context of his other goals, weighing alternative courses and selecting appropriately. And it requires that one choose the means to his ends conscientiously, making full use of the knowledge available to him. All this is involved in “acting in accordance with one’s values.” Yet all this is precisely what is not automatic.
    A man can accept a set of values, yet betray them in action. He can actively evade the steps their achievement would require, or he can simply default on the responsibility involved. He can choose to live and act out of focus, to drop the discipline of purpose, ignore hierarchy, brush aside knowledge, and surrender to the spur of the moment. This kind of man lets himself drift through a day or a life pushed by random factors, such as sudden urges, unadmitted fears, or importunate social pressures. The twists of such a man’s actions also have causes lying in his mental content. What moves him, however, is not the full context of his knowledge and values, but chance bits of content; the cause of his actions is a flow of disintegrated ideas and value-judgments that he allows to become decisive out of context, without identification or purpose. Like the mental drifter, the physical drifter, too, turns himself over to his subconscious, abdicating his power of conscious decision. The result is that he turns himself into the puppet of the determinists’ theory, dangling on strings he does not know or control. But the fact remains that he chose this state.
    In the realm of physical action, man’s choice is twofold. First he must choose, through a process of thought (or non-thought), the ideas and values that will comprise his mind’s content. Then he must choose to act on these ideas and values—to keep them operative as his guide amid all the vicissitudes of daily life. He must choose what to think, and then he must choose to practice what he preaches.
    The similarity between the physical and mental realms is clear. In action as in thought, each step a man takes has a cause, which explains it. The indeterminist notion that freedom means a blind, senseless lurch—a so-called “Epicurean swerve”—is without justification. But this does not imply determinism. In regard to action, also, man is a sovereign entity, a self-mover. His inviolable freedom lies in the issue: what kind of cause moves him—long-range purpose pr out-of- context promptings? Once again, what underlies such an alternative is a single root choice: to be conscious or not.
    There is one further question to consider before we turn to the validation of volition. How does the law of causality apply to the primary choice itself? Since one cannot ask for the cause of a man’s choice to focus, does it follow that, on this level, there is a conflict between freedom and causality?
    Even in regard to the primary choice, Ayn Rand replies, the law of causality operates without breach. The form of its operation in this context, however, is in certain respects unique.
    The law of causality affirms a necessary connection between entities and their actions. It does not, however, specify any particular kind of entity or of action. The law does not say that only mechanistic relationships can occur, the kind that apply when one billiard ball strikes another; this is one common form of causation, but it does not preempt the field. Similarly, the law does not say that only choices governed by ideas and values are possible; this, too, is merely a form of causation; it is common but not universal within the realm of consciousness. The law of causality does not inventory the universe; it does not tell us what kinds of entities or actions are possible. It tells us only that whatever entities there are, they act in accordance with their nature, and whatever actions there are, they are performed and determined by the entity which acts.
    The law of causality by itself, therefore, does not affirm or deny the reality of an irreducible choice. It says only this much: if such a choice does exist, then it, too, as a form of action, is performed and necessitated by an entity of a specific nature.
    The content of one’s choice could always have gone in the opposite direction; the choice to focus could have been the choice not to focus, and vice versa. But the action itself, the fact of choosing as such, in one direction or the other, is unavoidable. Since man is an entity of a certain kind, since his brain and consciousness possess a certain identity, he must act in a certain way. He must continuously choose between focus and nonfocus. Given a certain kind of cause, in other words, a certain kind of effect must follow. This is not a violation of the law of causality, but an instance of it.
    On the primary level, to sum up, man chooses to activate his consciousness or not; this is the first cause in a lengthy chain—and the inescapability of such choice expresses his essential nature. Then, on this basis, he forms the mental content and selects the reasons that will govern all his other choices. Nothing in the law of causality casts doubt on such a description.
    If man does have free will, his actions are free and caused—even, properly understood, on the primary level itself.” (p.69-73)
    -Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Meridian, 1993, 493 pages.

    « La question n’est pas de constater que les gens vivent plus ou moins pauvrement, mais toujours d’une manière qui leur échappe. »
    -Guy Debord, Critique de la séparation (1961).

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