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Objectivism vs. Materialism and Idealism

by heusdens
Tags: idealism, materialism, objectivism
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heusdens
#1
Feb26-07, 01:51 PM
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Is Objectivism Merely a
Disguised Materialism?

by Jonathan Dolhenty, Ph.D.



Objectivist philosophers may take me to task for claiming that Objectivism appears to be simply another form of philosophical Materialism. Dr. Leonard Peikoff, the current and leading spokesman for the Objectivist movement, explicitly denies that Objectivists are Materialists. (See p. 33 in his Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.)

I challenge what Peikoff says. Objectivist metaphysics (what there is of it) seems to fall quite comfortably into the Materialistic camp. Consider the following description of Materialism by a contemporary Materialist philosopher:

Modern Materialism holds that the universe is an unlimited material entity; that the universe, including all matter and enerby (motion or force), has always existed, and will always exist; that the world is a hard, tangible, material, objective reality that man can know. It holds that matter existed before mind; that the material world is primary and that thoughts about this world are secondary. (Charles S. Seely, Modern Materialism: A Philosophy of Action.)

I don't think there is much, if anything, in that paragraph which would be denied by Objectivists. If I am wrong, I will apologize and stand corrected.

If Objectivism is not a disguised Materialism, it is certainly not a philosophy of metaphysical Idealism (Peikoff definitely denies that it is Idealism of any sort). If Objectivism doesn't fall into the Materialist camp and doesn't fall into the Idealist camp, where, then, does it fall?

There seems to me to be only three possibilities for a metaphysics:

* Materialism, which believes all reality is material and only material;
* Idealism, which believes all reality is nothing more than an Idea or Thought or Mind (whether our thoughts or God's thoughts);
* A moderate Realism which accepts the independent objectivity of the material world, while allowing for some sort of nonmaterial or immaterial reality as well.

So which camp does Objectivism fall into?

I suspect that Leonard Peikoff might respond: "None of them. Objectivism is its own camp."

To which I respond: "What is the status of ideas and the intellect in Objectivist philosophy? Does the intellect and the ideas it uses, which are 'beings' or 'existents,' have material reality or nonmaterial reality?"
There seems to be only two choices here. If the intellect and ideas are material existents, along with everything else in the universe, then Objectivism would appear to fall into the Materialist camp.

If, on the other hand, the intellect and ideas are nonmaterial existents, and everything else in the universe is Idea or Thought or Mind, then Objectivism fall into the Idealist camp.

But Objectivism is clearly not an Idealist philosophy. Since it claims (or seems to claim) that nothing exists but matter (whether in different forms or not is irrelevant since it is still basically material), this would seem to include the intellect and ideas. This would place Objectivism solidly in the Materialist camp, in spite of its claims to the contrary.

What about the third alternative? Could Objectivism be a moderate Realism? But then it would allow for both material and nonmaterial reality, and also, heaven forbid!, the possibility OF GOD or a UNIVERSAL MIND or NONMATERIAL CREATOR. Objectivism is, alas, an atheistic philosophy and does not admit the possibility of a First Cause or Creator of any sort. I submit, then, Objectivism cannot be a moderate Realism.

So I go back to my original question. Is Objectivism merely a disguised Materialism? And, if this is what Objectivism really is, then on what metaphysical grounds does it claim to be fundamentally different from traditional mechanistic Materialism or, my God!, the Dialectical Materialism of Karl Marx?

NOTE: My criticism of Objectivism should not be construed to be a total rejection of that philosophy. There are many points of agreement between Objectivism and my conception of moderate philosophical Realism, especially on many epistemological principles and in ethical and political theory.
From: http://radicalacademy.com/objcriticism.htm

The claim that Objectivism is neither Materialism nor Idealism (Objectivists reject both) can not be taken seriously (whatever they claim).
If consciousness is to be taken something entirely different as matter (which Objectivism urges us to!), this would be entirely anti-scientific. How can consciousness have any real effect in the world, without it being something material in fundament?
How could there even be consciousness, without a material origin?
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AsianSensationK
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Feb26-07, 08:33 PM
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Seems to be signs of a weak theory.
Jonny_trigonometry
#3
Feb26-07, 08:44 PM
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Since your doubt is based on a presupposition of how consciousness works, it's baseless beyond your unfalsifiable claim. The simple refutation of your reasonable doubt is that we don't know what consciousness is or how it works.

AsianSensationK
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Feb27-07, 01:58 AM
P: 195
Objectivism vs. Materialism and Idealism

You don't need a presupposition about consciousness to raise the question. You just need a more general question about interaction between things.

Material things are capable of interacting with other material things. If immaterial things are incorporeal, then how do they interact with material things? Through what process would it occur?

If you can't come up with a plausible explanation, then should we assume immaterial things exist, or should we take a different route and see how far the materialist view can take us?
Hurkyl
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Feb27-07, 02:35 AM
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Quote Quote by heusdens View Post
If consciousness is to be taken something entirely different as matter (which Objectivism urges us to!), this would be entirely anti-scientific.
Why? I don't see how such a hypothesis directly opposes the pursuit of science.

If you meant that it's not a scientific hypothesis, then I would agree with you. But so what? Materialism is not a scientific hypothesis either.


You appear to be first assuming materialism, and then using that assumption to evaluate other philosophies. Is that a correct assessment? FYI, that makes for a rather weak argument. (Except to those that already believe in materialism, or if we're doing a hypothetical argument to see what the materialistic position implies)
whatta
#6
Feb27-07, 03:52 AM
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can someone please define "matter" for the purposes of this thread? I feel once it's done, we can immediately judge if objectivism is materialism or not.
heusdens
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Feb27-07, 07:53 AM
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Quote Quote by Jonny_trigonometry View Post
Since your doubt is based on a presupposition of how consciousness works, it's baseless beyond your unfalsifiable claim. The simple refutation of your reasonable doubt is that we don't know what consciousness is or how it works.
That is correct, but does that mean that consciousness could have aspects that are not entirely material?

Even if we don't entirely know how consciouss works, is there any indication it is not material?
heusdens
#8
Feb27-07, 07:54 AM
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Quote Quote by whatta View Post
can someone please define "matter" for the purposes of this thread? I feel once it's done, we can immediately judge if objectivism is materialism or not.
Materialism defines matter as that what is external and independent of consciousness.
heusdens
#9
Feb27-07, 08:05 AM
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Quote Quote by Hurkyl View Post
Why? I don't see how such a hypothesis directly opposes the pursuit of science.

If you meant that it's not a scientific hypothesis, then I would agree with you. But so what? Materialism is not a scientific hypothesis either.


You appear to be first assuming materialism, and then using that assumption to evaluate other philosophies. Is that a correct assessment? FYI, that makes for a rather weak argument. (Except to those that already believe in materialism, or if we're doing a hypothetical argument to see what the materialistic position implies)
Materialism is a philosophical position. One that almost always is the fundament for scientific theories, esp. in exact sciences.

I'm just arguing about what the base position of Objectivism is, in regard to Materialism and Idealism.

Objectivism claims not to be in either camp.

Objectivisim is based on the primacy of existence ("existence exists" which is however just a tautology, and does not seem to limit itself to the material only, but excludes the supernatural).

Otherwise it seems to claim that there is nothing that escapes the material.

So, how is that any different as materialism?
whatta
#10
Feb27-07, 08:06 AM
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Quote Quote by heusdens View Post
Materialism defines matter as that what is external and independent of consciousness.
Oh I hate these definitions. There is no use to define X in terms of Y, if Y is not less controversial than X. What now? Define consciousness?
baywax
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Feb27-07, 12:23 PM
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Quote Quote by heusdens View Post
Materialism defines matter as that what is external and independent of consciousness.
I don't see that definition in this collection from the net.

Materialism

a desire for wealth and material possessions with little interest in ethical or spiritual matters
(philosophy) the philosophical theory that matter is the only reality
wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

Materialism is the philosophical view that the only thing that can truly be said to 'exist' is matter; that fundamentally, all things are comprised of 'material'. The view is perhaps best understood in its opposition to the doctrines of immaterial substance applied to the mind historically, and most famously by René Descartes. However, by itself materialism says nothing about how material substance should be characterized. ...
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Materialism

the doctrine that all items in the world are composed of matter. Because not all physical entities are material, the related doctrine of physicalism, claiming that all items in the world are physical entities, has tended to replace materialism.
www.filosofia.net/materiales/rec/glosaen.htm

the use of innovative and unique features in theories, forms, style, themes, and topics; involves an intentional and revolutionary break with conservative recognized styles of literature. London's crisp, short sentences were a break from the "purple prose" of the Gilded Age, as was his choice of naturalist topics.
sunsite.berkeley.edu/London/Essays/glossary.html

Values, attitudes, and expectations related to conservation, pollution, materialism, equity, and the sharing of resources. Preferences regarding type of dwelling and urbanicity.
www.albany.edu/sourcebook/app6.html

the doctrine that matter is the only reality, and that everything in the universe, including thought, will, and feeling, can be explained only in terms of the physical. Basically synonymous with naturalism.
www.summit.org/resource/dictionary/

Materialism is the philosophical belief that the world is comprised of small units of “material” These small substances are what comprise the body. The theory postulates that the body is like a machine made up of various parts. If we understand the parts well enough, we can “fix” the broken ones and restore the body to health. This is in contrast to the vitalistic belief of homeopathy which postulates an immaterial vital force or dynamic energy as the basis of all life.
www.centerforhomeopathy.com/glossary.html

The view that the world is entirely composed of matter. Philosophers now tend to prefer the term physicalism, since physics has shown that matter itself resolves into forces and energy, and is just one amongst other physically respectable denizens of the universe.
www.philosophy.uncc.edu/mleldrid/intro/odop.html

A general philosophical view that only physical processes exist. The term is also applied to philosophical theories of mind which claim that mental states are identical with brain states. See also Dualism, Eliminativism, Functionalism.
http://www.informatics.susx.ac.uk/bo...oss/node1.html

The philosophical view that ascribes all mental experiences to neural events. See dualism.
highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/0070579431/student_view0/chapter1/glossary.html

[A379] In his discussion of the Fourth Paralogism, Kant opposes to Cartesian dualism about the soul materialism and pneumatism; Kant decries "psychologists" who take appearances as things in themselves and adopt either materialism (a materialist "admits into his system nothing but matter alone"), spiritualism ("admits only thinking beings"), or dualism.
www.texttribe.com/text/kant_glossary.htm

The doctrine that the facts of experience are all to be explained by reference to the reality, activities, and laws of physical or material substance
www.innvista.com/culture/religion/diction.htm

The claim that only material (physical) things exist. Often used in PHILOSOPHY OF MIND in contrast to the claim that mental objects and events cannot be reduced to physical objects and events.
www.abdn.ac.uk/philosophy/guide/glossary.shtml

has never been materialist enough. It focused too much on quantity, too little on quality. It has missed the sensual sense and value of its subject matter.
www.a-studio.nl/en/writings/abc/

Represented by the work of Karl Marx and later anthropologist following Marx's analysis, this approach understands culture to be the product of the material conditions of a given society. In oversimplified terms, things like religion, law, and even artforms, reflect the power relationships of a given society as they are generated by the material order of that society.
www.qvctc.commnet.edu/brian/antxtrmc.html

The affirmation that only material things exist, that there is no such thing as spirit. In the eighteenth century, materialism countered the religious belief that there was a soul to survive the death of the body, and thus, that there was an afterlife. Today materialism expresses itself in the effort to link neuro-science to conscious experience: thought is purely material behavior. ...
alpha.fdu.edu/~jbecker/nature/natureglossary.html

The doctrine that the only reality is matter; that the universe is not governed by intelligence or purpose but only by mechanical cause and effect.
http://www.li.suu.edu/library/humtxt...y/glossary.htm

everything in nature, including the human mind consists of matter and obeys laws of physics. Hence, there are no supernatural entities.
http://www.ucd.ie/philosop/documents...ey%20terms.htm
heusdens
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Feb27-07, 01:22 PM
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Quote Quote by baywax View Post
I don't see that definition in this collection from the net.
Here:

http://www.marxists.org/glossary/ter...tm#materialism

Materialism

Those philosophical trends which emphasise the material world (the world outside of consciousness) as the foundation and determinant of thinking, especially in relation to the question of the origin of knowledge. Compare with idealism. For materialism, thoughts are “reflections” of matter, outside of Mind, which existed before and independently of thought. According the Marx:

“The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism - that of Feuerbach included - is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively.”
[Theses on Feuerbach].

Further Reading: Marx’s essay on French Materialism & Communism in The Holy Family as well as the epoch-making outline in Chapter one of The German Ideology, Materialism and Idealism, and Lenin's concise explanation, and the definition of Materialist Dialectics. See also Hegel's definition in his critique of Empiricism. For help see: History of Materialism and Materialism and Idealism.


Matter

1. Philosophy: Denoting all that exists outside of and independently of thought – objective reality. As a philosophical category, “matter” must be distinguished from any particular theory of matter developed by natural science and from its meaning in physics as mass.

Further Reading: Hegel's comment on Kant's theory of matter and Hegel's criticism of the natural scientific confusion on this question.
heusdens
#13
Feb27-07, 01:27 PM
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Quote Quote by whatta View Post
Oh I hate these definitions. There is no use to define X in terms of Y, if Y is not less controversial than X. What now? Define consciousness?
I know what you mean, but then how to define things in an absolute way? It is totally impossible! Everything is connected to each other, and everything is defined in terms of each other.

Recall that in physics this kind of thing also occurs, since spacetime and mass/energy for example are also interconnected.
For classical mechanics we had a seperate notions of space and time and matter on the other hand. In relativistic physics, these notions are interconnected, you can not have spacetime without matter nor vice versa. They are dependend on each other and defined in terms of each other.

In terms of General Relavity we need to say that the motion of mass (celestial bodies) is caused by the gravity field, while at the same time the gravity field itself is caused by mass.
Now you may find that circular, but this is how in General Relativity things are.
heusdens
#14
Feb27-07, 02:08 PM
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Some other thing about 'Objectivism'

One of it's doctrines are their so-called 'axioms' which are:
- "Existence exists" (which is rather a tautology)
- Law of Identity ("A=A")
- Consciousness

Acc. to 'Objectivism' it makes no special assumptions on what exists (wether matter, consciousness or something else) although it rejects any form of super-natural.

Objectivism has clearly not read into much prior philosophy, and it simply neglects the dialectics. As a 21-st century philosophy it is clearly not the most advanced form of thought, but is rather one-sided.

It's logic is purely abstract, and it therefore has much of a problem in reconciling itself with scientific truth.
For example, quantum mechanics has clearly revealed some truths about underlying nature, which Objectivism can not reconcile with, since it is bound to formal logic only.

And even special relativity poses problems, that do not fit with Objectivism.
Consider for example that wether or not event A happens before B are depends on the inertial rest frame of the observer, so in what way to tell wether or not event A happens before event B is an objective truth?

It's practical world view is that of a system (capitalism, incorporating only the individual right to property, and reducing the state to only protecting these individual rights) that has never existed in such a pure form, and can never exist in that manner.

For some more lengthy critics on Objectivism, see:
http://www.walden3.org/Capitalism%20Religion.htm
heusdens
#15
Feb27-07, 02:29 PM
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baywax:

This is what one of your sources (http://www.summit.org/resource/dictionary/) define in their dictionary:

Bourgeoisie: a class of property owners as well as those who own the means of production; Marxists call for the elimination of the whole class. (the source of society's problems).
What Marxisms calls for is not the elimination of the bourgois class (how do you think that would have to take place: kill them all?) but for the abolition of private property (of the means of production)

That is clearly something different.

The end result would be that the class distinction is overcome, although it would not immediately end the class struggle.

And here another one:

Capitalism: an economic system based on the peaceful and free exchange of goods and services without fraud, theft and breech of contract; free market or economy.
It does not mention one important aspect of capitalism, namely the private ownership of the means of production
Without that, it is not capitalism. It is the defining concept for capitalism.

And here another one:

Communism: a religious worldview as outlined in ten categories (including theology, philosophy, biology, economics) in Understanding the Times. Its major dogma includes atheism, dialectical materialism, evolution and socialism.
I am realy puzzled. Communism a religious worldview?
Outlined in ten categories (including theology)??
Understanding the Times??

Here is a link to dictionary that has something else to say about communism:

http://www.marxists.org/glossary/ter....htm#communism

Important notice: communism is not to be thought of as a state of affairs, as an ideal to which reality has to adjust itself, but as the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.
Hurkyl
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Feb27-07, 10:36 PM
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Quote Quote by heusdens View Post
Otherwise it seems to claim that there is nothing that escapes the material.
I'm going by wikipedia's description, since I can't find any other... this claim is wrong. At the very least, objectivism asserts that consciousness cannot be reduced to material.
Hurkyl
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Feb27-07, 10:41 PM
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Quote Quote by heusdens View Post
I know what you mean, but then how to define things in an absolute way? It is totally impossible! Everything is connected to each other, and everything is defined in terms of each other.
I'm rather fond of the formalist solution: don't treat such definitions as if they were meaningful. Instead, write down a list of the statements you are going to presuppose are true, and stick to those. (in particular without resorting to introducing "obvious" or "self-evident" facts about the things you're discussing)
whatta
#18
Feb28-07, 01:51 AM
P: 224
It's not about defining things "in absolute way", but rather about boiling dubious definitions down to something people agree about. from there, you can make a judgement (on "objectivism vs materialism" or whatever) that everybody will agree upon.


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