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Identity and Epistemology

  1. Aug 23, 2005 #1
    If a tree falls with no one around then there should be the presence of sound waves. Sound, nonetheless, is a product of the brain and a element of consciousness and would not be present if there is no one to hear. Perception is not the thing perceived. When dealing with the mystics claim of some alternate knowledge or truth, it is important to make the distinction and remember that while sound (i.e., the experience of hearing) is in the mind of the one who hears, it is still subject to objective standards (e.g., one should hear when sound waves are present and not when they are not

    Our awareness and understanding of existence is ultimately derived from perception. Neither perception nor reason are infallible. The delusional mystic may really hear a little voice in his head but this does not mean he is really talking to god or little green men. The presence of feeling, sensation, sight, sound etc. is self-evident proof of their existence. Sensation is, to the one who senses, self-evident proof of the existence of sensation. The existence of sensation is proof that something exists even of one assumes that sensation is all that exists. Sensation (i.e., sensory stimuli) becomes perception when it is acknowledged as information about existence. Commonsense assumes this (surely even in the mind of a child or an animal.)

    This commonsense is ascended to the status of knowledge (i.e., truth held with justified certainty) when the axiom is formulated, acknowledge and recognized as an immutable absolute (and this is what embracing mysticism steals from you). The formulation of the axiom is the product of creativity. The validity of all knowledge, no matter how it is obtained, ultimately rest on the axiom (i.e., the validity of perceptions and our minds interpretations of them is hinged in the law of identity). It is not necessary to know everything about the human mind and have an answer to every epistemological question in order to prove this. All that is required is an understanding of self-evidence and necessary truth.

    Reason subsumes all human faculties. Reason refers to all the mental function that process perceptions into concepts an ideas or any mental constructs (e.g., thinking in pictures). The importance of creativity in humanities pursuit of truth is difficult to over state. Identism is in agreement with the gist of the statement “reason is the servant of creativity,” but the statement implies a concept of reason that must be rejected. It is better stated as “deduction is the servant of creativity, but both are faculties of reason.” The result of defining creativity outside of reason, if not the propose, is the exempting of creativity from the first principle and rendering it schizophrenic. It is significant, in this context, to consider how stagnant and uncreative, in any meaningful why, the contemporary intellectual and artistic environment has become. This is especially true in academic philosophy which is little more than a death rattle of “philosophy” along with the stuffy formality and pretentious snobbery of a disenfranchised aristocracy. While, conversely, in other fields of endeavor, especially technological, breathtaking demonstrations of creativity are still being produced by the participants of capitalism, the orphaned children of a betrayed and all but forgotten intellectual heritage.

    It is incontrovertibly true that a dragon is a dragon. Denying this cannot be reduces to the absurd because it is already there, but yet, there are no dragons. Why then is the statement true? The term “dragon” is neither true nor false, because it does not assert anything. The statement “dragon is dragon” does not assert and prove the existence of dragon; it asserts and proves the existence of self-sameness (i.e., identity). Asserting “dragon is dragon” is not the same as asserting “dragons exist” and does not beg the question. As far as a complex statement (i.e., they make more than one assertion) such as the statement, “2+2=3 is 2+2=3”, it is true in the respect that it asserts identity and false in the respect that it asserts non-identity (i.e., it asserts 1+1+1+1 is 1+1+1). The statement “2+2=4” states essentially that 1+1+1+1 is 1+1+1+1, and this asserts a truth (even if your counting dragons). The truth it asserts is the truth of the existence of identity. It is the fact of the existence of self-sameness that grounds logical truth to reality. A true understanding of necessary truth and the claim to knowledge requires the acknowledgment that axioms assert the existence of self-sameness. The failure to acknowledge the existence of self-sameness will leave "knowledge" grounded on an assertion that is detached from reality.

    Concepts generally refer to given totalities (which could be one reason why the identist concept of identity may seem aloof.) The construction of concepts is related to method, not metaphysics. There is only one entirety, the totality of existence; there is only one primary part, self-sameness. Do platonic terms such as chairness and tableness have reference to reality? Not in a platonic sense. A chair does not possess chairness. This peculiar term, correctly defined nonetheless, does have validity. The term “chairness” refers to chair as a part of a greater whole. A room with a chair possesses chairness. The one thing that this terminology loses its validity when applied to is existence. There is no such thing as beingness. Things do not possess being. Being possesses all other things that exist. The tragic and sordid history of philosophy is filled with the embracing if beingness and the denial of self-sameness.

    The purging of contradictions (i.e., the assertions of non-identity) is not philosophical “McCarthyism.” The axiom is the only ultimate standard of knowledge and the only one which is absolute. Once this absolute is established identism endorses epistemological pragmatism. Much that is found in epistemological philosophy may be overly exclusive, embracing dogmatically what maybe, within a certain context, ideal methodology. Such methodology, nonetheless does not represent the only means of acquiring knowledge and may prove unsuited for some intellectual pursuits. When such methodology falters the mystic is waiting to provide an “alternative.” Rigid epistemology may have the effect of stifling and evicting unconventional (i.e., creative) thinking that is necessary for theoretical advancement. Mysticism usurps ideas, and often there creators, caste aside by “logic,” to corrupt and call there own. Thought, perception, any meaningful idea (i.e., with reference to reality) achieves validity, if to the best of our knowledge, it can be reconciled with the axiom, even of it violates some methodological standard.

    The mystic claims of some other means of awareness or some other kind of truth incomprehensible to reason is an attempt to escape this absolute standard creating a perpetual circle of uncertainty. Failing to acknowledge necessary truth always leads to dogma (i.e., the ascension of the unproved to the status of “knowledge)" because half open eyes are better than blindness. Even the nihilist who contradicts himself by opening his mouth, will resort to dogma. Relativism’s superficial opposition to dogma does not create openness. Note the not so well hidden two faced hypocrisy of the statement “there are no absolutes.” It could be amended to exclude itself, but then it reveals itself as dogma supported by nothing and refutable by the axiom.

    In contrast with rational conviction, to hold a “belief” as such, is to embrace contradiction and therefore untruth. A belief is the implied contradiction and untruth of asserting the unknown as known. If one decided to hold the belief that there are little green men in outer space, one has adopted the contradiction of claiming knowledge or opinion without the justification of supporting evidence. This would remain a contradiction and untruth even if it so happened that there really are little green men in outer space. Guilty or innocent, a man would receive an unfair trial if he was convicted by prejudice rather than evidence. This exemplifies the fact that having explicit justification for our convictions is no trivial matter. Mysticism is not exonerated by embracing (or usurping) a few ideas that happen to be true, just as a lynch mob is not excused if it hangs someone who happens to be guilty.

    The workings of the mind are often latent and not completely understood. We often have hunches or insight and are not explicitly aware of the underlining reasons. It is important to note that mystics do not hold a ligament monopoly on this intuitive mode. Such insight is not some unknowable mystic awareness outside the realm of reason and perception. If one has a hunch or insight, it is important to acknowledge it as such. One should strive for the intellectual rigor necessary to uncover the hidden reason behind such insight. It is often by this means that one can determine if a hunch has any claim to legitimacy. Without such rigor, all one has is baseless prejudice.

    Armed with the first principle, it is with the most supreme confidence that humanity can face a challenging but knowable world. In contraposition, without this “empowerment” we can only face the mystic’s “hell.” Such is the theme of human history.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 25, 2005 #2
    Good argument. 2 things (to start with) in response:

    1. How, precisely, do you define "mysticism"?

    2. Suppose that, with a great deal of effort, everything in the universe can be fully understood using reason as you define it. However, due to some quirk of language, only 90% can be explained. Furthermore, very few people have the patience to put make the effort necessary to understand on their own. Do you a) deny the existence of the other 10%, b) spend the rest of your days trying to explain the other 10% even though you know it's futile, c) try to instruct people on how they can figure out the last 10% for themselves, d) become an alcoholic, or e)other ?
  4. Aug 25, 2005 #3
    Mysticism, within the context of my philosophy, is the embracing of contradiction (i.e., non-identity); a contradiction is the assertion of non-identity. In an epistemological context it refers to the notion that knowledge can be grounded on something other that the principle of self-sameness.

    Knowledge is not omniscience and 90% is overly optimistic, but to grasp the axiom is to know something about everything; all A is A!

  5. Aug 25, 2005 #4
    Okay, just so you you know, I'm not trying to argue with you (at this point, anyway), just to make sure I understand what you're saying.

    Is a contradiction distinct from a paradox? How does your philosophy deal with the old "This sentence is false"?

    Your definition of "mysticism" is fine for here, but I think there are "No absolute truth" people who would deny that they're mystics, and mystics who would deny embracing contradiction.

    Just to be clear, if I say "As far as I can tell, reason is, by its nature, incapable of telling me everything I want to know," but at the same time I reject any contradiction that I find and I agree that A is A, am I a mystic?

    Can you give an example of "something other than self-sameness?"

    Okay, but if I say that A is A, I haven't really told you anything about A. The statement is true, but not meaningful.

    Maybe I'm missing the value of your point of view because it's so self-evident that I can't comprehend the opposing view?
  6. Aug 25, 2005 #5
    Your philosophy (Originally Posted by W A Dunkley) sounds like phrases taken from Ayn Rand with no attribution ! These are not unique points of view that you present----

    So, for example you state: "Our awareness and understanding of existence is ultimately derived from perception", and Ayn Rand writes "It is in the form of percepts that man grasps the evidence of his senses and apprehends reality".

    You write, "Reason refers to all the mental function that process perceptions into concepts an ideas or any mental constructs"; Ayn Rand writes "Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by your senses".

    You write, "The mystic claims of some other means of awareness or some other kind of truth incomprehensible to reason is an attempt to escape this absolute standard creating a perpetual circle of uncertainty". Ayn Rand writes "Mysticism is the acceptance of allegations without evidence of proof, either apart from or against the evidence of one's senses and one's reason"

    The list of so-called "your" thoughts are in fact nothing more than rewrite of the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand, and I for one find nothing original yet much lacking from the rigor of your definitions and positions taken.
  7. Aug 25, 2005 #6

    Les Sleeth

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    Even if you are right about the source of Dunkley's ideas, how about giving us an opinion on "Mysticism is the acceptance of allegations without evidence of proof, either apart from or against the evidence of one's senses and one's reason."

    Personally, I think Rand (and Dunkley) does a disservice to mystical thought with that statement. Magic would have been a better term. Rand assumes sense experience and reason are the only sources of knowledge available to humans, but there is another variety of thinkers who dispute that. Are you familiar with the class of mystical thinkers represented by Meister Eckhart, Brother Lawrence, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, the "desert fathers", etc.?
  8. Aug 25, 2005 #7
    Yes, Ayn Rand was well aware of this type of mental integration of "realist-mystic" thought. These types of thinkers that you mention attempt to preserve the primacy of existence by denying the identity of consciousness. They make an attempt to convert concepts into perceptual concretes that can only be understood by the mind via intuition or supernatural means (e.g., mysticism). Here is what Rand wrote in answer to your post:

    "The implicit, but unadmitted premise of the neo-mystics of modern philosophy, is the notion that only an ineffable consciousness can acquire a valid knowledge of reality, that "true" knowledge has to be causeless, i.e., acquired without any means of cognition". "To the [mystic]...the irreducible primary is the automatic phenomena of his own consciousness". "Mysticism is the claim to non-sensory, non-rational, non-definable, non-identifiable means of knowledge" By what means ? by means of "instinct", intuition", revelation" or some form of "just knowing". "Philosophically, the mystic is usually an exponent of the intrinsic (revealed) school of epistemology...psychologically, the mystic is a subjectivist who uses intrinsicism as a means to claim the primacy of his consciousness over that of others". --all quotes from "Ayn Rand: the Russian Radical", 1995, Chris M. Sciabarra, The Pennsylvania State University Press.

    Needless to say, one is free to accept any theory of "knowledge" as being true, including "mysticism"--Ayn Rand rejects the approach of the mystic thinkers. You seem to imply in your post that the views of the mystics you cite somehow take logical priority over the position of Ayn Rand. So now I have a question, by what logical means do you think the mystics you cite are "in fact" correct in their thinking about knowledge, and Rand is "in fact" incorrect ?
  9. Aug 26, 2005 #8

    Who doesn't claim the primacy of his consciousness, at least implicitly, every time he opens his mouth?

    The problem with denying the value, maybe even the primacy, of intrinsic knowledge is that there is nothing external which can prove to me that the rest of you aren't all figments of my imagination trying to drive me mad. I have to take that on faith (intrinsic knowledge).

    In fact, it seems to me that if I don't grant primacy to my own non-sensory, non-rational, non-definable, non-identifiable means of knowledge (which for the sake of brevity I'll just call "me"), I basically have to let myself be led around by whoever can convince me they have the most knowledge, since I can never verify everything (anything?) for myself. That sounds like a raw deal. Why should I be Ayn Rand's lapdog?

    I don't mean to imply that objectivists are lapdogs . . . but if they aren't, I'd wager they're relying on intrinsic knowledge a little more than they'd admit.

    I might be inclined to dispute the whole "non-rational, non-identifiable, etc." definition of mysticism, but I'd have to explain it all to myself first, and the topic can be dreadfully confusing.
  10. Aug 26, 2005 #9

    Les Sleeth

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    Welcome to PF, I like the way you think.
  11. Aug 26, 2005 #10
    I'm still not entirely clear on the issue. Do you think it might depend at all on the definition of reason? If one interprets it as identical to "logic," I think reason is limited (not wrong, certainly, just limited). But if, for example, you equate it with "God" (I'm guessing Rand wouldn't, but other people have) it's another matter. According to Dunkley, "Reason refers to all the mental function that process perceptions into concepts an ideas or any mental constructs." This seems to be somewhere in between, and might it encompass (or lead to) the other sources of knowledge you're thinking of?

    Thank you. I was delighted to find this place. Now I have a place to complain when particles don't behave the way I want them to :yuck:
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2005
  12. Aug 26, 2005 #11

    Les Sleeth

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    I don't think Rand knew the slightest thing about the mystical experience. She stood outside it all and thought she was so smart she could understand something profound without the slightest need to experience if for herself. Why should we listen to her?
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2005
  13. Aug 26, 2005 #12

    Les Sleeth

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    Let's say you go to the planet Vulcan where people can only think, but not feel. They want to fully understand love. No matter how hard you try, there are no concepts that fully communicate the experience because love isn't a thought, it is a feeling. So to the Vulcans, love is "mystical" because it mystifies their ability to capture it mentally.

    But is love really mystical to someone who is willing to feel? No. It is only mystical to those who insist reality has to be reduced to a concept for intellectual scrutiny.

    Beyond the simple experience of love, there have been those (such as the people I listed earlier) who spent time turning inward to experience something inside themselves. That experience too has escaped the sort of precise definitons intellectuals are addicted to. So their choice is either to pretend they grasp it by some "profound" explanation, or to "dismiss" it altogether as illusory (as Rand does). In either case, since they've not undertaken to attempt the inner experience themselves, all their theories are nothing more, IMO, than self-serving guesses.
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2005
  14. Aug 26, 2005 #13
    I'm with you there, but I still have some reason issues. Unfortunately, they're difficult to formulate and may turn out to be meaningless :surprised
    I'll give 'em some more thought.
  15. Aug 26, 2005 #14
    I hold Ayn Rand in the deepest respect so I am not offended when I am called an Objectivist. If, however, you think the article I posted here is in agreement with Objectivist epistemology, I would suggest posting it on the objetivismonline forum.

    The statement that sums up where my philosophy diverges from Ayn Rand and all other philosophy is:

    "A true understanding of necessary truth and the claim to knowledge requires the acknowledgment that axioms assert the existence of self-sameness. The failure to acknowledge the existence of self-sameness will leave "knowledge" grounded on an assertion that is detached from reality."

    My philosophy is centered around a thesis called the primacy of identity. AND IT MOST CERTAINLY IS a "unique point of view." I posted a presentation on this forum, but apparently it was deleted. I did engage Objectivists in the matter of this thesis. It can be found at:

    (Please, click on full version for full text.)


    It is also debated at:

    (Please, click on full version for full text.)


    I was particularly disappointed and appalled how they willingly reduced there argument to the absurdity: "a thing is not the same as itself."
  16. Aug 26, 2005 #15
    NO! there is no other possible ground of knowledge, but when a believer claims to just know, it is an attempt to claim otherwise.
    NO! The claim that the statement "A is A" states nothing of "A" is false and shallow, but this is what one is stuck with when the Objectivist or anyone else fails to acknowledge the existence of self-sameness. The axiom tells you something of "A," but it does not tell you something of "A" that distinguishes "A" from anything else, because all A is A. This is precisely why it is so profound. the notion that the axiom is true but meaningless is, by the way, a contradiction. Meaning is reference to reality; truth is agreement with reality. The first is a prerequisite for the second.
    The proof of the axiom is intrinsic. If it is not acknowledged, it can never be extrinsically proven. So before I address the liers paradox, let me say I do not do so in defence of the axiom. To do so would imply that it requires extrinsic support.

    You find no meaning in the statement "A is A," but find meaning in the statement "This sentence is false."

    Stating the point over briefly, To state that an assertion is true or false is to make an assertion about an assertion and the statement "this sentence is false" is one assertion to few. It is meaningless just as the statement "The dog is true," is meaningless. "The dog" asserts nothing! Again, meaning is a prerequisite for truth.
    I will accept this as a compliment :approve:
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2005
  17. Aug 26, 2005 #16
    Well, Ayn Rand sure does not--in fact, rejection of this very statement it the basis of her philosophy. According to Rand, the primary axiom of philosophy must start with "existence", not consciousness, because, as she wrote..."A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something".

    You have a false view of Rand's philosophy. Consider the position you just stated--the "me" of you must then = sum of non-sensory, non-rational, non-definable (thus non-concept formation) information, in other words you cannot see, smell, hear, touch, taste, reason, form concepts--thus, by your definition you have no ability to "verify everything (anything)" that you hold of value. Rand does not negate the importance of consciousness as you claim, she places it between primacy of existence and Law of identity as the three necessary and sufficient axioms upon which humans must develop a "philosophy of life" worthy to humans--here on this earth. By no means should you be Rand's lapdog, better to be the lapdog of reality by starting with the self-evident: existence exists.
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  18. Aug 26, 2005 #17
    Yes, I recall that my doctor thought he was so smart that he dared to treat me for a disease that he had never experienced for himself (how Randian of him)--plus, I see that you did not attempt to answer my question. How can anyone take seriously your question, "why should we listen to her". I suppose one logical answer is "because she was correct". If, as you seem to hold that "the mystical experience" is a fundamental route to knowledge for humans--it is illogical for you to then conclude that Ms. Rand "stood outside it all"--not a possible state of affairs according to your logic (but then again, what is your philosophy of knowledge, and how exactly do you know it ? --we all know what Ayn Rand had to say about knowledge, and if it was anything, it was logical and fully integrated to metaphysics).
  19. Aug 26, 2005 #18
    I'm afraid I don't see how a consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms. It might be boring, but not contradictory. Also, consciousness does not need to identify itself in order to be consciousness.

    Now, if you're saying, "A consciousness must exist in order to exist," I don't disagree. Consider the possibility that we are saying the same thing in different words. But I would say that consciousness/existence exists independently of sensory input and concepts (not that sensory input and concepts are excluded; they're just not necessary.)

    I may, but I'm getting that view from you.

    No, I can see, feel, touch, and taste all sorts of things, including concepts. I just don't identify them as "me."

    As far as "me" as the sum of non-sensory, non-rational, non-definable information--I'm neither information nor a sum, I am not made up of parts, and not reducible. I am a subject, not an object, and if you objectify me, you necessarily misunderstand. (Flip side of the coin: By trying to describe myself as an object, I necessarily mislead--I guess this is part of why the "non-rational" qualifier must be used).

    It is this knowledge of myself-as-subject, for which I see no external evidence whatsoever, that I take to be the intrinsic knowledge Rand refers to in the quotes you gave earlier, and this is why I took issue with what she has to say.

    I thought that was what you had claimed, and I was just taking your word for it (I have not studied Rand myself). Maybe I misunderstood you.
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2005
  20. Aug 26, 2005 #19

    Les Sleeth

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    Not so. I mean, Rand didn't undertake to experience for herself what she had no problem criticizing. So how did she acquire her understanding about mystical experience?

    My epistomological stance is that we only acquire knowledge through direct personal experience. That is the modern empirical standard, so I am not a renegade in this respect. My only twist on it all is I don't accept that sense experience is the limit of conscious experience.

    It has been well demonstrated that logic alone doesn't ensure accuracy. It only ensures the logical integrity of the organization of given facts, but it doesn't give us the facts. Experience gives us facts, and only then are we able to benefit from the application of reason.

    I object to Rand's condescension by assuming she can draw conclusions about the mystical experience without experiencing it herself. Even if she declines to pursue the experience, she is at least obligated to undertake a serious study of the most revered and accomplished inner practitioners. Nothing I've ever read that she wrote demonstrates she was well informed on the subject of inner experience.

    So I repeat, why should we listen to her (on the subject of mysticism)?
  21. Aug 26, 2005 #20
    I guess I see what you're saying here. But it seems to me the meaning is redundant.

    There's something bothering me about this statement, but I'll leave it for now.

    Hmm. That sounds almost . . . mystical.

    Honestly, yes. "A is A" tells me nothing I don't already know. It bores me. "This sentence is false," while a little stale after all this time, was a delight the first time I heard it, continues to hold charm for its eternal inversion,
    and presents a challenge to the mind (even if the wise mind will not waste much time with is). Yeah, I think it's more meaningful than your identity statement. But maybe I'm being too loose with my use of the word "meaning" and it would be better to say it is more interesting.

    But going back to a stricter definition of meaning, I'm still not getting a lot out of "A is A."

    "The dog is true" might be meaningless from a strictly logical point of view, but the brain does create meaning of sorts for such things. From now on every time I hear the phrase "The dog is true" I'm gonna think of this discussion.

    Let's not be hasty, there was a "maybe" in there...
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