The Objectivist Conception of Rationality, Certainty and Free Will

1. Rationality and certainty vs. skepticism

This is Leonard Peikoff speaking in the Fall of 1990. The following lecture is part of a course originally given in 1976 with Ayn Rand's endorsement and in her presence. As of 1991, however, the course will be superseded by my book Objectivism, the Philosophy of Ayn Rand. My book recapitulates the 1976 course, but its formulations and logical structure are immeasurably superior. Despite this fact, I am making the original course available for purchase for several reasons.  Students may find it profitable to compare the course to the book and discover for themselves the differences. Also, the 1976 course is the only recorded statement of the entire content of Objectivism. My new taped course on Objectivism is selective, taking for granted a knowledge of the philosophy. Finally, Ayn Rand, herself took part in most of the question periods in 1976, and I do not want her recorded comments to disappear from the Objectivist scene. To all of you now, who are about to hear this lecture let me stress at the outset that I myself—speaking some fifteen years later—regard my new book and not this course as the definitive statement of Objectivism. Thank you.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I'm going to begin with a few announcements first, deriving from the fact that I am in the midst of an attack of the flu. It is not swine flu, so there's no cause—but, I'm required to leave the lecture immediately after I complete the lecture. I'd like to ask you, therefore, during intermission, please do not approach the front where I am, that's partly for my sake, and partly for yours if there's any remnant of my being contagious. I've been assured by medical doctors that I cannot be dangerous to an audience at a distance, but close personal communication is a different thing. Now the good news and the dividend for you in this is that Ayn Rand has very generously agreed to conduct the entire question period this evening. If I could, I'd arrange to have the flu every week. So there will be a regular question period in terms of length, and in terms of the criteria of the questions. You'll have the opportunity, since this is the last lecture prior to ethics to ask all your final points on metaphysics and epistemology. The question box this evening, as I told some of you personally is at the back of the room so that it's not near me. And please do not submit your written questions to Miss Rand personally. Put them in the box in the normal way, where the ushers will collect them and the staff will see that she gets the questions. I'd like to take this opportunity, as I'll be disappearing right after the lecture to thank Miss Rand very much for her help in this emergency. One other thing, please, do not approach Miss Rand during intermission this evening for discussion or autographs, because she will want the time to read the questions and do some preliminary screening.

Now this evening we complete our survey of the abstract foundations of the Objectivist Philosophy by discussing some final and important epistemological issues. then our base will be properly laid, at least in terms of essentials, and next time we can turn to the Objectivist ethics. So, let me take this opportunity now to tell you, that if you have not, you should in the interim between now and next time read, or reread The Virtue of Selfishness, with particular attention to the opening piece, The Objectivist Ethics. That's in preparation for our sequence on ethics, which starts next time.

Now on the brochure, I've called this evening's lecture, What is Rationality? Because all the topics we discuss tonight in one way or another will help to clarify what reason or its proper exercise consists of, and therefore what it means to be rational. Now of course all of epistemology is ultimately concerned with the same issue—what is reason. We've already given a large part of the answer in earlier lectures in defining the requirements and methods of a conceptual, volitional consciousness. Tonight's discussion must be regarded as a continuation, a treatment of various aspects of the subject that we haven't yet gone into.

And the first topic I want to cover tonight is rationality versus skepticism. Now Objectivism as you must know repudiates and denies every form of skepticism and relativism. We hold that knowledge is certain and that truth is absolute. How is this view defended? What is certainty? What are absolutes? How does one attain them?

The key to this subject is the study that we studied last time, the principle that any item of conceptual knowledge has a context. That at every stage of a man's development, his knowledge is limited, he knows what he knows and no more. He can come to new conclusions, advance his knowledge only on the basis of the context of the knowledge he possesses at that stage.

Now last time we said, you must never drop contexts, and that you must work to integrate any new idea into the sum of your previous knowledge. You must make your knowledge including any new evidence available to you, into a unified non-contradictory whole. Now I want to develop one further implication. Once you have done this, the new idea may be regarded as valid. If you ignore or evade some of the available evidence, then of course you undercut and invalidate your conclusion. But if you have taken into account all the available knowledge and evidence on a given point—and assuming of course that you have used rational, epistemological method—then your conclusion is valid—contextually valid. If and idea integrates all the facts known on a given subject and contradicts none, then in that context of knowledge, it's valid.

Now the crucial point here is that you cannot demand omniscience. You cannot take God as the epistemological model or standard. And I mean for instance, the people who declare, how can you know that an idea you hold—even if it makes perfect sense on the basis of all the evidence so far—won't be overthrown by some new piece of evidence, that we haven't yet discovered? After all these people say, knowledge is limited, who knows what's yet to come, only an omniscient being—they conclude—could have real knowledge.

Now the fundamental fallacy involved in this type of approach is the failure to recognize that A is A. And in this case, if man's consciousness has a specific identity, as we've already seen some lectures back, anything inherent in human consciousness, is the given and the base as far as epistemology is concerned, including the fact that man's knowledge is limited. Objectivism therefore holds that all of epistemological standards and concepts—I mean concepts like valid, true, absolute, certain, etceteras—all of them must be defined and employed by reference to man's type of consciousness, it's specific identity and means of knowledge. And if you follow this method, you will grasp how and why there's certainty, absolutes, etcetera, without omniscience.

If you adhere to the facts of human consciousness, the first thing you will see in this connection is that since our knowledge is limited, we must always identify the epistemological status of the conclusions we come to. In other words in any situation where there is reason to suspect that a variety of factors may be involved, only some of which are presently known to us—for instance in regard to some scientific law we have discovered—you have to accompany your discovery is such a case with a statement in essence, on the basis of the evidence I now have within the context of the circumstances so far discovered, such and such a conclusion is valid. And you have to think, I will continue to follow the evidence identifying what is available to me at each stage, neither denying what I know, nor pretending that I know everything. In other words you must specify the context of your conclusions. If a man does this—and assuming he follows the right epistemological method—he will find that even though his knowledge is limited, his conclusions at one stage will not be contradicted by his discoveries at a later time. He will find that he expands his knowledge, that he knows more and more, that he progresses from more generalized and primitive knowledge to more detailed and advanced knowledge. But the more advanced conclusions do not contradict the earlier more primitive ones—not if each was contextually specified.

Now in the course on the Objectivist Theory of Knowledge that I gave some years ago, I presented an example of this point from the science of immunology, which I'm going to repeat here, briefly, because many students found it clarifying. At a certain point in the development of this science researchers were able to identify four types of blood, which we know as A, B, AB and O. They found that in performing blood transfusions, only certain types of blood were compatible with each other. They worked out the rules as they grasped them at that stage. For instance and A donor was compatible with an A recipient, not with a B and so forth. Then a new discovery was made. They found that sometimes you could give A blood to an A recipient, but still an undesirable reaction occurred. Further investigation took place. Another relevant factor was uncovered—the Rh factor—which was found to be present in some blood and not in others. New knowledge, in other words, was acquired, that the A type bloods were compatible only if their Rh factors were appropriately matched So, that their initial first approach to the principle was A type bloods were compatible, it was discovered to hold only under certain circumstances that had earlier been unknown. Now observe that the new discovery in no way contradicted the earlier knowledge, not if the investigators specified their conclusions contextually. In other words if they held their knowledge in the form; within the context of the circumstances so far known, A type bloods are compatible. That remains true. Within those circumstances the A bloods are compatible.

When would there be a contradiction? Only if some scientist had decided at a given stage we're omniscient, context is irrelevant. In other words, if he had asserted as an out of context absolute—in effect as a mystic dogma—A bloods will always be compatible, regardless of altered circumstances, regardless of additional facts. Now this sort of pronouncement is what a man is not entitled to make. He cannot take any discovery based on a limited knowledge of the circumstances in a situation where he knows there may be further factors involved, and declare that it is an absolute, out of context. If he does that, then each new discovery will contradict his previous formulation, and he'll end up saying, knowledge is impossible. But if he specifies his conclusions contextually, new discoveries merely indicate new circumstances. He merely learns more fully on what facts his earlier formulation depends. He refines, he expands his knowledge. He doesn't contradict it.

Now observe, that while a scientist cannot claim his discovery as an out of context absolute, he must treat it as a contextual absolute, if only because he knows what he knows—and I mean know here, not guess, hope or feel—but knows. It's only because of this, that it's possible for him, when he observes changes under new circumstances to progress to further discovery. Contrast this with the relativist, skeptic mentality. When this type observes changes from the past, he says in effect, you see, that shows the unreliability of my old conclusions, it wipes out my earlier knowledge, everything is relative, who can be sure of anything and he stops dead.

The alternative is not to feign omniscience and erect every discovery into an out of context absolute, or to embrace skepticism and say that knowledge is impossible. Both of these policies are variants of the idea that omniscience is the standard. The dogmatists then pretend to have it, while the skeptics bemoan their lack of it. The correct rational policy is, you must reject entirely the idea of omniscience as the standard. You must recognize that knowledge is contextual. It is knowledge. It is valid, contextually.

All right now, against this background let us define and apply the specific concept of certainty. Certainty represents an assessment of the evidence for a conclusion. And it's contrasted usually with two other broad types of assessment of evidence—the possible and the probable. In other words you can think of the evidence for various conclusions as falling into three major categories—possible, probable, certain. Now I want to look at each for a moment, in order.

When we say, X—some fact—is possible. What does that mean? Here's the definition. It means—this is now it's possible—it means in the present context of knowledge, there is some, although not much evidence in favor of X—whichever the fact is—and nothing known which contradicts X. I'll repeat that: X is possible, means in the present context of knowledge there is some, although not much evidence in favor of X, and nothing known which contradicts X. Notice some evidence, but not much, because if there's much, it becomes probable or better, rather than just possible.  And notice, there can be nothing known which contradicts X. This is an obvious requirement, otherwise it wouldn't be possible. But that is not sufficient. There must also be at least some evidence in positively in favor of X—the conclusion that's being hypothesized. The fact that you don't know anything against its possibility, doesn't mean that you know anything in favor of its possibility. Now this point is crucial. So, please underscore it in your mind or notes. You can no more assert possibility, assert that maybe X will occur, assert hypotheses, you can no more, as I say do, any of that arbitrarily on whim, without basis or evidence, than you can make any other kind of knowledge claim. When you say, maybe, you are saying something. You are saying there is at least some evidence, some reason to suspect this thing, and this is a claim that must be justified in any particular case. There any number of fantasies, which are out-rightly impossible, because they contradict already known facts. And there are countless more fantasies, in regard to which you may not be able to specify any facts which contradict them, but still they are completely arbitrary inventions, and you have no basis whatever, even to hypothesize them. I'll give you some examples shortly. Now observe that possibility is a contextual issue.  It specifies the amount of evidence available at a given time. If and when more evidence comes in your assessment should change appropriately, either in the direction of more probable, or more improbable.

Now look at probable for a minute. This represents a higher level on the continuum, and of course there are degrees of it. X is probable, when in a given context of knowledge, a preponderance of the evidence, the thrust, the weight of the evidence, is in favor of X, although the evidence is still not conclusive. In other words, another alternative is still possible, as I've just defined that, but the weight, the burden of the evidence is now in favor of X. At that point you can say, it's probable.

And now finally, certainty. X is certain, when in a given context of knowledge, the evidence is conclusive, by which we mean in that context, no alternative qualifies even as possible—remembering always, that you cannot manufacture possibilities without evidence. In other words, if in a given context of knowledge, all the evidence, not just some, not just a preponderance, but all the available evidence points to one conclusion. And there is nothing, nothing to suggest any alternative. Then in that context the proposition in question is certain, contextually certain. Now all the main attacks on certainty depend on evading its contextual character.

For instance, once in college, I had an instructor who tried to show that there could be no such thing as certainty. And he said to the class, you think I'm me—and he gave his name, Professor X—but how do you know I'm not an imposter, a consummate actor taking the professor's place? Well, now let's apply that to the present case for a brief moment. Given the evidence in the present context, you can be objectively certain that it's me, Leonard Peikoff lecturing, not an imposter. Now, how can you be certain? The answer is simply that all of the evidence, every piece of it available leads exceptionlessly to that conclusion, the occasion, the content of my statement, my physical appearance, tone of voice, etcetera. Now suppose a skeptic came in and said but isn't it possible that he's an actor? The question you would have to ask is, on what basis does he say it. Where is there even a jot of evidence for such a projection? And the answer is, there is not whatever in this case. Now contrast this with a situation where you could validly be uncertain. You see me lecturing, for instance, but at certain angles I look different from the way I did in the past. Occasionally I utter some dubious remarks etcetera. Now you might on this basis begin to entertain some hypotheses. Now you have no conclusive evidence yet, but you could now say, maybe he's sick or upset or whatever. Even here you could not hypothesize I was an imposter. But to carry it out, suppose I suddenly came out for Kantianism as the greatest philosophy, and one ear began to sag a little, and I didn't recognize people that I have known for years. Now you have evidence to raise such possibilities such as maybe he's gone crazy, or maybe he's an imposter. And then, if; you want a happy epistemological ending to this story, assume the mask fell off and Boris Karloff was suddenly revealed. Then you could say, it was an imposter, I am certain. The point is, certainty is contextual. And you cannot challenge a claim to certainty with an arbitrary declaration of a counter possibility. In actual fact, all knowledge, speaking strictly, all knowledge is certain. An uncertainty is literally a contradiction in terms. Even when we say, X is only probable, we must be certain of the items of evidence which are offered in X's behalf. We must know this. And we must be certain that X deserves the status as probable. We know that.

Now if you understand the issue of certainty, you will see that the same points are applicable to the issue of absolute. An absolute in the sense of the term that is relevant here, means an idea or principle that is unchangingly valid—an idea or truth that holds unvaryingly. Now for the same reason, all knowledge, properly so called, is contextually certain. All knowledge is contextually absolute, immutable, unvarying. Contextualism does not mean relativism. It does not mean that every conclusion is subject to change by future discovery. On the contrary, as we've seen, if your conclusion is specified contextually, and validated properly, it will be an absolute, a contextual absolute.

Now notice here that many people take the term absolute—this is completely unjustified—they take the term absolute to mean a principle or idea independent of every other fact, unaffected by anything whatever, without any context or relationship, in effect a free floating revelation. Given this notion, they conclude that since all human knowledge is interdependent and interconnected, no human knowledge is absolute. For instance many years ago, a prominent philosophy professor told his class that airplanes refute the law of gravitation. How did he reach this conclusion? It's instructive to follow his mental processes, for gravitation to him meant that objects attract each other with a certain force, and therefore that heavy objects should fall to the earth, but the plane stays up in the air, thus showing that there are in his opinion exceptions to the law. It wasn't an absolute. Now if you said to him, but there are many forces in reality which interact with one another, and which you have to take into account. If you told him, gravitation doesn't declare heavy objects will fall no matter what the context. It says heavy objects will fall unless this tendency is counteracted by an opposing force, as in the case with the airplane. In other words, if you introduced context, relevant factors, related circumstances; that to him would be the same as saying, well then gravitation isn't an absolute. So what is an absolute on his view—an out of context, disintegrated revelation—unaffected by, unrelated to anything else in the universe.

Now you should see the profound error in this kind of view, the complete inversion in actual fact. Context and integration are not the enemy of absolutes. They are what make absolutism possible. It's precisely because we establish our conclusion on the basis of evidence, and then integrate it into the sum of our knowledge that we can say about it everything points to it, the total context demands it. It's a contextual absolute. In other words a principle so supported by the total context, that it is unshakable. It's not a mystic revelation disassociated from everything else. It depends on context, but the context makes it an absolute.

Now I'm not going to this evening take time to engage in a further attack on skepticism. For those of you who are interested, I refer you to my History of Philosophy Course, particularly the part that deals with modern philosophy and the lectures on Descartes, who is the father of modern philosophy and modern skepticism. And in that course I point out the stolen concepts that it involves, skepticism and many equivocations on assorted fallacies. I want to merely state here, flatly, that the dogmatist who asserts outrageous doctrine with no concern for evidence, and the skeptic who doubts and hesitates and vacillates arbitrarily with no concern for evidence—these two types are epistemological blood brothers. Both of them ignore facts and are guided by feelings.

2. Rationality vs. arbitrary claims

A man has no epistemological right to believe arbitrarily. And by the same token he has no right to disbelieve arbitrarily. That's the Objectivist view, which brings us to the next issue for this evening, closely related, and in fact partially covered already, but there are further points I want to make . This one you can call Rationality Versus the Arbitrary.

Now first let's remind ourselves what is meant by arbitrary, and what is wrong with asserting the arbitrary. By arbitrary we mean and idea devoid of any basis in reality. In other words, and idea put forth in the absence of evidence of any sort—neither perceptual, nor conceptual evidence, neither direct observation, nor any kind of theoretical argument.

A shear assertion, with no attempt to validating it or connecting it to facts. For instance, there's a convention of gremlins studying Hegel on Venus. You say, why do say this? I don't know, I say. I say so, period. Now that's a blind cognitive whim if you will, out of the blue, adhering to no logical method, not rules, no epistemological steps.

What's wrong with asserting an idea arbitrarily? Well, the answer goes back to why the whole field of epistemology is necessary in the first place, why man needs to validate his ideas by a specific method, by a process of observation and of reason. And of course the reason is because knowledge means knowledge of reality. And A is A. Reality is what it is independent of consciousness. Any idea we claim about reality therefore must be based on something out there that we have discovered. We must be able to point to what facts in reality suggested it. If a man asserts an idea without such a base, whether he does so by error, or ignorance, or deliberate lying, his idea is epistemologically invalidated out of hand. It has no relation to reality, or , therefore, to human cognition. Remember that man's consciousness is not automatic, and not automatically correct. So if man is to be able to claim any proposition as true, or even as possible, he must follow definite epistemological rules—rules designed to guide his mental processes and keep his conclusions in the proper relation to reality. In sum, if man is to achieve knowledge, he must rigorously adhere to objective validating method. In other words, he must shun the arbitrary.  

What then is a rational response on your part, if someone makes an arbitrary claim, as I just defined it, to you? The answer is, you have to dismiss it, refuse to consider it or pay any attention to it. Since an arbitrary idea has no connection to human cognition or to man's means of knowledge, or to his grasp of reality, cognitively speaking such a statement must be treated as though nothing had been said. Now I want to stress and elaborate this point. An arbitrary claim has no cognitive status whatever. According to Objectivism such a claim is not to be regarded as true or as false. If it's arbitrary, it is entitled to no epistemological assessment at all. It's simply to be dismissed as though it hadn't come up. Now to understand this point fully, you have to grasp the meaning of concepts true and false.

What do we mean by true? Truth names a certain type of relationship between and idea and the facts of reality. What type of relationship? When the idea corresponds to the facts. When it identifies the facts as they are. When it constitutes a recognition of reality. Then it is true. Truth says Galt, is the recognition of reality. Now in essence this is the traditional Aristotelian view of truth, and it's commonly called the Correspondence Theory—truth as an idea's correspondence to reality. And the essence of this view is, there's a reality that exists independent of us. There are ideas conceptual products formulated by a consciousness, and when the product corresponds to reality, it's true. On the other hand when the product does not correspond to reality, when an idea is not a recognition of, but a departure from reality, when it's in contradiction to the facts, then it's false.

Now notice that the definition or recognition of reality must be taken literally. And there can be no recognition without the mind that recognizes it. For instance if a wind blows the sand on the beach into shapes spelling out A is A, the wind is not a superior metaphysician, and it did not produce any truth. All there are, are shapes on the beach. Or if a parrot is trained to squawk, two plus two equals four, the parrot is not a mathematician, and he did not utter any truth, only noises. The parrot does not recognize reality in this case. To him the noises don't represent a conceptual grasp of anything. They're just noises.

Now if you understand what we mean by the concept of truth and falsehood, you'll see why the arbitrary is outside of either concept. Observe the differences. True and false are assessments within the field of human cognition. And they designate a relationship, positive or negative, correspondence or contradiction, a relationship between and idea and reality. The arbitrary, by contrast is devoid of any relationship to reality at all. It is the wanton, the causeless, the baseless, and as such, it cannot be judged as true or false. It is devoid of any epistemological status. It is outside the realm of cognitive endeavor all together. The true is established by reference to a body of evidence—facts— and it is integrated into a total context of knowledge.

The false is established as false by reference to a body of evidence and within a context, and it is pronounced false because it contradicts the evidence. The arbitrary has no relation to evidence, or facts, or context at all. It is the human equivalent of the parrot or the wind example—sounds or shapes without any tie to reality, without content or significance. In a sense therefore, you can say that the arbitrary is even worse than the false. The false at least has a relation, even if a negative one, but it has a relation to reality. It has reached the field of human cognition, but it represents an error. But in that sense it's closer to reality than the outright, brazenly arbitrary.

Now for clarity, I want to note here parenthetically, that the words expressing an arbitrary claim in some other cognitive context—in other words, if and when no longer put forth as arbitrary—may be judged as true or false. But this is irrelevant to the present issue, because it completely changes the epistemological situation. For instance, if a savage utters, two plus two equals four, as a memorized lesson which he doesn't understand or see any reason to, then in that context it's arbitrary and the savage did not utter truth. It's just like the parrot example. In this sort of context, it's only sounds which don't represent any grasp of reality. Obviously, however, the same sounds in a radically different context—when the speaker does see the meaning and the reason—can be used to utter a true proposition. Now, it is inexact to describe this by saying, well the same idea is arbitrary in one case and isn't true in another. Don't say that. The exact description here would be, in the one case it is not an idea, merely noise unconnected to reality. To the rational man, it is an idea, conceptual symbols denoting facts. You see, you're not talking about the same kind of phenomenon in the two cases. All that is similar is the accident of the same sounds. And similar remarks apply to the arbitrary in relation to the false. Sounds which are disconnected from reality, may in a different cognitive context signify an idea, which is false.

Now I think you can understand easily enough why it is not your responsibility to refute someone's arbitrary assertion—in other words to try to find or imagine arguments which will show that the assertion is false. It is fundamental error on your part, if you even try to do this. The rational procedure in regard to an arbitrary assertion is to dismiss it out of hand. Merely identifying it as arbitrary, and as such inadmissible and un-discussible. In this respect, Objectivism agrees emphatically that the venerable principle of logic—a principle that is very widely ignored or violated by people today—and that is the principle that you must not attempt to prove a negative—in other words to prove the nonexistence of something for which no evidence has been offered. The onus of proof is on him who asserts the positive. If a person asserts a positive, that, such and such exists, he is required to produce evidence supporting his claim. If he does, you must either accept his conclusions or refute his evidence. But if he offers no evidence for X's existence you dismiss his claim without argumentation, simply on the grounds that it's arbitrary. The fact is, it's impossible to prove a negative, in the sense of prove that something does not exist when no evidence has been offered for its existence. And the basic reason for this is metaphysical. It's the fact that existence exists, and only existence exists. There is no nothing. A thing which exists is something. It is. It's out there in the world. And as such it has effect, consequences, results, by which in principle it's possible for one to grasp and prove it, either directly by perceptual means, or indirectly by its consequences as the method we discovered adds. But a nonexistent is nothing. It is not a type of existence. It is not a special constituent of reality, which gives off special effects which you could hope to detect. Take green gremlins for instance as the classic case. Now they don't exist. They're nothing. And as such there are no special effects, manifestations, or signs of these non-gremlins, by which even in principle they could be detected. Imagine how fantastic it would be to say, point out to me the facts of reality which follow from the nonexistence of gremlins. Yet, that's what it would mean if someone asked you to prove the non-gremlin. All argument, discussion, proof, thought, refutation must begin with, must take off from what exists—the positive. You can't start from, or do anything with a zero. If someone gives you evidence for a positive claim, then you can, assuming he's mistaken, refute his claim. Now in other words you can show him his evidence has been misinterpreted, and it doesn't lead to the conclusion that he believes. But you can't prove the negative directly, when the positive is asserted out of the blue with no evidential base. In such a case, the proper procedure is simply to declare about the claim, arbitrary out.

Now while we're on this issue, please understand, that to dismiss a claim as arbitrary is not the same as saying about some issue, I don't know, or I haven't made up my mind, or I have no opinion. To say I don't know about an issue implies that the issue has some relation to human cognition and to reality, in other words that there's some kind of evidence on the question one way or the other, and therefore that it is a valid subject to consider, but you don't have enough to go on to enable you to decide, so you say, I don't know. For instance, perhaps you, personally haven't the time to study the evidence on a certain question, even if it's clear and abundant, as in regard to scientific specialties like medicine and physics, etcetera. Or perhaps the evidence on a certain issue is so evenly balanced or so confused and fragmentary, that you simply cannot decide what the right conclusion is. Then to say, I don't know, is perfectly appropriate. But, if someone asks you about the green gremlins, it is irrational and improper to respond, I don't know. Because the question is, what don't you know? What evidence haven't you studied? What evidence have you been unable to clarify? What is the basis to believe there is anything to know on this issue? Anything to consider? Obviously, there is no such evidence or basis at all. In other words, I don't know, properly applies only where some kind of evidence exists, where the issue is validly subject to consideration. The question is legitimate, but you're not in a position to judge. And then the proper response can be, I have no opinion, I am ignorant, etcetera. In regard to the arbitrary, however, the proper response is, I do know, and what I know is this claim is to be thrown out as arbitrary, period.

Now why do I make a big issue out of this point? Because of a widespread and very irrational phenomenon today which Objectivism repudiates altogether, and that of course is agnosticism. Now I mean this term in a sense applies to the question of God, but much, much wider, to many other issues, such as extrasensory perception, or the claim that the stars influence man's destiny, or that Duke University professors have claimed to remember their previous life as the devil and go to Hollywood to get exorcised, etcetera. Now in regard to all of these and to countless equivalents, the agnostic is the type who says, I can't prove these claims are true, but you can't prove they're false. So the only proper conclusion is, I don't know. No one knows. No one can know one way or the other.

Now, if you've been following, see how many errors and fallacies you can spot in this viewpoint—the agnostic viewpoint—which poses as fair, impartial and balanced. Here are a few obvious points, just off the top of your head. First the agnostic allows the arbitrary into the realm of human cognition. He treats arbitrary claims as issues proper to consider, discuss, evaluate, and then he regretfully says, I don't know, instead of dismissing the arbitrary out of hand. Second, the onus of proof issue. The agnostic demands proof of a negative in a context where no evidence for the positive exists or is offered. It's up to you, he says, to prove that the fourth moon of Jupiter did not cause your sex life, and it was not a result of your previous incarnation as the Pharaoh of Egypt, etcetera, etcetera. Third, the agnostic says, maybe these things will one day be proved. In other words, he asserts possibilities an hypotheses arbitrarily with no jot of evidence or basis. And finally, at least finally for all I'll say this evening, the agnostic miscalculates. He thinks that he is avoiding any position that will antagonize anybody. In fact he is taking a position more hostile to reason than a man who takes a definite but mistaken stand on a given issue. Because the agnostic treats crudely, arbitrary claims as meriting cognitive consideration and epistemological respect. He treats the arbitrary as on a par with, as equal to the rational and evidentially supported. So he is the ultimate epistemological egalitarian, equating the arbitrary and the proved. And as such, he is an epistemological destroyer, incomparably more virulent than a man who takes a specific stand on the basis of definite arguments, however badly mistaken. The agnostic—now this is true whether in regard to God or any such issue—the agnostic thinks that he is not taking any stand at all, and therefore that he is safe, secure, and invulnerable to attack. The fact is that his view is one of the falsest, the most irrational, the most cowardly stands that there can be. So my conclusion on this point is, don't be agnostics. If you consider any question, study the evidence available, weigh the possibilities, and then within the evidence and the laws of logic make up your mind and take a position. Of course if there is no evidence, you can't and shouldn't consider the question. Just throw it out as arbitrary.

All right. Let's go on. I've been stressing in various forms the inadmissibility of the arbitrary. Not all arbitrary claims, however, are explicitly identified as such by their authors. Some statements are seemingly fortified by an array of complex arguments. And yet the arguments themselves are of a peculiar kind. They are based on nothing. They are detached from reality, and as such worthless as cognition or as evidence.

3. Rationality vs. rationalism

And that brings us to the next issue this evening, rationality versus irrationalism. Now in the history of philosophy the term rationalism is contrasted with empiricism. These are two technical terms, naming two schools of philosophy which have been at war with each other from ancient Greece to the present. The rationalists in a word, are those philosophers who stress the role of reason, or logic, or concepts in the acquisition of knowledge, while disparaging, denying or dispensing with the senses—the school which includes people like Plato, Augustine, Descartes, Leibniz and Hegel.

The empiricists on the other hand, and that includes men like Locke, Hume, John Stuart Mill, modern pragmatists. They stress the role of experience, sensations or percepts in the acquisition of knowledge while disparaging, denying or claiming to dispense with logic and the conceptual faculty. Now both these schools lead to disaster. And Objectivism regards this kind of fight as a completely futile false alternative. We reject both camps. If you understand the Objectivist epistemology, you will see how ridiculous it is to give man the choice logic or experience, reason or observation, concepts or percepts. Because the essence of human cognition is the proper integration of these two aspects. Knowledge is acquired by logical identification of experiential data, by the application of reason to observed facts, by conceptualizing of perceptual data.  Now my two courses on The History of Philosophy, and I might mention also my article on The Analytic, Synthetic Dichotomy, present many aspects of this false alternative between rationalism and empiricism and cover the Objectivist attack on both schools, and alternative to them. So I'm not going to pursue the historical issue further here.

What I want to do now, is to focus specifically on rationalism, in a sense related to, but broader that the technical definition that I've just given you. Rationalism is a method of thought, a profoundly mistaken method used not only by avowed rationalists, but by most of the men who call themselves empiricists and by many others, too. Rationalism in this wider sense is the type of thought process an avowed rationalist would use, but it is often used unwittingly even by people who profess to officially reject all the rationalist tenets. Now the essence of rationalism in this sense is deduction without reference to reality, deduction without reference to reality. In other words, ignoring observational evidence, seizing in a vacuum on some arbitrary idea or premise which sounds more or less plausible, and proceeding to deduce from it a set of consequences, thereby building a floating construct, one which in fact is completely arbitrary, which may appear imposing, yet rests on nothing—like a castle in the air—and culminating in a conclusion that boldly contradicts observed facts, but which the person clings to, insisting that he has proved it, so the facts must be wrong, and he proceeds to deny the facts. In other words, you start with an arbitrary preconception, unthinkingly taken as self-evident, which you don't attempts to relate to observed facts. That's the equivalent, for those of you who know the history of philosophy, of Plato's Innate Ideas. And then there's a chain of deductions from that starting point, leading to a conclusion that defies facts, but which you cling to never-the-less. That is the essence of the rationalist method. If we could dignify it by applying the word thinking to it, it's thinking without looking at reality. Thinking as a game of manipulating words in the mind without reference to existence. Thinking where you're concerned only with deductive relation of ideas to one another, not the relation of your ideas to reality.

Now a blatant example of this approach occurred near the very beginning of Western philosophy in the clash between two early Greek philosophers, Parmenides and Heraclites. Both these men started with the premise that change—by which they meant any motion or event—change they said involves a contradiction, a violation of A is A. A changing thing, they said is the same thing after the change, but it's changed, so it's different. It's not the same. So it's a contradiction. It's the same and not the same. Aristotle—I interject parenthetically—refuted this thoroughly, but that's not our subject tonight. Our point here is, starting from this premise, change involves a contradiction, as though it were simply obvious and incontestable. Parmenides and Heraclites proceeded to deduce consequences regardless of fact. Parmenides said, well, change involves a contradiction, contradictions are impossible, therefore change is impossible. If you asked him, well what about all the changes we observe, like the seasons, the tide, men walking and talking, you, yourself writing your philosophy down. His answer was. none of occurs. It's all an illusion.

Heraclites made the opposite deduction. Since change involves a contradiction and change exists, there is he said, no identity. The world doesn't consist of things with definite natures. There's only a stream of floating contradictions. And if you asked him, well what about the stable entities with definite identities we actually observe, tables, chairs, mountains, sun. His answer is, that's an illusion, it's unreal, a deception of the senses. Now you get the method. You start with an arbitrary or unwarranted starting point taken as incontestable. You engage in a floating deduction without reference to reality, culminating in a conclusion which you flaunt and define as fact. Miss Rand once gave me this eloquent example of the pattern. She made it up, but it really captures the pattern. A rationalist mentality, she said, would come out with some premise like, man has only two eyes, so he can see only two things—one with each eye. Why? The rationalist doesn't ask why. It sounds okay to him. It sounds neat and symmetrical, two eyes, two things. He accepts it. At which point, two schools of philosophy arise. One says, men do see only two things, everything else they don't actually see. It's an illusion we just think we see. And the opposing school says, oh, yes, men do see countless things, not just two, but that's because of all the hidden eyes we possess that no one knows about. 

Now you see, if you say, but look, in reality your basic premise isn't true. If you look and observe, you will see that men only have two eyes, and they see many things. To a real rationalist mentality that is actually and irrelevant remark. He's not concerned with reality. It does not come up in his thinking. He has decided that his conclusion about eyes takes precedence over the way things are. His idea supersedes the facts of reality. Now I'd like particularly the philosophy majors among you, but all of you, to notice that this same method of function—juggling ideas without reference to reality—is also possible in negative contexts. In other words to refute an opponent—and that leads to what we can call rationalist polemics—now in this you try to refute an opponent, not by pointing out facts of reality which he overlooked, but merely by showing him that his ideas contain an internal contradiction.

In other words in this type of polemics, you accept the basic premises of your opponent. You say, all right, I'll concede your fundamental, and then you try to show him that somewhere along the line he has contradicted his own premises. Now there is nothing per say, with showing a man that he has contradicted himself. That can often be an important valuable activity. But what makes rationalist polemics so dangerous—if it's you characteristic method of functioning—is that the individual doing this type of refuting tends to stop looking at reality altogether after a while, his eyes exclusively on his opponent to see how he can trap him, while accepting the opponents premises. And so again the person is focused, not on the relation of ideas to reality, but on ideas apart from reality. And he is prepared to swallow gigantic untruths—of course, temporarily, he says—in order to show that they lead to an inner conflict, so he can demolish an opponent. Now this is not a good method of refuting someone. And, I might add, it characteristically fails even as polemics, because once you accept your opponent's basic premises, he sets the terms, thereafter, and if he has any brains, you are very quickly going to be at his mercy, instead of the other way around.

Now let's mention the fallacy that was first identified by Ayn Rand, and endemic to rationalism, inherent in his whole approach. the fallacy of rewriting reality, which we touched on in Lecture 2. This is the fallacy of approaching reality with some arbitrary misconception or preconception, and proceeding to deny or dismiss any fact of reality which doesn't fit it. The underlying premise is in effect, facts—speaking of metaphysical facts—facts are not an absolute, they're not necessary, they don't have to be accepted and adhered to just because they're facts, therefore the person feels free to start projecting an alternative to the facts, an alternative to reality as it is. He's free to imagine a different reality from the one that exists. The universe as it actually exists in reality is treated like a temporary first draft of reality. And the person proposes to rewrite it. Now philosophically, of course, this idea is completely false. If you understood Lecture 2, you understand that reality as such could not have been other than it is. But metaphysical facts are necessary. That there's no alternative to them. What is metaphysically, has to be.

Now what kind of philosophy would regard facts as not necessary, and thus be tempted to start rewriting reality? Well the actual root of this theory is the primacy of consciousness, and more specifically, religion. The idea that facts are not necessary is based implicitly on the idea that the universe was created arbitrarily by some supernatural power, who could have created it differently, that everything in effect is an accident or a miracle—in other words a product of divine will. Now the most famous statement of this approach is from the philosopher, Leibniz, who declared that the universe that exists is one of many possible worlds, as he put it. The rest don't happen to exist, he said, because God chose ours as the best of all the possible worlds. But the point is, all the rest are possible. God could have, or might still choose them, as far as that goes, and they're extremely different from the one that exists now. Well on this view, existence is not an absolute, and we can properly spend our time projecting or imagining, or wishing for alternatives to it. You see the complete failure to grasp the meaning of existence exists. Now this religious metaphysics is held by implication by all kinds of people who do not formally believe in God. Examples of people attempting to rewrite reality in various ways is legion, and I refer you again in this connection to Miss Rand's article, The Metaphysical Versus the Manmade, which discusses many, many examples.

The examples from philosophers are also legion. I mean thinkers who arbitrarily declare that a given fact of reality doesn't have to be so, or can't be so, and proceed to deny or reject the facts and offer a rewritten version. For instance, knowledge shouldn't have to depend on the senses. It should be direct without me, and if it has to come through the senses, it's no good. If I had created reality, that's the way I would have arranged it. In other words, this viewpoint says, what actually exists is to be rejected. I don't like reality's model of knowledge. I have my own rewritten version. Or, one final example: man can't have two attributes, consciousness and matter. Why? Because two can't exist. Why? I say so. And therefore, one of them must be an illusion, and you get the mystics of spirit and the mystics of muscle, each of them rewrites reality according to his arbitrary choices. There are countless further examples.

To combat this fallacy, two things are necessary. Epistemologically you must avoid rationalism. In other words, you must always start with facts and base your premises and arguments on your observation of reality, not on rationalist constructs. And metaphysically, you must accept the fact that existence exists, and existence is irreducible, that it is an absolute to which there is no alternative, and for which there is no deeper cause. Which means don't try to get underneath metaphysical facts. Don't accept the idea that this is one of any possible worlds, or that some kind of special reason has to be given for why the universe is as it is, rather than some other way. The universe is a primary, and you cannot get beneath it. So, I advise you, therefore, to reject such questions as, why does matter have to be atomic, just because it is. Why does there have to be motion, not any particular motion, but motion as such. Why must there be space and time in the universe? Why must water be perceived by man as wet, and the sky as blue, etcetera. In general, all those questions of the form, why does this A have to be A just because it actually is A? Because the answer to all such questions is, it is A. A is A, period. And if you reject these baseless questions, you will be free to address yourself to the questions that actually matter. All right, so much for rationalism for tonight. Now let's take a short break.

4. Rationality vs. emotionalism

All right, let us continue. If reason is the faculty which enables man to grasp reality, and the fundamental principle of reality is the Law of Identity, then rationality must involve recognizing and adhering to A is A. In other words, rationality includes and is based on accepting the primacy of existence as an absolute. The commonest means by which people attempt to escape from or subvert the primacy of existence, is not by open explicit advocacy of the primacy of consciousness, but by unstated implication. The implication of their policy in regard to emotions. Essential to rationality is the proper policy and attitude in regard to emotions, in other words, in establishing a proper relationship in your mind between emotions and facts. Now we've said repeatedly in this course that emotions are consequences of conclusions that we have automatized. That as such emotions have no power over reality and don't constitute a means of knowledge.

Now emotions have a very important role in life and in the enjoyment of life, and there's nothing wrong with them if, if you always recognize that they are derivative phenomena, not primary—effects, not causes. If your primary is reality, the facts exist. They are what they are. You accept and adhere to them. And then within that framework you form various value judgments based on facts, and then experience the consequences of emotions and desires, fine, that is the rational order. In such a case the primary absolute in your consciousness is existence. It, is. And your desires, wishes and so on are clearly identified by you as consequences which follow from your judgment of facts.

The fundamental error you can make on this issue is to attempt to give emotions primacy over reality—to invert the proper relation between feelings and facts—to treat one's feelings as a primary and to regard facts and thoughts as secondary consequences of feeling. Now this of course, is a form of the primacy of consciousness—the idea that feelings create facts. And this is what Objectivism describes as placing an I wish over an it is. Now this emotionless policy is a subversion of rationality at the most fundamental level, because it is an assault directed against reality itself. Unfortunately, there are a great many examples of it. Any act of evasion for instance, consists of refusing to recognize some fact on the grounds that I don't want this fact to be so, therefore I won't look at it will evaporate or self-destruct. Now that is following an I wish over an it is. Rationality consists of identifying facts first, and then forming or if necessary adjusting one's desires accordingly. Evasion consists of starting with a feeling and trying to adjust reality, accordingly. But reality in this regard is not adjustable, because A is A. Or again, any act of rewriting reality, in other words, rebelling against some metaphysical fact and projecting a different universe on the premise, I don't want this reality. What is, is unsatisfactory, so I will dispense with it. What I wish takes precedence. That's the I wish over the it is.

Now most people who place wishes over reality, do so more less furtively, or by implication, assuming they've had a long college career. Many philosophers, however, make it their explicit stock-in-trade. They spend their time openly advocating this emotionless policy. In fact you can say, that every anti-rational school, in one form or another, is emotionless in this sense at the root. For instance, mysticism consists of holding that emotions are a means of knowledge, which permit its advocates to say, I want X to be true, I feel that it should be true, therefore, that makes it true. Or, skepticism consists of saying, no one can know anything. There are no facts, so we're free to surrender to our feelings. There's nothing to stand in their way. The skeptics working primary, once he has thrown out all facts and knowledge, can only be, I feel it, I want it.

Similarly at the root of every philosophic assault on reason or reality you will find this same emotionless policy and motive. Any man who rebels against reason or reality, does so ultimately in the name of a feeling or desire that reason does not permit him.

In one of the most culturally and philosophically clarifying passages in Galt's speech, he makes this point—and I recommend this passage to you if you ever feel overwhelmed and

hopelessly bewildered by the number and complexity of the irrational doctrines that you hear everywhere. And I mean the passage that begins—and I quote just the opening:

"And that is the whole of their shabby secret, the secret of all their esoteric philosophies, of all their dialectics and super-senses, of their evasive eyes and snarling words; the secret for which they pierce their own eyes and eardrums, grind out their senses, blank out their minds; the purpose for which they dissolve the absolutes of reason, logic, matter, existence, reality is to erect upon that plastic fog a single holy absolute—their wish."

I suggest that you study the whole development there, because it explains the cultural, historical phenomenon, which is otherwise unintelligible.

Now the Law of Identity, as you know, has the corollary—the Law of Causality. Rationality includes recognizing, therefore, the Law of Causality, and never attempting to evade or recognize or deny it. In common practice there are three main forms of evading or denying the Law of Causality. One—seeking effects without causes. In other words, desiring an effect, but taking no action of any kind to bring it about, or to enact the necessary cause. The individual in such a case behaves as though it were not necessary to act in order to achieve the satisfaction of his desires. He feels he need merely wish or hope or pray for the effect. If you ask him, well what will bring it about? His answer is—and I quote from Galt's speech:

"If an honest person asks them, how? They answer with righteous scorn, that a how is a concept of vulgar realists. The concept of superior spirits is, somehow."

Now this kind of passive, somehow wishing, is a rejection of reality. In reality there is no somehow. If you seek an effect, you must give some thought of how to achieve it. And you must proceed to do something, not just wish, but to act. Again, it is, is the primary, not I wish. And in this context, it is means the Law of Cause and Effect is. And if you want the effect you must enact the cause.

So, for instance, if you want a career as a writer, you cannot forever put off writing and go to the movies while waiting for inspiration, somehow to seize you. If you want wealth, or romance, or freedom, or any other value, it is not enough to say, X is a good thing, I want it, and quit there. You must determine how to gain and keep it, and then act accordingly. Now today, the righteous assertion of goals divorced from any idea of the means required to achieve them is rampant. In this connection, I suggest that you reread Miss Rand's The Conflict of Men's Interest in The Virtue of Selfishness, which has very important discussion of this present point. One of the reasons, I should say, for this somehow attitude—a reason so widespread today—is because on today's dominant philosophy, all you have to do is establish your good intentions in the eyes of some authority by wishing for the right things, and then God or the State will suspend causality and work a miracle. In regard to politics, for instance, how often do you hear today, everyone should have decent medical care, or a satisfying job, or adequate recreation, or higher education, etcetera? How? Who will provide it all? By what means? At what cost? With the whom as the victims, in other words, what is the cause to be? No answer.

No concern for any answer on the part of a great many people, and even more politicians. They have a noble goal, they say, and noble goals should not be restricted or sullied by any discussion of means—in other words, by causality, in other words, by identity, in other words by reality.

Now, two, a second converse evasion of causality is seeking causes without effects. In other words, wanting a certain action or cause and enacting it, while evading or ignoring its necessary effects. Now I mean here all the people who take an action, which logically and necessarily will lead to a certain result, who don't want that result, but whose solution is, don't think of it. Evade the consequences and they won't occur. Now obvious examples are: alcoholics, drug addicts, etcetera, who want the liquor, or the drug or whichever, and evade the long-range results, the hangovers, the progressive self-destruction and so on. This in essence is the range of the moment type, whose psychology is, I can get away with it, but A is A and he actually can't.

In politics this would include the kind of people who demand various government actions to deal with various problems of moment; more loans, more subsidies, more welfare, whatever—ignoring the inevitable results, ignoring the principle involved, the progressive escalation of controls, the long range implications. They don't want dictatorship, yet they urge every action that leads to it, and when the consequence finally occurs, they are utterly amazed, and they ask, who could possibly be responsible for it.

When a man takes or advocates an action, he must give thought to the results, and he must be prepared for them. And if he does not want those results, he must alter his action appropriately. Now this is very simple advice, yet it can have very dramatic consequences. As a very simple example, about twenty years ago I knew a businessman, who participated in a philosophic discussion about cause and effect. And a few months later he was asked what he got out of it. And he replied that he golfed much better, as a result specifically, he putted much better. The people in the room express surprise, and he explained, I use to just hit the ball in the general direction of the hole. But after that discussion I said to myself, every action has an effect. And if I hit the ball differently, I will produce a different, better effect. And it did, and his game improved immeasurably. Well, obviously, the same principle is applicable to a life and not merely to golf.

Now, three, I want to mention a final evasion of causality. This is not merely an attempt to escape the law, by having effects without causes, or vise versa, but the attempt to reverse cause and effect. I other words to have the effect produce the cause. I other words to wish for an effect without earning or acting for it, and then to expect that effect somehow to provide one with the cause he refused to achieve or enact. And I quote an excerpt from Galt on this:

"You want unearned love, as if love—the effect—could give you personal value—the cause. You want unearned admiration, as if admiration—the effect—would give you virtue—the cause. You want unearned wealth, as if wealth—the effect—could give you ability—the cause."

In all these cases and many others, the individual is not merely seeking the ostensible object of his quest, such as love or wealth or whatever. He wants the meaning of the object, a meaning which implies the cause that he, himself has not enacted, but he wants to pretend that he has. So he is trying a huge fake to evade his default in regard to the cause by flaunting the appearance of the effect. Now we'll discuss a bit more about this when we get to ethics.

Now the fallacy of reversing cause and effect is rampant, intellectually, today. Also, as Galt observes in his next sentence:

"And to indulge your ugly little shams, you support the doctrines of your teachers, while they run hog-wild proclaiming that spending—the effects creates riches-the cause. That machinery—the effects—creates intelligence—the cause. That your sexual desires—the effect—creates your philosophical values—the cause."

I assume you know that these three are Cain, Marx and Freud Now notice that I have not yet said that any of these anti-identity, anti-causality policies are immoral. We haven't yet come to morality. I've merely said that they are anti-reality and anti-reason. Their moral status, I will get to next time. Now to sum up, rationality is adherence to reality, including identity and its corollary, causality. Now this kind of adherence, as we have seen several times in the course, is volitional, which brings us to the next subject, Rationality and Volition.

5. Rationality and free will

There are some points here which I promised to discuss when we treated volition earlier in Lecture 3—now is the time. Now in Lecture 3 I presented the Objectivist Theory of Volition, but I did not stress or identify its distinctiveness. And that's the issue I want to turn to now. There have been many advocates of free will in the history of philosophy, in the sense of men who held that determinism is false, and that man has the power to make choices. But no one before Ayn Rand grasped that the faculty of reason is the faculty of volition; that the fundamental locus of free will is man's conceptual faculty, that the essence of human choice is to think, or not.  Previous advocates of free will on the whole, have attached volition to every aspect of man, except his conceptual faculty. Most often free will has been construed as the power to choose one's emotions directly, and or, as the power to choose actions independent of any thought. Now I want to look at each of these to clarify the Objectivist view of free will further, by way of contrast.

Now if you understand the Objectivist view of emotions, you will see at once the error of ascribing to man the ability to choose emotions, desire, any kind of feelings directly, by an act of will. Feelings or emotions are consequences of prior automatized conclusions. They are not subject to direct choice. You cannot will emotions into, or out of existence. Your emotions of course are products of your conclusions, and as such they are in your power, and you do control them ultimately, but not directly. You control them by the fact of having control over their causes. If you disapprove of a certain emotion or desire, you have the power to change them by a process of thought—in other words by identifying the intellectual causes and altering the relevant conclusions and value judgments accordingly. I may say, this can be a difficult, complex, lengthy thought process in certain cases, but the point is that it is, in principle, possible.

Feelings and emotions are the result of thinking or non-thinking you have chosen to do. Because you can retain volitional control over the root over the process of thought, you have the power to control the consequences of the process.

Now consider action. I mean here physical, existential action as distinguished from actions of consciousness. According to many traditional free will theorists, man chooses actions directly, independent of his ideas, conclusions, value judgments. To choose an action on this view is the blind commitment. You just act arbitrarily, for no reason, no value operative—the mind and its content, irrelevant. The classic example of this theory is the ancient Greek philosopher and free will advocate, Epicurus, who held that the universe and man consists of atoms in motion. That most of the time these atoms obey physical laws, but periodically they shoot sideways for no reason at all. They just suddenly lurch causelessly, which has come to be known as an Epicurean Swerve.

And that's his idea of free will.  When man freely chooses an action, that means a blind swerve on the part of some atom. Now, obviously, Objectivism denies this kind of idea entirely. Human actions have causes, and the causes are what a man thinks, his knowledge, his conclusions, value judgments. Man cannot act without any reason. Free will does not consist of causeless action. In a broad sense a man's actions like his emotions reflect and follow from the content of his mind. But there's a difference here, and important difference between emotions and actions. Neither are primaries. Both derive from one's premises and ideas. Emotions, however, are an automatic derivative. and are not subject to direct choice. Actions are subject to direct choice. The realm of action—speaking here of existential action—is the realm of continual choice. To put the point negatively, you must not think that your actions follow automatically or deterministically from your conclusions and value judgments with no choice or effort on your part. This is not true of action. Once you have accepted certain ideas and value judgments your choice in regards to actions—this is a choice you must make continually and in every issue—your choice is to act in accordance with your values or not. And that's what I want to explain to you.

To act in accordance with your values in the sense I mean, is a complex, effort demanding responsibility. It means that you must be in full focus, when you initiate an action, that you know what you're doing and why you are doing it. It means that you assume the premise of purpose, the responsibility of selecting a goal and carrying out systematically by deliberate, sustained activity across a span of time, in the face of potential obstacles or difficulties. It means that you commit yourself to long-range action. It means that you act according to the full context of your values. In other words you keep in mind that you have many values, many goals and purposes. That they have a certain hierarchy of importance to you. Some being lesser than or subordinate to others. This hierarchy determines the time and effort that's rational for you to spend on any one. In other words you have to integrate what you are doing today with the rest of your goals and purposes, judge the effect of what you are doing on them, weigh the alternatives and then select accordingly. All of this is involved in acting in accordance with your values. Yet this is precisely what is not automatic or determined. A man can hold and accept a whole set of values and conclusions, can actually hold and accept a whole set of values and conclusions, and then in action choose to betray or default on, to default on the complex responsibility involved, to go out of focus, drop purpose, ignore context and hierarchy and consequences, and simply surrender passively to the whim and spur of the moment, and let himself drift, moved from minute by minute, short range, out of context, accidental facts—like random feelings, telephone calls, whatever. Such a man becomes like a puppet of the determinist theory, pulled by outside strings. But the point is that he himself chose this state by choosing to drop the responsibility of focus and purpose. So in the realm of action, you could summarize that man's choice is actually twofold. One, he must choose by a process of thought, the values and ideas that can motivate and shape him for that, and then two, who having accepted a coat of values, he must choose to act on his values to keep his purposes in mind all the time and be guided by them. You see, you can't say, I hold certain values, now I'll just sit back and let the values push me into action. Action is not automatic. You must choose to practice what you preach.

Do your actions, then, have causes? Yes. Does that mean determinism? No. Because it's up to you to choose the operative cause, to choose whether to act on long-range purpose, or out of focus, random urges. In either case, your actions, when you take them, will have a reason. But you remain the sovereign power, because your choice determines what kind of reason is operative. No I hope you see the parallel here to what we said in Lecture 3 in regard to thought processes. We said, in any mental process, there would be a reason for the various steps you take, and we can explain each, but this does not imply determinism, because your choice at each moment is what kind of reason moves you, the reality orientation, or the out of focus drift.

Well, you see the same principle applies to action. Every action you take, has a cause, and can be explained, but this does not mean determinism, because your choice is what kind of reason moves you, the value orientation or out of focus drifting. You see, it's actually the same issue in both areas. To think, to focus on reality, or not. And this leads us to a final statement of the difference between the Objectivist view on these questions and the two traditional views.

The two traditional views, by the way, are determinism on the one hand and the Epicurean view on the other. The more technical name for the Epicurean view is Indeterminism. In before the word determinism. And that's defined as the view that free will implies causeless action. And that's the choice you're offered by philosophers— determinism versus indeterminism.

Now observe the false dichotomy these two schools offer. The determinist in this context says, your knowledge or your value judgments act on you automatically and force you to think and act a certain way independent of any choice on your part. In other words, he says, reality forces itself upon you. It pushes you into thought or action. You merely remain passive. Reality supplies the cause, which inexorably moves you.

On the other hand, the indeterminist says, no, man is free, which means, he says, that man thinks and acts causelessly, without knowledge, without evidence, without value judgments. He functions independent of reality, by arbitrary whim. On this view, reality is the obstacle to choice. Freedom means the arbitrary, that which is out of relation to reality.

Now, think. What false alternative that we discussed several times but not in this context at all, what false alternative does this dichotomy remind you of and repeat. I'll give you one more clue by a point of statement. The determinist says, reality forces itself on you while you remain passive. The indeterminist says we function independent of reality. The answer is: determinist is the intrinsicist on this issue. Indeterminist is the subjectivist. Again, we see the false alternative of the intrinsic versus the subjective, this time in regard to the free will issue. The determinist, the intrinsicist says, reality forced itself automatically on man, who is a passive creature moved by external forces, intrinsic in reality apart from man. The indeterminist, subjectivist says, man functions independent of reasons, of causes, of reality, in other words, subjectively.

What alternative do both omit: the objective view, which in this context means that man cannot act arbitrarily. He must retain his relationship to reality—that's as against indeterminism. But this relationship is not a passive given. It must be achieved—as against determinism. And that this is the essence of human volition, establishing and maintaining the proper contact between one's mind and reality. You can look at it like this. The determinist, the determinist tells you that reality will take care of everything by itself, so, thinking in effect is useless. And the indeterminist tells you, to hell with reality, so thinking is out. Only the Objectivist tells you, man must adhere to reality by choice, by his own effort. So, think.

Now I think you can see why the idea of a conflict between volition and causality is preposterous. The idea of such a conflict stems from the false alternative of determinism versus indeterminism. For the determinist, causality is the intrinsicist agent which beats man into passive submission. For the indeterminist—the Epicurean type—causality is the voice of reality interfering with his whim. For the Objectivist, causality is a fact of reality and it does characterize man's behavior, but in accordance with man's nature including his power of choice.

Now as a further clarification here, please remember that causality is not identical to mechanistic causality—the kind that's applicable when one billiard ball strikes another, and the second rebounds inexorably and strikes another third and so on. In this kind of causality, every event is necessitated by previous factors and choice is obviously impossible. Mechanistic causation is, however, is only one form of causality. As a metaphysical principle in an essential formulation, causality asserts a necessary relationship between an entity and nature and its actions. The Law of Causality does not specify any particular kind of action or of entity. It does not say, only mechanistic relationships can occur. It does not say the universe is made up of billiard balls. It says only, whatever an entity is, it acts in accordance with its nature. And whatever kinds of actions there are, they're performed and determined by the entity which acts. Well the point is, choice is a form of action. Selecting among alternatives is an action, performed by an entity with a specific consciousness and brain. An entity necessitated to choose by its identity. Now this is complete causality. The action is caused by the nature of the entity and cannot be otherwise. The particular choice in any given case is free. It could have gone in another direction. The choice could have been different. But the type of action, the type of choice as such is unavoidable. By the nature of human consciousness you cannot escape the need to choose, a fact which existentialists for instance, confirm by bewailing it. If you've ever heard them moan, whatever choice I make I cut off some possibility when I can't escape. I have to choose all the time. And of course this is true. The need to choose is inherent in a volitional consciousness. In other words, it's an entity of a certain kind, so it must act in a certain way. Same cause. Same effect. In facts like these there is no abrogation or violation whatever of cause and effect.

All right now we can sum up the distinctively Objectivist view of free will. The primary choice, the essence of free will, the choice to think or not, as we have characterized it at length throughout this course. And that choice which must be remade continuously underlies and conditions the kinds of choices you make thereafter. It conditions the steps of your mental processes, and the kinds of conclusions and value judgments you come to, and the kinds of emotions you will experience and the kinds of actions you will select. The characteristic way you approach the choice underlies all the rest. At the root of everything about you, therefore, is the issue, how do you choose to use your consciousness.

So man, according to Objectivism is—as we said in the opening lecture and as we've now finally established it fully—man is a being of self-made soul. Now on this point, I give Galt the last word:

"That which you call your free will, is your mind's freedom to think, or not. The only will you have, your only freedom, the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and your character."

6. Psycho-epistemology

Now in connection with our discussion that everything man's mind has a nature, an identity. There's one subject I want, not to cover, but to have touched on briefly, and that is psycho-epistemology. This is a concept originated by Miss Rand. Psycho-epistemology deals with a man's habitual method of awareness, his method of cognitive function, his way of thinking and using his mind. Now Ayn Rand defines the concept as:

"the study of man's cognitive processes from the aspect of the interaction between man's conscious mind and the automatic functions of his subconscious."

The study of man's cognitive processes from the aspect of the interaction between man's conscious mind and the automatic functions of his subconscious. Now in the barest outline, the facts here are, that all means of acquiring knowledge by conscious effort and then automatized, and storing the knowledge in one's subconscious, so that the knowledge is thereafter available to your instant recall, and your conscious mind is free to go on to acquire further knowledge. For instance, in learning a new language, you must first focus deliberately on the vocabulary, the rules, etcetera, and at a certain point you automatize this knowledge. Your subconscious is in effect programmed a certain way, it retains the knowledge without further effort on your part. And that knowledge is instantly available to you in the future when you need it.

Well this general pattern of automatization applies to your method of thinking, also. In other words, not merely to the content of your thought, but to your psycho-epistemology, also. I want to quote a key passage from The Comprachicos, pertaining to the process of forming and using concepts:

"It is not an innate, but an acquired skill. It has to be learned, It is the most crucially important part of learning. And all of man's other capacities depend on how well or how badly he learns it. This skill does not pertain to the particular content of a man's knowledge at any given age, but to the method by which he acquires and organizes knowledge, the method by which his mind deals with its content. The method programs his subconscious computer, determining how efficiently, lamely, or disastrously his cognitive processes will function. The programming of a man's subconscious consists of the kind of cognitive habits he acquires. These habits constitute his psycho-epistemology. It is a child's early experience, observations, and sub-verbal conclusions that determine this programming."

Now I urge you to read this article. It's reprinted in The New Left, The Anti-Industrial Revolution. In this article, Miss Rand illustrates and concretizes in detail the kinds of issues, alternatives and sub-verbal conclusions that are involved here.  

What I want to say now, is only this much. Most people know nothing at all about psycho-epistemology. They take the way they use their minds for granted. They would never think to identify or question or contemplate changing their basic methods of mental function. Yet, this kind of thinking can be disastrous if a person has a mistaken psycho-epistemology. And you can find yourself in a terrible conflict. You can find that you consciously advocate rational methods of gaining and validating knowledge, and yet, your automatic method of functioning—the one that feels natural to you—comes from an alien set of premises with which you have unknowingly programmed your sub-conscious. And the result is, you have a clash. You find that your mind can't seem to apply, or use properly, the philosophy that you officially and formally subscribe to. Now that's where you have to realize there is such a thing as psycho-epistemology. That people can automatize wrong methods of thought as a legacy of childhood errors without even knowing it. And that the first thing you must do in order to achieve intellectual control, in order to have the full power over your mind that volition makes possible, is to identify your psycho-epistemological methods and correct those if any which are not consonant with your adult knowledge.

Now this is a very, very crucial discovery of Miss Rand's, the discovery that there is such a thing as psycho-epistemology, and of its roots, find the forms it can take, and how to correct errors it in. Without this knowledge people would be left at the mercy of unidentified mental habits that they didn't even suspect. Habits, that perhaps derived unknowingly from childhood errors, that long were consciously renounced by them. Actually, the discovery of psycho-epistemology inaugurates a whole science, or branch of it. But since it belongs to psychology, and not to philosophy as such, I won't pursue it. For a full discussion of it, however, I refer you to the Comprachicos, which I've already mentioned, also to the title essay of For The New Intellectual, which discusses the psycho-epistemology of Attila and the Witch Doctor. and you might also look up an article by Dr. Alan Blumenthal called The Base of Objectivist Psychotherapy of, that's in June and July 1969 issues of The Objectivist, discusses that. I do want to make one homework assignment on this subject, however. I want you to study—this is over and above The Virtue of Selfishness already assigned—for next time a two part article by Miss Rand called The Missing Link, which is in The Ayn Rand Letter, May 7 and 21, 1973. Now that should be of great value to you at this point, in part because it's one of the clearest, to identify the whole subject of psycho-epistemology, and in part, because it will help to expand your concept of what is involved in rationality, which is after all our main topic this evening. Rationality, as you know, involves the conceptual level of consciousness. While there are men who automatize—if you can get this mouthful—who automatize anti-conceptual mentality, who make antipathy to conceptual functioning a part of their psycho-epistemology. Now these are the men described in The Missing Link. If you study this aberration, it will be a dramatic example of the role of psycho-epistemology in human life, and you'll have a further background in connection with the issue of rationality. And as you can probably guess, when we get to ethics, I'll have a little bit more to say about rationality. For now, however, I've said as much as time permits.

Now you know in essence what rationality is, and you know that man has the power of choice to exercise reason, or not, which immediately raises the question, if man has the power of choice, if he's not programmed by nature to act automatically, he must decide how to act. How? What goals is he to pursue? And, why? Why, those ones? And how do you know? How do you decide in regard to questions of value? This of course raises the subject of ethics, which we turn to next time. Thank you.

7. Question period

Now the first question I'd like to pick is one that Dr. Peikoff received and intended to answer today. In the meantime the questioner has sent the same question up again. And he is apparently very interested in what I think. He has same handwriting three times. So, let me read the first one and then I will read the other two, but we'll answer the first version which is the most detailed and it will make, I think, the question clear. The question goes as follows:

Q. My question is about the criteria of correspondence as a test of truth. [Criteria of correspondence, keep that in mind.] Granted an idea which corresponds to this object is indeed true, but how can one determine whether or not his idea does in fact bare a perfect correspondence to its object? To make this determination requires of some criterion other than correspondence, but if another test of truth has to be applied, the correspondence criteria becomes merely at the finishing of truth, not the decisive test. Besides a certain correspondence between and idea and reality we still need to apply a test that will disclose the precise degree of similarity between what we think and what actually exists. If so, what is it? How does it work?

A. Now first of all the most important thing here is the enormous error this questioner is making, and it's a good example of the fact, that if you make an error in your basic premise all the consequences will be false and will lead you to impossible questions such as this. The error is the idea that something other than correspondence is needed to establish correspondence. In other words, if I give you the same problem in transpose to  a different realm. If you say that someone is beautiful, you will be asked here, but we need some criterion other than beauty to establish beauty. Well, beauty is a complex criterion, you could say, a perfect harmony, or definition you wish, but you wouldn't say something other than beauty. You would merely get the more precise concept of beauty.

When you are asked to establish correspondence—now please focus on the reality of the abstraction—what does it mean to establish correspondence? It means to establish the similarity or the identity of A and B. It's to say A and B are similar, or identical or different. What criterion did you need to establish that? You're asked to compare some entities. If you have an extra criterion, the first thing that you discard is reality.

As a consequence of the demand for a criterion, this questioner regards his ideas as something separate from reality to begin with. This is a good example of rationalism at its ridiculous stage, because ergo, you've got to disclose the precise degree of similarity between what we think and what actually exists. How are you going to do that? How are you going to have the precise degree? Are you going to have such an idea as, well, my ideas correspond to reality approximately. I don't know exactly how much, but I think one tenth of a percent. When you speak of ideas, if you are exact, you have to be able to say, what is it in reality that your ideas represent. Just as using the minimal tool of ideas, meaning the concepts, unless you can say, what are the objects designated by your concepts, you have no moral or epistemological right to use that concept. You have to have the knowledge of what your concept refers to out there in reality before you can use it.

And if you know to use concepts, then you know how to organize them into grammatically correct sentences, and you know what it is that your sentences denote in reality. The question you have to follow in your mind constantly is, what am I talking about? If only to yourself, what am I thinking about? You do not draw any conclusion until, and unless you can point out to the facts of reality and say, I have concluded this about that. That's the test of correspondence. If for instance, you see another man picking a man's pocket, and you say, I see that this man stole another man's wallet. That's correspondence to reality. If, however, you see that action, you see the theft, you say, I don't know, I can't be sure of what I saw, then your statement does not correspond to reality. No special criterion is needed to establish that fact. Only two things are needed, the reality, and the kind of intellectual identification in the form of ideas that you give to that reality or make of it. Your thinking is not a separate attribute or collection of Platonic objects apart from reality which you then compare to reality.

The manner which this questioner is asking the question shows the Platonic element. The degree of similarity between what we think and what actually exists, what we think, if it is at all within the category of proper thinking, is a mental classification, or identification of what actually exists. Another Platonic and very dangerous element in this question is the word perfect correspondence. Now be really careful of the use of the word perfect. It's a very mystical concept. If anything, it does apply in the realm of ethics. But to apply it in the realm of cognition and epistemology is extremely dangerous, because what would be perfect correspondence? Well, according to some of the mystical uses of the word perfect, it would have to be omniscience. That if you form an idea about a given object you know everything about that object therefore your idea is in perfect correspondence with the object. That's not the way the human mind works. That's not rational epistemology. What should you be concerned with in regard to correspondence to reality? Well, only two very simple rules: that if you draw conclusions about the facts of reality, which you want then to claim are true, your consideration of the facts has not omitted anything relevant to your conclusion, has included everything that is relevant and not omitted anything that's relevant. In other words that you have considered everything open to your knowledge about a given fact or further facts, so that when you say, my conclusion is true, you have used all of the knowledge available to you, and have not indulged in any evasion. That is the only necessity, or the only rules for establishing that your conclusions do correspond to reality. But the test here really attaches on what is out there. What is reality, not what kind of criterion and double criterion you will establish for preconceived ideas somehow formed in your mind detached from reality.

Now the second question submitted today is exactly. . .it corresponds perfectly. Just for the record I will read it to you.

Q.  My question is about the criterion of correspondence. Granted an idea which corresponds to its object is indeed true, but how can one determine whether or not this idea does in fact bare a perfect correspondence to the subject. To make this determination requires the use of some criterion other than correspondence. But now the test of truth has to be applied, the correspondence criterion becomes the initial definition of truth, not the decisive test. The need to apply a test to that will disclose the precise degree of similarity between what we think and what actually exists. If so, what is it? And then, Help!

A. Well the help is very simple. Look at reality. You do not have ideas apart from reality. If you find that you do, that you hold ideas and you don't know if they're true or false, that's a sign of some variant of rationalism. So forget all your preconceived ideas and look at the facts in question and ask yourself, what are then the facts. Identify them, then draw conclusions and then say my idea is true, because I can point out the facts on which it is based and I have considered all the facts.

Now there is another variant of this, but briefer so I think this is clear enough.

Let's take something a little simpler. This is also from previous questions that Dr. Peikoff wanted to answer.

Q. Is the term, common sense, a valid concept?

A. Yes, very much so. There're two different meanings here. The original Aristotelian meaning of common sense is the sense which integrates the evidence of your five cognitive senses. In other words, that which forms a percept, but the colloquial or the generally accepted use of the term common sense means that it is rational or a logical conclusion, or thinking by a person who does not know its philosophical standing. Common sense is simply a simple, non-self conscious use of logic. So it's a primitive, or simple form of rationality, which is a very valid concept, and a very valid thing. A good thing to have.

Now there are some here which are very tricky and would take too long. Oh, here's a simple one.

Q. Could you explain the difference, if any, between the Objectivist concept of focus and the popular meaning of concentration.

A. Yes, briefly, concentration means undivided attention on some particular task or object, so that it is a focus, but it is more than a focus. It is an attention, an activity devoted to a particular subject. Now focus is more fundamental than that. You need to be in focus in order to concentrate. But focus is the particular set of your consciousness which is not delimited by the particular task, object or action that you are concentrating on. You do have to focus on something, but focus is not the continuing task that you're performing. It is not the concept, focus isn't tied to the concrete that you're doing. It remains the same no matter what you're focused on. It's the set of your mind. It is a strictly epistemological concept. Whereas concentration is more an action concept. It includes the ideas of focus, of attention, and the particular task which takes longer than a particular moment, because you don't concentrate for a second. A concentration implies a time element on a certain given task.

Now there were some more interesting ones here. Give me a second. This I found today.

Q. Is it possible in any sense to think in images rather than in conjunction with words?

What I am thinking of, for example, is the mental process in which an architect projects in his imagination a kind of perspective view of a particular space and works on that image in his mind without necessarily, it seems, at times thinking in words. Isn't an image like a word, a perceptual concrete which can stand for an idea?

A. No. The only image that can stand for an idea is the written or printed word. That's an image. It is a symbol. But the image of a concrete has nothing to do with thinking. An image can be the object of thinking. You can think about an image, but you can't think by means of images. Now what an architect or an artist, or any visual artist does is much more complex. It cannot, except as a very bad metaphor be called thinking in images. It isn't thinking. So, to begin with, it's imagination. And imagination can make use of images and sounds and words and everything mixed up, an entirely different process, but imagination or anything creative or anything rational at all, will never take place, never appear unless the creator has translated into the words. It's very pleasant and very nice to indulge your imagination—let your mind roam—but until, and unless you are able to translate—in the rational term—you are in trouble, and no architect would ever be any good if he can not translate his special imagination into actual words, and in effect say, ah, I mean I will do a building of such and such size and I will emphasize the stress on height or on width or whichever. He has to translate his plan into, not only language, but into engineering language, which is mathematical and extremely precise.

What one does without words, most of the time is just simply, when it's not really imagination, it's despair and disaster. It is not thinking. Words don't stand for ideas, because ideas mean concepts. The words which we use in the usage of concepts are merely arbitrary symbols, but the word table, is not the concept table. It merely helps us to hold that concept specifically in our mind. The word gives identity to the concept, but it's isn't the concept. The concept is our understanding of what that word stands for. A complete image does not do that.

Q. Is there any validity to the technique of the Devil's advocate in a philosophical discussion, or as a training device for political discussion?

A. Yes, it's a very good technique, and it's a very valuable usage in arguments, debates or discussion. You know what it means. Being the Devil's advocate, means assuming the role opposite to your own conviction, and trying to advocate the ideas which the Devil would throw at you. And that's a technique for training yourself to be able to answer every possible objection. You would deliberately devise ideas that and intelligent opponent could give you, and see whether you have an answer for that. It's also a good way to test your own ideas, because if you find as the Devil's advocate some argument against your own convictions, which you can't answer, you better you better answer it. Or correct your thinking, it's one or the other.

Q. Do you regard any philosophers other than Aristotle and Ayn Rand as having identified important philosophic truths?

A. Yes. Thomas Aquinas. [A question from the audience]. Pardon? Would I explain? Well, no. I can't give you what?, a lecture on Aquinas. He was the man who brought the philosophy of Aristotle back to Europe, at the end of the Middle Ages. He was in effect the intellectual father of the Renaissance. He was an Aristotelian and he gave further development, further application to Aristotelian ideas, and in fact was very valuable in clarifying many of those ideas and carrying them further. But he was a monk. You couldn't be a thinker if you weren't in a monastery, and so he had to be religious, even there's suspicions that perhaps he was not. History of that is not known, but he wrote on philosophy and religion, and he attempted to reconcile the two, with the result, that of course philosophy won, because he was an Aristotelian, he was an advocate of reason, of man's mind. He was not a mystic at all, but you have to take him as a value, only in half, that is that part of him which is secular, which is Aristotelian. That is the great value. His religious statuses are his errors or cover-up. I don't know. But what is it you want me to explain? Why we don't think very much of other philosophers? [There are comments from the audience here with too much background noise to understand what is being said.] Another except those two? You mean Aquinas is an Aristotelian? Oh, but in that sense, so am I. So, you have to then say there is only one philosopher, which is Aristotle. And some people have said that. That's true because he covered all the important essentials. There are things in which are errors, and he cannot be omniscient, but you come to essentials, he really did cover all of it. Now, to be more precise about. . .that was your question? There are much lesser things that are of some value in lesser philosophers. For instance John Locke. He did some valuable thinking on politics based on Aristotle, but however, he was the teacher of the Founding Fathers. They learned their politics and devised the American system on the basis of John Locke. Therefore that was certainly very valuable ideas, but that's only in politics. In metaphysics and epistemology, Locke was disastrous. He departed from Aristotle. He did not believe that we can perceive reality. And in that respect, he opened the gate to an awful lot of the modern trouble, modern philosophers. But, if you talk in big terms—I rather doubt that Dr. Peikoff said it, but I'm his stand-in right now—just take the three A's, Aristotle, Aquinas, and Ayn Rand. [Much applause here] Thank you. Thank you.

Q. Now the test for an invalid concept is that it cannot be reduced back to the conceptual level. [A. R. Conceptual level, I think the questioner meant perceptual ] Is there some equivalent test for telling when context has been dropped, some principle or rule of thumb by which on can tell that context has been dropped?

A. Yes, refer to reality. Simply, if you hear a proposition, ask yourself what does it depend on? What does follow. What are its implications. What are its roots? And in that way you will know whether context has been dropped. There is no automatic test for it.

Now this is just somebody's joke, but apparently it is serious.

Q. My college biology text states the following definition: "Plants are living things which are studied by people who say they are studying plants, botanists. Animals are living things which are studied by people who say they are studying animals, zoologists."

 Please comment.

A. My comment would be unprintable.

Q. If the presidential election was to be between Carter and Reagan, would you have supported Carter on the basis of the anti-abortion Reagan stand?

A. No. I would not vote. Because you can vote only so long as you think a given candidate has more virtues than flaws. But when it come to two candidates, and you regard both of them as evil, then there is no lesser evil. You just don't vote. For instance, I abstained in 1952 and 1956. I did not vote for Eisenhower and I couldn't vote for Stevenson.  It's not wrong, not to vote. In spite of all the things you hear to the contrary, not voting, particularly by people who understand the issues, is also a form of voting. You are simply declaring that you don't want any of the above. I certainly could not vote for either Reagan or Carter, and Mr. Ford's stand on abortion is a disgrace. All I can say is he has some redeeming qualities, but my tolerance is very badly strained right now, I'm sorry to say. Still you have to vote for him because the opposition is hopeless.

Q. Contradictions do not exist in reality. What in fact is happening in a mind which is causing a certain contradiction.

A. Mental deterioration. I do not believe that if a man is capable of contradiction, that means contradictions exist in reality. No they don't. They exist in a mind. This is where you have to hold strongly to the distinction between existence and conscience. Now what happens in reality, if you are attempt a contradiction? The classic example is, two objects cannot occupy the same place at the same time. You can defy it by two cars driving at full speed at one another. So what happens? They attempted a contradiction; what happened was destruction. Same thing in a mind that attempts to hold contradictions. 

Q. In what sense and for what reasons, can you predict that a moral person will continue to be moral? People do seem to be. [A.R. I don't know whether we should run ahead or not. This is a question pertaining to morality, and that would be running ahead of the course, but it's also pertaining to epistemology, so all right. It's a borderline case. I'll continue.] People do seem somewhat consistent in character. But if the choice to think is a primary, can there be some quality that endures in a person that enables you to predict what his volitional choices will probably be? Must your prediction be limited to how a person will act, since a moral person's premises and psycho-epistemology will tend to lead to better action given any given level of focus, that is compared to an immoral persons premises and psycho-epistemology.

A. To begin with you must never attempt to predict what someone else will do. But there certainly is strong probability that you can establish. If you know a person, to know a person well enough to know what his basic premises are, then you could say with assurance that the chances are he will make the right choice if understands the given situation. But you can never say that with full confidence, because you cannot even say it about yourself. What choices you will make will require a specific action of your consciousness and decision, choice when this particular issue comes up. And sometimes as Dr. Peikoff was explaining today, you may make a wrong choice, so you may lack the strength or the courage to make the right choices. If you can't predict about your self, you can't predict about others. It is true, that if you know a person is moral, you can expect his actions to be better than the actions of a person of irrational premises. But the whole idea of attempting to predict in the way you would predict scientific facts or earthquakes—they can't predict those—but let's say following an eclipse or things like that. It's an improper approach. You cannot predict human actions this way, and it's not necessary. If you know the general trend of a man, you know his basic premise, he may make mistakes, or he may even evade a particular issue, but he will come out right, in the long run. If the trend will be right, he will correct his errors, and that's all you can say about another person, and about yourself, too.

Q. If a man makes an arbitrary claim and you discuss it, is rationally valid to explain why you will not discuss it, that is that arbitrary claims are without reference to reality.

A. Well, there is no rule about it. The answer is, if you wish. If you think that the person you are talking to who is making an arbitrary statement, doesn't fully realize the issue, or is open to reason, you can explain why you will dismiss him. In most cases, it's not worth explaining, but it's as you wish, as you judge the particular situation.

Now this is a question I would like to answer, but I would really need at least half an hour or an hour to make a speech on this. So, I will merely acknowledge it.

Q. Would you please comment on the current campaign in the press and media, revising the attacks on McCarthyism, etcetera. For example there is Lillian Hellman's book, Scoundrel Time, a moving affront about alleged black-listed writers, would you give us the true story of what happened during that period and explain why the issue is being revived now.

A. It is too horrible, and too dirty an issue to discuss. And you are looking at one of the victims—so why ask me. It is true that I could tell you a great deal about it. Let me say only this, that with all this filthy goddamned communists boasting about their courage, such as Lillian Hellman, who did confess that she was a member of the party. She changed her mind later. How many people died in this country, and particularly in Russia or in the Russian occupied countries because of Miss Hellman's ideas, God only knows. Nobody could compute the evil of what those communists in the thirties, did.

To begin with, they pushed this country into World War II. What would have been a better politics? Let Hitler march into Russia as he had started. Let the two dictatorships fight each other, and then the west should take on the winner. Whoever won that contest, then, England, France and the United States should finish off whoever won the conflict and maybe the world, today would be safe, except the issue is not political, it's philosophical. Nobody would have the idea of what to do, but in the meantime, people like Lillian Hellman who were the ones pushing the policy of this country to the left and in support of only one country, not the United States—Soviet Russia. So were all the other McCarthy's victims of the time. They were all, either party members or like one famous case… who was not a communist. She was serving in the government, had a responsible government post, and had been a member of an organization listed as subversive by the Attorney General, eighteen times. She was a member of eighteen different subversive organizations, and claimed when McCarthy exposed her that she didn't know they were subversive. And she had the nerve to work in government. That's what those people were like. What they were demanding is the right to lie. Nobody prosecuted them for being communist, but the people didn't want to deal with communists, because they were all underground communists. They weren't so openly, and they resented the fact that the government demanded they state under oath were they communists or not. Now that was not interfering with their freedom. There is no freedom to deceive people. If you were being punished for being communist, that's different. I mean punished by the government. But if it's private employers, who don't want to employ a communist, who considered properly an enemy of this country, and worse, an enemy of mankind, if a man does not want to employ a person, that person has no right to lie about it. Yet that's what those wonderful little martyrs—oh, they were so brave—they were suddenly forbidden to lie to Hollywood employers.

And now take the other side of the picture. At the big Hollywood hearing, the first hearing, of the House Un-American Activities Committee, there were the Hollywood Ten—you know which were the communists—and then the rest were the so called the friendly witnesses, and I was one of them—friendly to the Committee. We were called in order to discuss communist penetration in Hollywood. What experience did we have with communism, and what did we observe. My particular testimony was about pictures, the contents of communist propaganda. Do you know what happened to the friendly witnesses? I don't know of one who has remained working in Hollywood.

To begin with I am not a victim in this respect, because I had the long-term contract, and I cancelled the contract later for my own reasons the reason I wanted to finish Atlas Shrugged, so I was not fired for appearing in Washington. I cannot claim to be a victim in this respect. I was a victim for years and years before The Fountainhead. I couldn't find work in Hollywood anywhere. But then The Fountainhead was too much for them, or at least they could not stop producers from hiring me after The Fountainhead.

In regard to the hearings, I was not a victim. Some of the friendly witnesses have died, for instance, Gary Cooper. He was one of the witnesses against communism and a very good one. He died. But most of those who didn't have a name or a contract at the time, and that was younger junior writers and some prominent writers, who were free lance, all those who were not under contract to a major studio, were out of work very shortly, thereafter. Crudely, shortly. Within a year, most of them were not working. Some of them were very prominent, for instance, Adolphe Menjou.  He was a very prominent actor, but wasn't under contract, he was freelancing. He got fewer and fewer jobs. In about a year, maybe a year and a half, he could find no job. Morrie Ryskind was a very prominent writer. He is the author Of Thee I Sing and many movies and stage plays of the time. He was getting three thousand dollars a week, which was very large money at the time, and had more work than he could handle. He appeared at the Hollywood hearings as a friendly witness. He could not find work in Hollywood after that, not one offer. The worst case I know was a young junior writer, whose name was Fred Niblo, Jr. he was the son of a famous silent days director, Fred Niblo A junior writer, by the way is someone who is just beginning, so that his salary is not yet. . .salary has to be under five hundred dollars a week, that is the junior. Within a year after appearing at the Hollywood hearings, he had to go to work at Lockheed, in an airplane factory in Hollywood. He could not get work anywhere. I would like someone, if he wanted to do something humanitarian to do a research project on the original hearings, and on the witnesses, the friendly witnesses and what has become of them in the time since the monsters unspeakable, silent blacklist exercised by those same goddamned communists, exercised in Hollywood, but it's never called political. What happens is that those talented people who were in demand, suddenly, lose their talent. It's true, Hollywood producers are very cowardly, not as bad as sometimes claimed, but they don'r have very strong convictions. They're really ignorant, and the communists who work there way into every position of influence will exercise their influence, and everyone of the friendly witnesses has suffered for his testimony one way or the other. That's never mentioned. Thank you. My time is almost up, so I'll take some more pleasant questions. This is a horror, but I'm glad to tell you about it.

Q. What is the difference between the concept of contextual absolutes and the coherence theory of truth, which stresses context and posits an absolute.

A. The difference of life and death, or night and day, just about. The coherence theory of truth claims that anything, any claim which is coherent—does not contain contradiction—is true. You don't have to refer to reality. You merely have to present a consistent case, and if you don't have any contradictions, that proves that your case is true. Now that's pure rationalism, and it does posit an absolute, a mythical absolute that sits somewhere in another dimension, and controls this world. The father of the coherence theory of truth is of course Hegel. And that is not exactly an advocate of contextual absolute. And in the coherence theory of rewriting reality. It simply tell you to go ahead and rewrite. And if you can somehow avoid a contradiction—which in fact it cannot—but you can get as involved as Hegel did. If you don't include a contradiction, then your rewrite becomes reality. That's Hegel.

Q. Does the principle,, the concept is of the entire entity, have any meaning or significance at the level of higher abstractions—liberty, justice, entity for example. Could you indicate the role this principle has at this level.

A. I am not sure what the questioner means, because it's on this level, more than any others that the meaning of the principle applies, that is it applies to any concept. Here, such a thing as liberty is not an entity, in the sense of a thing, but is a certain very clear cut condition, and when you talk of liberty, even if you know very little about it, your concept refers to what a good political philosopher would know about it. You refer to the whole concept of liberty, even if your knowledge of it may be primitive. Same thing for justice, entity, etcetera. The principle does apply to all levels.

I think our time is up. So, I will thank you and wish you good night.

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