Volition and Causality

1. Focus as the primacy choice

Good morning. Today we’re going to do the last half of the second chapter, complete what I’ve been calling the anteroom via the topic of volition or free will. And after this, we will have established that we are given something automatically which is reliable. That’s the data of the senses. And that beyond that point, the functioning of consciousness is not automatic. It’s volitional and requires guidance. And that’s what will take us into the conceptual level.

Now, a few points by way of overview of this section on volition. At first, it discusses the primary choice, which is really the core of the issue—the choice to focus or not. That’s followed by an answer to “How do you reconcile volition and causality?” And I go there into some length on why there is no problem in such reconciliation. And only then at the end, when we have finally laid out “What is volition? What is that choice to think consist of?” do we then discuss the validation of volition in a brief sequence at the end.”

Now, a few points before we turn it over to questions. This is going to be, I hope, primarily questions today. But I’m going to make just a few points in advance. On page 83, in the second paragraph (in other words, the first full paragraph), that this is the first that I know of as a formal definition in print of focus. This is my own, but I understand that this is the essence of the concept. That’s the second sentence there:

The state of a goal-directed mind committed to attaining full awareness of reality…

I put in more informally in the preceding sentence. It’s purposeful alertness, but those terms have to be clarified—purposeful or goal-directed. If you want, you can think of that as the genus of focus, because there are many other types of goal-directed state of awareness. For instance, evasion is goal-directed. You have a definite purpose there. You’re not just letting your mind drift. You’re summoning your energies up to do something. Only it’s the exact opposite of focus.

So, in this instance goal-directed is broader than focus. It’s consciousness that is being run by its owner—taken over to do something. That’s the route of focus. That’s the genus. Now, what distinguishes focus from other goal-directed states? In focus, you’re not necessarily thinking. That’s why I say “committed to.” I don’t say a “goal-directed mind, engaged in attaining full awareness,” because that would imply that focus itself is a process of acquiring knowledge. That is not true. It’s the precondition. And so, we describe it as a “mental set—a readiness—a placing of your mind in the position where, as and when reality requires it, you will start to think—a position of primary receptivity to what’s out there—attunement—readiness.”

And therefore, I try to pack all that into the word committed. A goal-directed mind committed or on the premise of attaining full awareness of reality. And then, of course, the expression of that as and when some facts require thought, as you go smoothly from your basic state of focus into a state of thought and then back out again when you finish thinking. And you just stay there with the motor idling, so to speak, until unless you decide for whatever reason to go to sleep or just let it go—give up purpose and drift, which under certain circumstances is ok, as long as you’re not coming to conclusions—getting married or choosing a career, etc.—taking action on the basis of that mental set.

Now, elaborating that definition, how do we decide what constitutes full awareness of reality here? When is a mind attempting to attain or committed to attaining full awareness? The text does present it, but I just want to stress that full awareness does not have anything to do with awareness of everything. It does not mean omniscience. Full awareness really consists of two points, which I state in the next paragraph: awareness of all the facts, which you know to be relevant and awareness of them as clearly, as sharply, as distinctly, as precisely as possible as against an impression, an approximation, as sort of “I kind of know”—as against that.

Now, how do you judge whether somebody is trying to attain all the facts as clearly as possible? Ultimately, you can only judge by what kinds of mental processes he uses when he does think. That is, he doesn’t have to use them in the state of focus. He simply has to be committed to them as when they’re necessary. But if, when the time comes to think, he just sits there and gazes—he doesn’t try to integrate—he doesn’t remind himself of his definitions when that’s relevant—he doesn’t try to clarify the distinction between one concept and another when he feels that they’re overlapping—he doesn’t check his logic—in other words, he just goes on doing something or other, but he doesn’t make deliberate use of the mental processes and methods that he knows are required to reach the truth, then he is not in focus.

Now, obviously this depends on what he knows. And the mental processes that a less-trained person will use will be not nearly as sophisticated as those of a more highly-trained person. So, you can’t have the state that a person is performing to the best of his ability and he is in focus, even though he’s not performing as well as someone who is semi-out-of-focus and has many more cognitive skills. It has to be judged—focus—within the context of what is available to the individual. And that is why a child can very well be in full focus, even though the mental processes that he engages in to come to a conclusion are extremely simplified—omit all kinds of facts that he simply doesn’t know is relevant—perhaps has all kinds of confusions that he has no way of grasping that he’s got. And if his exact mental processes were translated into an adult mind, that would be drunkenness, perhaps. That would be out of focus, in space. But the child is in focus.

So, focus is the description of the psychological state. The primary turning the switch on is the same for everybody—the commitment, the readiness. But when you actually start to cash that in and perceive…go after full awareness in the thought processes, then you have to judge whether  the person is still in focus according to the information available to him—about thinking methods, what he knows about the subject, etc. I say that, because I don’t want you to think that you can simply go around and say, “Well, if a person is inducing, deducing, giving definitions, integrating, he’s in focus.” You can’t do it that way. It’s utilizing the full resources of your mind, within the limits of your knowledge, in your context.

Now, the essence of focus in that preliminary sense (to use a bad word, but I want to use it deliberately to try to underscore this) is the opposite of relaxation. It’s tension, the thing that everybody wants to get away from. We have a culture where you could make a fortune on relaxation seminars, and of course, you couldn’t get a nickel for a seminar on how to become more tense. But tense and intense are related. And of course you could use these terms, and they often are used in ways that make tension bad and relaxation good if tension has to do with anxiety and doubt and conflict and so on.

But in the sense we mean it, there is a very good thing about tension (that there is a cultural bias against) and that is the tautness—the tautness of purpose, of being goal-directed, of ruthlessly stripping aside the irrelevant, having a direction, having something you want to do with your mind, and then going after it—pulling in the reigns and not sprawling in the equivalent of holding your stomach in and then sagging—a mental girdle that pulls it together and focuses your alertness. Now, that is work. And you can’t do it by just letting go—letting your mind spread—taking a valium and feeling easy and relaxed. In that sense, focus should be assimilated to the side of tension, tautness and is the opposite of relaxation, spread, and so on.

2. The choice to focus as irreducible

Now, I give some discussion in the book. So, I don’t want to elaborate that. Let’s go over to page 88. These five-minute comments are taking on a life of their own. I want to just point out to you, because some people (me included) in the old days have trouble with the idea of an irreducible choice. Now, according to objectivism, the choice to focus is irreducible. Not every choice, of course, is irreducible. Not every choice is primary. But the choice to focus is irreducible. Of course, it’s not caused by parents or teachers or heredity or environment. You know that. But more than that, it is not caused by any content of your consciousness either. And this is a point that I want to stress.

It’s not that you have certain ideas, and therefore you say, “Ok. Given my conclusions, I’m going to focus.” It’s not that you have certain goals or values, and you say, “All right. Because I want to achieve my goals—make a living, make love, whatever—I’m going to be in focus today.” The primary choice has to be irreducible. It can’t be derivative from anything prior, even from your own mental content. Now, it should be obvious that you can’t have mental content until your consciousness is first operative. And you can’t be guided by your mental content until you’re there. And in that sense, the state of focus is the state of bringing you into existence as a conscious being. And it’s only that that can enable you to make use of or apply or derive anything from the mental content you already have.

This, therefore, has to precede any mental content—the operation of any mental content. That’s true in your very first act of focus, and that’s true until the day you die. So, you cannot ask me “why?” You can say you have the capacity and you chose to exercise it. That’s what is meant by saying the choice is irreducible. Now I say that out and out on page 88. There is no such “why.” There’s only that you chose.

Now, I had trouble with that for years. It’s one of those things, like “Where did the universe come from?” although I never really had trouble with that. In Canada, we knew where it came from. But, there’s a lot of things in philosophy that I did have trouble with, and there was a certain point in which I just had to say, “Well, the hell with it.” I know it now, intellectually, in spades. And this nagging desire to say, “Where from?” or “Why?” or whatever is just a carryover from the old context. And you can get to suppress it. And finally you get exasperated with people who keep asking it, although I’m honest enough to remember when I did.

In any event, I’ll just recount for you one … briefly, an excerpt of a conversation I had with Ayn Rand. I used to constantly ask her to this effect, “I can’t imagine an unmotivated action. I just can’t imagine how you could do something without being able to say ‘because I wanted to achieve such and such.’”

And among many other things she told me, she said, “What do you mean by motivation?”

I said, “Well, pursuing some object.”

And she said, “Well, before you are conscious, how can you know about pursuing an object? Nothing is before your mind. There is no object. You’re not in contact with anything yet. How can you select ‘this is what I’m after’ rather than ‘that’ before the world is present to you?”

Now, finally after years, hundreds of conversations from many different angles, I came to grasp that it is a primary. But you have to come to see that. Another point that you may find helpful that Ms. Rand made to me, she said, “It is not true that conscious beings always exercise their capacities in order to achieve a goal.” She said, “You must not oversimplify the idea and make as a dogma that every single action that every person does is always motivated by some goal in the future that he’s after.”

She said, “For instance, it’s very common in developing beings—children, babies, and so on—that they will exercise their capacity, simply because they have the capacity and because of the pleasure that comes from exercising,  actualizing a potential that they have. A child will get on a bicycle—take delight in its ability to drive. And then you say, ‘What’s your goal? You see this as a means of transportation? You want to get to school? You want to go somewhere? Or are you trying to lose weight?’ He says, ‘I don’t know I just like doing it.’ He’s got the ability. He likes to. He has the capacity, and he gets pleasure in the shear actualizing of that capacity.”

I found that helpful when she pointed that out to me, because I have this rationalistic dogma. All actions are motivated, and then focus is an action. Therefore…and I couldn’t break the hold of that. And she said, “You have to look at the facts of reality.” And I just saw that the other day. My daughter was on the jungle gym, and she said, “Look, Daddy!” And she held herself upside down with her legs. Now, if you were on the premise, “What is she trying to…What is her goal?” There is no goal. She could do it, and so she wanted to do it. That’s it.

Now this is applicable to the basic capacity of focus, even as adults. You are not…You don’t become conscious in order. First, you become conscious, simply because that’s inherent in your being a living human being. Your contact with reality does not require that you give yourself a reason for it. That’s the precondition for having any reasons for anything. That’s the precondition of you being around. You exercise that simply as a being, whose existence depends upon his awareness. And therefore, at any moment, when you’re not sleeping, you come to. But it’s not that you do it as a means to a specific goal.

Now, the best… I’m trying to stress in different ways the sense to which the choice to focus is irreducible. You cannot get beneath it. I think maybe the simplest example—the paradigm for coming into focus—is when you’re asleep in the morning. You wake up. There’s a split second. (For some people, it’s even more than a split second.) where you’re not in focus. You’re not awake, and you’re not asleep. You’re awake enough to know that you’re coming to, but you haven’t yet come to. There’s a split second where if someone started to ask you a question, you would have to do something to pull the reigns in tight, and say, “Oh yeah, here I am. Ok.”

Now, that is, for me, the paradigm of what coming into focus is. It’s that pulling the switch—pulling the reigns. It’s exerting your faculties—gathering yourself together—in effect, looking around and saying, “I’m here.” If I were to say to you in the morning, in that split second, before you complete the process, “What’s your purpose? Why are you doing this?” First of all, you could not even grasp my question, until you came to. And then, as soon as you grasped it, you would say, “Well, I don’t have any purposes yet. I’m still asleep.” And the moment you come to, you can say, “Well, now I can think about breakfast or philosophy or whatever it happens to be.” Or if I were to say to you in that split second, “What idea of yours are you thinking about that is influencing you at this moment to make you wake up?” You would have to say honestly, “I’m not thinking yet. No ideas are working. Nothing is operative. I’m not conscious, yet.”

Now, that is the sense in which we mean a primary choice, until you’ve made that choice to focus, which of course has to be remade continuously. It’s not just when you come to, but it’s most dramatic there, first thing in the morning. Until you make that choice, your mind is not in a position to function. It can’t make any other choices, decisions, pursue any cognition, etc. That is the base, and that is what we say is not motivated. It’s not subject to higher level considerations, like conclusions, motives, goals. Now, beyond that point, everything has a reason, a specific cause, lying within your knowledge, your values, etc. But that basic choice is irreducible.

Now, that’s about all I can say on that point there. There’s going to be some people who get that and others who go to their grave unhappy about that, because they have in their mind the idea that causality requires an antecedent cause for everything. So, no matter what you say, they say, “What caused that?” And they want to know the infinite regress. If you hold that then, you have rejected the idea of an irreducible principle—an irreducible choice. And if you have, nobody can do anything with you. In that way, it is like the idea of existence being a primary. There are people who balk at the idea of existence being a primary, and they have to have something before it. And the same is true here. The choice is a primary, and you just can’t get anything before it.

Now, then thereafter, I discuss the three essential states, which is our primary choice: to focus, to be out of focus, to be simply drifting—that state of “mental relaxation”—and then, the positive aberration, which is evasion. Not all non-focus is evasive. It’s like three states: turning the motor on, just turning it off and letting it idle, or turning it in reverse and going backwards, in effect. An evasion is the deliberate refusal to focus on a content. I have passages in there discussing those, so I won’t elaborate that further. Now, that’s the sum of the first sequence.

3. Volition and causality

Now then, the issue of causality in the second sequence. Now, of course the objectivist view is that above the choice to focus, every choice we make is free and caused simultaneously, and that there is no conflict, whatever, about that. And here, the key point is on 95. And this is pretty much verbatim from something Ayn Rand told me. The second  last paragraph on 95. I mean, it’s verbatim as much as I could remember her exact words 10 or 15 years later but:

The principle of causality does not apply to consciousness in the same way that it applies to matter.

That, she said, in so many words. In regard to matter, there is no issue of choice. To be caused is to be necessitated. There’s no options, no alternatives. There’s no faculty of even presenting alternatives or of being aware of different possibilities. It’s simply the thing reacts unavoidably, given its nature and the circumstances. But in regard to the higher-level actions (that is the things above focus), to be caused does not mean to be necessitated. She stressed that. I remember that was a big revelation to me, because the point was to be caused is simply that some cause is operative to explain what happened. But the key here is that man chooses the causes of a…(on 96 now)…Man chooses the causes that shape his actions.

So, there are causes, but those causes are a result of the way we use our consciousness. If we make a certain choice to focus, as I give examples here, both in thought and in action, then a certain type of causal factor will start to operate. And that will govern the course of our thought or our action. You can always say, “Why? Why did you think this way?” Well, because this was the information. “Why did you put it together this way?” Well, this is my understanding of logic. “Why did you pursue this subject?” Because this is my goal and this is my value.

There’ll always be many “whys” that you can explain what you’re thinking about, why you took the steps you did, why you made the errors you did. You do not say about all of that, “I chose.” But all of those “whys” will come down to—one way or the other—they will ultimately come back to you kept the contact with reality or you let it go. You summoned the full resources of your mind to be aware of everything relevant in thought or action or you didn’t. In other words, you chose to focus or not. And in that sense, all these higher-level choices are caused, but they are still free, because the source of their causes is the irreducible choice to focus. I just don’t how to make that clearer, although I see some people…Maybe you’re just frowning in appreciation.

Now, when I say that all higher-level choices reduce to the primary choice, I know from years of experience that there are going to be people who misinterpret that. Everything in philosophy is subject to misinterpretation. I guess everything in everything is. But when I say all higher-level choices reduce to the primary choice, let me ask you, “Is that the same as saying we really only have one choice to focus or not? And then once we make that choice, everything thereafter happens automatically?” Is that the same thing? It is not. If you think it is, you’re completely confused. I say that, because I once thought that. I thought everything wrong at some point.

The primary choice is the root, but it is not the only choice. You mustn’t think that all higher-level choices are determined by the primary choice. It’s not as though every other choice follows routinely, effortlessly, automatically from that. This is the actual pattern: The choice to focus is the start. Then, if you are in focus, you go on to make countless further choices. Now those further choices, like to put your mind in this direction rather in that or to put your body in this direction rather than in that, are real choices that are made for a reason. That’s the whole point. They are real choices made for a reason. The fact that there’s a reason doesn’t mean they’re not real. The fact that they’re real doesn’t mean that they’re primary. The choice to focus is a primary, but the higher-level choices are still real choices that you have to exert will to make.

And of course the reason, if you are in focus—the reason for your choices—are the various factors that you’re aware of that are relevant to whatever it is—cognition, action, etc. The best way to put this, I think, is the way I have on 98, that middle little sentence:

Such is the choice (that is the choice to focus) which controls all of one’s subsequent choices and actions (You could use the word controls, conditions or governs.), but not which necessitates.

The key point there is that the choice to focus does not necessitate all your subsequent choices. Otherwise a necessitated choice would be a self-contradiction. It would be something you are choosing, but nevertheless, had no choice about. It was necessitated.

So, the trick here is to grasp the concept of a choice, which is controlled by a basic choice, but which is nevertheless a real choice. And if you grasp that, there’s no problem. But some objectivists have the idea that your only choice is to focus and there after we’re zombies. In effect, you just turn the X-ray machine on, turn the car motor on, and then you just walk around. And thereafter, you stare, so to speak. You never exert any further will, but just that inner summoning up, and then you just wait for reality to act on you. Everything else then is determined, given that you’re in focus. That is not correct, obviously.

If you observe yourself in real life, you have to make continuous acts of will once you’re in focus, even granted you’re fully in focus. Now, for instance, try this experiment. You want to raise your right arm. Now, do the following. You’re fully in focus, right? You hear what I’m saying? You’re attentive? Now, I want you to focus fully on the reason as to why there’s an experiment desirable to raise your arm—your right arm. Are you doing that? Now, you want to cooperate with the experiment, right? You have nothing against it, so your whole reason…but nobody’s raising their arm, even though you are. But the reason that you’re not is that even given those reasons, you have to decide to make them operative. There’s a reason why you’re doing it. It’s not as though suddenly the whole class raised its arm, causelessly or by primary choice. There is a reason, but it is still a choice. And until you say, “Ok. I’m going to execute that reason. I’m going to make it work,” your arm won’t raise.

Now, go back again into that state. Count to three, and at that moment, exert the act of will required to bring it into reality. One. Two. Three. All right, now that is a choice. Now, that is a real choice. It wasn’t necessitated by your being in focus, but it had a cause. And the cause was, of course, I gave you the reason why. You wouldn’t have done it if you weren’t in focus. You wouldn’t have even heard what I was saying. But being in focus was simply the conditioning factor—the precondition of your consciousness functioning. You nevertheless after that had to engage in an act of will. And in that sense, you cannot get away from continuously willing every moment that you’re awake.

So, you can go around many ways here, but what I’m trying to separate for you is the basic choice which is irreducible, the higher-level choices which are real, but not irreducible (although when you reduce them to the primary choice, that doesn’t mean you obliterate them). You got that? That is the benefit of decades of antagonizing Ayn Rand to the point where she couldn’t talk about this issue anymore. She was just fed up, but I still was confused. But I finally got that put together in my mind this way, and I see that. I mean, to me, that’s perfectly clear. So, that is the thing to try to clarify if you don’t get it. But you see, it’s as simple as raising your arm if you actually focus on it. That’s the most I can do for this nest of problems that tortures people. And I know that they do, and I sympathize.

Just walk around raising your arm and try to catch what happens. The other thing is…This is an impossible assignment, but try to catch yourself in the moment before you wake up, and then watch yourself coming to. Of course, that’s a self-contradiction, because you have to be in focus to direct yourself. That’s the whole point. Until you’re in focus, you can’t make use of your faculties. But if you can maybe give yourself the order before you go to sleep and peak as you’re coming to. It’s very hard to catch yourself out of focus. I mean, because once you are, you’re not looking anymore. Now, there’s so much for causality, of course that’s not going to satisfy a determinist but I’m not trying to satisfy a determinist, just a person.

4. Can volition be validated?

Now, the last sequence so far. Of course, we’ve offered no proof—no validation. I’ve described focus. I’ve stated the relation between the choice to focus and other choices.  I have said that it’s not inconsistent with causality, but I haven’t done anything but describe. I haven’t validated. And of course, every philosophic principle has to be validated. So, what is the validation? And of course the answer is that volition is an axiom. It’s a self-evident axiom. There is no proof. It’s the precondition of all proof. The difficulty with volition is not establishing that it is, but in grasping what it is. So, it’s the paradox that you need twenty pages to say what it is and once you’re able to distinguish it, it’s so hard to talk about the states of consciousness, because they’re so evanescent, we have no real vocabulary worked out to describe them. But once you spend saying twenty pages saying what it is, you say that it’s self-evident that it is—once you know what we’re talking about.

And in this sense, the whole of the present chapter of the anteroom is axioms which are corollaries of the basic axioms—specifically corollaries of the axiom of consciousness. The senses as we saw last time—the validity of the senses—is just an expression of the axiom of consciousness. And now, today, we’re saying volition is merely an expression of the axiom of consciousness. Does that mean that volition applies to any conscious being? No. Volition is a corollary of what kind of consciousness—a conceptual, (or putting it in another way) a fallible consciousness. If you had a completely determined, infallible being, like an animal or an angel (assuming such existed), they could not go wrong. Then, theoretically, their consciousness could be completely determined, with no choice of any kind.

So, a volition (I’ve covered that in the text)…a volition is not inherent in consciousness as such. But if you have a fallible consciousness—a consciousness which is not built so it automatically corresponds to reality, then either it itself is in control of its operation—it itself chooses to conform to reality, or else the whole faculty is invalidated if it’s not automatically in conformity to reality. And on top of that, you have no power to choose that course. You have no clue what it’s doing, whether it’s reliable. And that means your consciousness is not conscious, which is a contradiction.  And in that sense, volition is a corollary in the context of a human being in the axiom of consciousness, and we’ve already said in another question period, so I won’t repeat here, is accessible to direct awareness.

You can catch it a thousand times a day by just watching. When you raised your arm, that act of will is something you willed. And no number of tomes by a determinist is going to talk that out of existence. That is a distinct reality—that experience of moving your arm—that will—that “now I’m doing”—that choice. And no matter how much you know about anatomy, physiology, psychology, nothing is going to erase that reality—that act of choice. That’s what the essence of freewill consists of. Now, notice those of you who are eager for polemics that it is true that determinism is self-refuting, as I present in the chapter. But that is not the proof of freewill. It is not the validation of freewill, to show that even a determinist has to accept it. That is nothing unique to freewill in that point. All axioms are inescapable. All axioms are such that their enemies have to use them to reject them. That’s inherent in the fact that they are axioms. They are at the foundation. Therefore, no one can open his mouth without them.

But I remember Ms. Rand saying clearly that she does not believe in any type of self-refuting type argument to validate a truth. That is, she rejects as a methodology, the idea you can prove proposition “A” by showing that “non-A” is impossible and refutes itself. And her formulation, I believe, is something on this order: A truth has to be accessible to man from the facts. There can’t be a truth that you get only by finding out what’s wrong with its enemies. And those people who are gung-ho to show that determinism is self-refuting…That’s ok, I mean to get them off your back (the determinists), but that is not the validation. That is simply an aspect of what it is to be an axiom. And inherent in being an axiom is that it’s inescapable. But another thing inherent in being an axiom is that it’s fundamental to all cognitions. That’s why it’s inescapable. And another thing to being an axiom is that it has to be a primary. That’s where you start, because it’s given to you by direct awareness—in this case, of course, by introspection, not by extrospection.

5. Volition as non-mystical

And now, just one last little point on one element of the distinctiveness…Of course, this whole concept of focus is absolutely distinctive to Ayn Rand. I’ve never heard a theorist of volition in history approach it this way. So, the whole thing is a completely original theory. But specifically, I do want to point out the radical opposition to Kant, which I mention on 107 and 108, and which is essential to grasping the objectivist perspective.

One of Kant’s worst, most vicious statements was his lumping together of mysticism with volition in his statement, “God, freedom, and immortality.” That’s a Kantian phrase. Freedom there doesn’t mean political freedom. It means freewill. And for Kant, these three stand and fall together. He had an incredible argument. He said we couldn’t prove any one of these three by reference to this world, because in this world, you see, causality held sway, and for him that was incompatible with freewill. But he said from the fact of morality, that we should do certain things. We can infer. We must have the freedom to do them and thus, there must be freedom in another world, because in this world, we have no freedom.

And by the same token, we should be rewarded for doing what’s right, but in this world, the good suffer. So, there must be another world where you go. So, immortality came, mind you, in the same argument to prove freewill. And of course there has to be somebody in the other world to say, “Well done. Here’s your reward” or “Shame on you! Off to Hell!” And that’s God. So, all three came in by the same supernatural argument. Well you can simply imagine the historical effect of that. That was the final discrediting of volition—the final statement that volition just reeks of the supernatural, of mysticism—that anybody who wants to be rational or scientific has to throw it out.

And as I put it, I think this is a good, sarcastic paraphrasing of Kant: He gave us the banner of ghosts, choice, and the pearly gates. You know, God framing the immortality. God is a ghost. Immortality will bring you to the pearly gates, and choice is stuck in there. Now, of course, if people accept this as an approach, they’re going to have an absolute dichotomy between reason and choice or reason and will. Will will convey something demonical, demoniacal, mystical, other-worldly, supernatural. Reason will be related to science, logic in this world. Of course that was exactly what happened in the history of philosophy. After Kant came a whole string of voluntarists—that means those who elevated the will, which of course to them, had nothing to do with reason. It made will a primary factor, and man was just this diabolical process of irrational willing. And that’s Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and so on.

Now, the key point in Ayn Rand is that she refuses to oppose reason and will. In fact, will is not even something over and above reason. And here are the key sentences. The first sentence on 108: “The faculty of reason is the faculty of volition.” Because we don’t have ten faculties in there. It’s not as though we have a capacity to think. Oh, and besides that, there’s another capacity next door to will, and that one steps in and tells the mind to will. There is no whole set of these things. It’s just the conceptual faculty, and it happens to be volitional, as it exercises itself. As you exercise it, you are at the same moment if you engage in a thought process, reasoning and choosing. Every step of your reasoning is a step of choosing, willing, selecting—this alternative or that one—this way or that—pause on this or not—add in that factor or not. You can’t engage in reasoning without continuous willing.

So, there are two different concepts. One names the overall faculty of knowledge. The other identifies the aspect that it is volitional. A process of will is required. But you can think that reason and will are related, like existence and identity. It’s two different concepts to stand for one indivisible entity. Which is naming…will is simply just the name we give to the same faculty of reason when we think of it as being manifest in continuous, volitional choices. But it is not a separate faculty. It is not a mystical add-on. It doesn’t pertain to the soul as against the body, etc etc. If you know the history of philosophy, you will know that is itself a very revolutionary process. Assimilation of will to reason is one of Ayn Rand’s unique contributions here.

All right. That’s my ten-minute overview. But I’ll get back later in the course by saying nothing when you expect me to say something. All right.

6. Questions on volition and causality

Now, let’s start from…Oh wait. I had a written question. I’m not supposed to, but I did it anyway. This is brief:

When and by what means does a child become aware of his consciousness and volition (i.e. know that the axioms of consciousness and volition are true)? It must be long after his first perception.

Well, first of all, consciousness and volition, in this sense, don’t come to be known at the same time. Even though volition is ultimately a corollary, you learn them at different points.  Consciousness, as I said, you learn (I can’t give you a date) but certainly much later than your first perception—perhaps months after. First, you grasp your first sensation. Then, you have to reach the stage of integrated entities. Then, you have to perceive entities. Then, you have to grasp implicitly causality. And only then, are you able to grasp—are you on the perceptual level—that issue that when you close your eyes the world goes away, when you open them, it comes back. And you see the action of your senses. You see, “Oh, I have this faculty of being aware or not, depending on what I do.” That’s the implicit grasp of consciousness that comes early after causality.

So, it’s months into the process, but that is not yet volition. Volition doesn’t manifest itself until…to you until the conceptual level. And even the very early rungs of the conceptual level are tantamount to being automatic. Once a child is looking, for instance at a few tables in contrast to a chair, it’s so elementary there—so straight forward, that if he doesn’t have brain damage, it would take an incredible act of evasion to miss the similarities as against the differences, especially if his mother is there saying, “Table, table, table.” So, there’s not much volition operative in the early levels—the early stages of the conceptual faculty.

Volition, in a serious way, starts to be exercised when the conceptual level becomes more complex and difficult—when it doesn’t just strike you over the head. And that is probably when you get enough concepts (and I am speculating), that they don’t automatically separate themselves from one another. And a special act of focus is required to say, “I’m talking about this, not that,” or particularly when you get to higher-level integrations—when you get to furniture, rather than table, and also when you get to concepts of consciousness—when you need a special inward turning.

Now, it’s on that types of complexity, that volition first clearly manifests itself. And that is probably…I don’t know at what age a kid starts to speak rather fluently, where they can utter sentences. Is it eighteen months or something like that? Who’s a mother or a teacher here? Am I right? What age do they start saying (as Teaching Times says), “I want dinner. I want to watch TV,” and so on? Somewhere between 18 month and two years, I guess. That is approximately the period when volition starts to be operative. And therefore, you couldn’t possibly…The child couldn’t become aware of volition until that stage. So, he becomes aware of volition maybe a year and a half or two years—a year and a half or more after he becomes aware of consciousness.  

Now, you’ll go on to say…The question, it says, “I know the axioms are true by sense perception (or you’ve said that), but does this include the axioms of consciousness and volition?” Well, without the word sense, consciousness and volition (at the appropriate points) are grasped by direct perception. But you wouldn’t say sense perception, because they are not external to you. They are you. Therefore, you don’t need data fed to physical instrumentality, like your finger tips or your tongue or whatever and messages going along to the brain to reach you. It’s already there. So, I wouldn’t say “sense perception” any more than you need sense perception to experience a toothache. You don’t have to rub your tongue against your tooth to feel a toothache. You can let your tongue…keep it away. Don’t touch it. Don’t blow on it. Just sit there, and you feel the ache pulsing. And it doesn’t take much of an act of introspection to bring it out in its full, horrible reality.

Now, we learn consciousness similarly. It is simply presented to us, but the fact that we are conscious and we have the ability to grasp that we’re conscious. If you’re animals, you can’t introspect. So, they’re conscious, but their consciousness doesn’t contain the potential of self-consciousness. But in human beings, it does, and they simply have to get to the point where focus is pointed out to them—it’s brought to their attention. No other faculty is required but the brain. So, then, the questioner goes on, “Is introspection, then, a special form of perception?” Yes. I would say it is. It’s inner perception. That’s that question. Yes?

Audience member #1: I can grasp the choice to focus, and I can grasp the choice to evade. I can grasp that there is a state of being at rest. But what I can’t grasp is how the choice we made and the choice not to focus is different, because I always see two positions on the switch—the “on” switch.

Well, I covered that. Let me go right to that paragraph. I put it the best I could on page…look to page 90. That is the best formulation I can give. Evasion and out-of-focus differ in many regards, even though they both have in common the fact that they are not focusing. One is completely passive—the out-of-focus state. You just let it go. In that state, you have no goal—no purpose motivating you. There’s nothing your consciousness is after.

Now, the best way to think of that as an example is: You’re tired at the end of the day. You’re watching TV, say, and you don’t care about the program. It’s completely meaningless to you. You don’t care whether you listen to it or not. Your mind is simply drifting, and maybe a fragment of the TV will come to you. But a minute later, you couldn’t say what it was. If somebody stopped you in one minute and said, “What was this show about?” “I don’t know. There was a boat, I think—a flag. Somebody said, ‘I’m leaving.’”

It’s all just chaos. You just get little fragments. And interspersed is you’re thinking what your boss said or what was said in the lecture or what you’re going to have for dinner—just random, stray thoughts. You’re not doing anything. Your reins are completely idle. You’re not working at all. It’s the exact opposite of working. There’s no energy expenditure. There’s no attempt to do anything, and that covers all your mental content. You just let it wash over you. That is simply out of focus—neutral, idle.

Now evasion is a very different thing. An evasion, you are electrified by a purpose. You have a very definite goal, and you’re pouring energy in, you’re working. You’re not just sitting back. And the best way to think of evasion is some horrible thing if you don’t want to be true. You’re afraid of it. That’s why I say evasion is motivated. Evasion there’s always something you don’t want to know, and you just decide it’s too horrible to face.

The classic, standard example is you see your wife leaving on an appointment. She says she’s going to be out for several hours, and the thought comes to your mind, “How come she goes out every night?” She never says where she is, and you have a real suspicion. The words almost start to form. You can feel them about to form. “Maybe she has a lover.” But as they’re just beginning to well up, you slam the brakes on. You know? You close the mental screen. You simply deflect your mind with a ferocious act of will. Perhaps you rush to pick up the phone to talk to a friend about business, whatever. Just to wrench your mind away from it.

Now that is an evasion. I’m blowing it up to make a cosmic thing but that is not at all the same state as simply drift. In drift, you know…The thought of your wife comes to—comes and goes—just whatever comes. But in evasion, there’s a threat, and you’re taking action—you’re mobilizing your resources not to see this threat. You see that? And therefore, the best formulation I’ve put is on 90. In one, he doesn’t work to see, and in the other, he works not to see. Yes?

Audience member #1: If I may, I

There is no how. You just let go. That’s what given you by nature. The drift is simply given you. If you don’t exercise will that’s the state of default. That’s like asking “how does a car get stopped?” That’s what it is until you turn the key on. You see. You don’t do anything once you know you just have a car, it just sits there forever. If you don’t will to start the mental process it’s just idles. It just goes in drift. So in that sense it’s the opposite of will. It’s the choice; simply let it be. That’s what the choice not to focus is. Let it go, relax the reigns. Yes right.

Audience member #2 Since the primary choice to focus is necessitated by nature, by being human……is it the case that you can’t judge an individual as to what choice he make...

Certainly no. That doesn’t follow at all. Can you judge an individual for choosing to be out of focus if that is a primary choice? There’s nothing whatever about it being a primary choice. It makes it unjudgable. On the contrary, if there weren’t a primary choice that would mean there would ultimately be no choice. Everything would be determined by another and another and another and another and then that would be determinism and you couldn’t judge. There is no reason why primary choice is incompatible with judgment because a primary choice is a choice.

Absolutely. That’s the nature of your consciousness. You have to start it. But you are entirely responsible for any choice you make. Now remember this, you do not need objectivism or Ayn Rand to grasp that existence depends upon awareness. It is not as though the whole human race was asleep and couldn’t figure out “what is the point of being aware?” you know. That is not a higher level discovery. A child in the beginning knows he can’t cross the street without opening his eyes. They don’t say, “I don’t see any reason to open my eyes before I cross the street.” That’s a self-evidency. A literal self-evidency that action requires awareness—that life requires awareness. That’s…That’s evident to any being.

So that’s not…that’s not however the same as a motive. You see. That is a—kind a like a metaphysical principle that is implicitly graspable by any conscious being. An animals in its own terms would never dream—although, it doesn’t know any concepts or any motives— to sit there with its eyes closed in a midst of a forest. It would just be automatic that it has to be aware because otherwise danger is everywhere.

Now, that knowledge is given to anybody and—because otherwise you’re implying this kind of situation. You’re saying, “Before the person goes into focus he has no clue as to why he should go into focus. So, why should he?” That is completely untrue. If he is a one…I would say if he is a few months old, he knows as much about why you should be in focus. If I asked you right now why should you be in focus? What is the point of being in focus? What? I mean—you could either say, “It’s a precondition of everything.” That’s the answer. And that means everything requires that.

Now that is not…that may be you need objectivism to state that and define it. But that implicit knowledge is available to anybody and if they don’t activate that awareness, then they are certainly, morally to be judged. Absolutely.

Audience #3: One person might be passively drifting knowing that it’s ok under these circumstances. And another person could be passively drifting without knowing or hearing whether it’s ok. Is there a difference…is focus…issue between those two people? What is the difference between….in terms of focus?

You can’t ask another one before I answer that now.

Audience #4:Connecting to that, I want to…

You can’t…no matter how it connects, I’m going to lose what he said. By the crow epistemology. Professor Bikaner is saying one person may be out of focus and know it and do it deliberately in effect. And another…(tell me if I am paraphrasing you wrong)

Audience #3: I’d like to…had a hard day…paying attention to the…you know that’s ok…

And another person may be out of focus in the sense that he is taking action and so on and he is not paying attention. Are both of those the same state of being out of focus? They are both the same states psychologically but they’re not the same state morally. That is, if you’re not in focus—you’re not in focus—whatever your reasons or the rest of your psychology. Focus doesn’t make any difference. You’re either in it or you’re not. Firstly, degrees they were assuming you know complete relaxation. And in that sense there’s no distinction…there’s no differences between types of out of focusness. But there is a tremendous moral difference in the two cases you cite.

The moral choice—according to objectivism—the moral evil…you haven’t gotten to chapter six…seven…I’m sorry. But, I’m very careful to say that the moral, the evil according to objectivism is not being out of focus. The evil is…what? Evasion. The deliberate refusal to conform to reality…the attempt to put ‘I wish’ above the ‘it is.’ Out of focus as such is evil only when it’s a product of evasion. And, the evil is then the evasion not the sheer being out of focus.

So, if you’ve come on home. You’re really tired. You say, “I couldn’t do another drop of mental work. I’m just going to turn motor off and let it idle.” And then you have…before the TV exactly what I described in the earlier question, a stray fragment from here and a word from there and image from there. And, for practical purposes, you’re sleep sitting. You know, I mean you’re awake but you’re just in a drift. If you do that for a reasonable amount of time—that is not 23 hours a day. Because, then you have to evade the requirements of life. But if you do that as a rest when you’re tired…and secondly if you do it when you make no decisions that carry further.

In other words, in that state you can reach for a glass. If you’ve got enough remnant of focus not to pour it over yourself. You could bring it to your lips and drink it. But, you cannot come to conclusions, make decisions, take actions, make plans, talk on the phone…you know…etc. Plan out your schedule. In other words, if you willfully say, “look I’m tuning out. I’m off duty so to speak and I’m not doing anything that has any further consequences.” Then why not. Certainly. I’ve spend whole days like that when I’m sick. It’s very boring. You know, after certain period of time you just…you know…you just do a crossword puzzle or something because you get…you’re really sick of just that bleary eyed, vacant stare. But, in and of itself that is not immoral.

When does it become immoral? It’s still the same state of being out of focus. But it’s when you do it characteristically; when that is your normal pattern. And, focus is an occasional exception. You know, you pick up the phone, order groceries, you come into focus the minute the phone call is over, the next three hours you just wonder around in a daze. Then you’re simply giving up your life. You’re simply throwing away your entire life. You are then evading the requirements of life and of course you’re institutionalizing the kind of habits that are going to cripple your mind and gradually make it harder and harder ever to focus. So, it’s a big difference whether it’s a peripheral, temporary issue of tiredness or illness or it’s your normal behavior. And also what you do in that state.

If you take action and come to conclusions while out of focus, that is immoral and that presupposes evasion. You can see that on simplest level. If you decide to cross the street out of focus, you know perfectly well or you could know that you should be in focus to cross the street. If you don’t, you are evading the knowledge available to you.

Now, the out of focus state is the same in both cases. I mean, there’s know…red and green out of focus. It’s just one state. But, it’s all the difference in the world morally…you know…what these other factors are. Does that answer your question?

You said that I was surprised. Oh! I said…He said in the sort of surprised way. Gee I really learned something from that. So I’m glad. Did you want to say anything further? Ok. Are we still on the primary one? Yeah.

Audience # 5: In Atlas Shrugged, the character of Cherryl Taggart, when she is being courted by James Taggart. Is she habitually out of focus…

Oh! Absolutely not. No. I can hear Ayn Rand saying that from the grave. What? Cherryl Taggart is supposed to be like Eddie Willers. She’s supposed to symbolize the good, average person. She’s not a superior intellect or genius but she’s supposed to be a completely moral, honest person struggling to grasp the incomprehensible evil around her. She is the exact opposite of being out of focus. Everything that Taggart does, she tries to analyze, to explain. She is a living demonstration of somebody struggling, working to understand what’s around her. Now she is if anybody ever was committed to full awareness. She…what his friends say, the art show they go to and the way they behave and all the signs of his uselessness and so on, she puts it all together and she continuously confronts him. And that’s what he can’t stand.

So, heaven forbid that you would think that Cherryl Taggart is out of focus. Jim Taggart is the one that is out of focus as a chronic way of life. And he just oscillates between drift and evasion with periodic moments of coming to and being in focus enough to utter some evil sentences and then he drifts and goes back. But that is completely not…what would make you that Cherryl was out of focus? If you ask that, you must think that ignorance is related to out of focus and it’s completely not related. Not related at…

Audience #5: I wasn’t finished. I wanted to ask if she was in focus or if she was in focus but made an error…

You must not confuse…there is nothing more urgent as far as this lecture or topic is concerned than to distinguish between your intelligence, your knowledge, the amount of truth you have on the one side and the state of focus on the other. They are absolutely not related. You can have a brilliant mind, a power of genius, filled with knowledge, even with knowledge of objectivism and he can be out of focus by will—whenever he wants, as much as he wants. And, on the other hand, you can have someone completely ignorant, a child who knows nothing about philosophy, the world, thinking methods, nothing and maybe even a dumb child. You know, I mean simply he’s not…he still had a brain that’s functional, he’s not severely retarded but he’s not especially intelligent and he can be a hundred percent in focus. This has to do with are you committed to using the mental resources you have to understand. It has absolutely nothing to do with how much do you understand and how many mistakes do you make, how much do you know, how smart are you. There’s no correlation whatever.

And if you miss this you cannot relate focus to intelligence at all. Of course, the more you focus, the more you’ll get the full power of your intelligence. So, you will look more intelligent to yourself and others that you have habitually drift or evade and you just atrophy your mind and you won’t even have the power that you actual potentially you have. You’ll end up looking stupid. But, focus is an entirely separate factor from intelligence or knowledge. I dread to think of the confusion if we hadn’t discussed that. So, does anybody have doubts on that at one point because that is life and death otherwise you’ll lose the whole subject. Yes, at the back.

Audience #6: On that principle…

Yes, you’re saying what I just said. I do think that intelligence—at least operative intelligence—can be increased by the proper use of your mind. Now this is psychology not philosophy. So I can’t claim this as scientific proof. But from my observation…I feel that my mind works better now than it did 20 years ago. I actually feel more intelligent than I did 20 years ago, in the sense of what I can encompass and what I can do with my mind. And I think that lot of people have had that experience. I’ve certainly on the other hand seen the other direction. People are pretty bright as teenagers and they become simply sluggish and inert, passive and they can’t get anything by the time they’re in their 40s or 50s.

So, I do think that the more you exercise it the more your capacity is. That still, however, leaves open the question is there an upper limit to your potential, given by the nature of your brain. So that even if you’re demon of focus you know you can only hit so much and that’s what your mechanism is. I don’t purport to have a view on that question. Is that John? The back. No. Can’t see that. Yeah. Andy. Yeah.

Audience #7: Is conscience alertness on a continuum? I made a choice but… comes from a state of semifocus already being unconscious…

Correct. Let me say a word on that. It’s a good point. Conscious alertness or consciousness as such exists on a continuum. And, in fact, I say on 83 that there are degrees of awareness. It is not that you’re either aware or you’re out because then there could be no such thing as the choice to focus. And I…you know this is a rationalistic type question asked all the time. If there were only you’re aware or you’re asleep and that was the only two choices then while you were sleeping you obviously couldn’t choose to focus because you don’t know anything. You’re unconscious. If the next instant you’re conscious that where did the choice come from? This is a typical…it comes from knowledge of reality. There are all degrees—I wouldn’t say infinite but many many degrees. That’s why we don’t just say being in focus but being in full focus.

That’s why I said when I…what did I mean by full awareness. All the facts, as clearly as you can, by all the processes available to you. Now, there’s a big difference between one fact and 50 facts and there’s 49 stages in between—between crystal clarity and utter blurriness which is still something. You just imagine a lens getting gradually clearer and clearer and clearer between using one mental process for one minute or using ten of them for 20.

In other words, if you keep in mind what is meant by full focus and what is meant by complete out of focus; the absolute drift there is many stages in between. It is not an either or. When you are out of focus you are still aware. You are aware enough to know the stature in and if you’re taking the action to know that focus is required. That is not something you have to choose to learn. That is given to you. The state of your consciousness is transparent to you. You may not know the word focus and so on. But whether you’re alert and functioning or not you know without having to focus your attention on that fact. Otherwise you’d have an infinite regress. Yes?

Audience #8:… when I came in here this morning , I mean I was thinking I want to learn philosophy so I have to be in full focus…… so it looks like the action of full focus is motivated by a purpose…

All right. You want me to answer that one? He said, “I said to myself I have to be in full focus in order to learn philosophy today. Isn’t my being in focus then motivated?” No. You had to be in focus to make that resolution. You had to be in focus first of all to guide your steps—you certainly if you’re as disoriented especially as I am or you end up at the golf house—but beyond that to have such a complex thought as “I have a cognitive goal and that’s going to require something of me and this is what I’m going do,” already takes granted of being in focus. You have misidentified what your goal was and its ok as long as you really know what you mean. What you mean is “I am going to give my all to this subject this mourning…I am going to not let my focus lapse and I am not also going to direct it to anything else.” Those are the two meanings when you say “I am going to be in full focus.”

What you’re really saying is “When I get there, I am making a resolution. I am going to continuously reaffirm that choice and secondly I am going to keep it directed at the front and at what he’s saying. Now that if a neighbor whispers to me or catch some notes or something, I’m going to not look at it.” Now that second part of it is of course motivated. We can say well “why is Andy so interested in philosophy.” There’s a lot of people in this hotel that wouldn’t make that particular choice. That’s a higher level choice. What you focus on is motivated. But the choice to focus on A versus B presupposes first of all the being in focus. Does that answer you? All right. Well. Oh! Thank you.

Now, somebody during the intermission gave me an analogy about the three mental states and I don’t think it adds anything philosophically but I certainly don’t think it’s harmful and he said that he found that his group of objectivists found this helpful. So I’ll read it without comment. Maybe it’ll do something for somebody. It’s a…he said I could use it free of charge but he didn’t give me his name so it’s not mine. I’m just reading it. He calls it ‘The Mental Voltmeter’ metaphor.

Imagine a needle display meter like you used to see on stereo amplifiers. Vertical position indicates drifting, positive position indicates focus, negative position indicates evasion. The key element is a little spring that constantly tries to pull a needle back to the vertical position, if it should ever deviate left or right. So to maintain the needle in a position other than neutral which is drifting you have to apply a voltage either positive into focus or negative into evasion. The crucial point is that focus is not automatic, it requires effort and if ever you release that effort you swiftly return to unfocused drifting.

Did you find that helpful? Well good I’ll steal that then. But, that is not the original with me. But, it does give you certain features that are definitely good parallel. So, thank you whoever gave me that. Now, I want to turn to the section on the human actions as both caused and free. Although somebody had a question about full awareness involving awareness of consciousness. Where is that? Is that you? Go ahead ask that now. I told him to ask it after the break.

Audience #9: Does the meaning of full conscience mean being aware of what you see and what is going on in your mind both at the same time?


Yes and no. That’s the clear cut answer. Does full consciousness of reality involve extrospection and awareness of consciousness at the same time? In a sense the answer is yes. In that, every focused state of awareness has a self-conscious element. When you choose consciousness you are taking over the reigns. You are being aware deliberately and when you do that you know that you are. Therefore, implicit in your awareness is the state of your consciousness. So in that sense, only a drifter is utterly oblivious to his consciousness. Only when you simply turn away and say am not doing anything with it, let it go then you don’t know…have any clue what state it’s in.

If you’re in focus you are implicitly aware that you are. But here comes the no: that does not mean the thinking is introspection. Thinking about reality is extrospecting. Introspection in the sense of turning deliberately in as a cognitive task and studying what your mind is doing is not involved in the process of full focus. In other words, your awareness of your consciousness is only implicit—only that awareness which is unavoidable given that you are purposefully setting the terms. But what you’re doing with your mind is using it to gain external knowledge. In that sense you’re not introspective or “aware” of your consciousness. You’re aware of reality. If you get that distinction I think it would be helpful to clarify. All right now on…let’s go to some questions on causality, the second sequence. Yes?

Audience #10: Going back to the example of raising of the arms. I want to see if I understand. Suppose I raise my arms, I just did to…I had to be in full focus…

If it’s a deliberate choice you can raise your arm without it being a choice if that something you’ve automatized under certain context you know you may have…throw up your hands in horror you know, after a while that is automatic to you. So if I come up and say Boo! your hands go up in the air that was not a choice. But, suppose you’re just sitting their contemplating and then there is no such situation …yeah

Then you just decide to raise…yeah

Audience #10: Now I had to be in full focus in order for the reason…raising…I want ask the question so I should raise my arms in order for that reason…

No…I would question but go ahead yeah…


Audience #10: OK well I was just trying to go through this test that you went through in explaining…

You had to be in focus to raise your arms deliberately. When you say full focus you’re making me slightly edgy there because…what?...Ok. Because you see we’re talking about a very elementary action here and full focus is what’s required to write on philosophy. So, I do not think that you can make it a case that to raise your arm full focus is necessary…I’m sure if you have a modest intelligence you could get along on less than the total resources of your consciousness. But you can’t be entirely out of focus or you won’t be able to assume the discipline of the purpose.

Audience #10: But if you do something…if you make a higher level of choice for a reason …that is not just out of drift…then you need to be in focus in order for that reason….

To be operative…yes.

Audience #10: Now as I understood your explanation before you said it’s not just that you need to be in focus and thus to be able to have the reason in mind and select the reason because once you’re in that state you actually don’t follow automatically. There’s still a further choice …and as I understood as that choice element you described as then making reason operative in action.

That’s right. Committing to it. Saying I’ve looked enough This is it. I’m taking this path.

Audience #10: Now that, little bit, that is itself then something irreducibly volitional.

Every choice of…I get the drift where you going. Every choice is irreducible in the sense that it’s a choice. You’re making a very good point. A choice by its nature is such a self-caused—you’re the prime mover of it. Because if there weren’t an element that it simply you did it—if you could take it back and say it was inevitable as a result of this constellation of inner or outer factors it wouldn’t be a choice. So there is…let me just elaborate this now because I think I get your view. There is a sense in which every choice is irreducible. Meaning by that, it is a choice and you can’t take it completely back to anything earlier. You can’t even take it entirely back to being in focus because given that you’re in focus you still had to decide, now that I’m in focus and now that I see this factor I’m going to execute it and take this direction.

In that basic sense all choices are irreducible but there is…that doesn’t change the crucial difference. The crucial difference is that all these higher level choices—the sheer choice is not enough. It’s like a combination of factors that has to be the choice committing to certain aspects of reality or if you’re out of focus evading or slumping those off.

The primary choice though is just the choice element without in addition the factors that you have to focus on to generate. So there is a crucial difference and there is a crucial time sequence. The focus has to precede to make possible all these other choices. But, you’re right if you try to break it down in terms of split seconds inherent in its choice is that you choose it. It comes from within you and you cannot entirely break it and take it back to focus. This was the reason I said it controls—focus controls but does not necessitate otherwise you’ll be back to the zombie model. All you do is come to and walk around and reality of your after dictates your behavior. Anything more on this? I’m trying to get…I know…you’re on the other…Yes? Yeah you.

Audience #11: I actually have two short questions. I’d appreciate permission to ask them both.

We’ll take one and let’s see how we do with that first. Yeah.

Audience #11: Ok this is what…this is how you opened up…this is regarding the actions without goals. You said isn’t the goal of child riding the bike the child’s pursuit of happiness via leisure activity and wasn’t the goal of your daughter hanging upside down to impress her daddy?

Say that again.

Audience #11: I said isn’t the goal of the child riding the bike the child’s pursuit of happiness via leisure activities and why…

Well, you are saying that but that is not the way it stands in the mind of the child. The pursuit of happiness, your leisure is not a motive that gets you functioning. I want happiness. I like leisure. I always want happiness and lot of the time I like leisure. That does not get me to stand up and do something. In order to translate a tremendous abstractions like that into the motivation that you can say explains the action you know in series of scientific way, you have to say what kind of leisure, why, what you like doing. You have to break it down very specifically.

Now, as child—type of consciousness that we’re talking about certainly she does and does get up on the jungle gym “for no reason”. But I was trying to point out there—she had no purpose beyond the activity. It’s not as though this activity is motivated let us say to build up my muscle. When I have my muscles really build up I could really enter into competition. If I do really well in competition then I’ll be able to join the Olympics. If I get into Olympics I can go to Australia when they have the meeting there and there I know that the hero boyfriend I’ve always loved is waiting for me in Australia. And that’s my end in itself. Now she says that’s why I am hanging in the parallel bars.  Now, that is the paradigm of motivated behavior that I was talking from.

Audience #11: Other Motive outside the activity itself. Why would she have said Hey! Daddy look?

She said, “Hey! Daddy look” because she was…just enjoyed the capacity of her capacity and she wanted to show it to me. So certainly she said it because I was there, she wanted approval. And, presumably she wanted approval for various reasons. But that “Hey! Daddy” is not relevant because she would do it whether you know somebody was there to approve or not.

Now you’re trying to get me into this situation. You’re saying action requires motives. Yes it does. And she couldn’t take this type of action unless she had a lot of knowledge, unless you know she had time, unless she had certain skills. All of that is certainly true. So that is…I don’t…you’ve mistaken the analogy if you take that as an example of a primary choice. I was taking it for one selected aspect simply to show you that you cannot take a rationalistic rule out of context. There’s always some distant future, goal that a person is after. And then I said now let’s apply to…I meant to say let’s apply it to the real primary case. It’s like this only as much more unmotivated because the whole question of motives couldn’t even come up on the primary case. So, if you’ve found that analogy confusing because after all physical actions are motivated, ignore it. I found it helpful. I saw some people find it helpful but nothing is an analogy to the primary choice.

Why is that true? Why can’t I find any better analogy to a primary choice? Because it’s the only one. A primary choice is unique. A choice per se is unique and a primary choice is unique in space. There’s absolutely nothing like it in the universe. So, you know all we can do—since it’s a primary and is accessible to directly by introspection it struggles to give analogies to say well in this one respect where you’re confused you could think of it as being like this. But then of course, if you press the analogy and say “yeah but you have to wear shoes when you are in the jungle gym and you don’t when you focus”… so it doesn’t say true—the analogy doesn’t hold. You know, I mean you can only go so far with an analogy.

Audience #11: The question is …

Is that just the first or ..OK. All right.

Audience #11: The second one involves the other analogy you spoke of an animal with omnipotent powers that…and therefore we could predict…

No, infallible

Audience #11: Yeah…But animal that could predict every…

Omnipotent and infallible are not the same. Yeah.

Audience #11: Well remember you’re speaking of animal that would be completely predictable because it was…had the certain powers… earlier today?

I can’t say I remember that but ask the question anyway.

Audience #11: Well I thought I heard you say something about that we could imagine animal that…

All animals are infallible. That is just not a …I mean that can’t go wrong because that can’t go very far. But as far as they go they right. They don’t come to false conclusion because they don’t come to conclusion. Now you can say…I know I’m going to get this question …can’t a dog “think” that this was his food and then he takes a mouthful…he howls because it wasn’t you know tasted wrong etc? So, if you look at from that point of view you could say he had an anticipation that was frustrated. But in the strict sense, the dog did not in advance say “my hypothesis is that this is my food and I want to go and verify this. Oh! gee I was wrong.” In that sense, they just perceive and react. They don’t have conclusions and their percepts as far as they go are infallible. So that’s why we have no grounds to ascribe volition to animals. Because the validation of volition…the establishment of it as being objective is that it’s a requirement of conceptual consciousness.

Now this…what? Well then ask your question without reference to it.

Audience #11:  OK. If we can imagine an omnipotent being for the time being. If an omnipotent being had no volition and therefore was completely predictable, how could you call the being omnipotent? All powerful and…

That does not relate…you should be asking that to a pope not to me. If I imagine an omnipotent being without volition, how could I call him omnipotent if he has no choice? I don’t believe in an omnipotent being. An omnipotent being is…I’ve already covered in chapter one as a violation of law of identity. A being who can do anything or make entities do anything is a being who can make things act contrary to their natures, who can violate the law of identity and consequently the thing is out from the beginning. It’s a…in objectivism you wouldn’t even entertain such a notion. In fact, I said in chapter one that it’s either omnipotence or the law of identity.

So, there is no use entering into all the theological puzzles about does omnipotence include volition or exclude it, does it include the power to commit evil or exclude it. You’re going to be in a lot worse trouble than those puzzles if you accept omnipotence. So, you misheard me and what you’re saying has nothing to do with objectivism. I want to drop that all together. Put god with the photons. Although I gather the photons are real…Yeah. Yes?

Audience #12: I’m thinking...…kind of choice and I’m wondering if you put……on one end of negative end…

See that’s the trouble of analogy.

Audience #12:… and then on the positive end. To what extent does it ever become……a choice of focus ever become habitual or…

To what extent does the choice to focus or go out of focus or evade become habitual? It’s very dangerous to discuss that loosely. I tried to cover that…where is the…what page is that? I have a paragraph specifically to cover…88…You know my script better than me. Yes correct. That paragraph on the bottom of 88 was written in answer to that question. The fact that these things—the choice to focus or not—is a primary does not mean that you’re lifetime ideas and policies are irrelevant to your state or inclinations. I don’t know how to say it better than I said it here.

If you are characteristically in focus then your ideas are basically reasonable. You will grow in knowledge you will feel more confident and it will be easier to be in focus. Now, that doesn’t mean it will be automatic. It’ll be more natural and less of a strain. The best way that you can think of this is this; you have to come to—by that basic act of will no matter what the circumstances, no matter what your mental your lifetime practices you still have to do it. But, there is a difference in how hard it is even if you know if you’re a rational person according to the particular content you’re working with.

Now for instance, if I am learning this material, I know this material. I have it basically automatized it in my subconscious of decades of doing nothing but answering these questions, writing on this subject. So, as soon as you say to me “what about X?”…It’s like you know the switch goes on and you just feed the computer, you know. Now if I just go to sleep, I just drift it won’t come out. But as long as I put a certain minimal energy in the mouth more or less gives the answer. You see. I have to will but it’s easy.

On the other hand, I’ll take an example sitting at the desk alone, the blank sheet of paper, starting the subject of volition let us say. When you are…you don’t know at all and there’s 30 confusions surrounding every word. Now I take that as the analogy because that can happen to anybody however rational. Take that as the analogy of the total mental state of a person who’s characteristically out of focus and irrational.

Now, in that state as I know myself…when you sit down and say the equivalent of “ok plunge in, focus” it’s really hell on wheels. There’s a tremendous resistance. You have to keep pulling yourself back to it. You get two steps and the process stops, dissolves in fog. You say “no I’ve got 12 different ways that I could go” and you can’t even hold in your mind the ways and there is a continuous…it’s like sand in the gears—you know where you have push. And then a little patch will break through and maybe there is 3 minutes All you have to do is focus painlessly and then you get stuck again.

Now in that sense, depending upon the material, the process can be much harder or much easier. And, you can experience that in certain limits, you know yourself. But you just have to project the effects on a total individual’s life. If he is characteristically out of focus, everything to him must be as chaotic and difficult and agonizing as to me creative writing is and I can’t think of a worst penalty that god could ever have given to vice then that’s state of the agony of coming to be in focus.

However, while it’s true, therefore, that your patterns could make it easier or harder, they don’t make it automatic or inevitable. No matter how easy it is you don’t have to do it and no matter how hard it is you can do it because what it comes down to really is it’s on or off. The rest is the use of it and that you have…you know what it’ll do that for you. That basic on or off can’t be easier or harder. But its experience is harder because you don’t just turn it on you turn it on to attack you see. It’s in that sense it can be harder.

Now are these clarifications clarifying or confusing you? Good, because there’s a certain point at which there’s so many distinctions and clarifications and analogies that don’t entirely hold that…you know  etc. yes?

Audience #13: On page 95 and also on page 102 you offer two further clarification of the law of causality. And, my experience in reading the first chapter…I wish this would come in……of those clarification. Earlier because I felt incompleteness with respect to the was the law of causality was covered in the first section and……

You found this helpful? Well basically you want to reorganize the book and the reason that…the question is saying there’s a paragraph on causality on 95 and another paragraph on the top of 102 that made principle of causality much clearer. Now why didn’t I put those in the basic discussion of causality in chapter one? My answer to that would be there is…this is a specialized application of causality. This is the application of causality to consciousness and the indication of various types of causality. That is not really appropriate to metaphysics. Metaphysics can only deal with that which is true of everything. When it deals with causality. therefore, it can only apply to the most abstract sense.

Any entity; mental, physical, you…meta energy you name it that has a nature that it has to act certain way then when you come study specialized entity it becomes—only at the point appropriate to say—given this type of entity the principle of causality would apply in this way. And that’s deliberate. Therefore…and this is by no means only thing of this kind. If you weigh into the philosophy of science you would find a great many things about scientific law you know necessary in sufficient condition and all the types of causes and how we discover them and proximate causes and can there be more plurality of causes, can there be more than one cause of same effect, of hundred interesting —I mean interesting to philosophers of science questions—about causality which are often illuminated when you get the right answers to them.

But that doesn’t mean that when you state causality in metaphysics you should go into 200 pages of you know everything you could say to clarify causality. It’s really the issue of the spiral theory of knowledge. We lay the foundation and then we build on there. And, that’s why I did it this one. But, you see if you find that something in chapter two or three clarify something in chapter one there is two possibilities. One is I didn’t arrange the book correctly. I should have stuck that in at the beginning. The second is the spiral theory of knowledge. You build on what you knew earlier because you will find continuously the later material makes earlier material clearer by the higher integrations you’re able to make. But, you have to get the earlier material before the later. Yes?

Audience #14: Do animals have any kind of choice at all or do they…if not can you apply a deterministic…you know mechanistic arguments at all? Are they just like stone stumbling down the hill? If they do have any kind of choice does that non-conceptual choice have any relationship with our primary…

I don’t know. It’s the simple answer to your question. Study of animals is outside the province of philosophy. It would have to be done by some combination of biologists and psychologists and I don’t even know by what mechanism they would do it. The question is what…do animals…can animals have any form of volition and if so of what kind. I simply have no means of knowing. I can’t introspect an animal consciousness. And by the nature of what you’re talking about I can extrospect that I can see their behavior but I can’t get the feel of what their consciousness is like. And if they have a choice I don’t know what it would be. How they would experience it? What it would consist in their term?

Ayn Rand used to say you can know in principle all of the existence but you can’t necessarily know the way existence is experienced by another type of Consciousness. Now if it’s human you assume it as same as yours. But, the way an animal relates to reality and what sense if at all it directs the mechanism is something I simply I would not…I wouldn’t even know in theory how to do it. All I could say from outside is it looks like certain animals do something rudimentary and now I guess the choice. Like, if you see you know a cat looking at the dish of milk; the eyes go to it and go away, go back and go away. Look at it and then decisively stand up and go.

Now it certainly looks like its weighing or considering yes, no, yes, no, yes and that of course is the paradigm of choice, this isolation between alternatives and then commitment. So it looks like it but you know it’s very dangerous to…… more they can ascribe human behavior too in the obscene of conceptual faculty. So I just have to say I do not know. Its outside my……at the back. No the one…

Audience #15: I’d like to say in connection with that that I have found it extremely useful to concentrate on the fact that man is the rational animal and as such I have no problem whatsoever recognizing for example that lower animals do attribute such as an……they can fairly within limit to a degree which is in many ways now analogous to this.

It definitely analogous. He’s saying animals can vary their attention. That’s certainly true. But what’s open is that attention’s…direction of the attention entirely controlled by the external stimuli or does some element originate within. Now that I don’t know. And there is no use discussing it because it hasn’t so deeper philosophic significance. Our time is going here. I wanted to make a point…I had a couple of last…I think…points here. Oh! Yeah on page 99. This was applying the choices not to a thought process but now to action. And, this just might be a small integration that’s helpful to you.

That little paragraph, the second on page 99. In regard to action a man’s choice, the one he must make continually in every issue is to act in accordance with his values or not. You know I think I made clear the way in which you can hold values and so on and still not act accordance with it. But, just to look ahead in your case it’ll be a long time but when you will get to chapter seven or eight as matter a fact. Does this suggest to you the foundation, this particular formulation of any specific virtue that objectivism advocates and acknowledges? Because this is actually the deepest philosophic base of one of the derivative virtue.

All other virtues rest on different kind of metaphysical fact and this particular type of choice is the one underline which virtue. Which? Integrity. Absolutely correct. I found that helpful because when you get to integrity the essence of it is act in accordance to your conviction or not and if you focus on this here it sets you up to grasp that man does have that choice and that’s a specialized application of the power of choice and therefore it’s important to have specific virtue covered. Now, I’ll just throw it open to questions in general but stay in the human level. I don’t need animals or god. In the back corner. Is that you Rick? Yeah?

Audience #16: I have a question about axioms in general. As I was reading through I’d assumed that axiomatic concept came across the basic reaction plus sanity, cause, effect, validity……volition…

Now wait a minute. Yeah. Don’t necessarily confuse axiom with…basic axioms with axiomatic concept. Those aren’t all same thing. If you want an inventory of axiomatic concepts I’m not able to do it. I just don’t know. I’ve never attempted. What you would have to do is show that a certain concept is irreducible; that it’s content is accessible directly to perception without the need of any conceptual development in order to get it implicitly and you’d have to be able to show that that information is all you know that you need and that everything else is based on that. To go through the totality of human concepts from the point of view of which ones fulfill that. As a task I wouldn’t even know how to begin. All I can do is say, “certain concepts I know are axiomatic.” Because this is what they say. There would be no way in logic of ever getting them from any place else and no way you can get anything else without them. But I couldn’t get you an inventory.

Audience #16: ….…

Yeah. No. The answer is I cannot say that concepts that I have mentioned exhaust the category of axiomatic concept nor would Ayn Rand have said that. Any more than by the way—if I can make a big jump—she never held that her statements of virtue exhaust the field of virtues. She emphatically did not hold that there are and only seven virtues; rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness and pride. She said that she would…never attempted an exhaust of serving and that would require a whole separate methodology. You’d have to find some way to take the entire field of human action and say you know everything that’s not A is non A and with a non A subdivide and so on to show that there has to be seven and only.

And she never…she did not. She said, “I am saying what I regard as essential within the knowledge of human action that I have. These are…I know that these realms are crucial how you relate to others, you know how you…whether you work”. That type of thing. But, she wasn’t interested in what Kant called architectonic you know in another words, a formalistic proof that there can only be twelve categories, seven virtues, nine axiomatic concepts. That was absolutely of no interest to her. You know she was interested in just about any question you ask her but if you ask anything of that schematic rationalistic attempt to quantify out of context, she would…simply her attention would drop or she would say I don’t know, I don’t care. “What I have to know from my knowledge is are these concepts valid and are they axioms. Are these virtues valid and are they virtues? If somebody thinks they found another one on either role, good luck. If they can validate it we’ll all learn and if they can’t they made a mistake.”

But she didn’t pretend to omniscience you see in either field and she didn’t know any methodology which could be tantamount. This is back to why she didn’t work out any table of categories like Aristotle. You know… which is an attempt to give you the irreducible concepts. She simply did not attempt what she thought was beyond validation. Does that clarify simply by the fact that we’re not attempting that to happen? Ok. We have one final question. It can’t be very long. Ok, right in the corner. Yeah?

Audience #17: On page 105, first full paragraph you explain what qualities……for action. Could you elaborate on….…the quality of…….

Yes, why is the difference between…page 105…between something being a primary and something being a fundamental? They are very closely related in this context but the difference is only this; primary has to do with the order of acquisition, the order of coming to learn something. And primary obviously is laden for first. It’s where you start. So it simply demarcates…if all the items here were arranged in series which should be number one? That’s the primary. Which should be number 2?

Now fundamental adds another idea. It says, the reason that two came after one is because two wouldn’t stand without one. They’re not independent elements. So, second rests on the first. Something is fundamental when everything is a certain context depends on it. So fundamental injects the note of logical dependence. Do you get that? So they’re really very closely related. The reason it’s a primary is that you can’t get anywhere else except through it because it’s a fundamental. But, since it’s a fundamental you have to do it first. So its just the difference in focus. The order and then how everything else has…requires that order because they rest on it. You see.

Now in other context, go into a linguistic clarification. You can talk about a fundamental which is not a primary. For instance, I could say while you’re asking some really good questions but the fundamental fact is that our time is up. And therefore, that has to condition everything else in putting a question. Now that’s not a primary. That isn’t where we started that our time is up, it’s where we ended. So the term primary would not be applicable but the term fundamental would.

But, in this context as applied to axioms they’re both but it just simply points out to…axioms actually have four attributes that this is if any used to you; they are primary, they are fundamental, they are self evident and they’re inescapable. That is to say you can’t attack them without using it. And of course, all of that really follows from the fact that that’s from where you start. And therefore, everything is built on it. You couldn’t prove it by something else because that’s where you started—it must be self-evident and since that’s where you start nobody can get around it. They have to use it to even escape it, to try to attack it. So, you could put it all into primary but they simply point out different outcomes.

I’m sorry our time is now really up. So, you now know that you have choice and on Saturday we will start to form concepts using it. Thank you very much.

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