Objectivism Versus the Intrinsic and Subjective, Part 3

Third post in a series on the sixth chapter in Leonard Peikoff's book "Understanding Objectivism", "Objectivism Versus the Intrinsic and Subjective"

Disclaimer: I’m not an expert on philosophy. I’m just a person trying to figure things out for myself, and speak for no one but myself.

This post is the third in a series about Lecture Six, "Objectivism Versus the Intrinsic and Subjective", in Leonard Peikoff’s book Understanding Objectivism.

Peikoff was talking about intrinsicism when we left off last time. Now he's relating intrinsicism to subjectivism. He says that the subjectivist doesn't grasp that existence exists and that we need to conform to it. The intrinsicist grasps that existence exists but doesn't understand that conforming yourself to reality takes a definite method, because they think you just need to passively expose yourself to reality. By contrast, Objectivism says that you have to adhere to reality but that this takes a specific method for a conceptual being.

We have to find some kind of method of knowledge that will be in accord with facts out there and our mode of cognition, that will reflect reality and our way of grasping it; and the result of such a method will be an awareness of reality achieved by certain means. That’s what we call “objective,” as against intrinsic or subjective.
“Objective” means adherence to reality in cognition—by following certain rules of method, a method derived from facts and appropriate to man’s form of cognition.

So then Peikoff discusses various points about the contribution consciousness makes to knowledge. These aren't meant to be the only points that one could raise – they're more a way of breaking down and chewing the point about the essential contribution of consciousness to knowledge.

  1. Conceptualization is necessary to acquiring knowledge. We have to organize, categorize, abstract. Reality doesn't do this for us. Does that mean we distort reality? No. We omit some details (measurement omission) but the concepts still connect to/correspond with reality.
  2. Doing a bunch of thinking requires a method. Peikoff says we use logic, and it's a human method. "Logic is the way our minds have to operate in order to get from certain observations to certain conclusions." (I assume he means to validly get from certain observations to certain conclusions). We would not need logic if things were self-evident or if we were omniscient. But it's not subjective, "because the essence of being logical is obedience to the law of identity, which is the central law of reality."
  3. We have choice. Reality doesn't dictate that you form the concept "table" before "chair" or "dog" before "cat". You choose what to focus on. Peikoff says that you can't get to certain concepts before arriving at others, but at a given level of the hierarchy there are a lot of options. "Why is there so much option? One fact only: Our consciousness is volitional; that’s the kind of consciousness we have. Which means that our mode of contacting reality depends on our choice." (I think another relevant fact is that the world is big and complicated and presents us with lots of potential things to focus on.) Choice doesn't mean subjective, because we are still oriented to and in contact with reality and the issue is one of order or organization (e.g. tables and chairs both exist in reality, so if you're forming concepts about them correctly you're still in contact with reality regardless of which one you choose to focus on first).
  4. Context. We build knowledge and knowledge and our knowledge is limited. So we can't have out-of-context revelations and we need to specify the knowledge our knowledge relies upon.
  5. We can grasp only so much at a time (the crow issue). This dictates a specific method (spiral method among others). You can't just blast through a topic quickly and have a great understanding of it. You need to come back to it over time. The issue here isn't being out of contact with reality but only being able to hold a certain amount in your mind at a given time.
  6. Integration - we can't instantly connect our conclusions to all our other ones. We've got to grasp a conclusion first and then connect.
  7. Goal-directedness of consciousness –  consciousness needs to operate by aiming to achieve some end.

Peikoff also mentions some examples that show that consciousness has an identity and is a real thing. He says that human beings get tired and we have rules for dealing with that (like double-checking stuff when tired and not working too long). And human beings have emotions and we have rules for dealing with that (like not making important decisions when emotional). So these are rules that derive from the nature of our consciousness.

That’s a special method of cognition, or rule, derivative from the nature of consciousness, and it would not be applicable to another type of consciousness, but is applicable to us; so intrinsicism is nonsense. On the other hand, it does not detach us from reality; it’s our way of staying in touch with reality.

(It's easier for me to imagine a consciousness that doesn't get tired than it is for me to imagine a consciousness that doesn't experience emotions).

So the contribution of consciousness to knowledge includes stuff like organizing concepts, using logic, making choices, specifying a context, the use of particular methods of learning to address the crow issue, integrating conclusions, having a purpose, having emotions.

Peikoff then contrasts intrinsicism, subjectivism, and Objectivism.

Consciousness - For subjectivists, consciousness is turned inwards and ignores existence. For intrinsicists, consciousness is a passive gazer with no nature. For Objectivists, consciousness is the grasper or perceiver, with a complex identity, and therefore a special method.

Special method to stay in contact with reality - The subjectivist thinks that because we disagree and don't have automatic agreement, we can't reach agreement. The intrinsicist says we can reach agreement by reality writing on us somehow. The Objectivist takes the approach that consciousness is volitional and has to focus on reality deliberately and by a specific method.

Rights – an intrinsicist might say that rights come from God and are self-evident (see the Declaration of Independence). A subjectivist might say that rights are created by social convention and legislatures. An Objectivist says:

“Given a certain goal—life—given certain facts of reality as our context, then, in a certain situation, we must respect certain principles of behavior that have nothing to do with an outside revelation or a dogma, and that have nothing to do with any acts of Congress or anybody’s preference.”

Honesty - A subjectivist says that honesty is a matter of what they feel like or of what people in some particular culture believe about honesty. An intrinsicist believes honesty is about following a moral dogma of never lying regardless of context. An Objectivist thinks that "honesty is a principle, dictated by a purpose, applicable in a context."