The Hierarchy of Objectivism, Part 2

Second post in a series on the fifth chapter in Leonard Peikoff’s book "Understanding Objectivism", “The Hierarchy of Objectivism”.

Table of Contents

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 second in a series about Lecture Five, "The Hierarchy of Objectivism", in Leonard Peikoff’s book Understanding Objectivism. I’ll go through the chapter, summarizing and adding my own thoughts, comments, or questions.

Hierarchy Exercise

Peikoff's hierarchy of Objectivism having been established (see the previous post as the below will rely heavily on what was already discussed there), Peikoff now moves onto presenting propositions to the audience and asking audience members to place them within that hierarchy. As an example, he says that if a proposition would go in between 1 and 2, label it 1A. To recap, here is Peikoff's hierarchy:

  1. Existence exists.
  2. Consciousness as the faculty of perceiving that which exists.
  3. A is A.
  4. Reason as man’s only means of knowledge; reason versus mysticism.
  5. The senses as valid.
  6. Concepts as identifications of concretes with their measurements omitted.
  7. Knowledge as objective (versus intrinsic or subjective).
  8. The law of cause and effect.
  9. Reason as man's means of survival.
  10. The integration of man’s mind and body.
  11. Man’s life as the standard of moral value.
  12. Rationality as the primary virtue.
  13. The virtue of independence.
  14. The virtue of honesty.
  15. The evil of the initiation of force.
  16. The validation of individual rights.
  17. The proper functions of government.
  18. Capitalism as the only moral system.
  19. The nature of art, and its role in man’s life.
  20. Romanticism as the conceptual school of art.

Emotions as consequences of premises

The first proposition is "Emotions as consequences of premises.” Let's walk through this. That's not a metaphysical issue so I think it's not going to be in the metaphysical "section" of 1 through 3. And it's not at the root of epistemology so I think it's not gonna be 4. It's not an ethical issue so it has come before 11. What sort of issue is the issue of emotions being the consequences of premises? I think it's an epistemological issue and also a psychological one. I think it probably fits best within the hierarchy somewhere in the epistemology section, and specifically after 4 and before 8. 4 is the basic big principle but then we go through some concretes - senses, concepts, knowledge. And there's a working our way up from more "basic" stuff (senses) through more abstract stuff (concepts) and then towards the final result of using our senses and our concepts (knowledge). So I think "Emotions as consequences of premises" goes in there. I would put it after senses, so as 5-A.

Peikoff disagrees and puts it down as 10-A. His criticism of putting it in the epistemology section is that emotions are not a means of cognition. I agree, but I think that if you're talking about the relationship between emotions and other ideas, it seems reasonable to think of that as related to epistemology. Peikoff's next point is more persuasive. He says that in describing emotions he's telling us something about man's essential nature. He thinks it goes after "[t]he integration of man’s mind and body" because it's a chewing of that idea. I actually had some intuition along those lines initially but rejected it. I think what Peikoff is saying makes sense though. Peikoff also says that it'd be possible to put it after "Reason as man's means of survival" on the following reasoning:

You could say something like “Reason is man’s means of survival.” And then, “What about emotions? Well, emotions are simply consequences of it.” And then, “Now I’ll draw the broader principle: Just as emotions follow from premises, so mind and body.”

I don't like this ordering because I think that lots of people's emotional reactions are based on stuff that is not really the result of a rational process but instead stuff they pick up "subconsciously" from their parents or the culture at large. Thus, an ordering that implies that emotions are simply a consequence of reason (as opposed to some premise or idea one may have taken on board without giving it much thought) seems mistaken. Peikoff doesn't like this ordering either but his criticism is different.

The primacy of existence

Peikoff's next assignment is to order “The primacy of existence”, by which he means "facts are independent of consciousness."

This seems clearly like it would go in the metaphysics section. Since the meaning involves facts (which involve the objective world), and consciousness, I think you need those two established before you can talk about whether facts are independent of conscious. First you establish the basic principles, and then you bring up a relationship between those principles. So I would put this as 2-A.

Peikoff disagrees with putting it at 2-A because you need to have A is A established in order to say that existence is independent of consciousness. So he would put it at 3-A.

Egoism

Peikoff next asks about egoism, " the Objectivist view of rational self-interest." I would put that in the ethics "section", and not as the first thing. So somewhere after 11 but before 16. My question here is whether it would come directly after "Man’s life as the standard of moral value." or if you need to establish rationality as the primary virtue first. I see egoism as a big picture fundamental principle of Rand's ethical views, so I believe that it should come early. It's something like: man's life is the standard of moral value, egoism is the basic principle of living a life well according to that standard, and the virtues are the specific means/values you need to embody to live well in the light of the standard and basic principle. I think it's something like that, anyways. So on that reasoning it'd be at 11-A.

Peikoff lays out the case for putting it at 11-A, though he disagrees with it. He says you could argue that a standard implies a purpose, and that the essence of life is the achievement of values, so inherent in a living organism is a need for self-sustenance. But he says he thinks that a key part of egoism is the idea of rational self-interest, so you need to establish reason first. So he'd put egoism as 12-A. I don't think 11-A or 12-A is hugely significant; both seem fine.

Free will or Volitional consciousness.

“Free will” or “volitional consciousness" is the next thing Peikoff considers. I accidentally saw that Peikoff said 4-A was his "first view" and that he rejects 8A. Rand says that reason is a volitional faculty, so I think you could argue from that that reason entails free will. Maybe you could go the other way and say that since reason is volitional, you need to know that an entity has that capacity before you consider whether reason is their means of knowledge (so 3-A). But I don't think that's a hugely significant distinction. Are there any other possibilities? I had a vague intuition about 5A being possible but I could not explain it to myself in a clear way.

Peikoff says Binswanger made a killer argument he could not refute for 3-A: free will is a precondition of even having a means of knowledge:

if we were determined, if we had no choice, we would just simply enact whatever came through our consciousness. So the necessity of such a subject matter as “How should I use my mind?” “What principle should I follow, reason or whatever?” presupposes choice, and therefore the need of guidance. So I agree with that; I was converted. And I moved “Free will” up to the status of an actual axiom of epistemology, the precondition of the entire subject.

Atheism

Where to put atheism seems pretty open/vague (and Peikoff says there is choice). Where to put it may depend on the precise attempt to specify the details about God. Maybe you could say 3A cuz the idea of God typically involves contradictions. Or you could say 2A cuz the idea of God typically involves a consciousness that created existence. Or you could say 4A because rejecting God is an application of rejecting mysticism. Or 8A cuz God violates cause and effect. Lots of places!

Peikoff says you could do 1A if you're very smart (lol) but the earliest he'd want to put it at is 3A because he wants the law of identity established. He continues:

But if you saw God as the antithesis of the law of identity, it would be a side note after 3; if you see God as essentially the issue of faith or revelation, it would be a side note after 4; if you see God as essentially a miracle worker, it would be a side note after 8.

So his analysis on this point is pretty similar.

Man is a being of self-made soul

I think this would not come before 8A because it's not a basic metaphysical or epistemological principle. So is it an issue of man's essential nature or an ethical issue? It seems like an issue of man's essential nature but I'm not 100% sure. The general topic relates to a sense of life – an implicit view of the world. I looked at the Lexicon entry on sense of life a bit. My intuition is to say 10-A but I don't have a good argument for that.

Peikoff says 10-B, since he says it relies on “Emotions as consequences of premises.” His argument:

Your soul, in the context of that statement of Galt, is your character, your ways of acting, your desires, your emotions. So until you know where your emotions come from, you cannot make this statement that you are a being of self-made soul. “


Makes sense.

Knowledge as hierarchical

The last one is “Knowledge as hierarchical.” My initial guess is that it should be in the epistemology section, near the other statement about knowledge. I'm not sure if it should be before or after that statement, though. It seems to require that you've established the nature of concepts (those are the things your knowledge is made up of) but it doesn't seem to have any inherent relation to the objectivity of knowledge, so I'm going to say its either 6-A or 7-A.

Peikoff's updated hierarchy (my version, with me making some optional choices):

  1. Existence exists.
  2. Consciousness as the faculty of perceiving that which exists.
  3. A is A.
    3-A: The primacy of existence.
    3-B: Free will or volitional consciousness.
    3-C: Atheism (one possible choice).
  4. Reason as man’s only means of knowledge; reason versus mysticism.
  5. The senses as valid.
  6. Concepts as identifications of concretes with their measurements omitted.
    6-A: Knowledge as hierarchical (one possible choice).
  7. Knowledge as objective (versus intrinsic or subjective).
  8. The law of cause and effect.
  9. Reason as man's means of survival.
  10. The integration of man’s mind and body.
    10-A: Emotions as consequences of premises.
    10-B: Man is a being of self-made soul.
  11. Man’s life as the standard of moral value.
  12. Rationality as the primary virtue.
    12-A: Egoism.
  13. The virtue of independence.
  14. The virtue of honesty.
  15. The evil of the initiation of force.
  16. The validation of individual rights.
  17. The proper functions of government.
  18. Capitalism as the only moral system.
  19. The nature of art, and its role in man’s life.
  20. Romanticism as the conceptual school of art.

Spiral Exercise

Up to now, we’ve been asking only, “Does A precede B?” Now I want to take a B that definitely comes later than A, and see if, retroactively, it sheds some light, some clarity, on A. And you’ll see that the unit of philosophy, therefore, is not an isolated proposition, but the whole system: The earlier is required to get to the later, but the later is required thoroughly to understand the earlier. So the only time you get a complete understanding of any element is when you know every element, and that is what it means to say it’s a system of philosophy, an integration, and not simply a series of discrete items. So in this exercise, I’m going to give you two ideas, one early, one late, and then ask you how the late one helps with the first one, how it helps give us a fuller grasp of the early one. So it’s like the reverse of what we were asking before.

Exercise 1

The primacy of existence is the earlier idea and the later idea is cause and effect.

How does cause and effect, when we get there, help us retroactively to get an even fuller idea of the primacy of existence?

I think cause and effect shows some of what primacy of existence means. An alternative to primacy of existence is primacy of consciousness. Under a primacy of consciousness model, a conscious entity (like God) could somehow precede existence, or a person could somehow bring things into reality by their mere preference/whim. In both cases, the law of cause and effect would be violated, since you'd have an effect but no clear/direct cause in objective reality that preceded it.

Peikoff's answer is that the primacy of existence is very generalized but the law of cause and effect is much more specific.

When we get to cause and effect, we have something more concrete, more specific; we now, in effect, have the idea “An entity has to act a certain way, given its nature, no matter what your desires, your wishes, your hopes, your fears. The identity of things is inexorable; you can’t get around it, because an entity acts according to its nature.” So the later, which is “cause and effect,” helps to chew what is meant by “Facts are inexorable, they’re independent of us,” by applying it to one category of facts, how entities act; and by doing that, it specifies, makes it more real, more concrete.

Exercise 2

"The virtue of honesty" is the later point, and "emotions come from premises" is the earlier point.

Honesty is a refusal to fake reality. It reflects a deep commitment to reality and objectivity. If you are honest, you must be comfortable with being objective and clear eyed about reality. You aren't afraid of looking at things in a clear and objective way. So maybe that says something about your premises. A lack of fear of being honesty says something about your premises. This isn't very clear in my mind though. Putin said it was a hard exercise, so no big deal.

Peikoff's explanation is that dishonesty "involves placing an emotion above reality, which implies that an emotion can be treated as a primary." Honesty means you don't put your emotions above reality. So in this way, honesty clarifies how emotions come from premises.

Exercise 3

Romantic art is the later idea, and existence exists is the earlier idea. I'm really not sure about this one, but I'm thinking it must be something along the lines of romanticism emphasizing the heroic/glorious in man and giving vividness to existence. I really don't know though.

I would have never come up with this reasoning:

And somebody at the seminar actually worked out the following: “When we grasp Romantic art, what that type of art is, it includes the idea of projecting the world as it might be and ought to be. Therefore, it gives us a new angle on the metaphysical versus the man-made—it contrasts what is open to man’s choice with that which is there irreducibly, about which we can do nothing whatever. So, Romantic art, by stressing what is man’s area of choice, implicitly leaves as the residue that which is untouchable: existence, which everything has to adhere to.” If you ever read a Romantic Realist novel from that point of view, you see, it’s art, and it’s the last derivative, and yet it gives you a different angle on this generality “Existence exists.”