RSalar

Objectivist view of volition

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I added the bold to your "should" to underscore the fact that the actions of a volitional consciousness could have been otherwise. Given the same facts and same knowledge of logic, since man is not infallible one person may make an error in his reasoning, and another may not be in full focus and consequently reach the wrong conclusion.   

In the context of my quote (the one you added the bold to my "should"): It sounds like you are saying that flawed reasoning is what makes man's choices non-deterministic. Am I understanding you correctly?

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This is the opposite of the Objectivist view, as I understand it.  Thinking takes a positive, deliberate, effortful act of will.

Thank you for pointing this out. I feel honored to have finally found something that Ms. Rand got wrong and I got right!

Think about Betsy, what is an act of will if it does not involve thinking? We know that man uses conceptual thinking everyday all over the world and has been doing so for thousands of years. If what we know about evolution is true, someone had to have formed the first concept. And that ability to conceptualize had to have increased his survival rate. Do you think that primates have the capacity to conceptualize but choose not to?

The first concept formed in the mind of a caveman without him deciding that it makes sense to form concepts. He didn't "decide" to form the first concept. How would he have known that forming a concept would help him survive? I say (in direct opposition to the entire Ayn Rand Objectivist School of thought) that basic concepts form in the minds of humans without any act of will. Granted, higher level concepts take effort to form and we must choose to form them (because they take effort), but those first baby concepts happen because our brains function that way.

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Take a million PhDs in mathematics and ask them what 2 + 2 is. 100% of the them will answer 4. That to me is deterministic.

In a sense, you are right. The result of the simple expression "2 + 2" has been stored in the subconscious and the answer is automatically recalled when the question is presented to the conscious mind. No reasoning process is necessary; the answer is provided by the deterministic processes of the brain. However, the answer to "2 + 2" was initially stored in memory as a result of volitional conscious processes, not deterministic ones. If you were to ask your million PhDs in mathematics what "2 + 2 + 13" is, it is quite likely they will all answer "17." However, certainly in the overwhelming majority of cases, the answer to that question was not already automatized and volitional reasoning processes were required for them to arrive at the correct answer.

Because there are times when a volitional consciousness is deterministic proves that Pierson's definition of volition is not accurate.

As others have noted, there are problems with Pierson's definition, but what you identify here is not problematic. Volition pertains to the conscious mind, not to the subconscious. That the subconscious operates under deterministic brain processes does not contradict the volitional nature of the conscious mind.

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Thank you for the term [equivocation] and the link (great site). The Pierson thread is an interesting study in reasoning, logic, and debating. If you allow a person to redefine terms, it is possible for that person to make a logical argument (using the new definitions) to prove something that does not follow logically from the original definition of the terms involved. For example:

If I define consciousness to mean any form of sensory awareness of the physical world I can show that plants are conscious. If I define volition to mean any beneficial action performed by a conscious entity I can show that these conscious plants are endowed with volition. Now that I have conscious plants with volition I will next assert that plants have rights.

Neither you nor anyone else has identified an actual instance of equivocation on volition within my argument, a shift of meaning of the term. You may (mistakenly) disagree with my description of volition as non-deterministic, but disagreement on your part does not imply equivocation on my part.

Since you do not identify whom you are referring to as "defin[ing] consciousness to mean any form of sensory awareness of the physical world," let me note that I never offered any such definition, and that Betsy's definition of consciousness in terms of awareness is not equivocal, but circular.

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I say (in direct opposition to the entire Ayn Rand Objectivist School of thought) that basic concepts form in the minds of humans without any act of will. Granted, higher level concepts take effort to form and we must choose to form them (because they take effort), but those first baby concepts happen because our brains function that way.

Before you get carried too far away in opposition, you really should spend the time first learning the Objectivist view of concepts. Ayn Rand identifies your "baby concepts" of those existential concretes that are directly perceived; these "first-level" concepts are held initially without formal definitions -- they are defined ostensively, by pointing. These first-level concepts form the base for all higher-level conceptualization, and they do not themselves require other concepts for explanation. I suggest you take the time to read Ayn Rand's book Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, which devotes itself to the nature of concepts and their formation.

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It doesn't state what the essential characteristics are, but what they are not). To say that volition is "non-random" simply means that it is caused.  According to Objectivism, all actions in reality are caused. To be "non-determined" says nothing by itself, because "determined" only has meaning as distinguished from the volitional.  Thus, defining "volition" as "non-random, non-deterministic choice" is exactly equivalent to "caused, volitional choice." 

Wrong. First, I was giving a description, not a definition, of volition, which is another axiomatic concept and thus defined ostensively. Second, I defined determinism not in terms of volition but as "the doctrine that whatever happens is necessitated by antecedent factors."

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Neither you nor anyone else has identified an actual instance of equivocation on volition within my argument, a shift of meaning of the term.  You may (mistakenly) disagree with my description of volition as non-deterministic, but disagreement on your part does not imply equivocation on my part.   

   

Since you do not identify whom you are referring to as "defin[ing] consciousness to mean any form of sensory awareness of the physical world," let me note that I never offered any such definition, and that Betsy's definition of consciousness in terms of awareness is not equivocal, but circular.   

   

I was not suggesting that anyone defined consciousness in that way. I was making the point that IF a person (any person) is allowed to come up with his/her own definitions of the critical concepts involved in proving a hypothesis, that person should have no problem "proving" (if you can even call it that) the hypothesis.

Please note that I have never stated that you were equivocating. Call it whatever you want but I do not think that, "non-deterministic, non-random" (your "description") is the same as "conscious choice" (my dictionaries description). The true meaning of these concepts are critically important (assuming we seek the truth) and should not altered without good cause and then only if the existing definition/description is not adequate. If a new definition/description is required then it should be explicitly stated so that everyone is using the same one. The term "volition" needs a definition/description and it is not adequate to simple say it is self-evident.

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Before you get carried too far away in opposition, you really should spend the time first learning the Objectivist view of concepts. Ayn Rand identifies your "baby concepts" of those existential concretes that are directly perceived; these "first-level" concepts are held initially without formal definitions -- they are defined ostensively, by pointing.   

 

So the first concepts are formed automatically. Maybe I was wrong and my view on this subject is consistent with Rand's. I figured I might be jumping the gun a little ... but I got excited when Betsy said she thought my view was in opposition to the Objectivist view.

I am glad you brought me back down to earth. Also thank you for your suggestion; it does make good sense that I should learn the Objectivist view of concepts. Doesn't anyone else find it a rather difficult concept to grasp (especially measurement omission)? I still don't get what measurement is being omitted from the concept, "inch." That's how dopey I am.

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The term "volition" needs a definition/description and it is not adequate to simple say it is self-evident.

I stand by my description (not genus/differentia definition) of volition as non-deterministic choice, and would point out that it is consistent with the usage of the term in contemporary philosophy and science. It is true that many contemporary philosophers (such as Daniel Dennett) and neuroscientists (such as Michael Gazzaniga) follow Hume in denying the existence of non-deterministic choice while still claiming that there is such a phenomenon as volition (a doctrine called "compatibilism"), but according to Objectivism that view is mistaken (and I agree fully). Volitional action cannot be deterministic.

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Volitional action cannot be deterministic.

Thank you. What about the volitional act of adding 2 + 2 and coming up with 4 every time. Why is that not deterministic? Won't every rational happy and healthy person, when faced with the one action that will save their life, take that action? There has to be many more examples where every rational person (without exception) will take the same action given the same set of facts. If they didn't they wouldn't be rational! I know being rational is a choice and that is the volitional act that led to the deterministic action, but once a person has chosen to be rational his actions after that will, in some cases, be deterministic. I don't see how that point comes into question--logical people will make logical choices.

So we have this set of rational people, who are faced with a decision that we know the outcome to (because it is the only rational choice). Their choice of action is determined by the facts and the application of logic. The facts are the same and the logic is the same so the outcome must also be the same. Therefore this specific volitional act is deterministic.

How is my reasoning flawed?

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How is my reasoning flawed?

Three completely rational people go into an ice cream store and each orders ice cream of a flavor of their choice. Let's say they do this every week. Do you think that each one will deterministically choose the same flavor every time? Well - they won't, not necessarily. Not only is it unlikely that each rational person will choose the same "one rational flavor" as everyone else but it is not necessarily the case that each person will choose the same flavor that they did the last time.

An illustrative but representative example.

You could even take a math example. Ask each one of the "million PhDs in math" what the approximate value of Pi is, and you most certainly get many different - rational - answers. (e.g. 3.14, 3.14159, 3.1415926, etc. are all approximate values of Pi.) What's more you'll probably - not necessarily - get lots of different statements made back before they even answer (e.g. "How precise you really need the answer to be?" "Would you like that in decimal form?" "How about a power series so that you can calculate it yourself to any degree of precision?" "Dude, that is a boring question, go look it up on Google and stop bothering me.")

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Three completely rational people go into an ice cream store and each orders ice cream of a flavor of their choice. Let's say they do this every week. Do you think that each one will deterministically choose the same flavor every time? Well - they won't, not necessarily. 

 

I understand that most decisions that we make as volitional human beings involve many factors, not the least of which are our own values and objectives, and these decisions are most definitely non-deterministic and non-random.

I was trying to illustrate that there are some "deterministic" choices (actions) that occur in the context of volition. I needed to come up with an appropriate situation for the purpose of showing that some volitional choices are deterministic (those that involve a small number of well known facts, a rational/logical person, and a choice for which there is only one rational outcome). If I can show that some volitional choices are deterministic I can prove that volition is not properly described as, "non-deterministic, non-random choice." I think volition is much more than that.

I don't know if the examples I gave are examples of deterministic volition but at this point I think I have ... we'll see.

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Deterministic action is that which, given all antecedent factors, could not have been otherwise. Volition is the opposite of this, because volitional action could have been otherwise.

If somebody asks me what 2+2 is, my answer is a result of choices I make. I may always answer 4, but if so, it's because I chose to do so. My answer could have been otherwise. Every time. (Observing that I get the right answer is not evidence of determinism; even if I seem to always get the right answer.) Other people in this thread have given good examples of a person making choices. One chooses to get up in the morning, what to eat, whether to go to work, what problems to solve and how to solve them, etc. None of this is deterministic: it all could have been otherwise, as one can tell from introspection.

This is completely different from something like a computer, which is determnistic. If it displays "4" in response to a query I make, it does so because it had to. It didn't have a choice.

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...it does make good sense that I should learn the Objectivist view of concepts. Doesn't anyone else find it a rather difficult concept to grasp (especially measurement omission)? I still don't get what measurement is being omitted from the concept, "inch." That's how dopey I am.

An "inch" is not a concept. It is a unit of length. As such, it is one of the indefinite number of units that the concept "length" refers to. An inch is a specific concrete unit of length, given a special name only because it has a special purpose: to serve as the standard unit of measurement of length.

You should really read ITOE.

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I note that although some have alleged equivocation in my usage of term "volition," no one has shown an actual instance of it.

I suggest you go back and look it up in the "Consciousness" thread. Several times I pointed out how you changed definitions. Volition specifically pertains to the use of man's conceptual consciousness. You were using it to pertain to animal consciousness as well as man's.

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What about the volitional act of adding 2 + 2 and coming up with 4 every time. Why is that not deterministic? Won't every rational happy and healthy person, when faced with the one action that will save their life, take that action?

In addition to your continuing misunderstanding of "deterministic" (as Doug Clayton pointed out), I see two problems again in your approach. First, the issue is about the nature of volition in man, not about existential choices that a subset of men make. Given that, why do you choose to focus only on rational individuals? (Even more bewildering is your choosing to qualify the subset still further: implicitly by assuming they are knowledgeable and logical as well as rational, and explicitly by restricting the set to individuals who are happy and healthy.)

Second, even if you were to show that all rational men reach the same conclusion in the same circumstances, you still have not shown that man is any way deterministic in his consciousness. The issue for all men is volitional consciousness -- that is, choosing to be aware of a problem and then choosing to focus on a particular object using a particular method. The basic choice, then, is awareness and focus versus evasion.

Until you show that man's consciousness acts in ways that could not be otherwise, you have failed to show that man is "deterministic" in any fundamental way, that is, in any way that matters philosophically.

P. S. -- Debate and discussion are not substitutes for study. I recommend you read Harry Binswngers's essay/brochure, Volition as Cognitive Self-Regulation, available from the Ayn Rand Bookstore.

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... it does make good sense that I should learn the Objectivist view of concepts.

Perhaps it might be helpful if we knew just what you have studied of the Objectivist literature.

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My guess is that rationality is a human trait and even if we may choose not to use it to it full potential it is part of our nature.

I hesitate to say that we use our rational minds to choose to be rational -- but by what other means can we choose to do something?

Your answers are illogical. One does not explain something by using the concept within the explanation. That's called circular reasoning.

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----------

It doesn't state what the essential characteristics are, but what they are not). To say that volition is "non-random" simply means that it is caused.  According to Objectivism, all actions in reality are caused. To be "non-determined" says nothing by itself, because "determined" only has meaning as distinguished from the volitional.  Thus, defining "volition" as "non-random, non-deterministic choice" is exactly equivalent to "caused, volitional choice." 

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Excellent point, Betsy. After all the previous discussions, that was one point that I wish I had grasped. But I'm glad you've pointed it out. Thanks.

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Your answers are illogical.  One does not explain something by using the concept within the explanation.  That's called circular reasoning.

Which answers are you refering to?

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In addition to your continuing misunderstanding of "deterministic" (as Doug Clayton pointed out), I see two problems again in your approach. First, the issue is about the nature of volition in man, not about existential choices that a subset of men make. Given that, why do you choose to focus only on rational individuals? (Even more bewildering is your choosing to qualify the subset still further: implicitly by assuming they are knowledgeable and logical as well as rational, and explicitly by restricting the set to individuals who are happy and healthy.)

Is my misunderstanding of "deterministic" based on the fact that I am isolating one particular instance where a choice or action is determined rather than using the broader notion that "deterministic" means that every event, act, and decision is the inevitable consequence of antecedents that are independent of the human will?

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Perhaps it might be helpful if we knew just what you have studied of the Objectivist literature.

I have focused on the material written by, or authorized by, Ayn Rand. Is there any other objective way to know which, if any, other literature is Objectivist literature? For example, do you believe the Kelly camp represents Objectivism? Do you believe Objectivism is a "closed" system? Perhaps another thread is in order ...

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I have focused on the material written by, or authorized by, Ayn Rand.

In particular, most relevant to this thread, have you studied Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology?"

Speaking as moderator, one reason I ask, among others, is that this forum is not meant as a primary teaching tool for the philosophy of Objectivism. We welcome discussion and debate, but I sense some degree of frustration on the part of members who have attempted to communicate to you some of the basic ideas relevant to the subject of the thread. Frankly, I have not seen much in the way of thoughtful "chewing" on your part of what has been presented to you, and some considerable time and effort has been expended by a number of members quite familiar with the ideas.

Since there has been an inordinate amount of repetitious material presented on this thread, and since you are the primary person offering ideas contradictory to those presented by most everyone else, perhaps it is time to take a breather and digest the material before yet again advancing your same ideas. Note that I am not closing this thread, but in lieu of new material or new understanding, I will insist on no more repetitious postings here from now on.

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Wrong. First, I was giving a description, not a definition, of volition, which is another axiomatic concept and thus defined ostensively. Second, I defined determinism not in terms of volition but as "the doctrine that whatever happens is necessitated by antecedent factors."

Then in order to show that something was "non-deterministic," as used in your description of "volition," you would have to show that it was NOT necessitated by antecedent factors. But that is impossible because you can't prove a negative or show the non-existence of anything, including "antecedent factors."

Is the implication, then, that if we can't identify the "antecedent factors," it proves or implies that they don't exist? That would be an Argument From Ignorance fallacy.

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