Brian Smith

Epistemology and the Primacy of Consciousness

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I am going over my notes from Dr. Peikoff's lecture series: History of Modern Philosophy. In one of the last couple lectures, Dr. P makes the following argument:

He identifies epistemology as the science that studies the nature and methods of human knowledge. It tells us the processes we have to go through in order to acquire knowledge. It identifies the rules and criteria which determine when our knowledge is valid.

Based on this, Dr. P says the very existence of such a subject as epistemology depends upon the Primacy of Existence. He says if the Primacy of Consciousness were true, there would be no need of any such subject as epistemology.

Why does he say this is true? Because, if one has to engage in a certain specific process, that means one is not able to simply do what one feels like doing and then count whatever comes up as knowledge. An because, if one has to use specific methods of validation before something counts as knowledge, that means one's feelings, emotions or whatever else simply strike you does not count as a standard of validity.

In other words, the reason for an epistemology is that the mere fact an idea passes through your head doesn’t ensure it is true. One can misuse one’s cognitive faculty. One can err. And therefore one needs criteria. One needs principles to inform one how one must function in order to achieve knowledge. Put simply, the mere brute fact that you believe something is irrelevant to truth – irrelevant to knowledge.

Why? Because consciousness does not have primacy. Thus epistemology is only necessary if existence has primacy.

--

Now, I am confused by this argument a bit. There are three categories of Primacy of Consciousness: the Supernatural, the Social, and the Personal. While I can see how Dr. P's argument would apply to the Personal version, I do not see how it applies to the other two.

Take the Supernatural Primacy of Consciousness. While this supernatural consciousness would have no need of an epistemology, humans who seek to live in accord with the dictates of that supreme consciousness would. Why? Because men can err. As such, they can err in their acquisition and understanding of knowledge - ie they err in understanding or grasping 'the Word of the Lord' or the like. As such, they would still need a branch of philosophy which identifies the processes which men must go through in order to acquire knowledge from the Supernatural consciousness (ie identifying prayer to god as opposed to sacrifices of goats as the process one goes through?) One would still need some sort of rules and criteria to determine which feelings are revelatory knowledge and which are mere heartburn.

In other words, because one is supposedly not trying to grasp one's own whims, but the whims of some other consciousness instead, and because men can err in this grasp, is not some sort of epistemology necessitated? The same is true of the Social Primacy of Consciousness as well. There one is trying to determine what exactly is the whim of society, so that one can act in accord with that whim. As such, some "process" and "criteria" for determining whether one's knowledge of those whims are valid or not would seem to be necessary.

It is only the Personal Primacy of Consciousnesss that would not seem to require an epistemology (just as a God would not require an epistemology, nor Society would require an epistemology), since whatever one wishes or declares to be reality is thus necessarily reality. There is no error because there is no other standard beyond one's own wishes or whims against which one can stray.

Thus it seems that the argument Dr. P presents is not completely accurate. It is true that, in a Primacy of Consciousness philosophy, the consciousness that is primary does not require an epistemology. But it does not seem to follow that any other, lesser consciousness in that 'reality' does not require an epistemology. In fact, since man's ability to err in the face of this standard of knowledge supposedly still exists, it would seem to follow that man still requires an epistemology in these Primacy of Consciousness philosophies (though of course it would be radically different than the epistemology of a Primacy of Existence philosophy).

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From "OPAR" page 20;

"If a man accepts the primacy of consciousness, by contrast, he will be drawn to an opposite theory of knowledge. If consciousness controls existence, it is not necessary to confine oneself to studying the facts of existence. On the contrary, introspection becomes a means of external cognition; at critical points, one should bypass the world in the very quest to know it and instead look inward, searching out elements in one's mind that are detached from perception, such as "intuitions," "revelations," "innate ideas," "innate structures." In relying on such elements, the knower is not, he feels, cavalierly ignoring reality; he is merely going over the head of existence to its master, whether human or divine; he is seeking knowledge of fact directly from the source of facts, from the consciousness that creates them. This kind of metaphysics implicitly underlies every form of unreason."

I do not have the lecture that you bring up so I do not know exactly the context of Dr. Peikoff's statements. But, from the text above I think one can see that he is not stating what you are trying to imply. The first sentence alone says that the person will be drawn to "an opposite theory of knowledge", not no other theory of knowledge.

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Ray

I am not trying to "imply" Dr. Peikoff stated anything. I am saying explicitly that Dr. Peikoff made this assertion:

"Now, I may observe at the outset here that, according to Objectivism, the very existence of such a subject as epistemology depends upon the primacy of existence. If the primacy of consciousness were true, there would be no need of any such subject as epistemology according to Objectivism."

And I am further saying that he made quite a lengthy argument to support this assertion - a part of which I provided in my original post.

Now, I agree with you that a Theory of Knowledge would quite properly seem to be an epistemological theory. As such, this later assertion you quote definitely seems to contradict the assertion he made back in the 70s when the lecture in question was recorded.

Thus my confusion.

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Perhaps some examples of the primacy of consciousness orientation are not fully so, but retain some element of the primacy of existence.

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Thus it seems that the argument Dr. P presents is not completely accurate.  It is true that, in a Primacy of Consciousness philosophy, the consciousness that is primary does not require an epistemology.  But it does not seem to follow that any other, lesser consciousness in that 'reality' does not require an epistemology.  In fact, since man's ability to err in the face of this standard of knowledge supposedly still exists, it would seem to follow that man still requires an epistemology in these Primacy of Consciousness philosophies (though of course it would be radically different than the epistemology of a Primacy of Existence philosophy). 

 

Epistemology is an exact science based in reality for the purpose of understanding how man's consciousness grasps reality. If man's consciousness does not need to grasp reality (as is the position that the advocates of the primacy of consciousness schools take) what purpose would there for epistemology? In simple terms: If you are not trying to grasp reality why would you need to know how to do it?

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Epistemology is an exact science based in reality for the purpose of understanding how man's consciousness grasps reality. If man's consciousness does not need to grasp reality (as is the position that the advocates of the primacy of consciousness schools take) what purpose would there for epistemology? In simple terms: If you are not trying to grasp reality why would you need to know how to do it?

Mystics of all sorts try and do this all the time. Almost all of them try and tell you to look inside yourself or connect to a higher consciousness and you will find the answers. "You have the answers inside you if you would just listen or search for them." This is the type of answer I would receive when I asked certain questions as a child. Also, people have been searching for knowledge for years although incorrectly.

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Ray

I am not trying to "imply" Dr. Peikoff stated anything.  I am saying explicitly that Dr. Peikoff made this assertion:

"Now, I may observe at the outset here that, according to Objectivism, the very existence of such a subject as epistemology depends upon the primacy of existence.  If the primacy of consciousness were true, there would be no need of any such subject as epistemology according to Objectivism."

And I am further saying that he made quite a lengthy argument to support this assertion - a part of which I provided in my original post. 

Now, I agree with you that a Theory of Knowledge would quite properly seem to be an epistemological theory.  As such, this later assertion you quote definitely seems to contradict the assertion he made back in the 70s when the lecture in question was recorded. 

Thus my confusion.

Brian,

I have found that when Objectivist discuss ideas, that those ideas have many different applications or context. I have listened to many lectures by Dr. Peikoff, Dr. Locke, Dr. Hull and many more which I am sure you have also. What they have in common is that they all specifically state how and according to what part of philosophy they are attaching their statements to. Until I understood this point; "I mean this in a metaphysical sense, an epistemological context, an ethical decision", I was confused also. Lastly, sorry for any misunderstanding of what you were saying on my part.

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Daniel - That isnt the argument he presented though. Dr. P said if the Primacy of Consciousness metaphysics were true - ie if there were a God who creates reality - or Society did create reality - then epistemology simply would not be needed. So I don't see your suggestion as one which counters his assertion.

And note - the question is not whether the primary element of a metaphysics is somehow mixed (how that would even work is quite unclear). The question is specifically a metaphysics where consciousness is primary.

--

RSalar - For the Primacy of Consciousness crowd, consciousness (the particular one in question) is reality.

And the purpose of a Primacy of Consciousness epistemology would be to grasp the will of the creator - so that one is not smote down by that God-creator - or executed by the Society-creator. :lol:

--

Ray - I agree that context is proper to understanding. And in the context of introducing a discussion on the primacy of existence epistemology, Dr. P was arguing that, if true, a primacy of consciousness metaphysics means epistemology as a subject is simply not necessary. As he asserted: "If consciousness had primacy, then no epistemology would be necessary or possible." Now, while I agree with his argument and examples that the supreme consciousness would not need an epistemology, I do not follow his argument and examples that this would apply also to the lesser consciousness' which do not create or control reality on their own with their consciousness - and thus need to grasp/understand the supreme consciousness.

Thus, I am not sure the question here is one of failing to understanding the context , but rather not fully understanding the argument - or - disagreeing with that one aspect of it.

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Dr. P was arguing that, if true, a primacy of consciousness metaphysics means epistemology as a subject is simply not necessary.  As he asserted: "If consciousness had primacy, then no epistemology would be necessary or possible."  Now, while I agree with his argument and examples that the supreme consciousness would not need an epistemology, I do not follow his argument and examples that this would apply also to the lesser consciousness' which do not create or control reality on their own with their consciousness - and thus need to grasp/understand the supreme consciousness.

Interesting point that you're raising!

I don't know the context either, but I can think of one context that would make sense of this.

Perhaps Dr. P was discussing epistemology as a subject, meaning an area of systematic, scientific, and/or scholarly study. If "reality" is anything God or society makes it, then it could not be grasped by a logical, scientific procedure or method that can be studied or learned. Trying to know a "reality" created by a conscious not bound by the laws of logic is trying to hit a target that can move, miraculously at whim.

Observe that most of the ways usually suggested for dealing with the Supreme Consciousness involve primacy of consciousness activities like prayer, aimed at persuading or manipulating the Supreme Consciousness into changing reality the way the praying person wants it changed. It is almost as if divine primacy of consciousness is personal primacy of consciousness one step removed.

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Betsy,

That is an interesting take. A couple questions:

You seem to imply that speaking about epistemology as a subject can be somehow be distinguished from speaking about epistemology as something other than a subject. If that is your implication, what is this other form or category of epistemology and how is it defined apart from epistemology as a subject?

Also, you said:

Trying to know a "reality" created by a conscious not bound by the laws of logic is trying to hit a target that can move, miraculously at whim.
Doesn't this speak more to the potential lack of effectiveness of a particular epistemology when dealing with a 'supreme consciousness' rather than the lack of the necessity of an epistemology when dealing with a 'supreme consciousness'?

As RayK pointed out, Dr. P himself indicates that a primacy of consciousness metaphysics leads to a Theory of Knowledge opposite to that derived from a primacy of existence metaphysics. Is not a Theory of Knowledge part of an epistemology? As such, while we Objectivists will most definitely question the effectiveness of 'revelation' or reference to 'innate ideas' and the like, does that mean those things are somehow not part of an epistemology - a primacy of consciousness epistemology? If the are not part of such an epistemology, then what are they?

--

In order to provide a greater context to the discussion, I am providing a relatively brief excerpt from my personal notes (which are close to transcription form in this case) from the particular lecture in question:

So our theme for a little while now will be the ways in which the primacy of existence is characteristic of the objectivist approach to a whole variety of issues.

Well, lets first take an example from epistemology:

Now, I may observe at the outset here that, according to Objectivism, the very existence of such a subject as epistemology depends upon the primacy of existence.  If the primacy of consciousness were true, there would be no need of any such subject as epistemology according to Objectivism.  Why?  Well, what is epistemology?  It is the science that studies the nature and methods of human knowledge.  It tells us the processes we have to go through in order to acquire knowledge; the rules and criteria which determine when our knowledge is valid.

Well, what then is the presupposition of the entire subject?  That man can acquire knowledge only by engaging in certain, specific processes.  Well – why?  Why do we have to engage in certain specific processes?  Why can’t we do anything we feel like and count whatever comes up as knowledge?  Why do we have to use specific methods of validation before something counts as knowledge?  And the only answer to that is: because the fact that an idea passes through your head doesn’t ensure that it is true.  You can misuse your cognitive faculty.  You can err.  And therefore you need criteria.  You need standards.  You need principles to tell you how you must function, if you are to achieve knowledge.

In other words, the sheer fact that you believe something is irrelevant to truth – irrelevant to knowledge.

Now, why is that so?  Because consciousness does not have primacy.  Because existence exists.  And, if you want to know it, you then have to adapt yourself – conform yourself – to existence.  You have to be guided each step by the facts of existence. 

If consciousness had primacy, then no epistemology would be necessary or possible.

Now you can see this simply enough.  Imagine for a moment – as a sort of pedagogical experiment – there was a god and you could talk to him.  And suppose you tried to introduce him to epistemology.  You give him epistemological advice.  And you go up to him and say – in some divine form of communication – ‘look god, you have been engaging in some pretty sloppy thinking recently.  You have been making all sorts of errors and here are the principles you should follow.’  Now god, if he were there, would very possibly answer – "Don’t tell it to me.  I am incapable of sloppy thinking or error.  If I think it, that is how it has got to be.  Because I create existence by my thinking.  There can be no such thing as standards t which my thinking has to conform, because my thinking is the standard to which existence must conform."  And of course, if he existed, he would have a point. 

In other words, epistemology presupposes that existence has primacy – that there are consciousnesses which can depart from reality, and therefore be wrong – and the subject then proceeds to specify, for those consciousness’, how to stay on the track.  How to ensure that their conclusions correspond to the facts of existence.

Now, unfortunately, this is emphatically not how most philosophers have regarded epistemology.  They have interpreted epistemology as so much else, in accordance with the primacy of consciousness.  Now, lets take a look at that:

Suppose you ask most traditional philosophers a broad epistemological question:

In the most general terms – what is the right method to follow to acquire knowledge?  What should I consult?  What should I look at?  What should I study, if knowledge is my goal, and I wish to ground and validate my knowledge?  What should be my epistemological guide?

Now, since most traditional philosophers are advocates of the primacy of consciousness, they will answer you at one point or another – "you don’t have to confine yourself to the study of existence.  You don’t have to confine yourself to the study of facts.  At certain crucial points you can bypass existence.  You can bypass facts.  And direct your attention – get your guidance by consulting the consciousness in control of reality.  After all," they say, "consciousness X (whichever variety they ascribe to) is in charge of reality.  It has primacy.  It sets the terms.  And therefore it is perfectly safe – perfectly reliable – to go directly to the source, so to speak; to consult the consciousness in charge of reality, in order to validate your knowledge so to speak; to go over the head of existence, to its master.  And you can know that reality will obey – that it will take care of itself – because, after all, it is determined and controlled by that ruling consciousness."

Now this pattern of consulting consciousness on the implicit premise of the primacy of consciousness is enormously common in the history of epistemology.

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You seem to imply that speaking about epistemology as a subject can be somehow be distinguished from speaking about epistemology as something other than a subject.  If that is your implication, what is this other form or category of epistemology and how is it defined apart from epistemology as a subject?

The difference between describing how people aquire knowledge and prescribing how they ought to aquire it is the difference between Hume's or Locke's descriptions of cognitive processes and the normative science of epistemology in Aristotle or Objectivism. Very few philosophers saw epistemology as a "how to do it properly" subject of study.

As RayK pointed out, Dr. P himself indicates that a primacy of consciousness metaphysics leads to a Theory of Knowledge opposite to that derived from a primacy of existence metaphysics.

Yes, the primacy of consciousness can lead to intrinsicism where you "just know" by revelation, so no method is necessary. It might also lead to consciousness controlling reality by persuading God to do it for you -- the divine primacy of consciousness as personal primacy of consciousness one step removed that I mentioned. Neither of those have need of a prescriptive, normative epistemology like Objectivism.

Is not a Theory of Knowledge part of an epistemology?  As such, while we Objectivists will most definitely question the effectiveness of 'revelation' or reference to 'innate ideas' and the like, does that mean those things are somehow not part of an epistemology - a primacy of consciousness epistemology?  If the are not part of such an epistemology, then what are they?

They are examples of descriptive epistemology.

In order to provide a greater context to the discussion, I am providing a relatively brief excerpt from my personal notes (which are close to transcription form in this case) from the particular lecture in question:

From that excerpt, it seems that Dr. P is talking about Objectivism as prescriptive epistemology.

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If I were investigating this question further, I would want to know whether, in each instance, a lecturer was speaking of theistic primacy of consciousness or solipsistic primacy of consciousness. In other words, am I an observer of a universe that is a consequence of God's will -- or is the universe a result of my will?

Assuming I am a devout observer of God's primacy of consciousness, I would have a need to understand how I can know God's universe (and God himself). Thus, there would be a need for an epistemology.

Assuming solipsism, I would have no need to learn how I know anything -- because what I know comes first and is reality. Thus, there would be no need for epistemology.

I have seen this distinction implied, but never stated, in writers such as Augustine. He sets out, in an apparently objective manner, trying to figure out God's primacy-of-consciousness universe (including God himself).

Echoing Plotinus, in part, Augustine ends up prescribing a "ladder of ascent" that begins with sense-perception, moves to "reason" (actually Platonist rationalism), adds faith (to point the way because Original Sin has damaged reason), and moves on to "understanding" (a form of supra-rational, mystical awareness). All this is an epistemology for believers trying to know God -- who operates on primacy of consciousness because what he wills is.

(Etienne Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of Saint Augustine, covers Augustine's philosophy in a hierarchical manner. I am reading the big epistemological section now.)

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Burgess,

The lecture addressed all primacy of consciousness epistemology. However, the examples Dr. P used to support his premise were all non-solipsistic - ie were of the Supernatural and Social rather than the Personal. He provided a theological example (Super). He provided a rationalist example (Super). He provided Kantian example (Social). And he provided one of pragmatism (Social).

If you believe they would be helpful, I can supply another excerpt from my notes detailing these examples.

Assuming I am a devout observer of God's primacy of consciousness, I would have a need to understand how I can know God's universe (and God himself). Thus, there would be a need for an epistemology.
Using Betsy's descriptive and prescriptive divison of epistemology, are you saying there would be a need here for merely a descriptive catagory, or for a full epistemology?

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I am unsure what you are asking. I may be getting lost in the twilight zone of clashing contexts here.

Trying to answer for Augustine, I would say that the devout Christian needs to learn what way one can know God's universe and (to some extent) God, as well as then know what one should do to acquire understanding of God. So, in a Christian philosophy, the epistemology is both descriptive and prescriptive.

Ethics is the payoff of epistemology. In Christian philosophy, the ethical payoff is eternal salvation of one's soul. So you should do whatever you need to do. If you are an intellectual, you follow the ladder of ascent, as I outlined earlier. That means you should follow Augustine's epistemological prescription which he based on his description of what the nature of things are -- the nature of God, the fact that he reveals himself in various ways (in Nature, in special revelations, in Scripture, and in the voice of the collective Church), the corrupt nature of man's reason (which is useful but limited), and so forth.

All this applies to what you, Brian, should do in this life. However, once you are in the next life, you will have no need for either a descriptive or a prescriptive epistemology because then you will know God as directly as he knows you now. That is, you will see the face of God, as the Bible says somewhere.

Does that answer your question?

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I am unsure what you are asking. I may be getting lost in the twilight zone of clashing contexts here.

Dr. Peikoff's assertion was that epistemology is not necessary nor possible on the basis of the primacy of consciousness. Betsy is suggesting Dr. P was trying to say a "prescriptive" epistemology is not necessary nor possible on the basis of the primacy of consciousness, though a "descriptive" one is still possible if not necessary. In this context, and on the basis of your post, I was asking if you thought a descriptive and prescriptive epistemology was possible, let alone necessary, for a theological primacy of consciousness - or if a theological primacy of consciousness only made possible a descriptive epistemology.

And, in response to your query, I believe you have indeed answered that question. If I understand you correctly, I believe you have stated an epistemology that is both descriptive and prescriptive is possible for the primacy of consciousness - at least when the consciousness that is primary is a specific supernatural kind.

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Something of a tangent here. And this is a question aimed at the thread and no one in particular.

In a primacy of consciousness philosophy, would you say the fundamental purpose in trying to know the 'supreme consciousness' in such a philosophy is to try to match the contents of that supreme consciousness - so that your consciousness can come as close as possible to being the same as that supreme consciousness? In other words, are you trying to make yourself essentially as close to a copy of that consciousness as your consciousness allows?

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Something of a tangent here.  And this is a question aimed at the thread and no one in particular.

In a primacy of consciousness philosophy, would you say the fundamental purpose in trying to know the 'supreme consciousness' in such a philosophy is to try to match the contents of that supreme consciousness - so that your consciousness can come as close as possible to being the same as that supreme consciousness?  In other words, are you trying to make yourself essentially as close to a copy of that consciousness as your consciousness allows?

I would say yes.

However, if we do discover a complete theory...Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and ordinary people...know the mind of God.

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Something of a tangent here.  And this is a question aimed at the thread and no one in particular.

In a primacy of consciousness philosophy, would you say the fundamental purpose in trying to know the 'supreme consciousness' in such a philosophy is to try to match the contents of that supreme consciousness - so that your consciousness can come as close as possible to being the same as that supreme consciousness?  In other words, are you trying to make yourself essentially as close to a copy of that consciousness as your consciousness allows?

That is a great question. I think you put your finger on the answer to your very first question regarding epistemology. This new question explains why, when you believe in the primacy of consciousness, there is no need for epistemology. Epistemology is the science of knowledge, and we can not obtain knowledge about things that do not exist.

How can a person ever "match the contents of that supreme consciousness," when that supreme consciousness does not exist? We can only know about things that do exist, and there is no science that will help you learn about things that don't.

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I am going over my notes from Dr. Peikoff's lecture series:  History of Modern Philosophy.  In one of the last couple lectures, Dr. P makes the following argument:

He identifies epistemology as the science that studies the nature and methods of human knowledge.  It tells us the processes we have to go through in order to acquire knowledge.  It identifies the rules and criteria which determine when our knowledge is valid.

Based on this, Dr. P says the very existence of such a subject as epistemology depends upon the Primacy of Existence.  He says if the Primacy of Consciousness were true, there would be no need of any such subject as epistemology.

Why does he say this is true?  Because, if one has to engage in a certain specific process, that means one is not able to simply do what one feels like doing and then count whatever comes up as knowledge.  An because, if one has to use specific methods of validation before something counts as knowledge, that means one's feelings, emotions or whatever else simply strike you does not count as a standard of validity.

In other words, the reason for an epistemology is that the mere fact an idea passes through your head doesn’t ensure it is true.  One can misuse one’s cognitive faculty.  One can err.  And therefore one needs criteria.  One needs principles to inform one how one must function in order to achieve knowledge.  Put simply, the mere brute fact that you believe something is irrelevant to truth – irrelevant to knowledge.

Why?  Because consciousness does not have primacy.  Thus epistemology is only necessary if existence has primacy.

--

Now, I am confused by this argument a bit.  There are three categories of Primacy of Consciousness: the Supernatural, the Social, and the Personal.  While I can see how Dr. P's argument would apply to the Personal version, I do not see how it applies to the other two.

Existence is identity.

To imply that existence has identity is to suggest that identity is a feature seperable from existence [as a coat of paint is seperable from the house that has it]. The point is that to be is to be something. Existence and identity are indivisible; either implies the other. If something exists, then something exists; and if there is a something, then there is a something. The fundamental fact cannot be broken in two.

The reason for Peikoff's epistemological assertion is because such axioms of philosophy cannot be sundered. There is no consciousness without existence and no knowledge of existence without consciousness - regardless of what consciousness.

As Rand points out, "A consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms. A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something. If that which you claim to perceive does not exist, what you possess is not consciousness."

Consciousness cannot exist without Reality. Reality can exist without consciousness.

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Existence is identity. 

To imply that existence has identity is to suggest that identity is a feature seperable from existence [as a coat of paint is seperable from the house that has it]. The point is that to be is to be something. Existence and identity are indivisible; either implies the other. If something exists, then something exists; and if there is a something, then there is a something. The fundamental fact cannot be broken in two. 

The reason for Peikoff's epistemological assertion is because such axioms of philosophy cannot be sundered. There is no consciousness without existence and no knowledge of existence without consciousness - regardless of what consciousness. 

As Rand points out, "A consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms. A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something. If that which you claim to perceive does not exist, what you possess is not consciousness." 

 

Consciousness cannot exist without Reality. Reality can exist without consciousness. 

 

This explanation to the original question rings most true to me. Another way of saying the same thing (i think) is as follows:

In a universe where Primacy of Consciousness (PoC) were true, Epistemology would be impossible because Consciousness would violate the law of Identity. (I.e, since Consciousness would have the quality of volition, it's nature would be constantly changing, A would not neccessarily be A).

The purpose of Epistemology in a PoC universe would be to gain knowledge of Consciousness (rather than knowledge of Existence & reality). However, the contradiction lies in the fact that an entity that can change it's nature (here consciousness) on a whim for no reason whatsoever can never be understood, making any coherent epistemology impossible (rather than unneccessary, IMO).

Proof by contradiction, if you will.

However, The part I'm struggling with personally is how do you deal with the materialistic determinists? As I understand it, their position is that all of existence follows a strict interpretation of causality. In effect, they argue that Existence exists, causality exists, and consciousness is a corollary of causality. (I.e, replace Consciousness as an axiom with Causality).

The Objectivist viewpoint is that Consciousness is self-evident. The materialistic determinist's viewpoint is Consciousness would appear to be self evident to a "conscious" entity, but is in reality just a complex sequence of causal events that simulate the effect. A true materialistic determinist can be either a strong advocate of values of Objectivism or one of Hedonism (because of the moral blank check effect). He would argue that it doesn't matter if our consciousness is a simulation or reality, because we should act the same either way. Personally, my grasp of objectivism and reason is not strong enough to combat this argument. Please punch holes, and I will act as devil's advocate to try to extend my understanding of the subject.

To illustrate my point, I also propose the following Lemma:

Artificial Intelligence may only exist in a universe where Consciousness is a corollary of existence. I.e, the existence of real AI would be strong evidence to refute the existence of Consciousness.

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In a universe where Primacy of Consciousness (PoC) were true ... Proof by contradiction, if you will.

The notions of "proof" and "contradiction" themselves depend upon the primacy of existence, so you have to accept the primacy of existence even to be able to talk about the (impossible to implement) primacy of consciousness. You cannot "prove" the primacy of existence, and you cannot "disprove" the primacy of consciousness. You simply accept the former as an axiom and reject the latter as nonsense.

However, The part I'm struggling with personally is how do you deal with the materialistic determinists? ... The Objectivist viewpoint is that Consciousness is self-evident.  The materialistic determinist's viewpoint is Consciousness would appear to be self evident to a "conscious" entity, but is in reality just a complex sequence of causal events that simulate the effect.

I'm not sure I understand your struggle. Just as you must accept existence exists as an axiom, so you must accept a volitional consciousness as axiomatic. It is not possible to actually do otherwise. It is possible to string a bunch of words together as if they have meaning (as the determinist is wont to do), but the words of psychological determinism, just as with primacy of consciousness, are incoherent squawks. Both positions exclude themselves from consideration.

To illustrate my point, I also propose the following Lemma: 

 

Artificial Intelligence may only exist in a universe where Consciousness is a corollary of existence.  I.e, the existence of real AI would be strong evidence to refute the existence of Consciousness.

I can't make sense of this. Perhaps you can explain in different words.

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The notions of "proof" and "contradiction" themselves depend upon the primacy of existence, so you have to accept the primacy of existence even to be able to talk about the (impossible to implement) primacy of consciousness. You cannot "prove" the primacy of existence, and you cannot "disprove" the primacy of consciousness. You simply accept the former as an axiom and reject the latter as nonsense.     

   

Here's how I interpret what you said. (Please correct as necessary).

The concept of "Primacy of consciousness" only has meaning if "existence exists". In other words, I think you are saying that such a concept is a floating abstraction, and as such, falls outside the purview of rational discussion.

If that's the case, I don't think that's reasonable. Maybe the words "prove" are inaccurate. Would you accept: Since primacy of consciousness is impossible to implement, it must be false?

   

I'm not sure I understand your struggle. Just as you must accept existence exists as an axiom, so you must accept a volitional consciousness as axiomatic.   

   

I can logically accept that presupposing a universe of Primacy of Consciousness would lead to a contradiction. (I find it curious that you seem to feel that using this approach to justify existence existing as invalid. Why is this?) For me, this is convincing evidence that existence exists and consciousness is a by-product. However, my struggle comes from the fact that there isn't a similar argument regarding the invalidity of "psychological determinism".

   

I can't make sense of this. Perhaps you can explain in different words.   

   

Regarding my words about Artificial Intelligence, My claim is that AI, were it to exist, would be a real-world manifestation of psychological determinism (pure causality). I further claim that if true self-aware AI were to ever be created, it would seriously question the axiom of volitional consciousness.

The converse of this is that true self-aware AI is impossible in a universe where volitional consciousness is possible.

My original point is that assuming that Primacy of Consciousness is true leads to a contradiction. I have a hard time grasping the contradiction of a non-volitional consciousness. Objectivism says consciousness is self-evident. The materialistic determinist would say: Why can't consciousness be an illusion? How do you combat that statement other than saying: Well, it just is, and you must accept it?

Let my try to put it this way: I have a hard time accepting an axiomatic concept based on direct sense-perception alone, without applying reason. However, it IS logically correct to assume something is true if there can be no alternative possible. I.e, the alternative to "existence exists" is "existence was created". Since the concept of a creationary existence can only exist in a universe of Primacy of Consciousness (which leads to a contradiction), we can infer that the concept of creationary existence is false. Therefore, you must accept that existence exists because you have no other choice if coherency is your goal.

If any of this logic is flawed, where is my error?

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Maybe the words "prove" are inaccurate.  Would you accept:  Since primacy of consciousness is impossible to implement, it must be false?

You can't prove or disprove "existence exists"; it is an axiom and any attempt at proof of a valid axiom must of necessity assume the axiom in the attempt. As I said previously, the very notion of proof depends upon the axiom of existence. We know the truth of the basic philosophic axioms by sense perception, an idea which, unfortunately, I see you reject further on in your post. It is true that you have to identify and conceptualize the axioms that are given to you by sense perception, but ultimately the basic axioms are perceptually self-evident.

I can logically accept that presupposing a universe of Primacy of Consciousness would lead to a contradiction.  (I find it curious that you seem to feel that using this approach to justify existence existing as invalid.  Why is this?)  For me, this is convincing evidence that existence exists and consciousness is a by-product.  However, my struggle comes from the fact that there isn't a similar argument regarding the invalidity of "psychological determinism".

But the issue of "volitional consciousness" vs. "psychological determinism" is precisely of the same form as "existence exists" vs (whatever). The only difference is that the perceptual self-evidency of "volitional consciousness" is introspective, while the perceptual self-evidency of "existence exists" is extrospective.

Regarding my words about Artificial Intelligence, My claim is that AI, were it to exist, would be a real-world manifestation of psychological determinism (pure causality).  I further claim that if true self-aware AI were to ever be created, it would seriously question the axiom of volitional consciousness.

I can't make sense of your "claim," but perhaps the place to begin is to understand what you mean by AI: what exactly is your definition or characterization of AI?

Objectivism says consciousness is self-evident.  The materialistic determinist would say: Why can't consciousness be an illusion?  How do you combat that statement other than saying: Well, it just is, and you must accept it?

First, arbitrary claims have no epistemological significance. If I were to say to you that there is an invisible little green man on your left shoulder who controls all your thoughts, actions, and feelings, do you really feel helpless in combatting such an assertion? Why would you even take a moment out of your life to refute the arbitrary? Second, you have no choice about axioms being at the base of all knowledge; your only choice is whether you choose to grasp that fact. There is nothing more firm than the axiomatic perceptually self-evident. It makes sense to validate the self-evident, but not to derive a fundamental philosophic axiom by a reasoning process.

Let my try to put it this way:  I have a hard time accepting an axiomatic concept based on direct sense-perception alone, without applying reason.  However, it IS logically correct to assume something is true if there can be no alternative possible.

You've got it all backwards. Let me quote from Ayn Rand, who, as usual, says it best.

An axiomatic concept is the identification of a primary fact of reality, which cannot be analyzed, i.e., reduced to other facts or broken into component parts. It is implicit in all facts and in all knowledge. It is the fundamentally given and directly perceived or experienced, which requires no proof or explanation, but on which all proofs and explanations rest.

The first and primary axiomatic concepts are "existence," "identity" (which is a corollary of "existence") and "consciousness." One can study what exists and how consciousness functions; but one cannot analyze (or "prove") existence as such, or consciousness as such. These are irreducible primaries. (An attempt to "prove" them is self-contradictory: it is an attempt to "prove" existence by means of nonexistence, and consciousness by means of unconsciousness.)

Existence, identity and consciousness are concepts in that they require identification in conceptual form. Their peculiarity lies in the fact that they are perceived or experienced directly, but grasped conceptually. They are implicit in every state of awareness, from the first sensation to the first percept to the sum of all concepts. After the first discriminated sensation (or percept), man's subsequent nowledge adds nothing to the basic facts designated by the terms "existence," "identity," "consciousness"—these facts are contained in any single state of awareness; but what is added by subsequent knowledge is the epistemological need to identify them consciously and self-consciously

  I.e, the alternative to "existence exists" is "existence was created".  Since the concept of a creationary existence can only exist in a universe of Primacy of Consciousness (which leads to a contradiction), we can infer that the concept of creationary existence is false.  Therefore, you must accept that existence exists because you have no other choice if coherency is your goal.

Considering your interest, I think you might benefit greatly by reading Ayn Rand's Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, and perhaps Leonard Peikoff's Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.

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Regarding my words about Artificial Intelligence, My claim is that AI, were it to exist, would be a real-world manifestation of psychological determinism (pure causality).  I further claim that if true self-aware AI were to ever be created, it would seriously question the axiom of volitional consciousness.   

   

The converse of this is that true self-aware AI is impossible in a universe where volitional consciousness is possible.   

   

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I think part of your error is your understanding of what causality is. Consciousness is an attribute of living organisms. If someone were to create AI, he could only do so if the organism were alive. Causality relates to the actions of entities, not to the actions of attributes separate from entities. There can be no intelligence apart from consciousness and no consciousness apart from living entities.

Your second paragraph above indicates a tendency to rationalism. You seem to use a starting premise to derive facts about the world, rather than observing the world and forming your conclusions.

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My original point is that assuming that Primacy of Consciousness is true leads to a contradiction.  I have a hard time grasping the contradiction of a non-volitional consciousness.  Objectivism says consciousness is self-evident.  The materialistic determinist would say: Why can't consciousness be an illusion?  How do you combat that statement other than saying: Well, it just is, and you must accept it?

Where has anyone said that a non-volitional consciousness is a contradiction in terms? Only conceptual consciousness is volitional. Sensory and perceptual consciousness is non-volitional.

What does illusion mean? Is it not a process of consciousness? You cannot use a concept to deny that which it depends upon. That the Stolen Concept fallacy.

Let my try to put it this way:  I have a hard time accepting an axiomatic concept based on direct sense-perception alone, without applying reason.  However, it IS logically correct to assume something is true if there can be no alternative possible.

I'm not sure what you mean by "there can be no alternative possible." The fact that men can think illogically is proof that an alternative is possible. There is just no correspondence to reality of the illogical. Also, one does not derive truth on the basis of there being no alternative. "Fish is food" has many alternatives, including steak, veggies, etc.

I.e, the alternative to "existence exists" is "existence was created".  Since the concept of a creationary existence can only exist in a universe of Primacy of Consciousness (which leads to a contradiction), we can infer that the concept of creationary existence is false.  Therefore, you must accept that existence exists because you have no other choice if coherency is your goal.

If any of this logic is flawed, where is my error?

This last line of reasoning is very rationalistic. You cannot use arguments to arrive at a conclusion which presupposes your arguments. "Coherency" is not the goal; correspondence is.

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