Written by Jason Petersen
Bethrick was recently asked by one of his readers to write some commentary on an article that this author wrote not long ago. The subject of the article concerned objectivism’s shortcomings of giving an account for the laws of logic. Once again, Bethrick shows himself to be a windbag, he has little understanding of philosophical matters beyond his usual parroting of objectivist literature. Although Bethrick is free to do as he wishes with his own website, this author would also like to mention that Bethrick has not allowed this author to post links to his responses to Bethrick’s previous critiques (Instead, Bethrick only links to the articles on this website after he has responded to one of this website’s articles). Bethrick also does not wish to interact with this author’s critiques of Bethrick’s own works. Since the laws of logic are a critical subject, this article will be lengthy.
Bethrick usually sticks very closely to quoting and parroting objectivist leaders and their literature. This time, Bethrick deviated from his usual script. As a result, he made some careless assertions that not only shows that he has a faulty understanding of the laws of logic, but also of objectivism itself. By the end of this article, it will be clear that Bethrick does not understand Christianity, the laws of logic, or objectivism.
The Response to Bethrick
In his article, Petersen presents a question – purportedly from a visitor to his site Answers for Hope – and proceeds as though he had something positively instructive to say in response to it.
If Bethrick is insinuating that the person that asked this author the question may not be a real person, then this author can easily say that it is possible that the person that asked Bethrick to comment on this author’s article was merely a sock-puppet account that Bethrick created in an effort to make Bethrick’s blog look more popular than it really is. Of course, this author would not say such a thing for, unlike Bethrick, this author does not make claims that he cannot support. By even bring up such a subject, Bethrick’s knavish tendences has once again been brought into clear view.
The questioner, Jay, writes:
I have a question about how objectivsts account for Laws of Logic.
Perhaps Jay was feeling hopeless and figured that Jason Petersen could provide some “answers for hope.” We may never know whether or not Jay found Petersen’s responses to be satisfying, but we will take a look at them and determine their worthiness for ourselves.
How does Bethrick know that Jay was feeling helpless? Certainly, Bethrick’s experience-based epistemology would not allow for such a claim. Bethrick needs to stop making claims that his epistemology cannot support. If Bethrick says that Jay was feeling hopeless in the face of objectivism, it is up to Bethrick to demonstrate it while still being consistent with his own epistemology. Unfortunately for Bethrick, experience is only personal, and there is no way for Bethrick to know how Jay felt through experience. Therefore, Bethrick’s epistemology doesn’t allow for knowledge of how other people feel in the first place.
Im sure you know they say its an axiom of existence, not a thing, a nature of existence, etc..
Jay was merely pointing out that the axiom of existence does not give any ontological implications about what exists. This is easily seen in Ayn Rand’s description of existence, “Existence exists—and the act of grasping that statement implies two corollary axioms: that something exists which one perceives and that one exists possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists.” 1–Perhaps Bethrick needs to reread his leader’s objectivist literature, for the ontology of existence is clearly absent from objectivist literature.
I understand the epistemological problem of this (observe particulars therefore universally true – arbitrary non-sequitur).
If Jay thinks Objectivists argue “observe particulars therefore universally true,” he doesn’t know the first thing about Objectivist epistemology. That’s not Objectivism’s fault. There are many sources – some of them freely accessible on the web in fact – where Jay could learn about Objectivist epistemology if he were truly interested in understanding it. But statements like this are sufficient to tell the world that he’s not done a first night of homework on the matter. That he would expect Jason Petersen to further his enlightenment only serves to cement brewing doubts about any prospects this blind-leading-the-blind venture may lead to.
Apparently Bethrick has forgotten (or was simply ignorant) about objectivism’s heavy reliance on induction. In fact, Peikoff affirms that Ayn Rand discovered the objectivist philosophy, which entails universal axioms, through induction:
“This course defines a new method of learning Objectivism. It is the method Ayn Rand herself employed to discover her philosophy — the only method (in her words) of discovering and validating principles in any field: induction. “OTI” is designed to enhance and solidify your understanding of Objectivism, whatever your level of knowledge is.”
In Dr. Peikoff’s words:
“The inductive approach works. It moves the student from the realm of words to the realm of factual data.”Induction, in essence, is generalization from perceptual experience. (Deduction is the application of a generalization to particular cases.) Such generalization is at once the best-and least-known form of cognition. Because it is indispensable to human learning, it is practiced daily and is in a sense obvious to everyone. Because of the deficiency of philosophers, however, induction is the cognitive method least grasped or defined. Methods not known consciously and explicitly are not within one’s control and cannot be relied on to produce accurate results.” 2
According to Peikoff, Ayn Rand came to the universal conclusion of Objectivism, which rests on three universal axioms, by induction. The statements by Peikoff affirm that Ayn Rand reached universal conclusions through induction. Not only does Bethrick not understand induction, but he also doesn’t understand the very philosophy that he espouses. How could Bethrick miss such an important staple of Objectivist philosophy after 10 years of blogging about how great Objectivism is? Perhaps Bethrick should rethink his philosophy before mouthing off at other people. Bethrick may do well to take the course on induction by Peikoff so that he can at least better understand Objectivism’s philosophy on induction. Peikoff is completely wrong on the validity of induction, but at least Bethrick would have a better understanding of the objectivist philosophy and how objectivists utilize induction in their epistemology.
Is there anything problematic with this ontologically like how problems arise when you claim they are material?
Jay expects to evaluate a position on a matter that is epistemological as though it were an ontological matter. This is the norm among Christian apologists when it comes to epistemological matters since they have no epistemology to speak of in the first place. They raise issues like the laws of logic, induction, science, etc., without grasping the epistemological issues involved in such issues. Note, for example, how apologists commonly assume that discussions pertaining to the problem of induction are confined to debates over the uniformity of nature, as though this alone were the real issue.”
Bethrick himself has stated, “All truth rests on the primacy of existence.” [acp footnote]3[/acp] The response Bethrick gave above contradicts the statement, “All truth rests on the primacy of existence.” Since the primacy of existence is an axiom concerning metaphysics, the objectivist cannot divorce the laws of logic from metaphysics.[acp footnote]4[/acp] If the laws of logic do not cohere with the primacy of existence metaphysics, then the laws of logic cannot be true according to Bethrick’s own words in the cited article. Bethrick then goes on to poison the well concerning Christian apologists while failing to see his own contradiction. Bethrick is clearly showing that either he is very careless and changes his positions in order to suit the situation at hand, or that he is not quite as good of a philosopher as he thinks he is. Clearly, Jay understands the issue of ontology better than Bethrick does.
To understand the nature of logic fully, one needs to understand the rudiments of conceptualization. But where would a Christian go to discover those rudiments? Do they find them in some chapter in Isaiah or Deuteronomy, in Obadiah or one of the New Testament epistles? Clearly not. The Christian bible offers no informed treatment on the nature of concepts, the process by which they are formed, the ways in which they can be integrated with other concepts, etc. One would have to look outside the Christian bible for this.
Christianity, unlike objectivism, does not teach that concepts are central to epistemology. Instead, knowledge is communicated throughout scripture as propositional revelation (e.g. In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth). In the Garden of Eden, God ordained that animals be called what man calls them:
“Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field.”–Genesis 2:19-20
Concepts are for the purpose of communication. In other words, concepts are arbitrary. A rabbit is called a different name in English than it is in Chinese. The Bible teaches that concepts, such as the concept of various animals, are for the purpose of communication. This issue makes itself more apparent when The Bible calls a bat a bird (Leviticus 11:13-19). Obviously, the conception of what a bat should be called is different from what the modern Linnean classification says a bat is. Which is correct? Neither. Concepts are for communication and are not true or false. Concepts are for communication, not for development of epistemology. If one argues that The Bible’s conception of a bat is false because it contradicts the Linnean classification, then the detractor must admit that the Linnean classification was false at the time that the Old Testament was written. If both were false at one time, which one is true? At what point was it decided that a bat is not a bird, but a mammal? One could state that it was decided when man decided to criteria of what it is to be a mammal and then the bat, as a result, is called a mammal. So, a concept is what man says it is.
The Christian view of concept formation involves the use of man’s a priori equipement (logic and sense perception) to formulate concepts that are used for the purpose of communication. This a priori equipment is not perfect, nor is man’s ability to form concepts. This is why there are differing conceptions of logic, geometry, etc. If concepts were truly objective as objectivists claim, then all humans would formulate the same concepts. Since this is not the case, the objectivist theory of concepts formation is false.
Unfortunately, most of those Christian philosophers who have looked outside the bible for answers on epistemological matters have looked in the wrong places and settled too quickly for answers to these issues. This is evident in apologetic programs which continue to treat “the problem of universals” as though it were an ontological quandary rather than an epistemological matter. But this error itself is a product of a religious-driven agenda, namely to relate the conceptual level of cognition to a supernatural realm which is only accessible to human thinkers by means of imagination. The path that apologists use to make such a connection is invariably an argument from ignorance, as though to say: “We don’t know how the mind integrates the material provided by the senses into conceptual form, therefore our ability to do so must be due to some supernatural agency.” Don’t be surprised when such a platform lays buried beneath an array of disguises lurking within the apologist’s talking points.
This author agrees with some of what Bethrick has said. It is unfortunate that many Christian philosophers have unwittingly left a central point of the Reformation, ‘Sola Scriptura.’ The answers that have been provided to issues such as the problem of universals, the problem of induction, the problem of causation, etc. by secular philosophy are all dismal failures. Unfortunately, Bethrick quickly departs from his accuracy and then begins make assertions that his own experience-based epistemology cannot support. Bethrick has no way of knowing that a Christian believes in God due to the product of their own imagination. Bethrick may argue that he can infer that God does not exist through the primacy of existence, but the truth or falsity of the proposition ‘God exists’ does not speak about the Christian’s mental state concerning their belief in God. After all, there are other possibilities such as a Christian, such as a classical apologist, might find the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection to be convincing. Thus, Bethrick makes two mistakes. First, he inferred a proposition that his epistemology simply does not support. Second, he committed the fallacy of asserting the consequent by attempting to infer that there is only one antecedent that explains the consequent.
If Bethrick thinks he is able to prove that concepts are formed by integrating the material of concrete particulars by use of sensation, then it is up to him to prove it. Bethrick may describe it via his own experience, but that would only beg the question by assuming the truth of the objectivist theory of concept formation by including it in his explanation. He could then appeal to the experience of others, but the experience integration of concrete particulars by sensation is only limited to the individuals. Since integration via sensation is limited to the individual, Bethrick has no way of knowing other people’s experiences. Therefore, Bethrick is stuck between a rock and a hard place.
But Bethrick’s reference to whether the problem of universals is ontological or epistemological is an interesting one. It would be instructive to explore the implications of his position that the problem is epistemological rather than ontological. Typically, ‘ontological’ refers to the nature of something. There is certainly an ontological issue about the problem of universals. In my response to Jay’s questions concerning the ontological problems concerning the problem of universals, I responded by pointing out what is also known as the is-ought dilemma. This dilemma involves the proposition that simply stating what ‘is’ does not ever constitute saying that what ‘is’ ‘ought’ to be the case.
It is not uncommon for philosophical issues to be applicable in more than one section of philosophy. In the case of the problem of universals, the problem has roots in both epistemology and ontology. The ontological issues concern the nature of universals. In this context, the issue at hand concerns the laws of logic. Ontological questions concerning the laws of logic are, “Are the laws of logic universal?” “Is there an obligation to follow the laws of logic?” “If there is an obligation, is the obligation a moral obligation or a rational obligation?” “Are the laws of logic material or immaterial?” The question of whether the laws of logic is material or immaterial is clearly an ontological question. Therefore, Jay was not at fault to point to some ontological nuances concerning the laws of logic.
Bethrick’s question, however, doesn’t make sense. He accuses Jay of looking at this from a purely ontological angle, but prior to mentioning ontology, Jay referred to an epistemological problem concerning using induction to validate universal conclusions. For instance, one rather persistent epistemological problem is that no amount of observation can conclude the universality of a proposition. One would have to observe every instance of a particular consequent in order to confirm it to be universal by induction, for induction is based on personal experience. However, if personal experience of a particular or consequent is limited, or rather, if any instance of the particular is missed by the individual, then induction cannot justify reaching a conclusion that the proposition in question is universal. That being said, it appears that Jay is more knowledgeable on the problem of universals than Bethrick is.
Bethrick then appeals to an accusation of an argument from ignorance, but Bethrick has not cited any examples as to where this author or Jay committed this fallacy.
To me this sounds acceptable within Christianity.
It’s unclear from the context what Jay is referring to here with his use of the demonstrative pronoun “this”: precisely what “sounds acceptable within Christianity” – that there is an ontological problem, that problems arise, that someone says something is “material”? None of this is clear, which is fittingly ironic: when one makes a pronouncement about something being “acceptable within Christianity,” it can’t get any blurrier.Response:
It is not blurry at all, but perhaps Bethrick’s ‘powers of perception’ is blurry. Jay was referring to an ontological issue concerning the metaphysics of the laws of logic. Jay was saying that it seems to be acceptable within Christianity to affirm that calling the laws of logic ‘material’ is problematic.
Also ironic here is the fact that virtually any view – especially a bad one – on universals and the laws of logic can be made to “sound… acceptable within Christianity” given the fact that Christianity’s primary source – the Old and New Testaments – gives no informed presentation on either universals or the laws of logic in the first place. What theory of universals “sounds acceptable within” a Harry Potter novel? What “account for” the laws of logic “sounds acceptable within” Alice in Wonderland? So far as I know, none of these pieces of literature provide anything approaching a developed epistemology, and I know of no reason that relevantly distinguishes the books of the Christian bible in this regard.
According to John 1:1, God himself is logic.[acp footnote]5[/acp] Where does logic come from? It comes directly from God. The laws of logic are not learned. They are instilled in our mind a priori by God. In scripture, Adam does not learn the laws of logic, rather, Adam is able to comprehend God’s words after being created. The fact that Adam could understand God’s revelation (Genesis 2:15-17) shows that we can already use logic. However, using logic and knowing that the laws of logic are true are two different things.
Before continuing, it is important that this author clarify his position. God has a monopoly on truth. God’s Word is God’s revelation to us. Therefore, scripture is our epistemological foundation. That which is not in scripture or deducible from scripture cannot be known to be true. Therefore, scripture is not confirmed on the basis of logic, rather, logic is confirmed on the basis of God’s revelation through his Word.
The ontological status concerning logic is established in scripture. Indeed, all communication in scripture affirms the validity of the laws of logic. The Bible clearly teaches that communication is possible, for The Bible has been written to communicate (Romans 15:4). Because communication is possible, the laws of logic are valid and true. Scripture and logic are synonymous. Therefore, the ontological status (e.g. the laws of logic being true) are deduced from scripture. It is form scripture that we receive our justification and affirmation of the inferences that we already were drawing using our a priori equipment prior to receiving revelation from God through the Word of God.
Bethrick then brings up a juvenile objection concerning Harry Potter. This author challenges Bethrick to identify an axiom that can be derived from Harry Potter that will produce a logically consistent worldview in the areas of: epistemology, metaphysics, ontology, axiology, teleology, anthropology, and theology without resulting in contradiction and skepticism. Does the Harry Potter book say that it is an ultimate authority? What sort of epistemology can one deduce from Harry Potter without leading to contradiction? Perhaps one can say, “the use of language in the Harry Potter book assumes logic” in an attempt to throw this author’s inference back at him, but the author will simply respond, “Where does one infer that the laws of logic have an ontological status at all from Harry Potter?” The laws of logic alone cannot produce knowledge, for they are used to examine content, but logic without content is like the operations of mathematics (e.g. addition and subtraction) without numbers. Is knowledge ultimately predicated upon logic? What about knowledge being predicated upon ontology? The Harry Potter books provide no answers to these questions. If Bethrick thinks he can, by good consequence, deduce a sound epistemology from Harry Potter, then this author eagerly awaits the opportunity to read his attempt. If Bethrick thinks himself able to do so, this author is confident that Ayn Rand would probably have a few choice words for Bethrick if she were to observe the spectacle.
Im not too sold on Laws of Logic being abstract things, instead they are just descriptors of God’s nature and how he thinks.
This too is most ironic. We will find in Jason Petersen’s reply that he charges Objectivism with an “ontological issue” (i.e., a philosophical problem of sorts), namely the is-ought problem. On that point, Petersen states:
Simply put, one cannot show that something is prescriptive by describing it. For instance, if the laws of logic are part of the nature of reality, as an objectivist would assert, that description would not justifiably lead to an obligation to follow the laws of logic when we are using reason.
I will address Petersen’s accusation below. But notice here that Jay is affirming that the laws of logic “are just descriptors” of something, which hazards the very problem Petersen charges against Objectivism. However, at no point does Petersen raise any concern over Jay’s characterization of the laws of logic as descriptive in nature.Response:Jay did not say that his own position is that the laws of logic are descriptive. Rather, Jay said that the laws of logic accurately describe God’s nature. This is a far cry from saying that the laws of logic are purely descriptive and are not prescriptive. The laws of logic can describe something while still being prescriptive. For instance, the law of contradiction applies to the proposition that God cannot lie (Titus 1:20). However, this description says nothing about whether or not there is a rational obligation to follow the law of contradiction. Rather, the law of contradiction is followed because God has decreed that the law be adhered to, just as God has decreed boiling points and freezing points.Bethrick:So how does Petersen respond to Jay’s comments and questions? Does Petersen ask for clarification on points that are vague and sloppy? No, he does not. Does he correct Jay’s mischaracterization of Objectivism? No, he does not. Does Petersen demonstrate any informed familiarity with Objectivism insofar as either universals or the laws of logic are concerned? No, he does not. Does he correct Jay’s mischaracterization of Objectivism? No, he does not.Does Petersen point out that Jay’s own characterization of the laws of logic as descriptive in nature invites one of the very objections he (erroneously) cites against Objectivism? No, he does not.
How does Bethrick know the content of this author’s conversation with Jay? Anytime this author does not feel that he understands the question (or a part of the question) that is being asked, this author always asks for clarification before writing an answer on the website. In the case of Jay, he emailed this author on July 30th of 2014. This author read Jay’s question and, unlike Bethrick, this author had no problem understanding what Jay was asking.
Bethrick then goes on to ramble on a series of questions with the answer “No, he does not.” Let us go through the one by one:
“Does Petersen ask for clarification on points that are vague and sloppy? No, he does not. ”
Jay’s question was clear enough for the author to understand what he was asking. Bethrick’s issues with reading comprehension is not this author’s problem.
” Does he correct Jay’s mischaracterization of Objectivism? No, he does not.”
Jay made no error in his characterization of the Objectivist position.
“Does Petersen acknowledge his own lack of knowledge of Objectivism and direct Jay to sources which might help him discover the answers to his questions and grow in his understanding of Objectivism? No, he does not.”
Based on this author’s current interaction with Bethrick, this author opines that Jay has more knowledge of objectivism than Bethrick does. As it has so far been shown, Jay did not misrepresent the objectivist position in any area, but Bethrick certainly has mischaracterized Jay’s position on the laws of logic. Of course, it is not unusual for Bethrick to misrepresent others.
“Does Petersen point out that Jay’s own characterization of the laws of logic as descriptive in nature invites one of the very objections he (erroneously) cites against Objectivism? No, he does not. ”
This is because Jay did not say that he held that the laws of logic are descriptive.
Take for example what Petersen states here in response to Jay’s questions:
You already pointed out a major epistemological issue with objectivism so I will not be talking about the problem of universals.
Earlier in this article, this author cited Leonard Peikoff stating that Ayn Rand discovered objectivism and its axioms by an inductive process. The points need not be rehashed here, but it has already been concluded that Bethrick’s protesting to Jay’s characterization is a result of Bethrick not understanding one of the subjects that he has blogged about for almost ten years. Bethrick may be able to read objectivists and parrot their literature, but he certainly doesn’t know how to do philosophy.Bethrick then claims that the objectivist epistemology has an objective standard. Unfortunately for Bethrick, the process of integrating concepts is done on an individual level. What is deemed concepts via intergration is determiend by man rather than some ‘objective’ standard. Reality doesn’t tell you which concepts to form, rather, the man forms his own concepts and calls the concepts and describes them however he wishes. Threfore, since concepts are formed on individual levels, Objectivism should really be called ‘subjectivism.’Unfortunately, Bethrick still has not explained how concept formation is possible. He will go on and state that it is via intergration, but the presumed success of intergration only begs the question concerning the ability to form concepts from raw data given from sensory perception. Furthermore, since Bethrick rejects the notion that we have knowledge prior to experience, man cannot know how to form concepts in the first place, for according to Bethrick’s epistemology, it must be learned. But if it must be learned, and concept formation is not something that man knows how to do prior to experience, then concept formation cannot be learned, for one must know how to form concepts in order to form concepts in the first place. This author has brought up this problem several times, but Bethrick has yet to address it.
But I will say that it’s good that Petersen does not stick his foot any further in his mouth by choosing not to speak more about “the problem of universals.” Then again, which book, chapter and verse(s) should we consult in the Christian bible to get an “inspired” or “God-breathed” understanding of the problem of universals and the distinctively Christian solution to this problem which has plagued so many philosophers through the ages before Ayn Rand? I would love to see Petersen address this question specifically, but I don’t recommend that we hold our breath.
There is simply no problems for Christianity concerning universals. Knowledge is not considered to be predicated upon induction as it is in objectivist philosophy. One can simply say, if there are universal statements in scripture (e.g. John 14:6, John 1:1) then there are propositions that are universally true. We can come to know the universal propositions that are spoken in scripture by revelation from God.
The above statement is rather concise and is certainly enough to address the problem of universals, but this author understands that some readers may want to know more. This author will use logic as an example of something that is universally true. God is omniscient (147:5). God’s knowledge is not learned, for God did not obtain his omniscience by experience or learning. Scripture clearly teaches that God is unchanging (Malichi 3:6). Because God is unchanging, it means that the content of his knowledge doesn’t change. It is God that determines what things are true and false by his divine decree. For instance, God has already determined the lifespan of each individual (Job 14:5).
One ontological issue that objectivists face concerning the laws of logic is known as the is-ought problem. Simply put, one cannot show that something is prescriptive by describing it. For instance, if the laws of logic are part of the nature of reality, as an objectivist would assert, that description would not justifiably lead to an obligation to follow the laws of logic when we are using reason.
This may very well be an example of the ‘primacy of Bethrick’s imagination.’ It is sad to see that Bethrick does not understand the is-ought problem at all. Bethrick apparently wanted this author to explain how it is that the objectivists accounts for the laws of logic. The reason why I never explained how objectivists account for the laws of logic is because they simply have no account for the laws of logic. Since objectivists have failed to account for the laws of logic, this author gave reasons why objectivists are unable to do so. It is not this author’s job to be doing Bethrick’s thinking for him.
Again, Petersen shows his deep ignorance of Objectivism in what he does say here. Right off he errs in characterizing what he calls “the is-ought problem” as an “ontological issue.” But this is a moral issue since it pertains to chosen actions and motivations on the part of human thinkers. The ‘is-ought problem’ in philosophy does not fall under the heading of ontology, but under the heading of morality. (see for example here and here).
Bethrick is showing that he has no business writing on philosophical matters. His writings are spreading ignorance to gullible readers. The is-ought problem is an ontological problem in ethics. Anyone that has read philosophy knows that it is common for propositions, problems, etc. to overlap into different areas of worldviews. Bethrick is apparently limiting his thoughts to what he reads. It makes this author wonder if Bethrick is somehow not capable of drawing inferences beyond what is spoon-fed to him.
Ontology is the study of the nature of something. Metaphysics asks, “What is there?” Ontology asks, “What is the nature of what is there?” Ethics asks “What is morally right/wrong?” The is-ought problem is an ontological problem in ethics. If things one cannot describe a moral proposition and then from its description draw an inference, then there are no moral imperatives, then there are no morally true or false propositions. There are numerous papers that discuss the is-ought issue within the context of not only ethics, but also ontology.
Bethrick apparently did not read one of the papers he cited, for the is-ought problem is discussed in an ontological context. The fact that the problem is being discussed in an ontological context is made apparent in the first paragraph of the paper that Bethrick cited:
“This paper aims to reconstruct the ontology of qi in Neo-Confucianism to give it a
contemporary outlook so that it could respond to philosophical issues and concerns of our
times. The three philosophers selected for this study are three Neo-Confucians of the
Ming dynasty: Luo Qinshun (1465-1547), Wang Tingxiang (1474-1544) and Wang Fuzhi
(1619-1692).1 In calling qi-ontology a form of ‘realism’, my emphasis is on the view that
qi is real in the sense that it constitutes everything in the world. This view has also been
called qi-naturalism by contemporary scholars. 2 This general sense of ontological
naturalism merely asserts that all facts are “natural facts” — facts about the natural
world. The reconstruction aims to analyze the various claims these three philosophers
make with regard to the way qi makes up everything in the world and to see if they can
collectively compose a coherent ontology. In particular, one issue that will be addressed
in this paper is how normative facts can exist in the natural states of qi. By “normative
facts,” I mean the states of affairs corresponding to normative statements. Norms are
standards. “Normative,” broadly understood, means conforming to or constituting a
standard of measurement or value. The two sets of normative statements we focus on
here are value-statements such as “It is good that P” and prescriptive statements such as
“It ought to be the case that P.” The phrase ‘ought to’ in this context means something’s
being the pertinent or the morally right thing. The main issue in this paper is how value
and normativity can be derived from the way the world is.”
This only highlights the fact that Bethrick is sloppy in his thinking. This is not the first time he has citing a source either without reading it or understanding it. Anyone that thinks that Bethrick is a serious thinker needs to give their opinion regarding Bethrick’s intellectual prowess serious reconsideration. Strong, unsupported assertions may sound strong in a monologue, but they melt under scrutiny. Not only does the is-ought problem have moral implications, but it also has ontological implications as well, for the nature of moral propositions is an ontological issue within the branch of ethics.
Petersen says that “an objectivist would assert” that “the laws of logic are part of the nature of reality.” Does he cite any sources to support this characterization? What exactly does it mean to say that “the laws of logic are part of the nature of reality”? Would this imply that the laws of logic exist apart from conceptualization? If so – and to the degree that this is what such an expression implies – it has already departed wildly from Objectivism’s conception of the laws of logic. Broadly, such a view ignores the distinction between the subject of consciousness as well as any and all objects of consciousness as well as the distinction between specific concretes and general principles. The principles of logic, according to Objectivism, are conceptual in nature. Of course, to grasp this fully, one needs a theory of concepts, something the Christian worldview does not have.
As this author has shown before, Bethrick has stated in his writings, and has argued at length, that all truth rests in the primacy of existence metaphysics. If all truth rests on the primacy of existence, then so does logic, for if logic does not rest in the primacy of existence, then logic is false. If logic is false, then the primacy of existence is a meaningless axiom, for there is no meaning without logic. Ayn Rand also appears to disagree with Dawnson Bethrick, for she writes:
[Claim:] “It’s logical, but logic has nothing to do with reality.” [Ayn Rand’s Answer:] Logic is the art or skill of non-contradictory identification. Logic has a single law, the Law of Identity, and its various corollaries. If logic has nothing to do with reality, it means that the Law of Identity is inapplicable to reality. If so, then: a. things are not what they are; b. things can be and not be at the same time, in the same respect, i.e., reality is made up of contradictions. If so, by what means did anyone discover it? By illogical means. (This last is for sure.) The purpose of that notion is crudely obvious. Its actual meaning is not: “Logic has nothing to do with reality,” but: “I, the speaker, have nothing to do with logic (or with reality).” When people use that catch phrase, they mean either: “It’s logical, but I don’t choose to be logical” or: “It’s logical, but people are not logical, they don’t think—and I intend to pander to their irrationality
Even Ayn Rand realized that if logic has nothing to do with reality, then the entire objectivist epistemology crumbles to pieces. Once again, Bethrick does not understand the philosophy that he espouses. Both this author and Jay appear to have a better understanding of Objectivism than Bethrick does. Early in Bethrick’s response to this author, Bethrick asked, “Why would anyone go to Jason Petersen for to ask about the laws of logic?” Perhaps now, the reader should ask, “Why would anyone ask Dawson Bethrick about Objectivism?”
The rest of Bethrick’s critique in this section is irrelevant, for the author never suggested that objectivists believe that the laws of logic exist apart from being conceptual. Rather, this author said that objectivist’s believe that the laws of logic are grounded in reality, and thus, are a description of the nature of reality. If the law of identity does not reflect the nature of reality, then the law of identity is useless as an objectivist axiom. This author would say he is surprised, but at this point, he is not surprised that Bethrick would fail to understand such a simple concept.
At any rate, Petersen errs here by not taking into account the fact that Objectivism does not contend that we have “an obligation to use the laws of logic” in the sense of a “duty” of sorts. There is no “duty” to use logic any more than there is a “duty” to eat food. We use logic by choice, just as we eat by choice. And just as consuming food is not an end in itself, using logic is not an end in itself. If a man wants to live, he will choose to consume food. If a man wants to know, he will choose to apply logic to what he discovers in the world. In just this way, Objectivism holds to hypothetical imperativesgeared toward moral goals as opposed to categorical imperativeswhich are to be followed regardless of whatever goals one might have. Objectivist morality, given its hypothetical imperatives, its values-based principles and its life-oriented goals, leads to life and the preservation of values; by contrast, Christianity, given its “duty” to obey and to subordinate one’s life needs and values to the whims of an invisible magic being, leads to Abraham’s willingness to butcher his own son (cf. Genesis chapter 22). I’ll go with Objectivism; Petersen can have his primitive worldview all he likes.
Well, it appears that the past ten years of Bethrick’s blogging has been for naught. Bethrick has been preaching his convoluted notion for rationality for ten years, but now he says that no one has an obligation to be rational. Bethrick then attempts to draw an inference to say that there is no obligation to be logical just as there is no obligation to eat food. Why then, has Bethrick been trying to brag about how “rational” he is compared to others such as the late Greg Bahnsen? If there is no obligation to be rational, then there is no obligation to choose “rational” Objectivism over “irrational” Christianity.
Bethrick then brings up an objection that he often repeats. I have already responded to Bethrick’s objection concerning Abraham in a Q + A article from 2014. Not surprisingly, Bethrick is totally wrong on his characterization of Genesis 22.
Moreover, to suggest that there is an “is-ought” problem ignores the fact that, as Peikoff points out in his essay Fact and Value, “values are a type of facts; they are facts considered in relation to the choice to live.” But all such points are completely lost on Petersen; he’s most likely not even aware that criticisms such as his have either been answered directed or headed off at the pass – or even before his horse passed the saloon on the way out of town!
Bethrick does not paint the whole context of what Peikoff said, and for good reason. Peikoff writes:
Objectivism holds that value is objective (not intrinsic or subjective); value is based on and derives from the facts of reality (it does not derive from mystic authority or from whim, personal or social). Reality, we hold — along with the decision to remain in it, i.e., to stay alive — dictates and demands an entire code of values. Unlike the lower species, man does not pursue the proper values automatically; he must discover and choose them; but this does not imply subjectivism. Every proper value-judgment is the identification of a fact: a given object or action advances man’s life (it is good): or it threatens man’s life (it is bad or an evil). The good, therefore, is a species of the true; it is a form of recognizing reality. The evil is a species of the false; it is a form of contradicting reality. Or: values are a type of facts; they are facts considered in relation to the choice to live. 3
The entire objectivist idea concerning value rests on the assumption that values are objective. Peikoff argues that values in Objectivism are objective because they are derived from objective reality. Unfortunately, the objectivist epistemology does not allow one to know ‘objective’ reality for all of reality is viewed by the lenses of individuals. Some look at reality and choose death, others look at reality and choose life (at least until they die). Some view death as freedom, others view death as a tragedy. Since Objectivism is so heavily based on empiricism, then those that really trust empirical epistemology have good reason to reject objectivism, for we see all sorts of interpretations of facts. There is no such thing as an uninterpreted fact, for any fact that is viewed must be interpreted in order to understand what the fact is and what it means. If Peikoff or Bethrick claim that objectivists know the one-true reality, it is up to them to demonstrate it. If they cannot demonstrate it, then they only beg the question of their interpretation of reality.
Peikoff anticipates a similar objection to what this author gave above. He denies that just because man must discover and choose values it does not imply subjectivism. He says this is so because every “proper” value is a fact that is identified in reality. This only begs the question. What IS a proper fact? What IS objective reality? Objectivists give us no way of knowing what “objective” reality is without begging the question. Objectivist’s axiom should be called “the primacy of the objectivist’s imagination.” If one cannot know objective reality, then one cannot know what a “proper” value judgment is. Objectivists, like other secular philosophers, are guilty of trying to skip over problems that it cannot solve while hoping that people will buy their claims anyway.
Rand taught that logic is the method of reason (cf. “Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, 62). It is a conceptual method, which means only a consciousness which has the ability to form concepts can use logic. Since logic is amethod, it is not accurate to group logic in the same category as specific concretes, like pebbles, tumbleweeds and hairbrushes. Of course, we would never learn this by reading the bible, which may be a contributing factor to much of Petersen’s persisting confusion on such matters.
This author never argued that logic is concrete. Bethrick is, once again, misrepresenting this author. Bethrick then goes on to say that we cannot know the nature of logic. Bethrick argues that we never learn that logic is not a concrete entity from the Bible, yet he does not understand that the Bible refers to knowledge, wisdom, and logic as propositions. Logic is propositional, just as truth is propositional. Examples of this are all throughout scripture, but as we discovered in a previous critique, it appears that Bethrick has not made much effort to read the Bible beyond its table of contents.
Man needs reason – and therefore logic as its method – not in order to satisfy some “obligation,” but because he is neither omniscient nor infallible. Man needs a method by which he can learn new knowledge and protect his knowledge from error to whatever extent he is capable. Reason, with its method logic, is the faculty which equips him for just this. Many men do in fact choose to forego the use of reason, pretending that logic can provide them with knowledge of reality without the input of reason, all the while ignoring the nature of both logic and reason as well as the reasons why they need reason in the first place. Such individuals are naturally drawn to religion of one sort or another in their quest for unearned knowledge.
Here we go again. Bethrick has just said that according to his worldview, there is no obligation to reason within the bounds of the rules of logic. In the Christian view, there is an obligation to follow logic, for we are to think God’s thoughts after him. God is a logical being, therefore, we must also think logically.
Bethrick describes logic as a method, and then distinguishes logic from reason. To some, this may seem unusual, but such a distinction is typical of an objectivist. In Objectivism, reason amounts to sense perception, or more specifically, an integration from man’s perception of reality. 4 So, logic is man’s method, but man learns logic by reason. Which comes first? Without logic, integration is not intelligible and Objectivism collapses into skepticism. If logic comes before integration, then the Objectivist epistemology is false, for such a notion entails there is a priori knowledge, which is a notion that Objectivism rejects. Bethrick can either accept that his worldview entails skepticism, or he can admit that the Objectivist epistemology is false. Either choice results in the collapse of Bethrick’s worldview. And of course, it would appear that no matter which choice Bethrick makes, his claim to knowledge is, how he puts it, “unearned.”
There is another question that also arises as well: Are the laws of logic a priori or a posteriori? A priori knowledge is knowledge that is known priori to experience. A posteriori knowledge is knowledge that is gained from experience. Ayn Rand, the woman that developed the philosophy of objectivism, followed the lead of the Greek philosopher Aristotle when she claimed that we all start off with blank minds. This, of course, means that objectivists completely reject the notion of a priori knowledge.
Bethrick has repeated this claim like a broken record. This author responded to this claim in a recent article and showed that Bethrick failed to read a vital foot note in that paper. Bethrick has not offered a response to this author concerning his false claims concerning John Frame, but Bethrick is apparently content to repeat objections that have already been refuted.
Knowledge of logic is not automatic, innate, or indicative of anamnesis or any other alleged mystical means of “knowing.”
If this is the case, then knowledge by integration of what is perceived is impossible, for without logic, one cannot decipher what it is they are perceiving in the first place.
The entire history of the philosophical development of logic should be sufficient to testify to precisely this: thinkers through the ages, beginning with Aristotle, have poured countless amounts of time and energy into pondering logic, discovering its principles, its relationships, its integrating prowess. To call this an example of “a priori knowledge” just shows the crass willingness to take great human achievements completely for granted in an expression of ignorance of biblical proportions.
This is one of the most ridiculous passages in Bethrick’s response to this author. Has it not occurred to Bethrick that Aristole and other philosophers pondered logic while using it? If Bethrick wishes to explain how it is that logic was “discovered” without using the laws of logic or the rules of inference, then he is free to do so. Otherwise, his claim is unsubstantiated. Logic wasn’t “discovered.” Rather, the rules of logic were given names by philosophers over the course of the history of philosophy.
Moreover, if logic is conceptual in nature, as I have argued, then the concepts which inform logical principles need to be formed by a mental process. In other words, human beings who want to learn logical principles need to perform conceptual labor. This is not possible without experience (i.e., conscious interaction with the objects we discover in the world by looking outward) any more than breathing on the moon is possible without a space suit. An experience-starved brain is no more functional than an oxygen-starved body.
If logic must be discovered through experience, then knowing logic is impossible, for any assumption that one can derive truth from experience already assumes the law of logic known as the law of contradiction. If one does not know that the law of contradiction is true, then one cannot distinguish between what is true and what is false. If one cannot distinguish between what is true or false, then one cannot know anything concerning logic in the first place. This challenge has been raised to Bethrick numerous times throughout our dialogues, but Bethrick does not seem to want to address this objection. A priori knowledge of logic must come prior to experience, otherwise, experience is unintelligible.
It is ultimately sheer ignorance about the nature, not only of logic, but also of concepts and the process by which the human mind forms them, that apologists retreat to the “a priori” cave of their primitive philosophical ancestors. And for them, given the ignorance to which they stubbornly cling, this seems most expedient, especially since it allows them to point to the deity which they concoct and enshrine in their imaginations as the “answer” to their willfully unanswered questions about the nature of logic. Apologists raise the issue of the laws of logic precisely because their lack of understanding of both logic and concepts has created an enormous gap in their understanding into which they are zealously eager to insert their god. The premise of “a priori knowledge” is simply a means to furthering this illicit, subjective end.
Bethrick uses strong language in this passage despite his inability (or perhaps unwillingness) to answer the question, “How can one learn from experience without first knowing that the propositions of logic are true?” Bethrick is spouting hot air instead of answering the objection. Perhaps Bethrick can explain how concept formation is possible without a knowledge of logic. After all, one cannot know the difference between what ‘is’ and what ‘isn’t’ without first knowing that the law of contradiction is true. Ironically, the notion of apologists not understanding logic assumes the law of contradiction. As the reader has seen, Bethrick’s epistemology is not able to support knowledge that the law of contradiction is true. Bethrick’s rantings are actually a slap in the face to his own epistemology.
But if logic is in fact conceptual in nature, and we have a theory of concepts which explains how the human mind forms concepts (qua general classes and categories) from perceptual input, as the objective theory of concepts does, then there is no inscrutable mystery here which compels us to posit supernatural solutions.
Concept formation is impossible without a priori knowledge of logic. Bethrick still needs to explain how one can form concepts from ‘integration of perceptions of reality’ without an innate knowledge of logic. If logic must be learned, then it cannot be discovered, for nothing is discernible without logic.
That we do in fact form concepts from what we perceive and retain our knowledge of the world in the form of concepts is indisputable (let anyone who disputes this, frame his disputation without recourse to concepts).
Let the one that says that knowledge is conceptual state it without the statement being a proposition. Knowledge is propositional. The role of concepts is simply for purposes of communication (Genesis 2). Bethrick simply begs the question by assuming that one can integrate concepts from perception in the absence of logic. Without logic, nothing is discernible. Logic must be a priori.
Consider the fact that our most basic concepts – those which Objectivism identifies as axiomatic concepts, are based directly on perceptual input and entirely general in nature.
The Objectivist axioms are meaningless without logic. If there is no logic, then there is no difference between “existence exists” and “existence doesn’t exist.” Since logic is not a priori and must be discovered in the objectivist worldview, it is impossible to form a concept of logic from integration of what is perceived. For, if logic is false, there is no way to distinguish between contradictory propositions. If there is not a way to distinguish between contradictory propositions, then there is no way to form the concept of logic.
The concept ‘existence’, for example, denotes everything that exists, all in one mental unit. To speak of all of existence is to speak as widely as possible, leaving out nothing that actually exists.
Notice again the ambiguity of the Objectivist language. The concept of existence denotes the sum total of all things that exists, but the question is, what is it that actually exists? The Objectivsts never can prove the ontological nature of reality, for they make the mistake at starting at metaphysics instead of epistemology.
This is not a concept that we form absent of perceptual input, and thus not a concept available to us prior to or apart from experience. Who remembers “knowing” this concept before they were born, or before they were conceived for that matter (for it could be argued that, even in the womb, we experience things – medical ultrasonography records how unborn babies react to stimuli, and it is held that a fetus can feel pain)?
This is a rather ridiculous point. Who remembers anything about being in their mother’s womb, and if they claim so, can the memory be demonstrably true? Bethrick appeals to an area of life that none of likely remember. His analogy is useless. He then appeals to babies reacting to stimuli. The first time a baby experience stimuli, they react to it despite not having a prior reaction to stimuli. Thus, man cannot begin as an empty slate. Reaction to stimuli is not learned, it is a priori.
If axiomatic concepts, the most basic concepts of all, are formed on the basis of perceptual input, as the objective theory of concepts demonstrates…
Bethrick has not demonstrated anything. He has only begged the question by assuming that integration is possible without logic. If Bethrick disagrees, this then author invites him to explain a scenario where concept formation from integration is formed without using logic in his explanation. Logic includes, the laws of logic and rules of inference. If one cannot make inferences, then one cannot move from a premise to a conclusion. In other words, in the absence of logic, Bethrick cannot make an argument for his own position.
…then the notion that logic is “a priori” must be rejected in toto. Indeed, what argument does Petersen givefor the conclusion that logic is “a priori”? Blank out.
Bethrick’s argument assumes the law of contradiction, but Bethrick has not yet demonstrated how one can form a concept of logic without first having an a priori understanding of logic. If Bethrick cannot demonstrate how his epistemology can account for the law of contradiction, then Bethrick cannot use it in his discussion with this author without betraying his own epistemology.
This is problematic because if the law of contradiction is not known prior to experience, then no experience would be intelligible.
Why is that? Petersen does not provide a definition of what he means by ‘experience’, but I understand experience primarily to be conscious interaction with external objects.Response:It is up to the empiricist to define what is meant by experience. In the typical theory of empiricism, ‘experience’ involves investigating and interaction using the five senses. This author has noticed, however, that empiricists do have trouble defining experience. Bethrick’s definition is worded differently than the conventional definition, but the definition that he gives is logically equivalent.Experience assumes the law of contradiction, for to say you are having an experience is to say that you are not ‘not having an experience.’ The recognition that one is having an experience already presumes the law of contradiction. No matter how many times this is pointed out to Bethrick, Bethrick refuses to recognize this demonstrable fact. Bethrick’s unwillingness to recognize this fact amounts to a rejection of logic.Bethrick:So what are the requirements for an experience to be “intelligible”?Response:Having a priori equipment such as logic would be a start. After all, if one cannot tell the difference between ‘having an experience’ and ‘not having an experience’ then one cannot know they are having an experience. But one must be asking by now, what does “intelligible mean?” For something to be intelligible, it must be comprehensible.One should take note, however, that comprehensibility is not equivalent to knowing. One can comprehend a false proposition, but that false proposition is not knowledge. Bethrick’s question assumes that experience is central to knowledge. This author emphatically rejects such a notion. When this author speaks of ‘intelligible’ experience, he is not referring to experience as a way to get knowledge. Rather, he is only speaking of comprehensible experience.Bethrick:
Should we turn to Leviticus or the Gospel of St. Luke to discover this? I trow not.
Genesis 2 would be a start. Notice that when Adam was formed, he was made in God’s image. If one looks closely at the Hebrew roots, the technical English translation is that man IS God’s image. God’s mind is not blank; therefore, neither can man’s mind be blank. Objectivism and other forms of empiricism hold that man starts off as a blank mind, but the Bible contradicts this, for Adam already had a priori equipment that allowed him to communicate with God and interact with the external world. This a priori equipment consisted of logic and sense perception. According to scripture, man does not start with a blank mind.
Bethrick:I would propose that, to be “intelligible,” an experience must: (a) involve a conscious subject (by definition); (b) involve some object distinct from the knowing subject, even if this is in the form of a memory or daydream (the what of experience); and (c) be discernable (i.e., distinct from other things, including other experiences). What experience does not satisfy these requirements by virtue of its nature as an experience? Can Petersen identify any examples?Response:Bethrick is confusing the issue. He first starts off by discussing what he perceives is the requirements of an intelligible experience. Then he begs the question by saying that experience meets all three requirements he gives. The discussion at present is whether or not man can ever have an intelligible experience with a blank mind that is devoid of logic. The three criterion that Bethrick, unbeknownst to Bethrick, assume logic, yet Objectivism does not allow for anything to be a priori in man’s mind. Therefore, the criterion that Bethrick lists demonstrates the objectivist epistemology to be false, for he is assuming logic a priori in his descriptions.Bethrick:The problem with what Petersen proposes here is that it commits the fallacy of the stolen concept. This fallacy occurs when one makes use of a concept while ignoring or denying its genetic roots. The concept in this case is the concept ‘knowledge’, which Petersen wants to use apart from and prior to experience – i.e., its genetic roots. So-called “knowledge” without experience would be knowledge without objective input, and thus without discernable content. It would at best be knowledge formed in a subjective vacuum, starved of objective content and therefore entirely lacking any basis in reality.Response:‘The stolen concept fallacy’ is a fallacy that only Objectivists consider to be a legitimate fallacy. If one were to assume the fallacy to be legitimate, it would be Bethrick that commits the fallacy, for all of his descriptions of how one can derive knowledge from experience assume logic prior to experience.Bethrick then accuses this author of committing the stolen concept fallacy because this author is assuming that knowledge can be obtained apart from experience, but Bethrick still has not explained how knowledge can come from experience if man’s mind is blank. Without a priori equipment, there is no comprehension of experience. Until he is able to solve this problem, he is making claims to knowledge that he cannot substantiate.Bethrick:
How would one be able to tell the difference between a true proposition and a false proposition if the law of contradiction is not known prior to experience?
In fact, it is very common to find apologists treating questions – often fallaciously complex or left unanswered by their own worldview – as though they served as an apt substitute for argumentation.
Bethrick claims that Christianity does not answer the question that this author asked. What Bethrick refused to recognize is that the questioner was asking about Objectivism and not Christianity. Bethrick seems to expect that I cover every topic in every article, even if the article that is in question is about a specific topic. Unlike Bethrick, this author does not fancy going on tangents that are unrelated to the subject matter. Recall that in Bethrick and I’s previous dialogue, we were arguing about Leonard Peikoff’s objections to God’s existence. It did not take long for Bethrick to go off on unrelated tangents, which then, even after I defended my criticisms against Peikoff, caused the entire dialogue to go off topic. Perhaps it is possible. Bethrick quickly left the topic because he realized that he was in a losing situation. Nevertheless, a brief answer to the hypothetical question will be given.
According to scripture, man is given a priori equipment that allows us to function in the world. One can see an example of this in Genesis 2. The propositions of logic are instilled in man’s mind a priori. Therefore, we are capable of interacting with the world around us. We start with our a priori equipment and then function for a time. If God draws us into believing the Gospel (John 6:44), then we accept the Bible as the Word of God. It is through the Bible that we obtain our knowledge (2 Timothy 3:16) of what propositions are true and what propositions are not true. We are able to comprehend the difference between truth and falsehood because of our a priori equipment.
One may then ask, doesn’t having this a priori equipment entail that we have knowledge apart from scripture? Certainly not. The law of contradiction states that there is no way that two mutually opposing propositions can be true at the same time, but it is through God’s revelation through the Bible that this principle is ultimately justified. The issue of not accepting the Bible as the Word of God is not an issue of epistemology, rather, it is an issue of ethics (Romans 3: 9-10;18). As man rejects God, he uses what God has given him but refuses to glorify God (Romans 1:21-23).
Therefore, man has a priori equipment which allows him to recognize contradictions, but though such a priori propositions are in man’s mind, there is not a way to differentiate between that which is true and that which is false apart from God’s revelation from the Bible. One cannot distinguish which contradictory propositions are true by sensation, for sensation is not propositional, and one cannot get a proposition from a non-propositional source. Nor can one tell what is true and what is false by logic, for trying to use logic to develop a worldview is like trying to do math with the operations but no numbers. Therefore, it is by the Bible alone that we can know the truth, for having knowledge simply means believing in that which is true.
But consider how much awareness of the world perception alone gives us, before we ever even begin forming our first propositions. If you place a tennis ball and a basketball before a toddler, before it has ever formed the concepts ‘big’, ‘bigger’ and ‘biggest’, the child can, at the perceptual level of awareness, discern which ball is larger than the other, just from what is perceptually self-evident. The concepts ‘big’ and ‘bigger’ are not metaphysical preconditions for either the size relationship between such objects or this kind of discernment at the perceptual level to take place.
What is ‘awareness’ without logic? Bethrick is, once again, assuming logic when he describes the process of how one obtains knowledge through experience. Since Objectivism does not allow logic to be a priori, Bethrick is unwittingly betraying his own epistemology with his explanation. In order to tell what ball is ‘larger’ or ‘smaller,’ the child must be able to discern that there is a difference between ‘large’ and ‘small.’ Without logic, such a differentiation is impossible. Bethrick has asserted that logic is learned, but if one must learn logic, then how can one recognize a difference between ‘largeness’ and ‘smallness?’ Bethrick just begs the question and borrows from Christianity by unknowingly assuming logic a priori in his own explanation. Bethrick then goes on with examples of a similar nature. For the sake of the already possibly fatigued reader, this author will skip over those examples, for they carry the same problem as the example Bethrick gave above.
But Petersen, in his haste to manufacture any objection he can muster against Objectivism, has run roughshod over such fundamentals, ignoring discriminating cognition which already takes place at the perceptual level.
Bethrick once again does not recognize that ‘discrimination cognition’ already presupposes logic a priori. Bethrick is repeatedly demonstrating that if one even grant’s Objectivist epistemology, it is false because it assumes logic a priori in its explanations despite the objectivist’s claims that logic must be learned.
If you can’t recognize whether or not the proposition is trustworthy, then you cannot learn by experience.
Experience is not limited to knowledge and evaluation of propositionsResponse:Ridiculous. Any statement of knowledge is a proposition. This author challenges Bethrick to give one example of what he knows that is not a proposition. Even saying that experience is not limited to knowledge and evaluation of propositions is itself a proposition. This author suspects that Bethrick will fail to give one example of knowledge that isn’t propositional.Bethrick:In fact, we have a whole chain of experiences long before we form our first propositions.Response:Any descriptions of those experiences would be a proposition. For instance, ‘I had a bad day.’ This is a statement from experience, but it is a proposition.Bethrick:We need to have formed concepts before we can ever form propositions…Response:
Stating what these concepts that must be learned are will inevitably be a statement that contains a proposition. Any description of a concept will be a proposition. Truth is propositional. It is not conceptual.
…and we need to perceive objects (thereby experiencing the world around us) before we can form concepts in the first place.
One cannot differentiate between different objects without logic being presupposed a priori, nor can one comprehend the world around them without the description of the world around us being stated in propositions.
Since perceptual experience both (a) comes before conceptual integration and (b) is a necessary precondition to forming concepts (and therefore to forming propositions by extension), Petersen’s claim is a non sequitur.
Notice that Bethrick has, once again, ignored the problem and took his answer for granted. Bethrick must state an example of knowledge without stating it as a proposition in order to show that experience is comprehensible. Since Bethrick has not done so, he has failed to refute this author’s claim.
Indeed, we learn from experience all the time, even if we cannot determine the trustworthiness of certain propositions. (Try listening to someone speaking Turkish or Chinese and see how able you are at determining the trustworthiness of the propositions he utters.)
If one cannot know which propositions are true or false, then one has not learned anything. To learn, in the precise philosophical semantic, is to gain knowledge. If one does not learn what is true, then one has not learned at all. If a proposition is not true, then espousing that proposition does not make it knowledge. Knowledge is believing that which is true, and if one does not know if the proposition they believe is trustworthy, then one does not know that the proposition is true.
Unlike Christianity, Objectivism actually has an epistemology – beginning with the objective theory of concepts – and in no way seeks to do away with epistemology (such as when thinkers affirm the notion of “a priori knowledge”).
This author does not understand why Bethrick keeps repeating the claim that Christianity doesn’t have an epistemology. This author has explained some aspects of Christian epistemology throughout his dialogue with Bethrick. This author has refuted Bethrick’s claims and has answered Bethrick’s questions concerning Christian epistemology. Then again, Bethrick sees fit to repeat arguments in this article that was already refuted in this author’s previous responses. Of course, Bethrick has not bothered to respond to a majority of what this author has already said in response to his criticisms.
How can one differentiate between ‘beginning’ and ‘not beginning’ without logic? Bethrick gives no answer here. Bethrick claims that logic cannot be presupposed, rather, it must be learned, but concept formation is not possible without logic. According to the objectivist theory of concept formation, one perceives, isolates, and integrates objects from the outside world and then forms concepts, but one cannot differentiate a chair from the floor it rests on without logic, for isolating the chair assumes that the chair is an object that is separate from the floor.
And how can Bethrick possibly claim that concept formation is objective? It happens on an individual basis, and if Bethrick so trusts empiricism, perhaps an ad hominem reply is appropriate. There are different cultures with different concepts of morality, epistemology, ontology, metaphysics, etc. In the objectivist view, how can one determine which concept actually reflects the state of affairs of reality? The objectivist cannot do so without begging the question concerning their own interpretation of how concepts ought to be formed. Bethrick does not hold ‘objective reality’ as axiomatic, rather, Bethrick holds subjective interpretation as axiomatic and then calls it ‘objective reality.’
Moreover, Objectivism bases logic on the axiomatic concept of identity, a concept which Christianity seeks to evade and whose philosophical tenets obliterate.
Where has Christianity attempted to evade ‘logic?’ How can the ‘axiomatic concept’ of identity be axiomatic if the logic in which it rests must be learned? Is the axiom of identity a starting point or is it a conclusion? As this author has pointed out in the past, Objectivism takes its conclusions and then grants them as axiomatic. Basically, Objectivism is a backwards philosophy. Bethrick accuses Christianity of evading logic, but as the reader should be able to see, Bethrick sees it fit to ignore logic while claiming that he is an adherent to it. This, of course, comes after Bethrick’s concession that in his worldview, there is no rational obligation to be logical, yet he attempts to disparage Christianity for not being ‘logical.’ Bethrick is haplessly confused.
Logic is not possible on Christian grounds. A worldview which requires of its adherents the unthinking acceptance of mystical dogma is wholly antagonistic to the very essence of logic.
Bethrick has made assertions that appear to contradict what has happened in the course of this dialogue. Bethrick gives prejudicial conjecture, but does not even attempt to back up the claim that logic is not possible in Christianity. On the contrary, this author has repeatedly demonstrated that it is not possible to know logic if the objectivist epistemology is granted.
And Petersen, a defender of Christian mysticism…
This author always appreciates Bethrick’s willingness to clearly define his terms. 5 Unfortunately for Bethrick, this “Christian Mysticist” has repeatedly shown Bethrick’s ‘Subjectivism’ to be foolish.
….charges that Objectivism “leads to a self-refuting skepticism”? Skepticism is the Christian’s very starting point: “We can’t know, so we might as well believe.”
And where has the Bible given such a view? Bethrick does not give any examples of where he derived this claim from. Clearly, when one looks at the dialogue between Bethrick and this author, it is apparent that Christianity is easily defended against Bethrick’s ‘Subjectivism.’
The announcement that “We know without knowing how we know” signals that no promising epistemology is to be expected from such a worldview.
Bethrick is once again quote mining John Frame. This author has already responded to Bethrick’s portrayal of John Frame, but instead of responding to this author, Bethrick sees fit to keep making the same mistakes. In fact, Bethrick indicated to one of his readers that he was not going to bother reading this author’s responses. As Proverbs 1:7 says, “The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despite wisdom and correction.”
I agree with you that the laws of logic are not abstract objects.
But the Christian bible provides no account of any of this, at any point, from beginning to end. It is as though its authors – far from showing any interest in such matters – took all of it completely for granted without ever grasping any step in such processes with any clarity of understanding.
Bethrick is correct. The Bible does not provide any account for an epistemology that uses flawed methods in order to argue that knowledge is possible. This author agrees that the authors of the Bible never cared about the propositions that have been proposed in the flawed philosophy of Objectivism.
In fact, William Lane Craig is working on a book on abstract objects. At one time, he used to view things like numbers and laws of logic as abstract objects, but he has recently come out and said that he has changed his position on this matter. I think his new book will be an interesting read for all Christians once it comes out.
Where would anyone find in the Christian bible any discussion of whether or not the laws of logic are “abstract objects”Response:One can check the Johannie Logos in John 1 for more information on logic. Gordon H. Clark has a very good book on this topic as well.Bethrick:Where would anyone find in the Christian bible any discussion of whether or not the laws of logic are “abstract objects”? Indeed, what does Petersen (or anyone else for that matter) mean by “abstract object”?Response:According to Bethrick’s logic, he cannot use words that he often uses to describe Christianity. Words such as illogical, irrational, etc. cannot be permitted, for in order to define what these words mean, he has to say what they are not.What is an abstract object? An abstract object is an object that exists but is causally inert. This author does not hold that abstract objects exist.Bethrick then goes on to ask why books on abstract objects is necessary if the Bible tells us all we need to know about abstract objects. The answer is elementary. The books are not necessary, but they can be informative and stir ideas that may not have otherwise come to the person. This author, for one, enjoys writing on these matters and the reflection on these matters further encourages this author to seek answers in the scriptures.Conclusion
4. “The basic metaphysical issue that lies at the root of any system of philosophy [is] the primacy of existence or the primacy of consciousness.”–http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/primacy_of_existence_vs_primacy_of_consciousness.html
8. If it is not already apparent to the reader, this author is a lover of sarcasm.
The Primacy of Bethrick’s Imagination
Written by Jason Petersen
In Bethrick’s response to this author, he begins by going on a lengthy rant. 6 First, he complains that this article’s responses to him are lengthy. Apparently Bethrick doesn’t realize that half of the word count in this author’s responses to him is attributed to this author’s quoting of Bethrick’s work. Nevertheless, Bethrick has attempted to bury many other Christians in word count. This author is more than happy to return the favor. Bethrick also complains that this author did not link to Bethrick’s posts on his website, but this author provided a link to the post in question in every single one of the responses that has been written to Bethrick.
A good portion of this particular writing piece by Bethrick consists of griping and complaining. Bethrick does not like that this author has challenged him to be more precise in his semantics. For the sake of the reader, this author will skip over Bethrick’s complaining and will only give a response to the issues that have been relevant to Bethrick and this author’s dialogue concerning Leonard Peikoff’s objections to the existence of God.
Bethrick goes on a rant concerning this author complaining that Bethrick and other Objectivists redefine the word ‘universe.’ Bethrick then goes to insinuate that this author approves of mainstream-secular philosophy. As anyone who has read this author’s responses to Bethrick is aware, nothing can be further from the truth. This author has repeatedly proclaimed that secular philosophy is a failure. Bethrick’s attempt to frame this author as someone that supports secular philosophy lends support to the notion that Bethrick has not read this author’s responses to him.
The Response to Bethrick:
And Peikoff is clearly right: If by ‘universe’ we simply mean everything that exists, then it would be self-contradictory to posit something existing outside the universe.
Bethrick’s first mistake involves an elementary error in logic. Peikoff also made this same mistake. Christians define the universe as all matter and energy. In Peikoff’s critique, Peikoff changed the meaning of the word ‘universe.’ Because Peikoff used a different definition from what the Christians use, Peikoff committed the fallacy of equivocation. Equivocation is a fallacy where the meaning of a word is changed either within the context of a single argument or within a response to another argument. Bethrick’s affirmation of Peikoff’s objection shows that Bethrick commits the very same fallacy. One cannot respond to an argument by using a different definition of the word that is in question. This is Logic 101.
Since existence is a precondition of causation, the universe would have to exist for any causation to be possible in the first place.
This only assumes the objectivist definition of the universe. Because Christianity is the worldview that is being critiqued, the definitions that Christianity attributes to words must be used. Any attempt to read in objectivist definitions into Christianity commits the fallacy of equivocation. This author is sure that Bethrick would not like it if this author redefined objectivist terminology whilst critiquing objectivism.
But Petersen resists acknowledging the ironclad logic of such a position.
Since when did the fallacy of equivocation become logical?
The traditional definition of the universe is all physical things, such as matter and energy
Even though such trifling is ultimately irrelevant, Petersen cites no source to support his contention.
This author apologizes to Bethrick for assuming that he is competent enough to know what the conventional definition of universe is. This author will help bring Bethrick up to speed with several quotes from resources:
“All existing matter and space considered as a whole; the cosmos” 7
“the universe : all of space and everything in it including stars, planets, galaxies, etc.” 8
“All space-time, matter, and energy, including the solar system, all stars and galaxies, and the contents of intergalactic space, regarded as a whole.” 9
everything that exists anywhere
The totality of all existing things
the whole body of things and phenomena observed or postulated
I see no essential conceptual difference between these definitions and the Objectivist conception of ‘universe’.
It is not uncommon in the English language for a word to have 4 or 5 definitions. Indeed, Bethrick is being dishonest by insinuating that the definitions offered in these sources support the Objectivist conception of the word universe. In order to tackle Bethrick’s web of deception, this author will address the nuances one at a time.
First, Bethrick is being dishonest in attempting to insinuate that any of the definitions in the dictionary affirm the Objectivist definition of the world universe. The definitions that Bethrick quoted are meant to be colloquial definitions. For instance, one might have heard a phrase such as, “God is the most powerful being in the universe!” Certainly, in this instance, God would be considered to be a part of the universe, for how can God be the most powerful thing in the universe if God is not in the universe? However, the definition that is used in this instance is not meant to imply anything metaphysical, whereas the Objectivist definition is meant to imply something metaphysical by postulating that the universe is the sum total of the things that exist and God is not a part of it.
Second, Bethrick conveniently ignores the other definitions in the sources he quotes that agree with the way that Christians and other philosophers define the word ‘universe.’ Here are all of the definitions from the respective sources that Bethrick quoted:
The Free Dictionary:
1. All space-time, matter, and energy, including the solar system, all stars and galaxies, and the contents of intergalactic space, regarded as a whole.
2. A hypothetical whole of space-time, matter, and energy that is purported to exist simultaneously with but to be different from this universe: an alternate universe.
a. A model or conception of the earth and everything else that exists: “Apart from celestial beings, the aboriginals’ universe contained spirits of the land and sea” (Madhusree Mukerjee).
b. The human race or a subset of it: “It was a universe that took slavery for granted” (Adam Hochschild).
4. A sphere of interest, activity, or understanding: “their almost hermetically sealed-off universe of part-time jobs and study and improvised meals” (Sue Miller).
5. Logic See universe of discourse.
6. Statistics See population.
the universe : all of space and everything in it including stars, planets, galaxies, etc.
: an area of space or a world that is similar to but separate from the one that we live in
: the people, places, experiences, etc., that are associated with a particular person, place, or thing
1. : the whole body of things and phenomena observed or postulated : cosmos: as
a : a systematic whole held to arise by and persist through the direct intervention of divine power
b : the world of human experience
c (1) : the entire celestial cosmos (2) : milky way galaxy (3) : an aggregate of stars comparable to the Milky Way galaxy
: a distinct field or province of thought or reality that forms a closed system or self-inclusive and independent organization
: population 4
: a set that contains all elements relevant to a particular discussion or problem
: a great number or quantity <a large enough universe of stocks … to choose from — G. B. Clairmont>
The definitions that Bethrick used ignored other definitions that disagree with Objectivism. In fact, the definition from Merriam-Webster that was quoted by Bethrick disagrees with the Objectivist definition of the universe, for Webster was the founder of Merriam-Webster, and Webster was a Christian. 10 Obviously, since Webster was a Christian, he would disagree with the metaphysical implications that come from the way objectivists attempt to define the word, ‘universe.’ Therefore, the definitions that Bethrick cited actually does not agree with objectivism, for the purpose of the definitions Bethrick cited was not meant to have any implication on the metaphysical. Bethrick is, once again, showing that he is a careless and sloppy thinker.
In addition to these citations, there’s a most curious quote from physicist Brian Greene, who states in his 2011 book The Hidden Reality (p. 4; this book, incidentally, was nominated for the 2012 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books):
“There was once a time when ‘universe’ meant ‘all there is.’ Everything. The whole shebang.”
So here Greene – a physicist specializing in research about the nature of the universe – affirms explicitly that the concept ‘universe’ has historically been defined as “all there is,” essentially like the Objectivist conception of the sum total of all that exists.
This author has already given numerous sources that define the universe as all matter and energy. This author has also shown that the definitions that Bethrick cited are colloquial definitions that are not mean to have metaphysical implications. Unfortunately, Bethrick has chosen to continue to be dishonest in his writing. He has quoted Briane Greene out of context. Here is the entire quote:
“There was a time when “universe” meant all there is. Everything. Yet, a number of theories are converging on the possibility that our universe may be but one among many parallel universes populating a vast multiverse. Here, Briane Greene, one of our foremost physicists and science writers, takes us on a breathtaking journey to a multiverse comprising an endless series of big bangs, a multiverse with duplicates of every one of us, a multiverse populated by vast sheets of spacetime, a multiverse in which all we consider real are holographic illusions, and even a multiverse made purely of math—and reveals the reality hidden within each.” 11
In the context of the quote that Brian Greene is using, Greene is making a distinction between the universe that we live in and other universes that he believes are located within the multiverse. If Brian Greene were saying that the traditional definition of the universe was the ‘sum total of all that exists’ then there would be no reason to differentiate between this universe and other universes within the multiverse. If Brian Greene were defining the universe as the sum total of all that exists, there would be no need to differentiate between the universe we live and ‘other universes.’ When Brian Greene says that the there was one time where everyone thought the universe meant ‘all there is,’ he was referring to the notion that our ‘universe’ was the only ‘universe’ in existence. Such a terminology is expected in a book that is supposed to be about the multiverse. Obviously, Greene does not mean his statement in the way that Bethrick wishes it to mean.
Dawson Bethrick ought to be ashamed for trying to twist Green’s words in order to make the feeble philosophy of Objectivism to look more promising. This author is appalled at Bethrick’s incompetence, sloppiness, and intentional dishonesty.This author doubts that Bethrick has read Greene’s book, but this author has a copy of Greene’s book sitting on a bookshelf in his study.
By this point, it is pointless to respond to the rest of Bethrick’s blog post. Bethrick has blatantly been dishonest and has misrepresented Brian Greene in his book. The rest of Bethrick’s blog post involves other people giving their definition of the universe. The definitions are followed by Bethrick attempting to read his own definition into their remarks just as he did with Brian Greene.
The original point of this author is that the Christians define universe differently from Objectivists, and that Peikoff and other Objectivists equivocate the word ‘universe’ when responding to objections to Christianity. Bethrick fails to address this central point and insists on redefining the word ‘universe’ in his critique of Christianity despite the fact that he is committing the fallacy of equivocation. This author sees no point in a further dialogue with a person that will be so openly dishonest in his representation of others.