Monday, June 9, 2008

Attack of the Killer Timaeus

Despite my constant behind the scenes kvetching, I managed to not only attend live, but also to stay live (as in awake!) throughout last night’s OPAR discussion group. (I do concede that Sunday night at 9:30 is very late for my brain to work well as opposed to my last comments on the matter, and that I have either missed, or slept through the last 3 discussions). Last night the members of the group (who actually spoke) discussed the second to last part of Chapter 1, subtitled The Metaphysically Given as Absolute.

First, I understood the metaphysically given as absolute. Facts of reality exist, are necessary and non-contradictory. It is what it is. This makes perfect sense to me. What makes less sense to me is that these given facts are put in opposition with man-made facts. While I understand that man-made facts originate with the choice of man and are therefore not metaphysically given, I don’t understand ….wait a minute. I think I’m onto something!

All facts created by human choice must be morally evaluated! It doesn’t matter if these choices spawned walls, castles, countries, institutions, traditions, etc. Only the metaphysically given requires acceptance without moral evaluation. Everything else must be judged! You’d think I would have appreciated
that earlier.

Okay, one stream crossed.

Now, I want to ford the river Creativity.

Making something out of nothing is a really cool idea that I’ve always attributed to the creative genius of man’s mind. Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, Steven Spielberg, Bugsy Siegel (speaking of judgment - and that just occurred to me because of the example of making an oasis out of a desert) all built stuff out of nothing, right? Well, no. Creation is the arrangement of natural elements which had not existed before (notice: there is no evaluation of creation at this point, only a definition). Both Peikoff and Rand allow that the best expression of this power to arrange nature emanated from Francis Bacon, in his statement,

“Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.”

What I really need to keep clear in my mind is the difference between metaphysically given facts and man-made facts. Both entities exist, but only those metaphysically given facts are the facts of reality – unchangeable – immutable – that which must be accepted. Man-made facts also exist, but none are unalterable or beyond challenge. Mistaking the two can be ruinous.

To assume that man-made facts (which I would like to refer to as “conventions” and now wonder why they are not differentiated in this way) are beyond challenge is to admit you are a helpless prawn in the sea of life (prawn: sea:: pawn: game, ah never mind). To assume that the facts of reality will change in accordance with your desires or abilities to change them is to submit to a lifetime of contradictions and resultant unhappiness. This refusal, to accept the absolutism of the metaphysically given, gives rise to mind-body dichotomy which populates the foundation of almost every other philosophy.

In Plato’s Timaeus, he tries to explain that “matter is a principle of imperfection, inherently in conflict with the highest ideals of the spirit” (OPAR pg. 29). In short, Plato denies the primacy of existence.

A ha! I think I’ve got it! This is very exciting.

I was kvetching last night because I just didn’t get why we needed to beat this idea to death – but now I think I understand. It is in this foundational denial of a mind-body dichotomy and the embrace of the primacy of existence which qualifies Objectivism as unique among philosophies. It is a philosophy for life.

I look forward to the less abstract and more concrete manifestations of philosophy which we will discuss as we proceed in the book.

Title inspire by


Burgess Laughlin said...

Leonard Peikoff discusses evaluation of all facts, man-made and metaphysically-given, in his essay "Fact and Value," available on the Ayn Rand Institute website. It is written for advanced students of Objectivism. The address is:

Try this link, if I have written the script correctly.

My understanding is that all facts are subject to evaliuation. Is gravity good or bad for me? Either, but the circumstances (and therefore context) drive the evaluation: Good, if I am using a balance to judge how much silver I have. Bad if I am in a single-engine plane that has lost its motor and is plunging toward the earth.

LB said...

I read "Fact and Value" when I was trying to figure out what prompted the great divide among Objectivists, but as a relatively new student of Objectivism (old admirer), I do not yet fully appreciate all it contains.

So, what I understand regarding the evaluation of facts from that essay is while metaphysically-given facts can't be evaluated, the implications of these facts for man's life must be constantly evaluated with each new discovery of its effects. Dr. Peikoff's links between cognition and evaluation here are clear.

Thanks for the working link!

Kim said...

I listened to the lecture last night. These first two chapters seemed easy to read the first time around, but what I discovered later was that I had missed something that lead to a lot of confusion by chapter 3 (that didn't take long, did it?). I can see it now when Greg Perkins asks some question--I get a little panicky when I realize I can't answer it right off the bat. I really appreciate looking at the material with the different questions and approaches.