February 9, 2014 at 1:23 pm #19199derosa8Member
Hello Dr. Casey,
I know this is not an “Introduction to Logic” question, but as a professor of philosophy (and a theist), I was wondering whether you had an opinion on the ontology of abstract objects. I have not studied the topic in any detail, but have listened to some talks by Dr. William Lane Craig in which he explains why he currently holds to fictionalism (abstract objects do not really exist) as opposed to platonism (abstract objects really exist in their own realm) or divine conceptionalism (abstract objects [at least some of them] exist eternally in the essence/mind of God).
Here is a link to one talk Craig gives on the topic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKLDASjoBdQ
Anyway, I was curious if you had an opinion or position on the metaphysics of abstract objects.March 12, 2014 at 11:02 pm #19200
Hi John D I hope you don’t mind me chiming in. I find it odd that WLC rejects Platonism since theism to my understanding is rooted in Platonism. But no, abstractions do not exist “out there” they only exist in the mind. Such as numbers, the government, transportation, and the boggieman, etc. Some of these abstractions are valid and some are not. For example one can argue that numbers are a valid abstraction (or concept) because they refer directly to particulars in reality. The same cannot be said of the boogieman and in my opinion gods or governments. I think you might find Ayn Rands book “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology” of great insight on the topic of abstract concepts. Though I’m not an Objectivist this book really changed how I think about things.March 15, 2014 at 6:27 am #19201
I am only going off of the video you linked to. Does Craig actually claim ” abstract objects do not really exist”? It seemed to me that his issue was that all abstract things necessarily begin in god and that Platonism implies abstract ideas are created ex nihilo, meaning something is created outside or beyond the purview of god’s will or essence. The necessity of Craig’s argument is, I believe, contingent on god’s existence as the distinction is unnecessary if there is no god.
I Think if he believed abstract objects didn’t exist he might have a difficult time explaining god. Where he explains Fictionalism, I believe, he was showing how abstractions are taken for granted as physical things or properties of physical things. It has been a few days since I watched the video but I recall him mentioning a brown dog. The dog exists physically and is made of physical things but what is brown? Brown is a property, and can be defined by not having any of the properties of another color but nowhere on earth can I locate a Brown. For that matter, take Donovan Bailey: He IS fast. That, and I think WLC would agree, is a perfectly useful statement. Like brown, fast is not a thing but the statement implies that “he” a physical thing “is” an abstract object “fast”
So, if I were to claim god does not exist because metaphysical things don’t exist in “reality” I would, in the least, have to greatly limit, what I consider, my understanding of the world and admit that most of speech is all baloney. That’s my take on this, anyway.
Professor Casey has requested that we send him a email to let him know when we make new posts you might shoot him one if you want to ensure his response.
p.s. I recall seeing mises 007 and you talking in the forum and I thought ” John Dee and 007, fancy that”March 18, 2014 at 3:36 am #19202
” abstractions do not exist “out there” they only exist in the mind.”
As far as I know,
That we can be certain about existence comes from our ability to perceive that which is extant.
That we can perceive anything is only through the mind.
The mind exists because the mind perceives is own existence.
Therefore our existence is metaphysical.
Therefore we can not be certain that physical objects exist independently of the mind.
Axiom: knowledge is attained through, and only through, Perception.
It is through the mind, that I know physical objects exist independently of my ability to perceive.
Therefore something can exist independent of my mind.
Since all objects, physical and metaphysical, first begin in the mind and objects which are known through the mind can be perceived to be independent of the mind, then metaphysical objects can exist independently of the mind.
If I consider some things to be self-evident, such as; there are physical objects that exist in the universe and their existence is independent of our ability to perceive them. If every conscious being* died (assuming that to be the end of consciousness), I feel certain that the physical objects, and for that matter the universe itself, would continue to exist, independent of an ability to be perceived. Now, the laws and mathematical axioms, if true, that govern the universe and those objects contained in, which are metaphysical, would not be expected to cease without our ability to perceive them.
If in fact, it is true that metaphysical objects exist only in the mind then the metaphysical objects and the physical objects they govern would disappear with the end of consciousness. If so far, you believe I have gone off the rails, you might stop to consider, what is Force?
I believe the implication here is; If future existence of objects is contingent on the mind and its ability to perceive them then the same too the existence of past objects. What should be immediately obvious about this is that consciousness would not only be the creator of existence but also the sustainer.
*Except 1. As it is, we know that existence seems to be all in the mind but not in our minds because people could not justifiably state that they are the creator and sustainer of existence. If my axiom is correct then something would have to first perceive itself in order to account for existence. There can only be one such entity because we can only perceive one existence. It can have no predecessor because an infinite regress has no beginning.
I don’t mean this to be a proof of anything. I haven’t studied the philosophers nor am I certain that I have managed to stay logically consistent. I do believe I have offered something, at least, worthy of consideration.March 23, 2014 at 10:32 pm #19203
Hi osgood401 thanks for the reply.
I believe what you have explained above is what is commonly referred to as the “Primacy of existence metaphysics (PoE)” verses “The primacy of consciousness metaphysics (PoC)”. If the former is the case I can see no rational inconsistencies. It also requires fewer assumptions. If the latter is the case then more questions need to be answered. For example you said…
[quote]What should be immediately obvious about this is that consciousness would not only be the creator of existence but also the sustainer.[/quote]
The first question that comes to my mind here is that if you hold the PoC consistent then what accounts for the “supreme consciousness”? (for lack for a better term) “It was aware of itself” seems to be too convenient and easy of an answer. An answer that itself raises more questions. Such as, how can a consciousness with nothing to be conscious of identify itself as conscious to begin with? If running is the action of legs then consciousness is the action of a mind. It seems to me to speak of a consciousness with no substance or existence not only needs a myriad of more assumptions but is in fact contradictory.March 30, 2014 at 6:13 pm #19204
Hi jerryb225, thank you for continuing the conversation.
You have introduced some new concepts to me. So I am taking my understanding of PoE & PoC from here.
I don’t think I have explained the primacy issue and I’m not sure why I should feel compelled to justify myself based on a philosophy that seems purposely limited?
The primacy of existence (of reality) is the axiom that existence exists, i.e., that the universe exists independent of consciousness (of any consciousness), that things are what they are, that they possess a specific nature, an identity.
Something that exists exists independent of consciousness.
Therefore consciousness exists independent of consciousness.
Consciousness cannot exist independent of consciousness.
Therefore consciousness does not exist.
If the very thing(consciousness) that perceives that which exists does not exist then the axiom of Primacy of existence is founded on something that does not exist. If I am in any way correct, then not only does the PoE require a hell of a lot of assumptions but is in fact contradictory.
“It was aware of itself” seems to be too convenient and easy of an answer”
I can’t imagine you would be satisfied with an inconvenient and difficult answer. So to say, consciousness with no substance or existence can’t identify itself as conscious, is to say, consciousness does not exist. Perhaps Rand’s intention was that consciousness is contingent on a physical object, such as the brain, and that may be so, for humans, but that certainly does not exhaust the cosmos.
What do you think? I am pretty much a rookie at this sort of thing, so I don’t assert that I know Rand is wrong, even though it seems to me she was. I have a different take on the issue of existence that doesn’t seem to fit in the Objectivist universe.April 2, 2014 at 6:50 pm #19205
osgood401, Thanks for your interesting reply,
Let me jump right into you argument which I take as a reductio ad absurdum attacking the PoE.
Consciousness does indeed exist yes. If one were to utter the phrase , “I am not conscious”, they would in fact be contradicting them self since one must first be conscious in order to make that claim.
Something that exists exists independent of consciousness.
One could have hallucinations for example so that would definitely not exist independent of consciousness. The Objectivist statement would be that existence exist independent on consciousness.
Therefore consciousness exists independent of consciousness.
I’m not sure what this means. It seems to be treating consciousness as a singular ( like we’re the borg from Star Trek or something! lol.) My consciousness exist independently from your consciousness but not from my own.
Consciousness cannot exist independent of consciousness.
Again I’m not sure how to take this statement. If I stop being conscious will you stop being conscious?
Therefore consciousness does not exist.
Stolen fallacy. But I’m sure you agree since after all you are attempting to show the fallacy of the PoE by way of reductio ad absurdum.
Let’s do a thought experiment so that way perhaps I can get us on the same wave length.
Imagine a child is born having no senses whatsoever. He can’t see, feel, smell, hear,or taste anything. He also can’t even feel hunger pains or the gravity of the earth pulling on his body. Not even in the womb did he have senses. Because of this he can have no thoughts, emotions, feelings or dreams. We know that people who are born blind , for example, have only auditory dreams. So the child I’m sure you agree is unconscious. Now suppose the necessary set of neurons necessary for sight in the child’s brain begin to fire. He opens his eyes and sees people, walls, and medical equipment being used to feed him and keep him alive. Now he is conscious. But why, what changed? He observed an external world outside of himself. His consciousness could not identify itself as a consciousness until he first sensed something.
Now lets take our “senseless” child to another thought experiment. One more closely resembling Plato’s cave allegory. Imagine a vacuum of nothingness that the child is floating in. His body is fixed in a way that if he were to see he would not be able to see that he has a body. The necessary neurons in his brain connect and now he can see. But what does he see? There’s nothing to see or sense. He’s in a void of nothing. With nothing external for him to sense he is still effectively unconscious. There is no difference between the way he is now with connected sight neurons floating in a vacuum and him with no connected sight neurons laying in a hospital bed. In both cases he is unconscious.
Now this is all fine and dandy one might say but perhaps there is another type of consciousness out there that doesn’t have these limitations. But what arguments are there that can vindicate the idea of a consciousness that existed before anything existed for it to be aware of other than to say ” well perhaps it’s a magical consciousness of some sort we don’t understand..”? Maybe there is a square out there that exhibits the properties of a circle as well. But I don’t have to go and kick over every rock in existence looking for such a square because the idea is contradictory. And in the same way a consciousness that had nothing to be conscious of is contradictory.
All of your thoughts, emotions, feelings, knowledge and language are reducible back to what you have sensed. Your consciousness your entire life has conformed to and learned about reality. Every argument, statement or feeling you have assumes the PoE. Even if one argues against the PoE they can’t do it without assuming its truth and arguing from that standpoint.
The PoC is the exact opposite of this. Consciousness creates and dictates reality. wishing makes it so. But where is the evidence for any of this? Contrast that to the evidence of how we know consciousness works. Which one requires more assumptions?
There’s more I can say on this but I’ll stop here for now. I’ll leave a link to a blog by a guy that is much more verbose and detailed on this subject than I am.April 2, 2014 at 6:54 pm #19206
I dunno why the link function is not working so i will just say google “Incinerating Presuppositionalism ”April 6, 2014 at 6:52 pm #19207
Let us first get Presuppositionalism out of the way. I think we are in accord on this matter. I hold to no religion. This does not prevent me from concluding that there is a god but I’m not presupposing it. If you can imagine my situation, I am not well received by the religious or the atheists. When I reference god, do not presume that I am referring to something in western culture that exalts one type of Caucasian over all others. Not that you are, just in case.
Maybe I am missing something here but, it seems to me, the first two axioms do not work together.
“hallucinations for example so that would definitely not exist independent of consciousness.”
I think Rand would say hallucinations exist only in the mind, if not, hallucinations do not exist. Now, is consciousness created by the mind? If yes, then consciousness only exists in the mind or consciousness does not exist. You tell me “consciousness does exist” , now tell me if I’m missing an option but I think we are left with two possibilities: consciousness exists independent of consciousness (I know this seems ludicrous but that is the problem) or for her second axiom to work, it is a case of special pleading. So, if everything that exists exists independent of any consciousness then the axiom of existence is either incorrect or, inexplicably, she is allowing some special type of existence.
” perhaps there is another type of consciousness out there that doesn’t have these limitations”
Are you conflating the senses with consciousness? Per your examples you have introduced different types of consciousness. Is someone who has never had the sense of sight less conscious? A dog has the same five senses as we do, in fact, its sense of smell and hearing are superior to ours and, I believe, its other three senses are similar, if not the same, to ours. Yet, do we consider the dog as being more conscious than us? If our thoughts come from our senses then does the dog have superior thoughts? Do we learn to think? If you never learned a language would your thoughts be unintelligible to you?
“Imagine a child is born having no senses whatsoever”
This probably precludes the child from having thoughts about the physical world, the world that is perceived by the senses. Now, you say the child can’t think until one of its senses are turned on. Does sight create thought?
” Imagine a vacuum of nothingness”
I am sorry but I can not do this. If I imagine a state of non existence then I would imagine nothing to be something. Nothing would then not need to exist for me to have a comparative.
“consciousness that had nothing to be conscious of is contradictory.”
Yes, yes, Absolutely yes. But consciousness exists. I know I exist because I am conscious, I am conscious of my consciousness, I am self aware, I didn’t need to perceive a spoon or a cosmological teacup to come to that conclusion. I did, however, need to be conscious to perceive physical objects.
I am conscious
I agree that physical objects exist. Every physical object is made of something, cells, atoms, sub atomic particles, super strings(?), but matter can’t be reduced infinitely or it would have never began to exist in the first place. So I grant that there must be some physical element that is not made of another physical element. Is this element made of nothing or something which is not physical? It is impossible for nothing to exist. So, physical objects are made of something that is not physical. Metaphysical objects are reducible in the same way, the unmoved mover, the first cause sort of thing. I find the notion of the Logos or word of god to be both consistent and necessary to explain existence. That certainly does not lead me to the same conclusions that theologians have had about divine attributes but none of my arguments would begin with the claim, god does not exist. My view on these matters is not intractable but I have yet to hear anything from anybody that is more plausible.
I am sure, to you, I have already stepped in it, so I will go one more. The statement; I am conscious doesn’t just mean I’m awake or aware, it means I am conscious – that is my I-ness my being. I am that I am.
Jerry, I am frequently told by my friends that I am a good person and an asshole, usually in the same sentence. Please don’t take any of this as being flippant or disrespectful, just a conversation between two fellers.
I am dearly sorry if all of this constitutes “highjacking your thread”. Please send Professor Casey an email, making him aware of your question.April 7, 2014 at 7:17 pm #19208
osgood401, Hi thanks for your reply. No I’m not assuming you’re being an asshole. In fact I pondered if in fact I was coming of that way myself even though I have no intentions of being that way so I totally understand. No worries ok?
I don’t really have time to go point by point but I’ll address the main things I see real fast and that should maybe help us kick the intellectual ball a little further down the road towards some kind of conclusion. So I apologize in advance if any of this is hasty.
I think Rand would say hallucinations exist only in the mind
Yes I agree and that’s how I should have worded my statement.
Is someone who has never had the sense of sight less conscious?
Keep in mind that it is the “awareness” of consciousness that is what I’m talking about. So I’d have to say yes. You would be less aware if you were blind. If i could see through walls or maybe further up or down the light spectrum I think it would be fair to say I was more aware at that point. When I take my contacts out before bed I am no longer aware of what the clock on my night stand says.
So, if everything that exists exists independent of any consciousness then the axiom of existence is either incorrect or, inexplicably, she is allowing some special type of existence.
I’m lost on what you are referring to as her second axiom. In objectivism the axioms are axioms because knowledge of them cannot be reduced down to constituent parts. They are implicit in all knowledge. The axiom of existence, consciousness, and identity. I guess you could call it her philosophical trinity. Starting in reverse order if we do away with identity then everything would be the same. say everything is the color red. How could one identify the color red without any other color to contrast it to? The axiom of consciousness is taken away then what is there to identify any objects are things? Take away existence and well then there’s certainly no consciousness or anything. Now I know you said later that there’s no such thing as nothing. I agree! That’s simply the PoE stated in another way. I simply had to make that assumption so I could try and illustrate the point that there must be something existing ( how it exist or what it’s made of is a question for science not philosophy so it doesn’t matter) to be conscious of.
So if i understand your special pleading claim about the PoE correctly I think it is settled by understanding that consciousness is axiomatic according to Objectivism.
If you never learned a language would your thoughts be unintelligible to you?
I don’t know that’s a great question to ponder. I think you would probably come up with your own simplistic “language” automatically in your mind.
I agree that physical objects exist. Every physical object is made of something, cells, atoms, sub atomic particles, super strings(?), but matter can’t be reduced infinitely or it would have never began to exist in the first place. So I grant that there must be some physical element that is not made of another physical element. Is this element made of nothing or something which is not physical? It is impossible for nothing to exist.
I believe that it is impossible for nothing to exist. In fact I randomly picked a copy of Michael Shermer’s Skeptic magazine to download and read this weekend and there was an article exactly about “nothing”. In short it concluded that “nothing” is impossible with what we know of quantum physics. The article is titled “What rocks dream about” in volume 17 number 3 2012 issue if you’re interested.
but matter can’t be reduced infinitely or it would have never began to exist in the first place.
It seems you’re conflating “matter” with existence. Matter as we know it became to exist at a certain time just like my car came into existence at a certain time. But I’m not following your reasoning here on matter can’t needing matter to exist. if that’s what you’re saying? It seems you’re diverging from philosophy into science here and that question may be unanswered at this time.
Are you conflating the senses with consciousness?
If to be conscious is to be aware then doesn’t awareness presuppose sensing and thus sensing presuppose something “out there” to sense? One can imagine an existence with no consciousness existing. But it’s really a mangle to try and imagine nothingness with a consciousness existing. Quite contradictory.
Metaphysical objects are reducible in the same way, the unmoved mover, the first cause sort of thing. I find the notion of the Logos or word of god to be both consistent and necessary to explain existence.
There can be no explanation of existence. Existence ( consciousness and identity) is necessary for explanation to begin with. What’s north of the north pole? follows that same error in reasoning.
It’s like asking. “What caused existence”. Causality is the law of identity in motion. If something caused existence then that cause already existed to begin with negating that claim that existence was caused. What caused matter to exist is a different question and I know it seem like splitting hairs but isn’t that the fun of philosophy to begin with? lol.. have a good one!April 9, 2014 at 4:22 am #19209gerard.caseyParticipant
Hello John D.
I’ve just tuned in to your original question. I see it has generated quite a response but without any disrespect intended to your other interlocutors, let me begin by trying to answer your original question.
You ask what my opinion is regarding the ontology of abstract objects – do they really exist? are they fictions? etc.
As I’m sure you are aware, there are 3 basic positions on this question: 1. what are called abstract objects (numbers, properties) are as real if not more real than the objects of our sensory experience [metaphysical realism]; 2. abstract objects do not exist except as a function of our language – to think otherwise is to make the mistake of thinking that our language and reality are correlated in a kind of one-to-one relationship [metaphysical nominalism/(sometimes conceptualism]; and 3. abstract objects do exist in a sense (answering to certain aspects of reality) but not in the same way as your cat exists [modified metaphysical realism].
If I had to choose a position on this issue, it would be modified metaphysical realism. As the responses to your original post demonstrate, this seemingly abstruse issue has theological ramifications. If you or any of the other contributors to this thread would like to repeat questions of interest, I will do my best to respond. To make sure I respond reasonably quickly, it helps to send me an email alert to gerard.casey@ucd..ie
All the best,
- You must be logged in to reply to this topic.