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Writings based on Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand's most popular novels are Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, which present her philosophy, Objectivism, in vivid characterizations.

  Metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, esthetics, and  politics are the five main branches of philosophy that she identifies. Utilizing her methodology, one can be rational about all aspects of life. These essays present my understanding of Objectivism.

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To Students of Objectivism

Kant as Founder of Modern Art

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How We Know

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Date: Mon, 1 Mar 1999
Axioms
Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.


I disagree with some in this forum who make the claim that the basic physical aspects of existence -- the building blocks, whether these be aether, Lewis Little's waves, protons, electrons, quarks or what have you -- are axiomatic, meaning the given or the starting point of knowledge. The beginning point of all knowledge is **perception** (or observation). To quote Dr. Peikoff in OPAR (Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand) (pg 6): "Axioms are the starting points of cognition, on which all proofs depend....Axioms are *perceptual self-evidencies*. There is nothing to be said in their behalf except: look at reality." I don't think anyone in this forum would make the claim that the fundamental physical building blocks of existence are perceptual self-evidencies. It takes an integration of a vast amount of knowledge to come to the **conclusion** that physical objects are comprised of electrons, protons, elementary waves, or what have you, each of which has it's own specific and quantifiable identity.

The philosophic axiomatic concepts are: existence, consciousness, and identity. All of human knowledge is dependent upon grasping these fundamental facts of existence, which is why they are the basic axioms. Axioms are not metaphysical real things (which is very Platonic), they are a broadly based *conceptual grasp* of some aspect of existence upon which further knowledge is built, **starting with perception**. When we say "existence" is an axiomatic concept, we don't mean all that stuff out there we can point to, but rather the conceptualization of all that stuff out there we can point to, as in "existence exists" (which is the axiom). Hence, saying the components of physical reality are axiomatic is not only to confuse a concept with a physical thing, it also completely inverts the conceptual hierarchy; furthermore, the implication is that sensory evidence does not give us the direct experience of existence as it really is.

If we are to move to the axioms of the special sciences, these  axioms would have to be the conceptual grasp of some aspect of
existence that is perceivable, from which all further knowledge
in that field depends, that guides one in any further inquiry into that field, and yet not be as broad as the philosophic axioms precisely because it is a subset of existence that is being investigated.

For Newtonian physics, the axioms are his three laws of motion,
which, to put it in the form of single concepts are: inertia,  momentum, and force. Inertia is more fundamental than momentum, because a body can have zero momentum (it can be at rest), and yet take an effort to move it; momentum is more fundamental than force, because a body can be in motion even though no force is acting on it. Each of these axioms are verifiable with direct perception each time one tries to move something in any
direction (which is why weight is out, since one only experiences the weight of something when one tries to move it up or hold it up). I say "inertia" and not "quantity of matter," because on the perceptual level things can be shown to be made of parts, but not a certain *number* of similar parts for all things, which is what the term "quantity" means.

Newton's great achievement was not only that he was able to
formulate these axioms, but also that he was able to quantify
and measure them, thus making physics a subset of mathematics
(yes, I disagree with this aspect of the article in *TIA* on
mathematics).

The mathematical units of these axioms in the metric system are: mass (kg), P (kgm/s) ["P" is not a unit per se, but in the math the symbol "P" is used], and the Newton (N) [as I discussed in an earlier post]. Mechanical engineering is dependent upon Newtonian physics and is also a subset of mathematics.

Now, if someone were to come up with valid scientific laws that
were not dependent on Newton's laws of motion, then they would
have to state their axioms and verify these *on the perceptual
level*. One might claim that the physics of fields is one such type of non-Newtonian physics, since the concepts of inertia, momentum, and force are not applicable to fields and their changes, but one could also argue that the physics of fields started in mid-stream and forgot to apply Newton's axioms to their study. Perhaps physics reached a point where the basic concepts of Newtonian physics should have been broadened, but this wasn't done. I haven't reached a conclusion on this as yet, but I favor the view that the Newtonian axioms should have been broadened.

Just to broaden the scope of this essay a bit, I would say
self-sustaining, self generative action (or "life") is at least
one axiom of biology; and the principle of exchange (or "trade")
is at least one axiom of economics.

At any rate, if a scientist doesn't have anything to point to
(actually many similar things or events) that can be conceptualized on a wide enough scale to be the basis for further knowledge or investigation, he hasn't identified an axiom.


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Proud to be an Objectivist -- one who follows Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism: I've earned it.