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Ayn Rand called her philosophy “Objectivism” because central to it is a new conception of objectivity. Traditionally, objectivity has meant the attempt to efface the knower out of existence, so that consciousness can “mirror” or “copy” reality, “untainted” by any processing. Skeptics then bewail the possibility of man knowing reality, since any attempt to do so must make use of his senses and/or rational faculty, both of which engage in processing.

This text is confusing so I wrote an explanation of the issue:

There is an idea that if an observer or thinker has any traits or characteristics, these bias his observations or ideas. His evidence and conclusions are tied to his own nature – the way his eyes work, the way his brain works, etc. The thought is that people with different eyes or brains could not agree with each other because they will each see or think about the world in their own different way, and won't have any objective ideas/evidence for common ground.

Objectivism says the logical implication of this way of thinking is that you kinda need to not exist to avoid bias. Any eyes or brain have a particular form (or "identity" is the word Rand uses) and therefore the only way to avoid bias is not to exist, not to have anything like a brain or eyes that are one way instead of a different way!

Objectivism rejects the idea that your eyes taint your observations, and that observations have to perfectly mirror reality to be any good. Even if you have blurry eyesight or you're colorblind, you can learn about actual reality instead of merely your subjective perceptions. Having a particular kind of eye doesn't prevent you from having a connection to reality.

To think objectively requires certain methods of thinking, such as trying to understand the nature of your eyes and brain and account for any problems they may cause. E.g. you can know your eyes are flawed and get glasses. And you can also use cameras and other tools to look at the world. And the results are there's an underlying reality which can be understood, rather than a chaos of incompatible observations for each observer or measurement instrument.

Objective thinking requires other things as well, like trying to see other sides of issues instead of just arguing for your initial position. Standard reason stuff.

None of this should lead us to skepticism, to giving up on there being a real world that we can know things about.

Elliot Temple on January 24, 2018

Comments (4)

Thanks for the explanation. My understanding so far of the sense perception issue is that differences in sense perception are basically no big deal. What you perceive thru your senses is just a starting place. After that, there's a whole bunch of thinking and conceptualization that goes on in order to figure out reality. And it's during this latter phase that ppl with different sense perceptions can merge towards common explanations of reality.


>Species with different sense organs gain from perception different kinds (and/or amounts) of evidence. But assuming that a species has organs capable of the requisite range of discrimination and the mind to interpret what it perceives, such differences in sensory evidence are merely different starting points leading to the same ultimate conclusions. Imagine—to use a deliberately bizarre example of Miss Rand’s—a species of thinking atoms; they have some kind of sensory apparatus but, given their size, no eyes or tactile organs and therefore no color or touch perception. Such creatures, let us say, perceive other atoms directly, as we do people; they perceive in some form we cannot imagine. For them, the fact that matter is atomic is not a theory reached by inference, but a self-evidency.

>Such “atomic” perception, however, is in no way more valid than our own. Since these atoms function on a submicroscopic scale of awareness, they do not discover through their senses the kind of evidence that we take for granted. We have to infer atoms, but they have to infer macroscopic objects, such as a table or the Empire State Building, which are far too large for their receptive capacity to register. It requires a process of sophisticated theory-formation for them to find out that, in reality, the whirling atoms they perceive are bound into various combinations, making up objects too vast to be directly grasped. Although the starting points are very different, the cognitive upshot in both cases is the same, even though a genius among them is required to reach the conclusions obvious to the morons among us, and vice versa.

>No type of sense perception can register everything. A is A—and any perceptual apparatus is limited. By virtue of being able directly to discriminate one aspect of reality, a consciousness cannot discriminate some other aspect that would require a different kind of sense organs. Whatever facts the senses do register, however, are facts. And these facts are what lead a mind eventually to the rest of its knowledge.

Kate at 9:45 AM on February 2, 2018 | #9488
Reminds me of this book:


it's a sci fi story where a very different civilization than our own learns physics from a different perspective and situation than we learned it from. but of course it's the same physics.

curi at 10:22 AM on February 2, 2018 | #9489

What was Popper's take on it?

>There is an idea that if an observer or thinker has any traits or characteristics, these bias his observations or ideas. His evidence and conclusions are tied to his own nature – the way his eyes work, the way his brain works, etc.

And as you go on to say, part of the idea is that people then aren't able to know *actual* reality.

My understanding is that Popper thought that we could learn about actual reality. So did he explicitly address this issue in some way? If so, how does his solution differ from Rand's?

Kate at 8:01 AM on February 5, 2018 | #9490
Popper certainly didn't agree with that crap, but offhand i don't remember him addressing it with direct arguments to refute it. But he did develop a good epistemology which says how we can know about the world, and he addressed a lot of other rival ideas like induction.

Anonymous at 12:48 PM on February 5, 2018 | #9491

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)