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Kantian metaphysics and epistemology is superior to Objectivist epistemology and metaphysics

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Started: 3/3/2015 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,331 times Debate No: 70991
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This debate is for round 2 of Bsh1's Philosophy and Ethics Tournament. Thanks to Bsh for moderating the tournament, and I look forward to having this debate with Bossy.

The topic of this debate involves two very broad philosophies; however, they likely will not end up being too big to handle since we are comparing one to the other. That means we'll probably only focus on the core components of each side.

Kantian metaphysics and epistemology is superior to Objectivist epistemology and metaphysics.

Burden of Proof
The burden of proof is shared.


"Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? As the study of justified belief, epistemology aims to answer questions such as: How we are to understand the concept of justification? What makes justified beliefs justified? Is justification internal or external to one's own mind? Understood more broadly, epistemology is about issues having to do with the creation and dissemination of knowledge in particular areas of inquiry" [1].

Metaphysics is notoriously hard to define. I will leave this quote from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and would encourage anyone who desires a clearer picture of metaphysics as a whole to read the entire section of the entry that attempts to outline what metaphsics could be said to be as well as the section on the methodology of metaphysics. It would also be a good idea to review the topics and problems that a metaphysical enterprise generally addresses.

"...The academic rationalists of the post-Leibnizian school were aware that the word ‘metaphysics’ had come to be used in a more inclusive sense than it had once been. Christian Wolff attempted to justify this more inclusive sense of the word by this device: while the subject-matter of metaphysics is being, being can be investigated either in general or in relation to objects in particular categories. He distinguished between ‘general metaphysics’ (or ontology), the study of being as such, and the various branches of ‘special metaphysics’, which study the being of objects of various special sorts, such as souls and material bodies. (He does not assign first causes to general metaphysics, however: the study of first causes belongs to natural theology, a branch of special metaphysics.) It is doubtful whether this maneuver is anything more than a verbal ploy. In what sense, for example, is the practitioner of rational psychology (the branch of special metaphysics devoted to the soul) engaged in a study of being? Do souls have a different sort of being from that of other objects?—so that in studying the soul one learns not only about its nature (that is, its properties: rationality, immateriality, immortality, its capacity or lack thereof to affect the body …), but also about its “mode of being”, and hence learns something about being? It is certainly not true that all, or even very many, rational psychologists said anything, qua rational psychologists, that could plausibly be construed as a contribution to our understanding of being" [2].

As pertaining to the philosopher, Immanuel Kant. Below is a short quote that by no means encompasses all of his philosphy.

"Kant responded to his predecessors by arguing against the Empiricists that the mind is not a blank slate that is written upon by the empirical world, and by rejecting the Rationalists’ notion that pure, a priori knowledge of a mind-independent world was possible. Reason itself is structured with forms of experience and categories that give a phenomenal and logical structure to any possible object of empirical experience. These categories cannot be circumvented to get at a mind-independent world, but they are necessary for experience of spatio-temporal objects with their causal behavior and logical properties. These two theses constitute Kant’s famous transcendental idealism and empirical realism" [3].

"Objectivism is a philosophical system developed by Russian-American writer Ayn Rand (1905–1982). First expressed in her novels and polemic essays, it was later given more formal structure by her designated intellectual heir, philosopher Leonard Peikoff, who characterizes it as a "closed system" that is not subject to change.

Objectivism's central tenets are that reality exists independently of consciousness, that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception, that one can attain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation and inductive logic..." [4].

Round 1: Acceptance

Round 2: Each debater presents his case. Con is free to fit his case and rebuttal as he best sees fit. If he only has space for his case, he may neglect the rebuttal of my case untill the next round. If he can only address part of my case in addition to making his own case, he may do that too.

Round 3: Arguments and rebuttal

Round 4: No new arguments

Good luck to my opponent!




I accept - good luck!
Debate Round No. 1


Thanks to Bossy for accepting the debate.

Note: though I reference Empiricism allot, I am mostly just making parallelisms. Rand did not abide by the Rationalist/Empiricist division, but, as Stanford Encyclopedia states, “Rand counts as a kind of an Empiricist” [4]. While she wouldn't attach herself to the term, many of the same issues and principles apply.

Objectivist Leonard Peikoff writes “consciousness begins as a tabula rasa (a blank state); all of its conceptual content is derived from the evidence of the senses” [5A]. According to Objectivism, the senses are necessarily valid. [5B]. They serve as the unquestionable foundations of all knowledge, outside the realm of proof or doubt. They “have no power of choice, no power to invent, distort, or deceive” [5C]. Mistaken knowledge gained from sense experience is always the result of a conceptual error, not perceptual.

Peikoff claims any attack on the senses is self-refuting because the concepts employed on the attack are themselves dependent on the validity of the senses. This, however, does not prove the thesis that perceptual data are axiomatic. Clearly, our senses let us down many times. The very fact that we all have a blind spot in an eye corresponding to where the optical nerve connects the retina to the brain, provides reason for questioning some aspects of sense data; particularly when one eye is closed and the mind fills in the missing portion itself [6]. Moreover, we have probably all seen those illusions where straight lines appear to be crooked, or still lines look like they’re moving. Though in themselves minor, these deceptions undermine Rand’s entire axiomatic foundationalism.

Moreover, it amounts to weak support of Rand’s direct realism. Perception is mediated, not immediate and, therefore, not direct. When I view an object, I do not directly engage with it perceptually. In between myself and the object are my sense organs and the conceptual apparatus in place to subsume sense data into a meaningful experience. Peikoff says if a child mistakenly identifies a fat man in a red suit as Santa Claus, his senses have made no error, merely his conceptual judgment. But there are clearly cases when the senses deceive us, such as with the McGurk effect. If we watch a video of a man going “bah bah bah” over and over, and then a second time with the exact same sound, only with the man’s mouth wording “fah fah fah”, we’ll hear it as “fah fah fah” [7]. Nothing conceptually will reveal the factual truth that the man is actually saying “bah bah bah” when our ears here “fah fah fah”, so the error is in our senses; specifically, our dominant sense of sight overriding our hearing.

Rand’s philosophy, ironically--given Rand’s abhorrence of Kant’s supposed proximity to subjectivity--is much more in danger of lapsing into subjectivism than Kant’s, because Rand hasn’t given us any means of establishing a lawful objective reality. On her accounts she did, yes, but she does not actually supply any means of circumnavigating certain difficulties. Age-old Empiricist problems are not escaped by Rand. This is because Rand commits herself to some of the same principles that produced so many problems for pre-Kantian Empiricists, and for which Kant’s philosophy bypassed. From sense-experience, we can make the proposition that the sun is shining and the rock is hot. The further claim that the rock is hot because the sun is shining requires something more than experience. As Hume discovered, experience is not equipped with providing a lawful account of reality; of applying necessary facts to the world; and specifically, of establishing causality. Hume encompasses perhaps the most dangerous skeptical challenge to philosophy with which Kant was primarily motivated to answer and Rand cannot. Any account of reason that leaves the configuration of concepts up to a construction entirely from perception is not going to be up to the task of escaping subjectivism; not while remaining consistent.

Kant escaped Empiricistic subjectivism and skepticism (as well as the wreckage of Rationalist metaphysics) by uprooting the Rationalist and Empiricist traditions and providing an alternative: No pure a priori knowledge of the external world is possible, and, although all knowledge begins with experience, not all knowledge arises from it. "Reason itself is structured with forms of experience and categories that give a phenomenal and logical structure to any possible object of empirical experience. These categories cannot be circumvented to get at a mind-independent world, but they are necessary for experience of spatio-temporal objects with their causal behavior and logical properties" [1]. Reason is limited to its employment in sense experience. Objects lying beyond this domain, such as God, cannot be known. Reason employed without sense experience cannot be called knowledge. Sense data is, furthermore, not on its own enough to ground knowledge. A conceptual apparatus (not entirely foreign to what’s found in Rand, I might add) is necessary to interpret sensory input (though not gained by the senses more in line with Rand’s blank state picture). This interpretation accords to what Kant called the categories. Since all knowledge must abide by this criteria, objects of knowledge are phenomenal rather than noumenal. This phenomenal knowledge is still objectively valid.

I think it’s worth noting how Rand grossly misinterprets Kant. Particularly grievous are her claims that phenomenal knowledge is illusory. This is not true, and Kant was fully committed to the objectivity of the sciences (“sciences” as understood in his time). “Kant is an empirical realist about the world we experience; we can know objects as they appear to us. He gives a robust defense of science and the study of the natural world from his argument about the mind's role in making nature. All discursive, rational beings must conceive of the physical world as spatially and temporally unified, he argues. And the table of categories is derived from the most basic, universal forms of logical inference, Kant believes. Therefore, it must be shared by all rational beings. So those beings also share judgments of an intersubjective, unified, public realm of empirical objects. Hence, objective knowledge of the scientific or natural world is possible. Indeed, Kant believes that the examples of Newton and Galileo show it is actual” [1]. Reality does not have any intrinsic divisions. The Kantian categories, therefore, set out the basic concepts governing our own conceptual scheme. Characteristic of Aristotelian logic, Kant's categories are embodied in the forms of possible judgment. The categories total 12 pure concepts divided into four groups of three. They are the essential categories that govern cognition. Under this framework, “objective empirical judgments...are endowed with their objectivity and generality in virtue of the a priori concept embodied in the relevant forms of judgment" [8].

Included in Kant’s categories are causality and dependence [8]. According to Hume’s account of our concept of causality, it cannot be any more than just a habit of the mind resulting from constant conjunction. Rand maintains that the mind is initially a blank state and that all concepts are founded in perception. She therefore does not provide any escape from Hume. Kant does so by arguing that reality is given structure by the forms of experience and the categories. Causality is not derived from the senses; it's an a priori concept necessary for the cognition of objects. Experience cannot validate causality on its own. Even constant conjunction does not account for the concept of causality: day always conjoins with night, but no one has ever seen day as the cause of night. However, more than causality is at play in this scenario. To go back to the previous example, the very concept of substance underlies our notion of the rock and sun being material objects. Moreover, space and time are not found in the stimulus array. There are no sense organs for time and space. Euclidian geometry is not derived from experience. Pythagoras did not go about measuring right triangles to find out that A^2 + B^2 = C^2.

Kant is also more in line with what one would expect might result from evolution. Given our knowledge of evolution, it is natural that humans would be biologically programmed for various functions such as language learning. As Chomsky argues, language is extremely complicated, yet children learn it extremely quickly and demonstrate a natural ability to grasp its grammar. We would not usually expect young children to learn so effortlessly such a complex system. The fact that children are not directly instructed on language, for the most part, and pick it up on their own just further grounds the fact that something innate must be in place that enables children to learn language. Under Rand’s commitment to Tabula Rasa, it seems virtually impossible that they could pick it up so fast. Actually, if humans abided by Rand’s view of knowledge acquisition, we would not even live long enough to grasp any significant knowledge of the world. In any experience, we are showered with a hurricane of stimulation. Just look around whatever environment you’re in at the moment and try to take in the array of sounds, sights, feelings etc... How does this mania of sense data somehow merge into a meaningful experience? This question is no problem for Kant; part of why Kant saw Hume as wrong was because Empiricism simply has no possible way of answering the question. Our effortless ability to synthesize experience is evidence for Kantianism. I will hopefully be able to expound on this latter, but for now, find myself out of characters.

[5] Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand - Leonard Peikoff
[5A] P.38
[5B] P.39
[5C] P.40


bossyburrito forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


Please disregard Con’s forfeit. His case can be found in this document:

According to Con there are three basic axioms of Objectivism: existence exists, things which exist must exist as things, and there is consciousness to perceive existence. Con claims that Kant denies these axioms, but I don’t really see it pointed out how. The last principle is the only place where I can see any possible disconnect with Kant. However, Kant never said we don’t perceive reality. There’s clearly something beyond our senses that’s providing a stimulus. Indirect realism is hardly radical. Countless philosophers have adhered to it and very few of them have denied that we perceive reality.

As outlined last round, Rand’s Empiricistic foundationalism fails for a few reasons. Con’s answer, unfortunately, does not address my argument. I was aware of the argument that he makes now because Peikoff uses it in his book. It’s a decent explanation of how direct realism works while also opposing naive realism. But I did not make the argument that a stick in water appearing bent refutes objectivism. According to Rand, the stick appearing bent is actually a demonstration of the faithfulness of sense perception because the senses accurately portray the behavior of light in water. She’d argue that it’s because the mind doesn’t portray a straight stick that the senses are being faithful. In other words, because the image isn’t picked apart and formed into something that’s not directly given in the senses. However, I have provided examples where the mind does just that. In fact, it is constantly happening. As explained last round, whenever you close one eye, the mind fills in the missing portions on its own. In other words, our perception isn’t accurate. We perceive what’s not actually there. This is due to percepts, not concepts. Another example mentioned is that our sense of sight is dominant and can override other senses. That can skew perception since, as shown, by seeing someone's lips move, our senses will report that he’s saying something that he’s really not. When one sense overrides another to report something not actually being heard, it is obvious that there is an actual illusion and that the senses are being faulty, not our conceptual judgements. Perception thus cannot be treated as an objective & unquestionable foundation to all of knowledge.

Moreover, Rand's direct realism is false for the fact that reality does not consist of all the categories that we conceive of it having. There are no intrinsic divisions in reality. Kant's categories underline a conceptual scheme that we bring to bear on reality. Without it, we wouldn't be able to get across the street. We'd have no way of navigating such a disorderly world. The order of reality is provided by us. We impose it upon reality in experience. This fact is not unfortunate; it's necessary for basic functioning in the world. Our conceptions of temporality, causality, unity, necessity, and possibility, which we employ so effortlessly and without thought, are not derived by the senses. The senses only tell us what is, not what might be or must be. Even if these concepts could be provided by the senses, it would take an extremely long time before we could derive them.

The fact is that if we’re to buy into Rand’s defense of direct realism, we have to be able to apply the same reasoning to show that Kant’s phenomenal realm is entirely objective as well. Rand argues that, despite the fact that the mind adds its own bend on what we perceive, sense perception is direct and objective, because we can see a perception merely as the interaction between us and the world; or the effects that the world has on our organs. However, this is not entirely different from Kant. Kant also views perception as the interaction between our faculties and reality. He merely rejects Rand’s direct realism and maintains that the forms of intuition and the categories are not found in experience but are brought to bear on experience in order to make experience intelligible. In one sense, Kant’s concepts do arise from experience in that they came about from evolution. Most likely, creatures in the past did have to rely solely on perception and gradually were able to form concepts. Innate concepts infer a clear survival advantage. Evolution has prepared the mind with an array of conceptual tools for seeing the world in a way that will make sense to us and allow us to navigate reality with ease. Rand maintains that these concepts are entirely absent at birth and that we develope them naturally. However this view is clearly problematic as we employ these concepts with such ease and it’s impossible to see how one could form them solely from experience, at least so quickly. There’s a reason why Empiricism has tended to culminate in skepticism. As I stated last round, any philosophical system that leaves the configuration of concepts entirely up to a foundationalist Empiricism will not escape subjectivism, despite whatever Rand my claim.

Con hasn’t provided an explanation for how an Objectivist would derive the notion of causality. Con only says that Hume’s concept of causality was wrong in that it it does not treat identity as the reason for causes. This, however, is not my point. The question is how the concept of causality is derived in the first place, not what causality is. It’s simply not relevant whether A=A is debatable. How the concept of causality is gained is what I wish to explicate. According to Hume, it’s because of constant conjunction, which I’ve already shown can’t be the case. Kant’s account is that causality is embedded in the categories. I’d say Objectivism is even more at pains to answer the question than Hume, because Objectivism employs an almost Rationalist argument. Rand says "the law of causality is the law of identity applied to action. All actions are caused by entities. The nature of an action is caused and determined by the nature of the entities that act" [1]. The argument is highly reminiscent of traditional Rationalist arguments. In fact, it requires a priori knowledge of identity to work. What in sense perception gives us the notion that everything has a specific nature that it must conform to? Reality is in a constant state of flux, so why would an Objectivist (as in, someone whose’ faculties operate according to the Objectivist framework) believe that the sun maintains its specific identity over time and change? Why do entities stay the same today and tomorrow? Saying that it’s because A=A is Rationalistic and can’t be derived from experience.

Furthermore, Con’s account does not provide an explanation for causal power. It merely says that objects behave a certain way because that is their identity. It does not show why we see events as arising from other events. It does not show why we see a particular connection between events, such that one isolated event is somehow connected to another isolated event.

Con argues that transcendental idealism results in all knowledge being illusory. However, I explained why this is simply a distortion of Kant and how Objectivism is closer to subjectivity. Before knowledge can be said to be objective, it has to be incorporated under an a priori manifold. A posteriori knowledge is contingent. It only tells us about the actual world and not what could be the case or can’t be the case. A priori knowledge is the only means of arriving at necessity and universality, and thus objectivity. If you say that the rock is warm because the sun shines, then you've gone beyond what’s given in the senses. You’ve subsumed the perception under the category of causality. Synthesizing the concepts of the energy of the sun with heat produces a necessarily and universally true judgement about the world. Kant thought it obvious that Newtonian science was objective. The real question was how this is even possible. If the a priori concepts and intuitions preclude objectivity, then objectivity is simply impossible, which hurts Rand much more than Kant.

Con rejects a priori knowledge on the basis that the concepts can’t arise from knowledge without first having the contents of the concept validated by sense perception. Remember that Kant does maintain that reason cannot unearth the facts of the world by sole recourse of its own resources. Kant even states, "concepts without percepts are empty; percepts without concepts are blind” [2]. The latter means that perception cannot stand alone but must be subsumed under categories. We have Newtonian science and can see that it is objective. This objectivity is only possible with the a priori categories and the manifold of space and time.

Peikoff and Rand simply give a horribly distorted picture of Kant. Peikoff portrays Kant as arguing that perception is a limitation. That we need to somehow escape perception to have actual knowledge. The concepts, logic and senses do not deprive us from knowledge; they are what give us objective knowledge in the first place. Of course we have knowledge of reality. Rand’s misrepresentation is massive. She portrays Kant as a subjectivist and a skeptic. He was neither.

I did not misunderstand the Objectivists’ tabula rasa stance, and I’m confused at why Con thinks I did. My argument has nothing to do with innate mechanisms that govern basis functioning; it regards innate cognitive ideas that supply the ability to learn. Of course children don't innately know any languages; however, they have an innate knowledge of its grammar. This is clearly indicated by the effortlessness by which children gain an understanding of language. Children grasp the structure of language more easily than would be expected without some cognitive predisposition. Con doesn’t actually show how I misrepresented Objectivism. Con’s explanation of tabula rasa is entirely compatible with all of my arguments.



My opponent claims that his argument sidestepped the objections raised by Peikoff – he says that the fact that the mind extrapolates from incomplete data is proof that the senses are not inviolable, and that this is somehow distinct from viewing a straight stick as bent when it is placed in water. This distinction is made arbitrarily; the same arguments given by Peikoff against the stick’s illusion disproving direct perception apply even in cases like those described by Pro. If one sense “drowns out” another, that is because the sense organ responsible for perception was acted on in such a way as to cause this to happen. If the mind “fills in” things that are not there, this is only the result of the mechanistic interaction between the mind and the senses, and, as such, is not an error. It is merely the result of objectively observable phenomena, and the only way that sense data which is “clouded” in the ways Pro describes can be used to reach incorrect conclusions about reality is via a conceptual mistake.

If the mind and the eye interact in such a way as to produce an image of something that is “not really there”, this does not mean that the image was created out of thin air. It was created because of the nature of the eye and the nature of the mind, and, since neither cannot be said to be outside reality (that would be patently absurd), the result of their interaction is in no way divorced with the real world. There is no reason to claim that the result of such an interaction is “indirect”, and the idea that anything that is real is perceived indirectly is to suppose that you can perceive the unreal. If you are not perceiving reality as it really is, then what are you perceiving? How are Kantian illusions any less real than noumena?

In Defense of Entity-Based Causality and Certainty without the Need for A-Priori Concepts and Against Kantian Skepticism

The law of identity cannot be “derived” from anything – it is an axiom and is not reliant on anything outside of itself for validation. To try to evaluate it in any way, such as how Pro is trying to, is impossible, since it underlies every statement and every piece of analysis that can be given. It is grasped self-evidently when the first entity is perceived, and to say that “entities don’t have to stay the same today and tomorrow” is self-defeating (how do you make sense of the argument if none of its terms mean anything absolute?). If an entity is the same entity that it was yesterday (else why would you call it the same entity?), then it must be that same entity. There is no internal debate to be had over whether A = A, considering that, if A is defined as A, then there is no way for it to be any other way. Hume’s claims are equivalent to saying that “it is possible that things aren’t what they are”, which is inherently absurd.

In any causal interaction, there are entities with specific identities that are the agents which interact. Take this scenario as an example: X + Y = Z. Assuming that all of the relevant variables are included (for this purpose, they are), then there is nothing outside of X and Y that can possibly produce Z. If X + Y = Z is observed once, then, assuming that no variables change, it is absolute knowledge that X + Y = Z.

The only way for X + Y to equal non-Z would be if something changed, but, if something does change, then the initial claim (that X + Y = Z) would not be applicable. Even if the environment one finds oneself in changes to one of X + A = B, this does not invalidate the fact that X + Y, by definition, are equal to Z. As such, as long as the terms of the equation are accurately identified, there is no room for error or uncertainty in areas of knowledge. There is no need for Kantian explanations of causality when causality flows directly from self-evident axioms.

And how can one gain knowledge about any entities without experiencing them? The idea of a priori knowledge being necessary to conceptualize anything further is shown to be false simply because a priori knowledge itself is nonsensical unless viewed in the context of sense-experience. You cannot think of “time” or “space” without thinking of objects in time or objects in space. You cannot make sense of causality without first having knowledge of the existence of entities which can act, and you cannot have knowledge of mathematical units without first having the knowledge of subdivided existence. These concepts cannot reasonably come before that which they’re based on and that which is necessary to understand them. Even the concept of “concepts” would not be able to come about without first having the prerequisite grounding in reality via sense experience. It is not, as Kant argues, that perceptions cannot stand alone - it is conceptions that are dependent on perceptions.

This is the crux of most of my opponent’s round: my opponent claims that Objectivist portrayals of Kant are wrong since he believed that knowledge could be gained from the senses. What he is ignoring is that this knowledge is not of reality “as it really is” – it is knowledge of the phenomenal realm. It is knowledge of appearances, as opposed to knowledge of things in themselves. This distinction is exactly what Objectivism attacks, and this distinction is what Objectivism uses to justify the claim that Kant believed that no true knowledge could be had by man. To Kant, it is because humans must make things perceivable to them that humans cannot perceive anything in themselves – they can only know reality as filtered by his consciousness. Rand argues that there is no divide between appearances and things in themselves, which is the cause of her claim that Kant was against all knowledge.

If there is a distinction between appearances and noumena, and if noumena are “pure reality”, then to say that we can only know appearances is an attack on knowledge. Even if Kant does hold that we can know appearances, he most certainly does not believe that noumena are reachable to humans, so my opponent has no basis on which to claim that Kant didn’t believe that sense-perception was limited.

On Tabula Rasa

My opponent’s misunderstanding of the Objectivist view of tabula rasa is based in the fact that he equates tendencies towards the formation of concepts with the possession of the concepts themselves. He himself says that “children don’t innately know any languages” – children are not in possession of any conceptual information at birth. My opponent says that “something innate must be in place that enables children to learn language.” This is decidedly not in conflict with Objectivism – Rand did not deny that those with long legs make better runners on the basis of tabula rasa, nor did she deny that those with minds of a certain kind are able to do things like learn languages faster than minds of different kinds. What she did deny is that there is conceptual knowledge inherent in every mind. The extent of her tabula rasa view was that concepts had to be formed; Rand never denied that some may form concepts more easily than another. As such, my opponent’s arguments on this front hold no weight.

Debate Round No. 3


I'd like to thank Con for the debate.

The difference between the stick appearing bent and the illusions I mentioned, is that it"s much easier to account any mistaken judgement from the former as a conceptual mistake. Of course we shouldn"t believe that the stick is actually bent. We know that it"s merely an appearance. However, when the sense of sight overrides our sense of sound, there is simply no way to perceptually know what is really being stated in the given example. Peikoff himself states that if the mind reported the stick as straight so as to "correct" the perceptual image, then the senses would be misreporting. He says that it is in virtue of the fact that the senses report the stick as bent that they are reporting objectively. So, how is it that the mind filling in the blind spot in sight any different to the mind depicting the stick as straight? There is absolutely none. If we actually saw the blind spot when we closed the eye, then Objectivists would praise this as a perfect example of the senses" objectivity. They would say that if the mind filled in the missing portion, then it would be putting into perception what"s not really there. Given that the mind does do this, we can see that Objectivism fails on the same groundings with which it sets up. The criteria with which Peikoff judges the validity of perception in the case of the stick in the water sways the opposite way in the case of the eye"s blind spot being filled in by the mind.

Con calls the picture nothing more than the interaction between objects, the senses, and the mind. He says that any false judgement on the perception is solely conceptual, in other words, solely of the mind, not the senses. But Con has just thrust the mind into perception! The whole Randian argument for direct realism is based on perceptions being objective and unquestionable while the mind"s judgements are prone to error. However, if the mind, not just the senses, is shaping perception, as I have shown, and Con concedes this, then the mind, fallible as it is (according to Rand), introduces a fallible element to perception. Con"s defense is entirely self-defeating. He goes along with Objectivist principles that perception is objective and conceptual judgements are fallible, and then, in endeavouring to defend Objectivism against illusions, situates fallibility into perception. If the mind is fallible and the mind shapes perception itself, then Rand"s picture is demolished. Perception cannot serve as an objective epistemic foundationalism because the very epistemic tool with which Objectivism claims to be fallible, i.e. the mind"s concepts, can be shown to shape perception on its own, which Con concedes.

Perhaps Con"s picture of Kant is distorted. Reading Rand and Peikoff is liable to do that. Nothing in Kant indicates that phenomenal knowledge is illusory. In fact, only a priori knowledge provides any notion of objectivity because it"s the only means at arriving at necessity and universality. All perceptual knowledge is contingent. There"s no way at arriving at universality merely by observing what is. Con, by the way, has not responded to this argument. Kantian objectivity rests on inter-subjective universality of percipients of a certain kind. Both Kant and Rand would concede that other types of agents would perceive reality in a different way than we do. Despite there being no "one way of perceiving reality" Kant and Rand also both maintain that objective knowledge exists. For Kant, it is because of inter-subjective universality. Our concepts and sense organs allow us to perceive reality only in a specific way. The universality that the categories give provides a framework of objectivity. It doesn"t matter that other creatures could hold different sorts of conceptual schemas. It is, in a sense, an inter-subjective objectivity because it is universal and necessary for humans. Science and math provide objective laws. This is only possible via some framework that provides notions of necessity, identity, and universality. As I"ve explained, only a priori concepts achieve this.

Con asks, "If you are not perceiving reality as it really is, then what are you perceiving?" Appearance. The logical structure that is brought to experience through the forms of experience and categories gives us a picture of reality distinctly human. Though Con"s using the term "reality" in a different sense. Phenomenal knowledge is part of reality in the sense it tells us objectively what experience is for humans. But, in saying that we don"t perceive reality in itself, Kant"s just saying the features of experience are provided by us. Saying appearances are not separate from reality is mere semantics and not something Kant would deny.

Con"s answers have become entirely self-refuting. He says that the law of identity cannot be derived from anything. This is absurd given that he also holds to tabula rasa. If we do not come about it by any means, it must be innate, which is entirely self-contradictory. Under Objectivism, our knowledge of identity has to come from perception. To say it isn't derived from anything is nonsensical. The only way it would make sense is if the law was present a priori. This is sounding even more rationalistic than before. Moreover, given Rand"s perceptual foundationalism, the only unquestionable laws are those found directly in perception. However, I"ve already explained why the law of identity cannot be found anywhere in experience alone. Moreover, experience cannot tell us that objects retain their core essence even after undergoing alteration, as is constantly happening. A may equal A unquestionably, but why does A remain A over the course of time and even after undergoing change? Again, skepticism sets in inevitably once you set up perception as the sole basis of knowledge. Con has not addressed this argument beyond the ungrounded claim that it"s an invalid question, so it remains undefeated in its entirety.

Again, I am not trying to examine our basis for believing A=A. I am trying to explicate the means by which we come by that knowledge. Since perception only provides contingent truths and identity is not directly present in any stimulus, as I"ve explained, it must be a priori--before experience.

Con says that one entity combined with another will always produce a specific result. Again, this is just an explanation of causality and is not what I"m looking for. I"m asking how an agent operating under the faculties and conditions that Rand claims it must, ever arrive at the notion of causality, not on what causality is.

Con misunderstands Kant. The extent to which reason can be applied independent of experience is very limited. Any claim that cannot be presented to us in intuition is not an element of knowledge. Intuition is the passive form of representation by which our faculty of sensibility--affiliated with the passive reception of objects--enables sensations as given in space and time. Going beyond this is delving into the realm of the transcendent, which is purely imagination, faith, hope, metaphysical dogma, or whatever you"d like to call it.

Con says "You cannot think of "time" or "space" without thinking of objects in time or objects in space". Space can be represented independent of objects with Euclidian geometry. Moreover, mathematics presupposes temporality. All beings can easily both perceive and conceive of a 4 sided object with 90-degree angles (a square). However, while all beings can easily conceive of a chiliogon (a figure composed of a thousand sides) it is impossible to perceive of one. This represents the fact that we can easily employ spatial concepts that could not be found perceptually. The main argument, however, is not merely that we have a priori knowledge of the two, but that experience of external objects is only possible through a foundation of time and space. For example, we could not possibly have knowledge of succession, simultaneity, and pre-existence, which govern all of experience, without time. This is represented in our notion of causality. Causality could never give us knowledge of time, for causality itself relies on temporality. Space and time are not represented as entities in experience. They have to be concepts derived by some means or pre-possessed prior to experience. While it requires objects to apply space and time or Euclidian geometry to, it does not follow that space and time come from the senses. That is the whole problem. Since space and time are conditions to all empirical knowledge, and since neither can be found directly in experience, but only as some relationship or property with objects, it follows logically that knowledge would not be possible without space and time first existing in us prior to experience.

Transcendental refers to the necessary preconditions to any possible experience. It"s important that we focus on "preconditions", which is distinct from traditional a priori knowledge.

My thesis against tabula rasa is that children have an innate knowledge of linguistic grammar. As far as I can see, Con has still not done anything to debunk this claim. I did not in any way equate tendencies towards concept formation with innate knowledge. That's why, of course, children don't innately know languages. However, what I've clearly argued is that they innately know the grammar of language, as is evidenced by the ease by which they learn a language despite their infancy and lack of direct instruction. Con may look further into Chomsky's argument if he desires more clarification. Just because children's knowledge of grammar is not articulated initially, does not mean it's not innate. In fact, no innate knowledge could possibly be articulated until the acquisition of some kind of language. This is no argument against innate concepts. Their learning of language merely provides the manifold by which this innate structure may be employed.

Thanks again to con, and the voters.


Re: Sense Perception

To the best of my knowledge, when Peikoff said that “reporting the stick as straight” would be an error in itself, this was in the context that the scenario did not give any reason for it to be reported as straight. Given the nature of man’s senses and the nature of the things being sensed, in the situation of the stick, there would have to be some drastic change to make it perceivable as straight without error. However, in the case of blind spots being “filled in” and other similar things, the situation is perfectly capable of explaining why, via the interaction of its parts, this phenomena occurs. There is no discrepancy here, considering that the “filled in” portions are the direct results of existents interacting on each other.

“[If] the mind, not just the senses, is shaping perception […] then the mind, fallible as it is (according to Rand, introduces a fallible element into perception.”

Here my opponent misunderstands my argument – Rand never claimed that the mind, in the sense of “the brain and all of its functions”, is always fallible. She claimed that volitional consciousness (i.e. the mind operating on a conceptual level) was fallible. Quoting Peikoff: “It is only in regard to the “what” – only on the conceptual level of consciousness – that the possibility of error arises” [1]. I was not using the term “mind” to refer to this volitional aspect of the mind; I was referring to the mind in the sense relevant to the discussion at hand, including those parts that operate automatically and mechanistically without room for error. As such, I haven’t injected fallibility into sense perception, since the mind, in the context of my argument, was being used to mean “the mind’s automatic functions which give rise to the phenomena my opponent outlined, and, as such, the functions of the mind which are on the same level of the eyes or ears.” My opponent’s argument rested on the idea that things such as the McGurk Effect are the result of non-conceptual factors, and, given that I had not rejected this, I had assumed that it was clear that I did not mean to introduce conceptualization (and, by extension, fallibility) into the debate on the point.

Given that point of clarification, my opponent’s rebuttals do not stand.

Re: Causality, Certainty without A Priori Concepts

I have shown that objective and universal knowledge can be gained without the need for a priori concepts: “If X + Y = Z is observed once, then, assuming that no variables change, it is absolute knowledge that X + Y = Z.” Just by observing the nature of existents it is possible to draw undeniable tautological conclusions, and my opponent has done nothing to refute this point (so his arguments about a priori knowledge being necessary for truth and there being no others means to it fail).

Although my opponent claims that “[p]henomenal knowledge is part of reality in the sense it tells us objectively what experience is for humans”, he’s avoiding the question – what distinction is there to be drawn between the “experience of humans” and “things in themselves” if things in themselves are the only things that are possibly perceived? If humans cannot experience things in themselves, then, by definition, they cannot gain absolute knowledge of reality. If they can, then the Kantian claim that things in themselves cannot be grasped is false. The former supports the interpretation that Kantianism holds that knowledge is illusory, and the latter contradicts Kantianism at the outset.

When I say that the law of identity cannot be derived from anything, I mean that it cannot be derived from any previous conceptual knowledge. An axiom, by definition, cannot be proved – it is a self-evidency because it is a precondition for proof. Axioms are the starting points of knowledge. This is not to say, however, that axioms aren’t grasped. I never claimed that knowledge of axioms do not come to man via any methods – I claimed that they do not rely on anything other than themselves for validation. This is in no way to imply that axioms are a priori, just that they are grasped and validated at the moment of perception of anything because they are implicit in everything and every act of recognizing anything.

My opponent asks why A cannot change to be Non-A – I have explained this previously. Quoting myself, “The only way for X + Y to equal non-Z would be if something changed, but, if something does change, then the initial claim (that X + Y = Z) would not be applicable.” In other words, if you are still identifying A as A, then A is, by definition, A. If A changes, it is no longer A, and identifying it as such would be an error. This is trivial – if a seed grows into a tree, you cannot say that the seed was not a seed. It might not be a seed any longer, but that does not invalidate what it once was and the fact that it currently has the identity of a tree.

My purpose in explaining what causality is was to show that knowledge of it is inherent in grasping the axiomatic concept that A = A. It directly follows from the idea that things have identities that things with identities will always have those identities unless they cease to be those things, and this provides proper grounding for knowledge of causality.

It seems quite absurd to make the argument that, since experience cannot be interpreted without time or space as inherent concepts, those concepts are necessarily a priori, considering the same argument may be turned against itself by rearranging its ordering. “Time is required to make sense of experience” is just as accurate as “experience is required to make sense of time” (as explained in my last round). If anything, this implies that they are at least grasped together, with sense experience being a necessary component of any concept, and so my opponent has failed to defend the existence of a priori knowledge.

My thesis against tabula rasa is that children have an innate knowledge of linguistic grammar. As far as I can see, Con has still not done anything to debunk this claim. I did not in any way equate tendencies towards concept formation with innate knowledge. That's why, of course, children don't innately know languages. However, what I've clearly argued is that they innately know the grammar of language, as is evidenced by the ease by which they learn a language despite their infancy and lack of direct instruction. Con may look further into Chomsky's argument if he desires more clarification. Just because children's knowledge of grammar is not articulated initially, does not mean it's not innate. In fact, no innate knowledge could possibly be articulated until the acquisition of some kind of language. This is no argument against innate concepts. Their learning of language merely provides the manifold by which this innate structure may be employed.

Re: Tabula Rasa

There is a distinction to be made between the ability to learn new things and inherent knowledge. It is not in conflict with Objectivism to assume that children are predisposed to certain things, including a grasp of new languages via a framework of grammar. However, if they have not conceptualized this framework or any languages, they do not have inherent conceptions, that which Objectivism argues against. I see no reason to count tendencies as conceptions, and, as such, this poses no problem.

I’d like to thank Pro as well – that was a fun debate.

[1.] Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand

Debate Round No. 4
30 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by bossyburrito 2 years ago
I'm fine with that.
Posted by bsh1 2 years ago
In the interests of saving time, I am advancing phantom. Sorry, bossy.
Posted by bsh1 2 years ago
I am willing to do either. Just let me know.
Posted by bossyburrito 2 years ago
What now, BSH? Find someone to break the tie or just advance Phantom? I'm not opposed to either.
Posted by phantom 2 years ago
Just need to get a couple people with the propensity to write insanely long RFD's to vote. That's usually how my debates get on the front page.
Posted by bsh1 2 years ago
You know, if you spammed this with 75 more posts, you could be on the front page.

(Joke, lol)
Posted by bossyburrito 2 years ago
You have free reign.
Posted by phantom 2 years ago
I'll ask some people.
Posted by bossyburrito 2 years ago
Posted by bsh1 2 years ago
Um...Okay. If you don't get any votes in like 14 hours (4 days left) can you agree on some people to ask to vote?
No votes have been placed for this debate.