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“Metaphysics is that branch of philosophy that studies the nature of the universe as a whole."”
~ Leonard Peikoff, OPAR, p.3
Because Objectivism is an integrated philosophy with a hierarchical structure, all other branches of Objectivism rest on Objectivist metaphysics. Metaphysics includes those basic facts about reality which one must understand before one can learn Epistemology, because one cannot attempt to study knowledge until one has established that there is a reality to know.
Objectivist metaphysics relies on three primary axioms which are (in order of primacy): Existence, Identity (and its corollary Causality), and Consciousness. These axioms can be summarized as follows:
- Something exists, including the things I perceive.
- Identity (and Causality)
- Everything is something specific and acts according to its nature.
- I am conscious of the things I perceive and my perceptions reflect reality.
The three axioms are also implicitly stated and affirmed by any statement made, which boil down to: "There is [Existence] something [Identity] that I am aware of [Consciousness]."
The Primacy of Existence
The Primacy of Existence premise says that reality is objective: the universe exists independently of the particular psychological states (beliefs, desires, etc.) of individual cognizers. This view was also held by Aristotle. Objectivism distinguishes The Primacy of Existence from the Primacy of Consciousness. The Primacy of Consciousness holds that consciousness is prior to existence. It is the view that one could, in principle, be conscious exclusively and entirely of one's self. Objectivism rejects this view: it holds that objects present themselves to consciousness in such a way that they must be genuinely "other," that is, non-identical to one's own consciousness. This axiom is the basis of the Objectivist refutation of both theism and idealism. Though Objectivism grants that some particular existents are mental (e.g., minds, thoughts, desires, intentions), it holds that, if what fundamentally exists is independent of any consciousness, then the universe as a whole is neither the creation of a divine consciousness nor itself mental. (This argument is laid out in Chapter 1 of Leonard Peikoff's Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand).
The Law of Identity
The Law of Identity states that everything that exists has an identity. In saying this, Objectivism is asserting more than the tautology of self-identity (i.e., "everything is identical to itself"). It is asserting that everything that exists has a specific nature, consisting of various properties or characteristics (as Rand wrote, "to be is to be something in particular"). Moreover, Objectivism holds that the properties and characteristics in question must exist each in a specific measure or degree; in this respect "identity" also means finitude. According to Objectivism, then, everything that exists has a specific finite nature. To have a specific, finite nature, is incompatible with having a self-contradictory nature. Therefore, the whole of reality is noncontradictory; though contradictions might exist in thought, there are no contradictions in the real world.
The Law of Causality
Each thing's specific nature determines how it acts. This principle is Objectivism's formulation of the Law of Causality; it is held to be a corollary of the Law of Identity (see above). Contemporary philosophers define the Law of Causality differently, e.g., as "Every event has a cause." Objectivism rejects this contemporary definition because it leads to paradoxes concerning free will and cosmology. A further implication of the Objectivist account of causality concerns explanation: since genuine explanation is causal, nature can only be explained in terms of nature (i.e., without reference to the supernatural).
The Axiom of Consciousness
This axiom states that consciousness is an irreducible primary. It cannot be analyzed in terms of other concepts and it is at the foundation of all knowledge. While we can study the faculty of consciousness, we cannot study what it means to be conscious as such. She writes that "consciousness is conscious," affirming both that the thinker is conscious and that he is conscious of something external to himself. She writes, "If nothing exists, there can be no consciousness: a consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms" (Atlas Shrugged, p. 1015). One cannot be self-conscious without first being aware of something other than one's awareness. Rand's axioms of consciousness is different from Descartes' Cogito principle in that Descartes' Cogito is an a priori principle, while Rand's axiom of consciousness is a self-evidency only available in perception.
Mind and body
Objectivism rejects the mind-body dichotomy, viewing man as a single integrated being, with both the mental and physical realms having particular causal properties. See mind-body dichotomy.
- ITOE: Chapter 6
- FNI: 124-125, 154-155
- PWNI: Metaphysically Given versus the Man Made
- OPAR: Chapter 1
|Axioms: Existence, Consciousness, Identity • Corollary: Causality, Primacy of Existence|
|Reality: Primacy of Existence, Existents, the Metaphysically Given versus the Man Made|