Saturday, November 12, 2011

Contradictions do not exist

By chance, I found where ‘contradictions do not exist’ came from. See chapter seven (“The Exploiters and the Exploited”) of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.
I'll give you a hint. Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.
Taken literally, i.e. in the standard logical use, this is horribly wrong, even if the intended meaning is not. A ‘premiss’, in traditional logic, is one of a set of propositions that are used to support the conclusion of an argument. Being ‘wrong’ is not a term of traditional logic, but ‘false’ is clearly what is meant. It is certainly true that if two or more propositions involve or imply a contradiction, then at least one of them is false. But that does not imply, as Rand imagines, that contradictions do not exist. For a contradiction is simply defined as two premisses (or propositions) that contradict each other. If the premisses exist, so does the contradiction, just as a left and a right shoe make a pair.

What Rand probably meant was that contradictory premisses cannot be true. That is perfectly correct, and is the Principle of Contradiction itself. So she probably meant something quite simple and obvious, indeed a law of logic. Why she chose to put it that way is more difficult. Perhaps by ‘facing a contradiction’, she meant facing the state of affairs that is the truthmaker for a contradiction. And of course there could be no such truthmaker, even if there were truthmakers for other propositions (which I deny, of course).


Anthony said...

>> "By chance, I found where ‘contradictions do not exist’ came from."

Glad to see you finally got the joke.

>> What Rand probably meant was that contradictory premisses cannot be true.

The line was delivered by a character in a fictional story. To understand what she intended the character to mean, you'd need to read the story (or at least read the cliff's notes and a few pages of context).

Edward Ockham said...

>>To understand what she intended the character to mean

Not a productive use of my time.

J said...

Miss Ayn misread even her holy Aristotle on the law of non-contradiction. The premises are true or false. In Modern logic, the conclusion's valid (only colloquially true). The contradiction ...relates to the validity of the conclusion (ie, via a reductio AA. proof--you show a contradiction--et voila! the deduction's valid, correct-- regardless of the Truth of the premises! (ie, Lewis Carroll logic will do, tho may bother the heck out of the Malvolios of the philosophastry biz). You probably know this--some of the fan base of Beyond Necessity might not,)

I think Ayn wanted to say something like..A is A, ie, what is real is Ayn's hot russian booty.

AC said...

"Not a productive use of my time"

How splendidly Randian!

But heck, as Anthony points out, the statement in question needs a bit of context. The Francisco D'anconia character is, after all, an industrialist, not a philosopher.

And, in that particular scene, Dagny is literally facing him, unable to reconcile what appear to her to be two contradictory facts:

Francisco says this to Dagny in Part One, Chapter VII, when she challenges him for squandering his talent as a worthless playboy. Dagny asks him how he can be such a paradox, how a man as capable, brilliant, and accomplished as he is can also choose to be a worthless playboy. It does not seem possible that he can be both, and yet he seems to be.

In asking her to check her premises, Francisco suggests that it is indeed not possible. He cannot be both things at once, because contradictions cannot exist. A thing is what it is, not something else entirely. Therefore, there must be another answer that Dagny has not seen yet.

Hugh Akston (who had been Francisco’s teacher) says something similar to Dagny when she meets him at the diner where he works as a short-order cook. He tells her this in response to her disbelief over why a famous philosopher would choose to work in a diner, or why a motor with the power to revolutionize industry would be abandoned in ruins. He urges her to look beyond her assumptions in the search for an answer that could make sense.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anthony said...

>> Not a productive use of my time.

I thought you were writing a book about Wikipedia which was going to explore in part how Jimmy Wales, professed "Objectivist to the core", can be such a "paradox".

J said...

Actually Ock,--Id say Rand's use--and misuse-- of Aristotelian logic seems quite similar,tactically speaking, to Vallicelli's (and others in his gang--Feser,say, or even Marc Anthony here) use--er misuse--of Frege. It's more or less...Ad verecundiam (google time Ant.!). Invoke the noble tradition of Philosophy with a capital P..(or one's fave crypto-nazi-- Herr Frege--even when his points are not directly relevant) as a means of justification, a sort of bogus heritage. A conservative as it were.

Of course Miss Rand did not read that much of Ari.--had she perused the cliffsnotes to the Politics (as say..Ezra Pound did) she'd have noted Ari. was ..opposed to usury and the early forms of capitalism even in those salty days, and somewhat like Plato, also against the..old athenian aristos and oligarchs. Ari. was not quite the Caesarian that many read him as (or Osiris forbid, a Galt-like scumbag).

(btw- AZ Antony--try Ayn Rand rotting in hell. Thats yr philosophy lesson)

zoegolightly said...

I just really hope Atlas Shrugged does really well on DVD. I saw it in theatres and ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT. Jsu Garcia was wonderful as Francisco D'Anconia and I thought they did just such a wonderful job with Ayn Rand's classic. (I worked with Jsu Garcia on the feature film he did after Atlas Shrugged - The Wayshower) Atlas Shrugged has such a powerful message, so appropriate for today and the world we're living in right now. Definitely feels like there are many wonderful movies coming out helping to lift consciousness. I mean Harry Potter, while they're fantasy, they're really bringing an incredible message for both young and old - about going within and finding your strength and being the change and goodness you want more of in your world. And Inception, Adjustment Bureau, and more.
Working on the movie 'The Wayshower', (inspired by the life of John-Roger) with Jsu Garcia, (and favorites Academy Award nominees Eric Roberts and Sally Kirkland) was incredible and I really hope it gets massive attention when it's released next March. It's so courageous and forward thinking in regards to a very metaphysical abstract portrayal of the journey we all take throughout life and the relationships we have with special mentors and teachers - special Wayshowers that enrich and change our lives forever. I loved this movie so much. So different and ground breaking. Check it out: (sign up for free fanletter including free screening invites)

Edward Ockham said...

Contradiction sorted out, some time ago, with the help of Larry, Richard Stallman and others. See for example my comment on Lih's book. For comments on Rand generally, see here.

Anthony said...

I don't see anything having been sorted out. What I see is an example of terrible, upside down, epistemology.

J said...

What's exactly wrong with Rand's philosophy..or what you take to be her "epistemology", Marc Anthony? (and don't bother with the obvious as F. egotistic, pro-capitalist "ethics"...)

Wiki wik time

Edward Ockham said...

>>I don't see anything having been sorted out. What I see is an example of terrible, upside down, epistemology.

Larry said: "Objectivism (i.e., Ayn Rand-ism) much more closely resembles libertarianism than "right wing-ism" or conservatism. Conservatism believes in preserving whatever is valuable in traditions, and one of the traditions they generally want to conserve, in the U.S., is Christianity. All this is very alien to Ayn Rand's way of thinking.

Anyway, on the "paradox," I'm not sure that if you unpack it carefully, much of a paradox will remain. The short answer is that open source and by extension Wikipedia involve the free association of individuals under very loose (practically no) rules. For this reason it greatly appeals to libertarian (and thus Objectivist, i.e., Ayn Rand-ian) types. Libertarians generally hate any government more than the minimum. When I declared, "Ignore all rules," they really liked that.

I don't think that most people contribute to Wikipedia for any especially admirable altruistic reasons, but more because they want to assert their egos, and articulating their version of what the world is like is one of the ultimate acts of asserting one's ego. (That would be why so many professors are such egomaniacs.) Ayn Rand might analyze it by saying that the act of doing battle in Wikipedia's "marketplace of ideas" (my tongue is not between my teeth as I say that) is a "selfish" thing to do. But it is, as it happens, altruistic, precisely because we are in fact motivated by a desire to better others. (So I argue, not at great length though, here.) Rand would, again in fairness, probably deny this but say that the appearance of altruism is what we should expect, because our interests are often not in competition and we act together because we mutually benefit thereby."

Which seems reasonable.

Anthony said...

It may sound reasonable, but it's just about completely wrong.

J said...

What exactly is wrong with Objectivism, Ock?