- "Why do I keep dropping things?"
- "It's the shoons."
- "What are shoons?"
- "Invisible beings that pull things out of your hands and throw them on the floor."
- "Why would I believe that?"
- "Well, if you can't disprove it, you have to believe it."
- "But you didn't prove it."
- "I can feel them. You can feel them too You're just in denial."
- "Well I don't believe it."
- "So you are an ashoonist."
- "What's an ashoonist?"
- "One who arbitrarily refuses to believe in shoons. You wonder why you drop things, but you arbitrarily reject the explanation."
- "Okay then, I'm an ashoonist."
- "But ashoonists are all cynics and killjoys! Is that the kind of company you want to keep?"
What a silly way to argue! Or is it? If you separate the method of argument from the content, then you might notice that it is the most common of all methods of argument: the arbitrary declaration. They say that something is so, and you have to either disprove it or agree with it. Refusing to do either is joining the Meanies.
It's a paradox. You cannot reject an assertion without reason, but you could waste the whole day finding reasons to reject arbitrary assertions. Ayn Rand's epistemology solves the paradox by taking away permission to make assertions in the first place without reasons.
Come to think of it, where did that permission come from? If an assertion does not come with an observable connection to reality, why would anybody pay attention to it? Well, if it has to be either right or wrong, then you have to decide which, and you have to be reasonable. So you can't reject anything without disproving it.
But what if a statement could be something else besides right or wrong? What if it could also be simply meaningless?
Right and wrong are relationships to reality—correspondence and non-correspondence. To judge a statement as right or wrong, you compare it to reality, by finding what part of reality it compares to. If a statement does not say what part of reality it compares to, then it is presented without connection to reality. It could mean all sorts of things, depending on where it fits in reality. Since that is not specified, it means nothing. It conveys words, but not meaning. Since you cannot call it right, and you cannot call it wrong, you call it arbitrary. Arbitrary means lacking any evidence of a relationship to reality.
To treat arbitrary assertions as right is to be a self-made sucker. To treat them as wrong is to try judging without evidence. The objective way is to realize that assertions without evidence are meaningless. No matter how much emotion they contain, nothing has been said.
Here's a completion of the original argument:
- "Wait! Before you told me about the shoons, was I a shoonist, or an ashoonist?"
- "Well, neither. That word just meant nothing to you."
- "And it still means nothing to me. Try me again when you've got evidence."
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