The Tour

Getting Logic Right

From the Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology: "...the fundamental concept of method, the one on which all the others depend, is logic...(the art of non-contradictory identification)..." (p.36)

To see the fundamentality of logic, try to imagine a contradictory identification. This is that and also in the same way not that. It would not be an identification at all, but a pretense. To identify things is to conceptualize them—to sort them out into concepts according to their nature. Pretending to do that would be refusing to do that, rejecting the conceptual method, refusing to think at all.

So it is easy to see how two-year-olds can make logical statements. To make any coherent conceptual statement is to make a logical statement. A statement without logic is a statement without meaning. For example: "I feel good." Is that logic? Of course, because it is identification. It places my present experience into a specific category without contradiction. However, it might also be a lie.

To say that a statement is logical means that it does not contradict itself, that it is made by the right method, that it is not arbitrary. Such a statement—and only such a statement—can be true or false. If it is based on accurate observation, then it must be true. If it turns out to be false, then the observation was inaccurate or falsified.

Logic courses tend to stress the use of logic in deduction, but the real life use of logic is mostly for induction—the process of broadening an identification into a principle.

To see the inductive process, ask yourself how many lies make a liar. How many times must you identify my statement as a lie before you can identify me as a liar? The answer is that the number of lies will not help you. In order to identify me as a liar—one who can be expected to lie as a matter of course—you must discover why I lie. It is the cause that makes the induction. If I lie because I feel I must avoid hurting your feelings, then that mistake does not make me a liar. If I lie because I am convinced it gets me what I want, then I can be expected to lie as a matter of course.

The key to induction is not the number of things, but the nature of things. If you can identify the cause of a puddle turning into ice, then you can see that by the nature of things, the same cause will make any puddle turn to ice. Your identification becomes a principle: water freezes.

It is this logical power to generalize identifications into principles that gives universities courses to teach, and makes every generation richer than those before. It is the payoff for the ability to be sure of your conclusions. It is the highpoint of this tour of Ayn Rand's epistemological discoveries. The question to ask is: how accurate is the tour? The answer is: as accurate as the tour guide knows how to make it, with so much left unsaid. If the tour interests you in achieving certainty, then the first thing to do is check out the accuracy of the tour, by reading Ayn Rand in the originals.

Getting Logic Wrong

The first mistake to make about logic is to regard it as tacked on. First you learn a lot, then you make deductions using logic. You argue over syllogisms, dispute how many truth values a logical statement can have, and forget that when a statement in known to be logical, then it is ready to be tested for truth.

The next mistake to make about logic is to regard it as proof. To show that a statement is logical is to show that it contains no contradictions. What that means is that if you started with accuracy, then you still have it at the end—and if you started wrong, then you stayed wrong.

Proof is the demonstration that no errors were made in arriving at a conclusion. To do that, you show the sensory evidence you began with, and the process of fitting your conclusion in with all knowledge. This is only considered onerous by those who want to impose their conclusions instead of letting others see for themselves.

The fatal mistake to make about logic is the attempt to substitute it for observation.

If you draw a conclusion from observations of reality, while I draw a conclusion from propositions about reality, which of us will be more certain? No matter how sincerely I defend the logic of those propositions, or how ardently I trust the source of those propositions, your chance of being certain will be far greater—even if your methods are faulty. That is because you will be there from the beginning, able to detect and correct mistakes at all points, while I am there only half way through, with no way to correct mistakes made by others.

It seems such an obvious shortcut. Just trust those observations made by so many and accepted by so many. There'll be a better chance later to confirm them. Everybody admits the logic. Besides, everybody can see the obvious, that the Earth is flat.

If you base your knowledge of reality on logical propositions about reality, rather than on direct sensory experience of reality, then forget the word certainty. You will never need it.

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