BEGINNER

WHAT IS REASON?
A short video created by The Atlas Society for the SFL Academy course: Introduction to Objectivism that outlines why reason is the most important device that humans have
WHAT IS THE OBJECTIVIST THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE (EPISTEMOLOGY)?

This is a chapter from The Atlas Society's Pocket Guide to Objectivism that presents the essence of the  Objectivist epistemology

WHAT IS REASON?

From the original Nathaniel Branden's Basic Principles of Objectivism Lecture series that had started the Objectivist movement in the 1960s

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Questions or comments? Contact us at andrei@atlassociety.org

 

"Objectivism holds that the basis of all knowledge is perception, the evidence of the senses. We perceive reality through vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. In this respect, Objectivism is an empiricist philosophy, in agreement with Aristotle and many other philosophers, as opposed to the rationalism of thinkers like Rene Descartes, who hold that perception is unreliable and that knowledge is based on abstract truths like the axioms of geometry." Read the whole piece in the Pocket Guide to Objectivism available on Amazon

SYSTEMATIC

LOGICAL STRUCTURE OF OBJECTIVISM

A collaboration between David Kelley and William R Thomas, The Logical Structure of Objectivism traces out the logical connections among the various principles of Objectivism. Chapter 1 of this work is dedicated to the Objectivist view of knowledge 

WHAT IS THE OBJECTIVIST VIEW OF FREE WILL?

In this article written for The Atlas Society's Atlas University Q&A, William R. Thomas outlines the Objectivist argument for the existence of free will

"Objectivism holds that man has free will. In every moment, many courses of action are open to us; whichever action we take, we could equally well have chosen to do something else. Within the sphere of actions that are open to choice, what we do is up to us and is not just the inescapable outcome of causes outside our control. And this capacity for free choice is the foundation of morality. Because we are free to choose, we need moral standards to guide our actions and we can be held morally responsible for what we do." Continue Reading

REASON COURSE

Reason is a 10-part video lecture series by David Kelley and William R Thomas. It presents the essentials of the Objectivist view of knowledge, Ayn Rand’s innovative theory of concepts and objectivity; and explains why reason is an absolute and why emotions are not tools of cognition, despite their psychological importance.  The course shows why a rational approach to life is a vital human need.

GOOD JUDGMENT

In this lecture, philosopher David Kelley discusses what the Objectivist epistemology can tell us about the cognitive task of judgment and how Objectivism can help us improve our ability to make good judgments

OBJECTIVITY: METAPHYSICAL AND EPISTEMOLOGICAL

What does it mean to be objective? David Kelley discusses the relation of the objective, the intrinsic, and the subjective. He discusses objectivity both in a metaphysical and in an epistemological sense. And he shows why objectivity is essential to the Objectivist conception of reason as an absolute.

THE PERCEPTION OF CAUSALITY

Our knowledge of the world, and our ability to act in it, depends on our grasp of causal relationships among things—the ways they act and interact. How do we identify cause and effect? Where does such knowledge begin? David Kelley discusses the issues of whether and how we can perceive causality, drawing on the theory of perception in his book The Evidence of the Senses.

INDUCTIVE REASONING IN PHILOSOPHY

In this article, William R. Thomas explains the role of induction in the Objectivist theory of reasoning

"Induction is the process of reaching general conclusions from particular facts. It is contrasted in logic with deduction, which is the process of reaching less general conclusions from broader general conclusions. Inasmuch as our only direct contact with reality is through our sensory (perceptual) awareness of particular facts, all our knowledge, to be worthy of the name, must have an empirical basis." Continue Reading

THE PROBLEM OF UNIVERSALS AND THE MEANING OF “OBJECTIVE”

In this webinar, recorded on March 12, 2012,  William R. Thomas discusses the problem of universals and the traditional dichotomy between intrinsicism and subjectivism. He discusses Ayn Rand's concept of the objective, showing how Rand's relational concept resolves the apparent contradiction.

THE CONCEPTUAL PRECONDITIONS OF FREEDOM

In this article, Dr. David Kelley gives examples of the practical importance of epistemology by showing why it matters how we conceptualize political issues

"It matters how we conceptualize political issues. The concepts we use in conscious thought and speech are cognitive tools that integrate a wide range of observations and prior conclusions, and are linked with related concepts into frameworks with which we interpret the world. The cognitive material we integrate in learning a concept, including the connections with related concepts, is largely implicit, below the level of conscious awareness, but it nevertheless affects the content of our concepts. When this implicit content changes, a concept can change its meaning." Continue Reading

"We are integrated beings of mind and body. Simply put, this means that one's mental functions are the product of an organ (which turns out to be, essentially, the brain). Objectivism holds that emotions normally reflect conscious or sub-conscious value judgments. And since sub-conscious judgments are the product of past conclusions or habitual valuations, our emotions generally derive from conscious value judgments, past or present. Hence Objectivism holds that most emotional problems are probably best addressed as problems of habits of thought and action." Continue Reading

EMOTIONS, BRAIN CHEMISTRY, AND MENTAL DISORDERS

In this Q&A, William R. Thomas addresses the questions about the nature and role of emotions and the underlying interconnection between mind and body

FALSE BELIEFS AND PRACTICAL GUIDANCE

In this Q&A, William R. Thomas answers a question whether it is ever right to embrace and follow teachings that are in some aspect known to be false like the "law of attraction" and "chi-energy"

"In an ideal culture, all healthful practices would have a fully rational basis. But that culture is a long way away. So in our culture as we find it, we have to look for healthful practices where we find them, or invent our ownWhile we do this, we need to keep a rational philosophy in mind. We should try as far as possible to enjoy the rational and beneficial aspects of the practice in question, while avoiding its irrational or harmful aspects." Continue Reading

"We formulate conceptual ideas, beliefs, and claims as propositions: conjunctions of concepts that meaningfully ascribe an identity to an existent. We express propositions as sentences and statements, but a sentence is defined by its grammatical structure and the classes of words it employs. Yet meaning is more than accordance with grammar. Thus, there are sentences with verb and noun that do not express meaning." Continue Reading

LOGIC AND A PARADOX

What is the Objectivist position on the view that logic is not valid, since at some point it breaks down, i.e. the law of the excluded middle does not hold true in cases of self-reference?

THE CONCEPTUAL FACULTY

In this webinar, William R. Thomas discusses the Objectivist understanding of concepts and language. We see how our concepts relate to our direct, sensory awareness of reality. We consider how concepts make possible our use of words and language. Is language primarily for communication or for thinking? We consider the hierarchical nature of conceptual knowledge. And we diagnose a common human failing: the anti-conceptual mentality.

SCHOLARLY

In this highly original defense of realism, The Atlas Society Founder David Kelley argues that perception is the discrimination of objects as entities, that the awareness of these objects is direct, and that perception is a reliable foundation for empirical knowledge. His argument relies on the basic principle of the "primacy of existence," in opposition to Cartesian representationalism and Kantian idealism. Available on Amazon

THE EVIDENCE OF THE SENSES: A REALIST THEORY OF PERCEPTION
EVIDENCE AND JUSTIFICATION

In this article, David Kelley argues that knowledge must be grounded in evidence in accordance with epistemological principles. This monograph distinguishes two kinds of principle: rules of evidence and rules of justification. Rules of evidence, such the canons of inductive and deductive logic, specify what sort of evidence is relevant to what sort of conclusion. Rules of justification specify what a person's cognitive state must be if he is to be justified in accepting a conclusion. This distinction makes it possible to explain how our knowledge can be fully justified all the way down to its foundations in perception. Available on Amazon

"The model of concept-formation defended here, on philosophical and psychological grounds, is based on the work of Rand (1979). It is abstractionist in the sense that the process of forming a concept derives from the perception of similarities among objects. The process involves two stages, each characterized by a specific mode of attention to perceived similarities and differences. In addition to the local arguments in support of each stage, the general constraints that should be placed on any theory of concept-formation are also discussed." Available on Amazon

A THEORY OF ABSTRACTION

This monograph by The Atlas Society's Founder David Kelley is an academic explanation and analysis of Ayn Rand’s measurement-omission theory of concept formation, It also relates Objectivism to other philosophical approaches to concept-formation

RATIONALITY AND THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ABSTRACTION

Cognitive psychologists have discovered that certain kinds of errors people make when reasoning are not random and that they follow certain patterns. Psychologist Kenneth Livingston employs a creative use of the Objectivist theory of concepts to explain why these patterns make sense.

"My goal in this paper is to question whether the data do in fact require the conclusion that we are not rational animals. I have no illusion about reconciling all of the data in one short paper. Indeed, the data are so voluminous that even a comprehensive review is out of the question. What I hope to offer is an account of the nature of rationality, and of its psychological origins, that suggests a strategy for integrating several diverse theoretical accounts of the data on human reasoning." Available on Amazon

"Rand's insight allows us to develop a rational conception of objectivity as a standard for cognition, a standard that takes account of the process of thought and the constraints set by our faculties rather than wishing them away. There is a great deal of work still to be done in extending the Objectivist theory to other issues in epistemology, such as the nature of propositions and their truth-conditions, the standards for rational certainty, and the problem of induction. But Rand's insight gives us a basic principle to follow, and her theory of concepts gives us an example of how the principle applies to a specific form of cognition." Available as a PDF

RAND AND OBJECTIVITY

In this paper published in Reason Papers, The Atlas Society's Founder David Kelley shows the importance of Rand's conception of objectivity.

Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek were notable 20th century advocates of capitalism. They were two of the most important theorists of the free society and defenders of the free society. Both of them based their political views, in part, on theories in epistemology. David Kelley discusses the radical difference in their views on a core epistemological issue, the nature of abstractions. Rand held that we form abstractions from the observation of particular, concrete things. Hayek held the opposite view that abstractions are primary; some are innate, some acquired from our cultural environment, but neither can be independently supported by observation of concretes. Kelley shows why Hayek's view is both false and inconsistent with a fully individualist moral and political theory. Read article or view lecture

RAND VERSUS HAYEK ON ABSTRACTION
THE FOUNDATIONS OF KNOWLEDGE

This is a 6-part lecture series from the Atlas Society on the Foundations of Knowledge. You will hear David Kelley talk about the Primacy of Existence, the Epistemology of Perception, Universals and Induction, Skepticism, and the Nature of Free Will

RATIONALISM AND OBJECTIVISM

In this article, Shawn E. Klein, Professor of Philosophy at Arizona State University, explains the difference between Objectivism and Rationalism

"Objectivist epistemology is not a form of Rationalism because Objectivism holds that all knowledge is derived from and validated by perception. Perception, according to Objectivism, is veridical; it does not deceive us. In fact, perception is the only form of awareness of reality there is, and therefore, it is the only source for knowledge. (For more on the validity of the senses, see David Kelley’s Evidence of The Senses.) So in contrast to the Rationalists, Objectivists do not hold that knowledge of the world can be directly known merely through the use of reason.Continue Reading

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

THE INTRINSIC, THE SUBJECTIVE, AND THE OBJECTIVE

At our 2001 Summer Seminar Dr. David Ross offered this engaging overview of one of Ayn Rand's most important contributions to philosophy: the objective, subjective, intrinsic trichotomy. Objectivity is under attack from many directions today, but what is objectivity? And what viewpoints stand opposed to it?