Russell Madden
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It Mattered
Russell Madden
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Russell Madden


In this chapter, I present an outline of a metaphysics based on an objective reality as well as the principles of an objective epistemology following from that foundation. The nature of reality is seen to be independent of our wishes or desires. Existence precedes consciousness. As humans, we use our minds to perceive and to identify that which does exist. Concepts serve us cognitively by allowing us to categorize that which does exist and to demonstrate how those things are related to one another. To be valid, a concept must ultimately be reducible to some aspect of reality. To determine if some belief we hold qualifies as truth, that belief must correspond to reality. We use the principles of logic as identified by Aristotle to aid us in this process of identification.

Failure to adhere to these principles has led the social sciences into relativism and skepticism. If there is no absolute reality, then there is room for any and all propositions to exist side-by-side, even if those propositions contradict each other. If no principles exist independently of human beings and their mutual agreement as to which principles to use, then truth becomes determined by majority vote. Such a mercurial standard allows proponents of such a view to claim that absolutes do not exist...even while they make an absolute statement. Before one can judge the value of one theory as opposed to another, there must be a standard which applies to all theories. Social sciences currently exists in a stage roughly analogous to where the physical sciences would be were they to treat astrology and astronomy or physics and the supernatural as equally legitimate.

An acceptance of objectivity and a proper metaphysics and epistemology will permit researchers to discern the difference between legitimate and bogus approaches to understanding human kind.

Perception, Reality, and Consciousness

As noted in the introduction, the self is the locus of experience and analysis. Only individual people interact with and respond to those internal and external aspects of reality of which each of us is aware. While it is common to speak of "groups" or "society" or even "couples" feeling anguish or joy or whatever, this usage is permissible only as long as these labels are understood to represent concepts describing relationships among separate individuals (see Rand, 1964.) Thinking and speaking of such collective concepts as though they were entities can provide valuable cognitive shortcuts, but in understanding any branch of social science, it is imperative that what actually comprises such ideas be kept in mind, at least implicitly.

Reifying abstractions obscures reality and can, in many instances, lead to actual harm (Kelley, 1988). The result may be as innocuous as spouses who feel forgotten as unique persons when constantly treated as interchangeable units of a "couple" or as horrifying as the slaughter of millions of innocent people for the "good of the State." The relationships which define a "couple" or a "State" may end and thus, in a metaphorical sense, the couple or State might be thought of as "dying," yet it must be remembered that only the relationship has ended. Abstractions cannot die...because they never lived. To be more precise, abstractions never exist at all qua entity and can be at best and loosely considered as temporary attributes of entities (in this case, individual people) who do exist, that is, are concrete and real (Rand, 1969). Abstractions are epistemological tools used to classify and group specific existents according to various relationships. They have no metaphysical status: "Society," "groups," "couples," or the concepts represented by these black ink spots do not exist in any literal sense. We do not eat abstract food or feel abstract pain or love.

Human beings can be aware of the world on either the perceptual or the conceptual level. (When speaking of "perception" in this context, I am referring to its physical and philosophical useage and not in the sense in which one might say, "My perception of the situation was..." which is closer in meaning to "My understanding or interpretation of...") The sensations arising from molecules and atoms or whatever impinging upon us are automatically integrated by our sensory organs into perceptions. The functioning of our five senses does not need our conscious direction in order to operate. For example, to see, one need only open one's eyes (assuming, of course, undamaged organs, nerve pathways, etc.). The processing is done automatically by our eyes in combination with our nervous system and brain. These perceptions form the raw material which is or can be further processed on the conceptual level (Peikoff, 1991; Rand, 1967; Smith, 1979). Thus all knowledge -- whether perceptual or conceptual -- is processed knowledge (Kelley, 1986).

This view of perceptual awareness is a realist or causal view of perception (Kelley, 1986; Machan, 1989). In contrast, the representational and idealist views hold that our awareness is only of sensory states or of consciousness rather than of objects themselves (Machan, 1985; Peikoff, 1967). In the realist view, the raw material of awareness is provided by an objective reality, a reality existing independently of our own existence, of our thoughts, wishes, or desires. The primacy of existence means that our consciousness is not constitutive. We do not "create" the objects of our awareness. We do not in any literal sense "construct" reality so that what exists depends secondarily upon us. Metaphysically, things simply are what they are. This idea is best expressed by Aristotle's Law of Identity: A is A (Windelband, 1901). The function of consciousness is epistemological, i.e., it is the identification of things in reality. We all perceive the same reality (Branden, 1969; Rand, 1967). We may, however, have very different interpretations of that reality.

Of course, a consciousness is also part of reality, but it is secondary to it. The content processed by consciousness ultimately originates outside of it. While consciousness is intimately connected with and dependent upon physical processes, it is an emergent aspect of those processes. Awareness cannot exist without a brain, body, blood, etc., but it is not reducible to those things. It is more than the sum of its parts. Just as animals with a perceptional level of awareness demonstrate a difference in kind from the matter of which they are formed, so too is a conceptual consciousness a difference in kind from the perceptual awarness which it transcends.

The material of which we become aware can be further processed and transformed by conceptual thought. Even cognition directed inward is the awareness of one's psychological actions in relationship to some external existent. These actions can be perceiving, thinking, evaluating, remembering, feeling, or imagining, but no matter how far afield such introspection may range, it is, in the last analysis, traceable to some aspect of objective reality external to that consciousness. Even the stuff of imagination has its ultimate roots in the things in reality we have observed: dragons, ghosts, or gods arise from recombinations and logical extensions of actual objects in the world.

To remove the distinction between the perceived and the perceiver is to accept the primacy of consciousness and the subjectivity of all of our perceptions and identifications (Kelley, 1986; Rand, 1967). Such philosophers as René Descartes and Immanuel Kant were, perhaps, the most influential proponents of this view (Jones, 1952; Oldroyd, 1986). Descartes expressed this view in his famous quote, "I think, therefore I am." Kant believed that we could never know reality itself and offered the distinction between the noumenal world ("things in themselves" which exist in some non-natural realm inaccessible to our senses or conscious awareness) and the phenomenal world ("things as perceived" by our senses and conditioned by our minds). Kant's theory is, however, self-refuting: he claims to have knowledge about something of which he says we have no way of gaining knowledge.

Concepts and Meaning

Given these foundations, the discovery theory of concept formation (Kelley, 1984, 1986; Rand, 1967) states that our concepts are classifications of observed entities according to their relationships to each other and other entities. They have their origins in real world referents or concretes. Our concepts are formed from the integration of our perceptions and thus are linked to them. Through our perceptions, our concepts are tied to objective reality.

When we seek to classify entities we observe, we first note how some objects are different from others. For example, pens are different from pencils by virtue of the use of ink versus graphite as a marking medium. When we seek to decide whether some new object we meet is to be classified as a pen or a pencil, we ignore the differences among pens that are irrelevent to our current cognitive needs and concentrate on their similarities. The color or composition of pen barrels or of the ink itself would be irrelevant if we were primarily concerned in grouping together those manufactured objects using ink for marking purposes. At that level of interest, we would see all pens as fundamentally the same. If the implement uses ink, we classify it as a pen regardless of its other characteristics.

At other times, our conceptual needs might require us to focus on some relevant differences within that group of objects we classify as pens. If we needed people to select only those pens with a hard points that would press through multiple carbons, then we would include an extra requirement in separating one group of pens from another, e.g., ballpoints versus markers. In either case, the differences or similarities we note for these new concepts are not arbitrary or imposed by us but instead arise from the nature of the objects themselves. While the focus is determined by us, the characteristics themselves are discovered by examination of the objects in question. It would not be valid for us all to agree, for instance, that we will include under the concept "pens" those manufactured objects using ink for marking purposes as well as long cylindrical objects composed entirely of wood.

In this discovery view of concept formation, the fundamental meaning of a concept is its referents, that is, those material or immaterial entities in reality we seek to understand and which we group together to form those concepts. A secondary referent would be an abstract grouping (or concept) to which another concept refers or points to. "Ballpoint" is an abstract grouping or secondary referent of the concept "pen." It includes all ballpoints which have, do, or will exist.

In contrast, a primary referent points to a specific, individual entity that exists or existed at one time. "The pen I used to write a check yesterday" is a primary referent or specific instance or case of the concept "pen."

This analysis applies even to even higher abstractions such as love, freedom, or justice. "People receiving paychecks for work they have performed" is a secondary referent of the concept "justice." "Receiving a check last Friday for an article I sold" is a primary referent of that same concept.

Since any valid concept, no matter how abstract, must ultimately be reducible to some existent in reality, it is misleading in an espistemological, conceptual sense to state that "meaning" is in people, not in things. The identification of what something means -- of what the proper referents of a concept are -- is a function of human consciousness, but the meaning itself of that concept (its source or its referents) is not. Our concepts must fit reality to be valid. We err if we reverse the logical order and attempt to fit reality to our concepts or ideas of what we think it should be. One person may believe "justice" consists of taking anything he wants for whatever reason and by any means he desires. Another may believe such a course represents injustice. The way to determine who is right and who is wrong is not to take a poll or assume it's simply a matter of opinion which cannot and need not be resolved. The proper course is to look at actions of people in reality and determine what the primary referents were and are which give rise to the need for such a concept as "justice." The acceptance of an erroneous view of concept formation can have devastating real-world consequences for individuals who attempt to function using false concepts.

The distinction in how we view meaning is, therefore, not a trivial one. To state that meaning lies within people when referring to the source of our concepts is implicitly to endorse the primacy of consciousness and the notion that reality depends upon us. (I discuss this aspect of meaning in more detail below.) If the ultimate source of that which we perceive is reality, and if the foundation for conceptual awareness is perception, then the ultimate source of that of which we are conceptual aware must also lie in reality.

If we believe that the ultimate source of our concepts -- that to which our concepts refer or what they mean -- exists within our consciousness, then we are essentially committing the logical fallacy of subjectivism. Subjectivism says that something is true simply because someone believes it to be true; that there is no standard external to oneself for judging the accuracy of one's thoughts and judgments; that there is nothing "out there" to indicate when one is getting close to the truth (or that there is even anything such as "truth" to be known). If instead of using an individual self for the standard for judging truth, we say that the standard consists of that to which a large number of people agree, then we simply move up a notch and commit the fallacy of an appeal to majority.

But truth is not determined by majority vote. Neither is the source of a concept located in some kind of "group consensus." If any variant of epistemological subjectivism were true, it would imply infallibility: if what is true is merely one what one wants it to be, how could one possibly be wrong? And if two individuals believe different things...? For a subjectivist, no standard exists that would permit a resolution of such contradictory beliefs.

A construction theory of concept formation states that concepts are social or arbitrary constructions. There is nothing in reality or the nature of things which directs how we should form our concepts; they mean only what enough people agree they mean (Peikoff, 1967). In contrast, a discovery view of concepts holds that the function of concept formation -- as an extension of consciousness -- is epistemological rather than metaphysical. Along with such an epistemological perspective on concepts comes a view of definitions which sees them as a means of identifying and condensing our concepts rather than composing them (Kelley, 1988; Rand, 1967).

Definitions make it easier for us to retain the meaning of concepts in our minds by a kind of information compression. A good definition names the essential but not exhaustive trait or traits of the concretes under consideration and serves to distinguish one concept from another. The rule for determining what is (are) the fundamental characteristic(s) is to look for those aspects of the concrete which metaphysically make the most other traits possible and which epistemologically explains the greatest number of those traits.

Again, it is important to keep in mind that the fundamental or essential trait(s) are epistemological and not metaphysical in nature. An increase in knowledge might lead us to select a different characteristic as more fundamental (according to the rule mentioned above) in defining a concept, e.g., moving from a definition of "humans as language users" to "humans as rational animals". The concept "human" still classifies the same group of entities, but we now better understand the nature of those entities (Peikoff, 1991; Rand, 1967).

Because a definition implies but does not state all of a concept's attributes, a concept is neither identical to its definition nor does it consist solely of its distinguishing characteristic(s). For example, the definition of "human being" offered here is "a rational animal" (with the term "rational" further implying -- but, again, not specifying -- a "volitional, conceptual consciousness," the only kind of consciousness needing or capable of using reason). It is the kind of consciousness we have which distinguishes us from all other animals and which explains the most about us. Yet we are not identical to our "rationality." For instance, the emotions we have are nowhere mentioned in this definition, yet feelings are something which every human being experiences.

As David Kelley states (1986):

[T]he major tradition in the theory of concepts has denied [the assumption that the content of the concept is all of a piece.] To focus the issue here, we can contrast two views about the cognitive content of concepts. The traditional view, accepted by most Cartesian empiricists, is that concepts are constituted in some sense by the definitions we give them. Each concept then has an intension or meaning determined by the definition, and statements expressing that meaning are analytic [necessarily or logically true by virtue of that definition]. In virtue of its meaning, a concept will subsume a class of objects in the world; those objects may have properties in common other than those which define the concept; and universal statements identifying those [other] properties, as well as statements identifying the idiosyncratic qualities of individual instances, are synthetic [accidental or not true by logical necessity]. An opposing view would be that the cognitive content of concepts is determined by the objective kinds of things they pick out in the world. Instances of a given kind possess an open-ended number of properties in common. At a given stage of knowledge, we define the concept by reference to the most essential common properties, i.e., those which explain the greatest number of others. But the definition does not constitute the concept or give it its content; the content is determined by the nature of the things we have grouped together; a growth in knowledge may lead us to revise the definition without thereby changing the concept or its content. There would thus be no distinction between analytic [logically necessary] and synthetic [accidental] truth. The defining properties would have to be discovered in the same way as any other property. For convenience, we may refer to these as the construction and the discovery theories, respectively. (p. 225)

It might be argued here that the whole idea of "meaning" assumes a conscious and organizing mind and that the concept of "meaning" is itself meaningless without a mind to create it; that by definition meaning cannot exist in things but only in persons. As alluded to above, this view is not necessarily "wrong," but in discussing the nature of concepts, it is misleading. Part of the problem arises from using the same word -- "meaning" -- as a label for related but different concepts.

There is the "meaning" which some "X" has to or for someone. This connotative meaning is X's salience, relevance, and/or significance or importance to that individual. It is the way in which "X" is interpreted or analyzed in terms of emotional content. It is this "meaning" which can differ from person to person. For example, if spouses argue, the husband might see such conflict as a normal event in a relationship and think little of it while the wife might view it as behavior which threatens that relationship. Two different people and perspectives; two different (connotative or emotional) "meanings" regarding what happened. Yet each could still agree that what had occurred was, indeed, an "argument" or "conflict."

The danger comes in applying this sense of "meaning" to the nature and function of concepts. The kind of meaning relevant to the functions of concepts concerns its denotative meaning. "Knocked-up" and "pregnant" have the same denotative meaning. Those words pick out the same group of existents and label the same concept in different ways. Yet those words can evoke quite different connotative meanings in different individuals even while referring to the same concept. These differing emotional associations are not part of the concept in question precisely because they can shift from person to person.

If the primary, denotative "meaning" of concepts is not composed of those things in reality we classify in a certain way by means of those concepts but is instead merely something existing in us, our concepts are severed from any fundamental connection to reality and therefore from any kind of stability which transcends individual reactions. If the concept "apple" does not refer to the fruit which we eat but instead only to some action of our consciousness, then there is no reason why one day "apple" could not "mean" something we eat and the next day "mean" something we sleep in. Or, as George Orwell might have stated it, "War is Peace. Ignorance is Knowledge. Slavery is Freedom."

If concepts (as opposed to the word or words which label them) are merely constructions of our minds, their "meanings" become potentially as numerous as the number of minds which exist. In the event of a disagreement between any two groups of people (or even any two individuals!) as to what a "constructed concept" means, there is nothing external to oneself or other individual selves to which one could appeal for an answer as to which meaning is correct (if the concept "correct" itself would have any meaning in such a context). For example, there would be no basis for saying that the Nazi concept of "justice" (which might declare that it was "just" to exterminate Jews) was any worse -- or better -- than the American concept of "justice" which holds that "all men are created equal." Only when the meanings of our concepts are tied to an objective reality is conceptual chaos avoided. Only then is it possible to make any knowledge or truth claim, at all. A construction view of concepts leads ultimately to a kind of solipsism in which concepts -- the means by which we think, classify reality, and communicate -- cease to function as a reliable framework within which to operate as individual or social beings.

As a final illustration of these conflicting views, there's an old riddle which asks, "If you were to call a tail a leg, how many legs would a donkey have?" A person who believed in a construction view of concepts would probably answer, "Five legs." Someone who believed in a discovery view of concepts would answer, "Four legs. It doesn't matter if you call a tail a leg. It's still a tail." Or as Aristotle might say, "A is A. A thing is what it is" -- independently of human consciousness.

A basic error in this whole debate is trying to fit reality to our concepts rather than realizing that concepts are epistemological, not metaphysical, in nature. It is a concept that must conform to reality if it is to be considered valid. Concepts are designed to enable us, as conceptual beings, to deal with and understand the world by means of classification and abstractions. But not every entity or phenomenon in reality requires a concept in order for us to deal with it. Some are rare enough that they are best handled on a descriptive level (Rand, 1967), e.g., we need no concept to designate "blue eyed redheads five feet tall from Boone, Iowa."

The same criteria apply to "borderline cases." Relatively atypical cases or groups which share some but not all the characteristics of some concept (e.g., is a platypus a mammal?) do not invalid the concept in which we are considering placing it (e.g., the fact that a platypus exists does not mean we must abandon the concept "mammal" or that "mammal" no longer performs a proper epistemological function by selecting out a particular group of animals). Again, concepts are a tool to help us on the road to knowledge, and, as such, it is up to us to decide as cognitive beings when that tool must be set aside and a more appropriate one selected.

The Identification of Truth

The principles of an objective reality and a discovery theory of concept formation in conjunction with a realist view of perception require a correspondence view of truth. Here, truth is seen as an identification of the facts of reality within the widest possible context of current knowledge (Peikoff, 1991). (In contrast, the coherence view of truth holds that we say something is "true" if it is merely consistent with ideas the majority of people believe [Oldroyd, 1986; Tomlin, 1963].) When I say that all knowledge is contextual, I do not mean to imply that knowledge is relative. If we are considering a particular knowledge claim, we need to examine all the information available to us in determining whether or not to accept that claim as bona fide knowledge. If the evidence for the truth of some proposition is substantial, if there is no convincing evidence standing in opposition to that proposition, and if the claim is consistent with all other knowledge we have, then we can accept that claim as proven and certain.

An important epistemological note here is the idea of what it means for something to be "absolute" or "certain." If all knowledge is contextual, then a claim can be contextually absolute or certain, i.e, as described above, all (and a substantial amount of) evidence supports it and none contradicts it (Peikoff, 1991; Rand, 1964). Physical scientists in particular are wont to say that their theories are never "proved" but merely supported by the current evidence. This caution is understandable given such abuses of knowledge as committed, for example, by religious declarations of how the world was formed. While a kind of Missourian "Show Me" attitude is important lest spurious claims make it too readily into our knowledge base, scientists who declare that one "can never know anything for certain" are, unwittingly, adopting the same erroneous standard for knowledge as the religious zealots they may be opposing.

Philosophical skepticism (rather than the garden variety kind of mental wariness we are wise to cultivate in ordinary life) is, in a real sense, simply the flipside of the kind of unyielding dogmatism characteristic of many religions throughout human history. Both sides accept omniscience and infallibility as the proper standards for granting some claim "knowledge" status (Peikoff, 1991; Rand, 1957, 1982). The skeptic maintains that a claim must be proven to be eternally valid and unchanging in order to be accepted as knowledge. Since there is very little beyond the underlying axioms of knowledge which meet these criteria (see below...though the pure skeptic would likely not accept even those axioms), the skeptic must state that we really "know" little if anything at all and complains because he is not omniscient and infallible. On the other hand, the dogmatic would agree with the skeptic's epistemological standards...but would claim that she has access to that omniscience and infallibility! (Usually based upon a claim of "faith," i.e., a claim to knowledge obtained by some nonsensory, nonrational method.) (Machan, 1985; Madden, 1988; Smith, 1977)

Such standards are far too strict for any human usage. If epistemology is a tool for human understanding, it must use a standard applicable to actual, living humans (Machan, 1989). Since none of us is omniscient and none infallible (and I make that claim with absolute certainty!), we must examine how we actually gain and use knowledge. The discovery theory of concept formation and the contextual view of knowledge based on a correspondence view of truth fulfills that human requirement. Like Kant's theory of perception and knowledge, skepticism is self-refuting. Our knowledge is hierarchical with each discovery building upon prior knowledge and then leading to still wider and more encompassing concepts.

Einstein's Theory of Relativity did not (despite the claims of some adherents of Kuhn) disprove or invalidate Newton's Theory of Gravity. Einstein expanded our knowledge of gravity by seeing how it operates at faster speeds (a different context) than Newton dealt with (just as Einstein's theories are no longer applicable at the kind of densities found in black holes). Newton's laws of gravity are still valid...within the proper context, a context narrower than Newton might have thought but one which our wider context of knowledge now makes clear to us (our space probes have reached Neptune using those very Newtonian laws). Knowledge (concepts) remain valid even though the way we define or delimit it may change with time. To state this another way, concepts do not change, i.e., they continue to select out the same entities from others in the world (reality is an absolute), but the number of characteristics about those entities of which we are aware may expand (Peikoff, 1991).

Identifying what is true and to be counted as knowledge is accomplished and validated by a process of reason using the principles of logic (which rest on the Law of Identity). Reason is the faculty humans possess for identifying the things in reality. We need to use our rationality in dealing with the world, that is, to operate on a conceptual level, but unlike our perceptual apparatus, our rational, conceptual consciousness does not operate anyone who has tried to learn calculus is well aware. It is a function of our volition or free-will: we must choose to focus our minds, in essence to set ourselves the task of grasping the abstract relationships (the concepts) necessary for understanding reality (Branden; 1969; Rand, 1967). To state this another way, humans need epistemology (a guide to the proper usage of reason and concepts) but lower animals do not. (For fuller discussions of the nature and use of volition, see the chapters following on ethics and causality.)

(Many people object to theories of human behavior, e.g., expectancy-value theories, because they use the notion of "rational humans"...and it is obvious that humans are not always rational. The point such critics miss [and, unfortunately, many expectancy-value theorists, as well (see Chapter 8)] is the one stated above: defining people as "rational humans" does not mean they will be rational but rather that they should use their rational faculty in deciding how to believe, feel, and act.)

The principles of logic (the art of noncontradictory identification [Rand, 1967]; the method rationality demands) were originally discovered and identified by Aristotle using a conceptual analysis of the direct perception of reality. These axioms are true because they are inherent in the nature of reality and constitute the basis for any understanding. They are epistemological primaries which are not "logically" provable since they form the foundation for all logical proofs (Peikoff, 1967, 1991; Rand, 1967). Again, the touchstone is objective reality.

The basic three laws of logic are: 1) The Law of Identity: A is A (something is what it is), 2) The Law of Noncontradiction: Not both A and not-A (something cannot both have and not have some trait in the same sense at the same time), and 3) The Law of Excluded Middle: Either A or not-A (something is either what it is or it is something else). Despite certain claims to the contrary, any "logic" which rejects these laws is invalid as a means of trying to understand reality. Any attempt to refute these laws must, itself, use them.

It is important to realize that these episteomological laws reflect (arise from) metaphysical facts. For instance, the Law of Identity is a valid epistemological tool because concretes in reality have a specific nature at any given time. The three basic metaphysical axioms upon which logic and all our other knowledge rests are therefore: 1) Existence exists (something -- whatever that something might be -- exists [the primacy of existence]), 2) Consciousness is conscious (there is something out there to be perceived and someone to perceive it), and 3) A is A (The Law of Identity) (whatever exists has a specific nature). To be more precise, the latter two axioms are corollaries of the first. In keeping with the earlier discussion on concept formation, these points can be restated as: Existence is Identity and Consciousness is Identification (using the principles of logic) (Peikoff, 1982; Rand, 1957).

Even though the function of consciousness is to identify what exists, it is important to keep in mind that no one "decides" what is right or wrong or true or false (in the sense of "making it so"). Reality simply "is." It is the (often difficult) task of people to observe and to figure out what is there. Metaphysically, the final judge is reality; epistemologically, it is one's own mind (Rand, 1988). There is no "Book of Answers" to which one can turn. We can listen to other people and even accept their conclusions, but ultimately the decision is ours to make as to what we will accept as true. (For a more complete discussion on decision making, see Chapter 8.) To identify accurately what "is" requires processing the contents of consciousness by a process of reason in accordance with logic. Thus objectivity refers both to the nature of metaphysical reality and to proper epistemological identification (Rand, 1988). In this context, to say that "X" is true is equivalent to saying that "X" exists (that it "is"). To say that "X" is false it equivalent to saying that "X" does not exist (that it "is not").

Many people misconstrue and object to the claim that anything (and especially anyone) can be objective. Again, the metaphysical meaning of "objectivity" is that something does exist out there and exists independently of our conscious awareness. (At this juncture, many people bring up the issue of quantum physics. While I have written elsewhere on the relationship between quantum phenomena and objectivity, this topic would take us too far afield. Suffice it to say that I do not believe quantum physics invalidates objectivity, which if it did, would entail a violation of the Law of Identity.) Epistemologically, some people reject claims of "objectivity" because they, like the skeptics, have in mind some standard like infallibility and see any claim to "objective knowledge" as a form of dogmatism. Others who reject the possibility of objectivity accept the Kantian idea that our minds must, of necessity, "distort" our awareness of the world (which confuses what is perceived with the means by which it is perceived, and even further, confuses our perceptual apparatus with our conceptual consciousness).

There is also the belief that it is impossible to bring objectivity to bear on subjective experiences, either one's own or those of other people. While I will examine this contention in Chapter 4 during my discussion of some of the false dichotomies which have hampered social science research, a quote from Nathaniel Branden (1969) sets forth the proper perspective to take when comparing the subjective with the objective (or publicly observable) in epistemological terms:

Phenomena of consciousness are "private," in the sense...that the only consciousness a man can experience directly is his own. But...the inferences a psychologist makes, on the basis of his introspection, concerning the nature and functions of consciousness, may be checked by his fellow workers, who also have recourse to introspection -- just as one scientist checks on the reported findings of another by repeating the other's experiment in his own laboratory. If psychologists sometimes disagree about what they perceive, or about the correct interpretation of what they perceive, this is true of physical sciences also. And the method of resolving such differences is, in principle, the same: to investigate further, to compare data more carefully, to define terms more precisely, to explore other, possibly relevant facts, to check their conclusions in the light of the rest of their knowledge, to search for contradictions or non sequiturs in their reports.
The objectivity of one's conclusions depends, not on whether they are derived from "publicly observable" data, but on (a) whether they are true (i.e., consonant with the facts of reality), and on (b) the rationality of one's method of arriving at them. Conclusions arrived at by a rational method can be confirmed by other men and are, in this sense, "publicly observable." But the objective and the publicly observable (or verifiable) are not synonymous.
Whatever men may learn from one another, each man, epistemologically, is alone; knowing is not a social process. If one man's judgment is unreliable and nonobjective, because it is his own, a hundred unreliable, nonobjective judgments will not yield a reliable, objective one.... (pp. 14-15)
Scientific psychology requires that the data of introspection and the observations of beings in action be systematically integrated into coherent knowledge. A theory, to be valid, must integrate all and contradict none of the relevant evidence or data; and this entails the necessity of taking cognizance of everything that is relevant. (p. 10)

Misidentification of some part of reality may occur due to false premises, incomplete knowledge, or a fault in one's logical argument (Kelley, 1988). (There can be contradictions in one's thought processes, but there are no contradictions in reality.) But the existence of error presupposes the notion that there does, in fact, exist something independent of our identification which serves as a standard for judging when our identification is incorrect. (Rand, 1957, 1964)

Since people are neither omniscient nor infallible (as noted before, if they were, there would be no need for reason or logic) all knowledge is contextual in nature. The definition of logic as the art of "noncontradictory identification" (Rand, 1967) means that there is no contradiction with any available empirical evidence or logical extensions of that evidence. Because of this fact, it is important in any attempt to reach a knowledge claim that there be no context-dropping or evasion of any relevant knowledge which one already possesses. (The contextual nature of knowledge assumes a crucial role when one seeks to increase one's understanding of others or to get them to understand oneself through a process of communication. Each individual's perspective and personal context forms a part of the overall communication context and thus must be taken into account if one desires to achieve one's communicative goals. See Chapter 10.) Gaining knowledge requires that any person seeking such an end must decide to focus his/her consciousness on the goal of full, conceptual awareness (Rand, 1967). As will be shown in Chapter 3, the very nature of human consciousness will provide us with the answer to the question, "Why do people communicate?"

Part of that explanation will rely upon the proper way of viewing the relationship between biology and the social sciences. A recurrent tension has existed in the realm of social sciences between those who seek to explain human behavior in terms of biology and those who believe that the cognitive faculty of people is the only factor that deserves serious consideration. The debate seems to be primarily a somewhat skewed version of the old "nature vs nurture" controversy. As in most such cases where humans are concerned, the dichotomy is illusory. Integrating the contributions of both mind and body is essential if one hopes to gain a true understanding of human behavior. As an illustrative example, I will sketch out in Chapter 12 a discussion of how biology interacts with social behavior and what how that can affect our understanding of close relationships.

At its best, the physical and the psychological are integrated. Such integration is important whether the evolution is of the individual or of the species. This intertwining should be kept in mind as we explore such issues as the relationship between causality and communication, the origins and functions of emotions, the sources of and necessity for self-esteem, as well as factors important in establishing and maintaining personal relationships. Delegating the study of the body solely to the physical sciences and of the mind solely to the social sciences and reinforcing an artificial separation of the two has hindered a more complete understanding of what it means to be human and how a fully human life should be conducted.

In the next chapter, I turn to the controversial issue of including ethics in a scientific study of human behavior and offer the even more controversial position that an ethical system -- like any other branch of knowledge -- can and should be objective, i.e. arising from the requirements of reality, from what it means to be human in both the physical and the mental senses. As objective knowledge, then, valid ethical principles are true for and applicable to everyone.


Integrative Perspective, Chap. 2

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