Sunday, January 22, 2006

Robert LeFevre - Yes, You Do Have a Philosophy

Index: Robert LeFevre Commentary Abstracts

Having identified what he means by Liberty, in this second lecture LeFevre begins scaffolding a philosophical framework for his subsequent lectures on more concrete topics. He outlines Cause and Effect, the Natural Order, the Man-Made Order, the Objective Order, and the Subjective Order. His condensation of 2,500 years of philosophic thought into 30 minutes is a real treat, delivered in LeFevre's usual avuncular style, bursting with carefully thought-through common sense anecdotes. There should be plenty of material here to interest those in pursuit of knowledge about Randian Objectivism, Chicagoan Positivism, and Austrian Subjectivism.

Yes, You Do Have a Philosophy - MP3 Audio File

Rational thought, contends LeFevre, begins with a knowledge of Cause and Effect relationships. The only way we can survive in the world of reality is by learning these causes and their effects, such that we can predict, for example:

A + B - W = X

If we desire situation 'X', we need to learn that we should carry out acts 'A' and 'B', and remove condition 'W', to get to situation 'X'. In other words, the effect of 'X' is caused by the requirement of 'A + B - W'.

But this is only the start. There may be more than one way of achieving 'X'. And 'X' itself is not isolated. LeFevre argues that causing the effect of 'X' by one method may generate roundabout systemic feedback effects, which could be harmful to our ends or prevent us eventually from producing any more 'X'. We should learn how best to create our desired 'X' and the least consequential disadvantages, by reducing harmful side-effects or by eliminating them entirely; we can do this via the adoption of the best known causation chain from a range of discovered options.

Computers have helped speed up humanity here, because we can feed in all known data to predict the eventual consequences of a particular chain. But what of the unknown data, not yet in? The only way to successfully predict cause and effect relationships, says LeFevre, with 100% percent certainly, is to be omniscient. And this is impossible, he says, pulling a rhetorical rabbit from a rhetorical hat.

(If this lecture were an episode in a franchised TV series, at this point there would be a commercial break to enhance the dramatic tension.)

If perfect chain prediction is impossible, and humans require chain prediction to survive, where do we go from here? The key word is perfect. It is impossible to have 100% certainty, but the human mind is capable of getting pretty close.

What we need, says LeFevre, are Principles. For these we do not require computers or mathematics, but just the human mind. And if the human mind is smart enough, we can work out the Principles lying behind causation and effect. But how can we know which Principles are correct? We should be guided by reality, says LeFevre.

At this point LeFevre breaks the world of reality into two orders; the Natural Order and the Man-Made Order, to explain how we can be guided towards the correct Principles.

The Natural Order is that which is provided by Nature, including Man's ability to procreate the human species. Everything that is brought into existence by Mankind, other than children, is part of the Man-Made Order. The human mind takes the products of the Natural Order and then manipulates them to generate the creature comforts necessary in the Man-Made Order to make human life first of all bearable, and then prosperous.

But how we can know reality? LeFevre postulates two more orders; the Objective Order and the Subjective Order.

The Objective Order is that which exists in reality, in and of itself, without requiring human knowledge or judgment to bring it into existence. If we were to wipe out all human minds the Objective Order would still exist. Facts live in this realm, as do Cause and Effect Principles. (Incidentally, these Principles are never invented by the human mind; they are only ever discovered by the human mind.)

For instance, it is an objective fact that the dark side of the Moon exists. The human mind does not need to see the dark side of the Moon, to know that it exists. (LeFevre speaks later about knowing whether reality itself exists, as evidenced by the light side of the Moon.)

The Objective Order is thus the nature of things as they are, even if beyond human awareness. A table, for instance, would continue to exist even if the carpenter who created it left the woodshed in which he created it. It would not disappear on his exit and reappear on his return; it would continue to exist without needing to continually be within his field of visual awareness.

Which brings us to the Subjective Order. Some people claim to know objective facts, says LeFevre. But this, again, is impossible. Because everything in the human mind and everything processed through the human sensory system is part of the Subjective Order. And you don't create reality with the human mind, you only become aware of impressions of reality in the human mind, via the senses.

Here LeFevre uses the analogy of a camera. It can take and record an astonishingly accurate image of reality, but this image is never reality itself. It will always lack some dimension. And it is the same with the human mind, he contends.

Man is a creature of images and dreams and everything in his mind is subjective. Man only knows objective reality through his subjective senses, and this is why he can never stop learning about reality, because there will always be more dimensions to it than the subjective mind can fully process and record.

But Man's knowledge is impressive. The human brain is an impression engine which can gain remarkably accurate impressions of objective reality. (Incidentally, adds LeFevre, there must be a reality out there, otherwise there would be no point for the brain to exist. Without reality there would be no mind necessary to grapple with it and to learn from it.)

Why is the brain such a good impression engine? Because we must classify reality accurately to survive and learn quickly from our mistakes; a mistake is a subjective impression of reality which differs from objective reality. For instance, if one man kept making the mistake that a tiger was a rose bush, evolution would quickly remove him from the scene leaving behind only those minds capable of rapidly overcoming such mistakes.

(You might want to see my article on Anthropomorphism which also examines this area.)

So what makes the brain an effective survival tool? The brain possesses four major components, argues LeFevre; an Image Receiver, a Memory Bank, a Generator of Desires, and an Evaluation and Preference Processor. All four of these are necessary for learning and survival.

These modules work in combination to help us discover the correct Principles so we can initiate proper causes to achieve desired effects, with hopefully the least amount of dysfunctional side-effects.

Tyranny and Slavery are such dsyfunctional side-effects, says LeFevre. We should use our brains better, to remove them via the ideas of Liberty.

Previous: Communication About Freedom
Next: How Do You Know For Sure?

No comments: