Robert LeFevre on Objectivism

From The Fundamentals of Liberty (page 6) – by Robert LeFevre

There are also those who contend that objectivity is everything. They contend that the world is real and that everything that is, is. They are correct in their contention as to the existence of reality. But they are not correct when they contend that the uses of the mind are also objective. It is from this argument that the assumption grows that accurate knowledge is totally objective and that anything that is incorrect is subjective.

Thus, those who favor objectivism attempt to make it appear that the “rational” man is one who has objective knowledge and the “irrational” man has only an opinion which remains subjective. This is a very attractive way of looking at things for it can always be interpreted to mean that you are “right,” and that anyone who disagrees with you is “wrong” and hence “irrational”.

The weakness in this philosophy relates to the fact that no one ever really knows everything about anything. You only know those portions of reality that you have observed and correctly understand. Knowledge is an open circuit, not a closed one. You can always learn more. This will be more fully demonstrated later on. The process of education is a continuing one.

The philosophy offered here actually combines subjectivity and objectivity without denying the valid features of either. The real world is objective. It exists whether you are aware of it or not. The uses of the mind are subjective. They relate to the manner in which you observe and the way in which you think. Knowledge is the correct union of the two.

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11 responses to “Robert LeFevre on Objectivism

  1. Observations, comparisons or opinions are always subjective because they are “colored” by the person’s knowledge, experiences, circumstances and the influence of others.

  2. jorge vazquez

    You seem to misunderstand the Objectivist position Epistemology which could be easily corrected by reading Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. One need not have unlimited knowledge to have a rational understanding of reality. Reason is the process of deduction, induction and integration. When new facts are made available, concepts must be adjusted accordingly. “Intro to Objectivist Epistemology” uses the example of blood transfussions. At one point in time it was rational not to do the proceedure because of the risk of death. When “blood types” were discovered, the concept of blood transfussions was ammended and now it is rational to include the proceedure as an accepted medical practice. The subjectivist view on blood transfussion (as exemplified by the Jehova’s Witness cults) do not offer any facts, but rather claim it’s a sin against god. To reconcile the objective with the subjective cannot be done. By it’s very definition, subjectivity is immune to reason (and logic). The subjectivist says “I don’t care what the facts are, this is what I feel”. This may be fine for the individual (atleast for the short term) but by what means does the subjectivist think he can convince others to his positions? Since reason is inevitable, the only other means of reconciling differences is force. So to try to find a compromise between objectivity and subjectivity is ultimately a compromise between reason and force.

    • @jorge:

      I think you will find that there is no contradiction between LeFevre’s observations and the Objectivist philosophy. He is merely pointing out the danger of falling into the trap of believing that one’s own subjective view of objective reality is always the correct observation and that everyone who disagrees has an incorrect subjective view of objective reality. He simply states that everyone, especially Objectivists, must guard against this trap.

      Case in point:

      It used to be “common knowledge” that the earth was flat by rational people who considered themselves to be “objective”. It wasn’t until the acquisition of newfound knowledge that new truth (actually THE truth) was observed.

  3. jorge vazquez

    @freemarketstudies:
    LeFevre actually does point this out as a “weakness” in objectivist epistemology (although he uses the word philosohy.) What’s more he claims to reconcile objectivity and subjectivty and tells us that he is still working on recociling the topic “This will be more fully demonstrated later on. The process of education is a continuing one.” It is his misunderstanding of Objectivist Epistemology that leads him to an impossible solution (reconciling reason and force) to a non-existent problem.

    I’d also like to say that the “flat earthers” never provided a rational, reality based argument. In fact whenever facts were presented the “flat earthers” accussed the presenters as heretics and used the force of god and government to silence them. How would LeFevre find a compromise if subjectitivity and objectivity (in practice force and reason) are equally valid means to knowledge?

    • @jorge:

      I believe that it is a logical fallacy to conclude that all subjectivity equals force but I’ll accept your suggestion to read “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology” and search for further knowledge.

      I think it may also be helpful to accept Ayn Rand’s enduring admonition to define our terms. I believe Robert LeFevre intends the following definitions in his excerpt above:

      Objective Reality – reality as it is; what is, is; “A”=”A”

      Subjective Reality – one’s personal interpretation of reality (which may or may not line up with reality “as it is”)

      It follows then that all individual observations of reality are subjective because it is impossible for them to be otherwise. Each of us must observe reality through our senses before applying our individual reasoning capacity – which may or may not be accurate.

  4. jorge vazquez

    @freemarketstudies:
    “It follows then that all individual observations of reality are subjective because it is impossible for them to be otherwise. Each of us must observe reality through our senses before applying our individual reasoning capacity – which may or may not be accurate.”

    According to this view of subjectivity, objectivity is impossible to humans because of the limitiations of our senses. What deliniates the subjective from the objective is a matter of approach. The objective mind looks at reality and conforms his definitions and opinions to fit that which exists. The subjective mind tries to rationalize (or explain away) reality to fit his preconcieved opinions and definitions. This is not to say that the objective person is always right. Because our senses are incomplete and errors in induction, deduction and integration are possible, knowledge is not automatic simply becuase one is operating with an objective epistemology. Nor is the subjectivist always wrong, after all even broken clocks are right twice per day. The difference is that the objective mind will be right much more often and when he is wrong, he can be proven wrong and he will have the ability to change his definitions and opinions to reflect reality “as it is”.

    The reason why the subjectivist always must rely on force (or fraude) is because he rejects reason when he reject objectivity. When the subjectivist tries to convince or reconcile with another individual, if reason has been rejected the only other means is force.

    • @jorge vasquez
      You wrote:

      “According to this view of subjectivity, objectivity is impossible to humans because of the limitiations of our senses.”

      Correct. I believe it is LeFevre’s view that there is no such thing as 100% objectivity from an individual’s viewpoint (his viewpoint being all that all he has to work with based upon the facts he is able to seek and discover).

      You wrote:

      “What deliniates the subjective from the objective is a matter of approach. The objective mind looks at reality and conforms his definitions and opinions to fit that which exists. The subjective mind tries to rationalize (or explain away) reality to fit his preconcieved opinions and definitions. This is not to say that the objective person is always right. Because our senses are incomplete and errors in induction, deduction and integration are possible, knowledge is not automatic simply becuase one is operating with an objective epistemology. Nor is the subjectivist always wrong, after all even broken clocks are right twice per day. The difference is that the objective mind will be right much more often and when he is wrong, he can be proven wrong and he will have the ability to change his definitions and opinions to reflect reality “as it is”.

      “The reason why the subjectivist always must rely on force (or fraude) is because he rejects reason when he reject objectivity. When the subjectivist tries to convince or reconcile with another individual, if reason has been rejected the only other means is force.

      Well said. I think the only differences are in the definitions which bring about confusion for most people. I speculate that LeFevre might have preferred to drop the term “objectivism” and replace it with the term “rational subjectivism” which would be defined as “the subjective mind’s ability to use reason in it’s maximum capacity to correctly observe reality as it is”.

  5. jorge vazquez

    @freemarketstudies
    “Well said. I think the only differences are in the definitions which bring about confusion for most people. I speculate that LeFevre might have preferred to drop the term “objectivism” and replace it with the term “rational subjectivism” which would be defined as “the subjective mind’s ability to use reason in it’s maximum capacity to correctly observe reality as it is”.

    If Lefever is correct he has based his philosophy on a contradiction. As we all know contradictions cannot exist in reality. That is why I said earlier that Lefever was seeking an impossible solution to a non-existent problem.

    • I think not. He simply makes the case that objective reality must still be filtered through our subjective interpretation of it. Our skills in reasoning determine how accurate we are. [updated comment added below after further study]

  6. jorge vazquez

    LeFever is falling for the old Kantian trap of thinking that objectivity is imposible to humans (and that is ultimately where his argument leads) since his senses are limited. I reject this notion because our senses have evolved in a matter which are most useful for a rational animal to make sense of the world he deals with. If our sense were subjective (as oppsosed to incomplete) the raw sense data would have no corelation to reality nor would two people even percieve the same thing when percieving a common object. Objectivity and reason are possible to man, but they are not automatic. The difference would be as you say in the interpretation. The rational man looks at reality and understands that A=A then goes about the process of induction, deduction and integration (the process of reason.) If the predictions of induction and deduction are shown to be false (contradictions exposed) or such data gather about a particular cannot be integrated into ones existing base of knowledge then the rational man does 1 or 2 things. A) He questions the data and creates artifical sensory organ enhancers (such as microscops, telescope and particle colliders) and B) If the data gathered is accurate then the rational man checks his premise to see where the contradiction lies within his base of knowledge. For the subjective man I think Tertulian spoke for him best when speaking in regards to God’s sacrifice on the cross when he said “Credo quia absudium.” (I believe in it because it is absurd.) The point is that to whatever extent subjectivity is accepted, reason is rejected. To accept that our senses are subejctive (which they can’t be because sense are not volitional) reason is rejected as the means of integrating sense data.

  7. It appears to me that LeFevre does not use the term “subjectivism” in the strict sense that Objectivists do. I believe he is pointing out human fallibility but confuses the issue by using the terms “subjective” and subjectivism” incorrectly. The correct definition of “subjectivism” is: “the doctrine that knowledge is merely subjective and that there is no external or objective truth.”

    He should have simply stated that “humans are not infallible so they must be constantly checking their facts and conclusions for accuracy”. I saw a headline recently that said something to the effect that “eyewitnesses pick the wrong person 70% of the time”. If this is correct, then it is even more critical that we must be extremely diligent in our fact-finding and reasoning.

    Ultimately, all we have to work with are the relevant facts that we can discover. There may be relevant facts that we are not aware of but that is no reason to discard our attempts at reason and objectivity.

    The Objectivist Epistemology makes sense to me and it squares with LeFevre’s admonition to exercise care in our reasoning (even though he could have been clearer in his choice of words).

    As a side note, one area where many “Objectivists” fall short, in my observation, (by the way I consider myself an Objectivist) is in the area of government. I believe LeFevre correctly points out the fact that the belief in external government is a form of “mysticism” – even one that is only supposed to protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (for the end does not justify the means). For an excellent, objective analysis of typical governments I recommend reading his essays “A Way To Be Free” (http://wp.me/pHQmz-kY) and “Autarchy” (http://wp.me/pHQmz-B5). Lysander Spooner also does an extremely effective job of destroying the legitimacy of constitutional government in his essay “No Treason VI: The Constitution of No Authority” (http://tinyurl.com/yh7kxvb).