Subjectivism in Hodge's View of Reality and Knowledge
In a much more protracted blog entry, Hodge seeks to defend the idea that perception of reality is somehow epistemologically insufficient for knowledge, and that what really is vital for knowledge is some kind of faith in what he calls “subjective apprehensions.”
In telling his readers of his awareness of my responses (in my comments here and my main blog entry here) to his initial blog entry and follow-up comments, Hodge states that my efforts to rebut him “fail miserably to understand the argument and address the problem” which he apparently believes he has successfully laid forth. Hodge suggests that my intention is “to merely exhaust readers by lengthy posts that give the impression that [I have] actually said something relevant” to his argument. That I interact directly with Hodge’s statements is apparently not sufficient for my reaction to be relevant to what he has argued.
Referring to what I have written as a “sort of sophistry,” Hodge claims that such licentious discourse “is evident in these long posts when they attempt to nitpick everything about my argument, but the argument itself.” So interacting directly with a Hodge’s statements as I have constitutes “nitpicking” which is focused on “everything about [his] argument” somehow misses “the argument itself,” and word count is supposedly an indication of this. Hodge huffs:
”Hey, if you’re going to bluff, make sure you do it with a lot of words so it seems like you’ve got something to back up your claims.”
Now, I am happy to examine the entirety of Hodge’s reply to me, but in the present entry I want to focus on the very first paragraph he writes in his newest entry.
Here’s what Hodge writes there:
I recently wrote a little blurb dealing with Objectivism a few weeks ago. By "Objectivism" I really mean the belief that we can obtain a true knowledge of reality of the whole by evaluating what we can only experience, as we can never know if we are experiencing the partial or the whole. Of course, if one is wrong in his belief of whether he is experiencing the partial or the whole is to distort the nature of reality, and therefore, the phenomena he is experiencing. Hence, he is not really experiencing the nature of reality as it exists, but merely as something distorted by his metaphysic. In order to experience reality with some sort of analogical accuracy, he must get his metaphysic right. That metaphysic cannot be confirmed and known to be right, however, through what he experiences, as that would be to beg the question of what he is experiencing when he comes into sensory contact with phenomena, whether he is accessing something partially or completely in terms of its nature.
First, notice that in his earlier blog entry, Hodge sought to refute “objectivism” with a small ‘o’, as can be seen in the texts of his blog and subsequent comments he posted there. He provided no definition explaining what he meant by ‘objectivism’, and yet he proclaimed in that blog entry to have refuted it.
Hodge now says he had posted “a little blurb dealing with Objectivism” (capital ‘O’), and provides an explanation of what he means by this:
By “Objectivism” I really mean the belief that we can obtain a true knowledge of reality of the whole by evaluating what we can only experience, as we can never know if we are experiencing the partial or the whole.
At points throughout his blog he makes statements to the effect that his aware of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. For instance, he writes the following statements:
 FYI, I was reading Rand when the objection came up in my mind. I found her supposed rationale against what I’ve said to be an exploration into the same type of question begging I’ve addressed above.
 I was specifically addressing Rand's idea that one can access reality objectively through the senses.
 Hence, what is forming the concept is not the data gained from sensory perception, but the faith in a metaphysic that then uses the data to reason to his view of reality. In other words, it's all circular, but he wants to argue, along with Rand's Objectivism, that he has direct access to unmediated facts that alone make up the totality of the characteristics of reality via sense perception and concept formation based upon the data collected by it.
What is clear from what Hodge does write, is that what he means by “Objectivism” is a type of belief. By contrast, “Objectivism” as Rand used it denotes a specific philosophical system distinguished from others at least in part by its consistent application and uncompromising adherence to the metaphysical primacy of existence in the subject-object relationship. At no point in his two blog entries does Hodge evince informed awareness of the issue of metaphysical primacy, even after quoting in his reply to me a statement of mine in which I make direct reference to this matter.
Here it is important to point out a fundamental difference between Objectivism as Rand developed it, and numerous other worldviews, in particular the religious worldview which enshrines belief in some sort of “supernatural” realm, with regard to the source of knowledge. Typically most people are willing to acknowledge man’s non-omniscience: man does not have all knowledge. In fact, Objectivism specifically holds that man begins tabula rasa - as a ‘blank slate’ – with no mental content already in his mind when he is born (and certainly not when he is first conceived). We must acquire knowledge of reality through some kind of mental effort, and we must acquire that knowledge from some source. Objectivism holds that we must do this by looking outward at the world around us, by observing what we perceive and by identifying what we observe by means of concepts, as opposed to looking inward at the contents of our own consciousness as though knowledge of what’s “out there” were already present in our minds apart from observation of the world around us. The objective view of knowledge, then, is that knowledge is acquired by looking outward at reality and forming knowledge according to an objective method, while the subjective view of knowledge is that knowledge is acquired by looking inward, consulting the contents of one’s feelings, wishes, imagination, etc., as the source of knowledge of reality. It is by looking inward that religionists think they have contact with a realm contradicting the world which we perceive around us when we look outward.
This distinction is crucially relevant to the major disagreements which Hodge has against Objectivism. It’s clear that he thinks we must acquire knowledge by looking inward; perception of reality can only distort what reality really is, and thus any supposition “that the senses give us an accurate perception of reality can only be confirmed by belief in a reality we cannot perceive with the senses.”
Also involved in Hodge’s objections to Objectivism is the notion of whether or not “we are experiencing the partial or the whole” of reality. He writes: “if one is wrong in his belief of whether he is experiencing the partial or the whole is to distort the nature of reality, and therefore, the phenomena he is experiencing.” Notice the tremendous power which this statement grants to conscious activity over reality: if one’s belief is wrong, the result is “to distort the nature of reality” and “the phenomena [one] is experiencing.” If you have a wrong belief, the nature of reality is affected. Whether Hodge actually intended to say this or not, what he does in fact write here can only suggest that reality in some way conforms to or is at any rate altered by the content of consciousness. This is known in Objectivism as the primacy of consciousness: existence does not exist independent of consciousness, but in fact depends on and can be altered by conscious manipulation. It’s a neat trick, but I’ve never witnessed it outside of storybooks like Harry Potter and the New Testament gospels.
Because, on Hodge’s view, mere belief is invested with so much power over reality, if one has a “wrong” belief, “he is not really experiencing the nature of reality as it exists, but merely as something distorted by his metaphysic.” So if I have a “wrong” belief, this is sufficient to “distort” whatever it is that I am experiencing. If I have a “wrong” belief, then, when I’m drinking a cup of coffee for instance, what I’m experience has somehow been “distorted” by the presence of this “wrong” belief in my mind. I may think I’m holding a cup of coffee to my mouth, but in fact I might be directing a movie shoot, levitating over Okinawa, or piloting a supertanker into Felixstowe. Because of my “wrong” belief, I’m “not really experiencing the nature of reality as it exists, but merely as something distorted by [my] metaphysic.” And because of this distortion of reality caused by the presence of a “wrong” belief in my mind, I have no way of knowing whether I’m actually drinking a cup of coffee (which is what I think I’m doing) or watching Okinawans going about their business from 1500 feet in the sky.
Thus, Hodge stipulates, “in order to experience reality with some sort of analogical accuracy, he must get his metaphysic right.” So, for Hodge, getting one’s “metaphysic right” holds metaphysical primacy over experience proper. In other words, the inner holds epistemological primacy over the outer: we must look inward and get our internal mental affairs in order before we can have any confidence that when we look outward we’re really experiencing “reality as it exists” (as opposed to some distortion resulting from the presence of a “wrong” belief which has the power to alter the fundamental nature of our experience). The inner holds epistemological primacy over the outer because the inner holds metaphysical primacy over the outer: the presence of a “wrong” belief (an inner state) is sufficient to “distort the nature of reality.”
To confirm that the inner holds epistemological primacy over the outer, Hodge insists that
The metaphysic cannot be confirmed and known to be right, however, through what he experiences, as that would be to beg the question of what he is experiencing when he comes into sensory contact with phenomena, whether he is accessing something partially or completely in terms of its nature.
While it’s clear that this “accessing something partially or completely in terms of its nature” has special significance for Hodge, I admit that it’s completely unclear what it means or why it’s an issue in the first place, and it’s doubly unclear how one is expected to translate this concern into understanding any experience one might have, such as drinking a cup of coffee. But given how little effort Hodge has made in clarifying what he has in mind here and explaining why he thinks it’s so important, I must say it’s quite difficult to determine whether or not so far I have experienced Hodge’s refutation of Objectivism either “partially or completely in terms of its nature.”
But one thing is certainly clear: Hodge’s view rests on the metaphysical primacy of consciousness, and its implications in epistemology point entirely to a subjectivist view which requires that one look inward into the content of one’s feelings, wishes, imagination, etc., in order to establish a “metaphysic” suitable to interpreting one’s experiences, since the presence of a “wrong” belief has the power to “distort the nature of reality.”
By contrast, Objectivism holds that reality exists and is what it is independent of both conscious activity and mental content, that beliefs do not have the power to alter reality, that reality continues to exist and be what it is regardless of what anyone thinks, believes, feels, wishes, hopes, imagines, etc., and that the task of consciousness is not to dictate or alter the nature of reality by embracing some view independent of experience, but to identify the objects one finds in reality according to facts one observes in those objects and to integrate what he has identified into a non-contradictory sum. Thus it should be clear going forward that the nature of the dispute between Hodge and myself is ultimately a clash between a worldview premised on the primacy of consciousness (i.e., metaphysical subjectivism) in the case of Hodge’s position, and a worldview premised on the primacy of existence (i.e., Objectivism). Hodge’s view is that reality is ultimately dependent on consciousness, and yet in affirming that this is the case he tacitly makes use of the primacy of existence principle: he’s essentially saying that “this is how reality is, and we must accept this because it’s this way regardless of what we believe, think, feel, prefer, wish, imagine, etc.” Thus he makes use of Objectivism’s distinguishing principle in his very attempt to “refute Objectivism.”
I’m glad these aren’t my problems!
by Dawson Bethrick