Sunday, May 04, 2008

Objectivism Revisited

Rereading Atlas Shrugged for the second time, and was struck by this paragraph where Francisco is talking to Dagny:
"Look around you," he said, "A city is the frozen shape of human courage--the courage of those men who thought for the first time of every bolt, rivet and power generator that went to make it. The courage to say, not 'It seems to me,' but 'It is'--and to stake one's life on one's judgment. You're not alone. Those men exist. They have always existed. There was a time when human beings crouched in caves, at the mercy of any pestilence and any storm. Could men such as those on your Board of Directors have brought them out of the cave and up to this?"

- Page 510 in the first Plume printing 1999
I have been a pretty hard nosed skeptic for some time, and have often debated with people about what one can and cannot know (in the epistemological sense). Having agreed with Descartes in his Discourse on Method only as far as "I think therefore I am", suffice to say I don't think we can truly know much of anything.

Yet, we live in a seemingly real-time universe where we exist and function to some degree or another. Each thought, each decision leads to some action that we take in the praxeological sense. There is no way for the skeptic to hide from action indefinitely, and in fact, what little time there is really gone in the blink of an eye. For I can decide that I either have sufficient knowledge to start or continue an undertaking or I do not, but there is no escaping the decision to act. Either I build a bridge, create a piece of software, invent a new model of cognition or I do not. Either way, I have made my choice, and that choice results in inescapable action without the luxury of assured knowledge or truth.

I have never really dug in to see if I buy Objectivism or not, and while I certainly do agree with many of the resulting conclusions, I have been quite reluctant to accept the main pretexts on which the philosophy seems to be grounded. But if in this paragraph, and in the resulting thoughts it brings to mind, the underpinnings are to be found, then perhaps I need to reconsider what it means to be an Objectivist, and if I consider myself one.