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Darkademic's Philosophy - Part I


This is the first of a four-part essay explaining my philosophical ideas, beginning here with metaphysics and epistemology. My philosophical position is very much influenced by Objectivism, the philosophy originated by Ayn Rand.

Part 1.1 - Metaphysics

Metaphysics is the foundation of philosophy. It is the examination of reality, encompassing everything that exists, including the idea of non-existence and the nature of reality. It is the observation of "what is". What is the universe dependent upon? What is real? Where did the universe come from? Is reality ordered or chaotic? These are all metaphysical questions.

The Three Axioms

Existence Exists

An axiom is a fundamentally given, directly perceived identification of a primary fact of reality, which is irreducible and implicit in all facts, statements and knowledge. To be clear, axioms are the absolute base upon which all knowledge rests, and if one rejects them then no further knowledge can possibly be claimed. First of all, existence is everything, absolutely everything, that exists. Due to us having a perception of something, existence must exist. Thus, the axiom is demonstrated that existence exists. This is the fact that something exists as opposed to nothing. The nature of that which exists is not relevant here, it is simply an undeniable fact that existence — the sum of everything that exists — exists.

Consciousness is Conscious

Consciousness (the faculty of being aware of that which exists) being conscious is also axiomatic, and this is exemplified by (consciously) grasping the first axiom of existence. Simply by writing this I am demonstrating to myself that I am conscious, and conscious of something, and you are doing the same by reading this. Denial of consciousness is at the same time demonstrating that one is conscious because denial requires consciousness: Any thought at all requires consciousness.

Consciousness must also have something to be conscious of to operate; therefore there must exist something other than one's consciousness. Were nothing to exist, there could be no consciousness, because a consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms (since consciousness is the faculty of awareness and would not function if there was nothing to be aware of). Put differently, a consciousness which is only conscious of itself is a contradiction; this is because before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something external to itself.

The Law of Identity

"A is A" describes the law of identity which states that "all things (whether it be an object, an attribute, a relationship or an action) have a set nature and behave according to said nature; things are what they are, and cannot be contradictary". This is the third axiom which relates to the first axiom "existence exists" because it also implies something exists, i.e. to be is to be something, as opposed to nothing. The law of identity cannot be denied without using it as a premise, as all thoughts have an identity too: Denial of identity is at the same time identifying identity as distinct from everything else.

To possess identity means to have a specific identity. An entity may have multiple characteristics, but any and all such characteristics are part of its identity. Human beings observe these characteristics and use them to form concepts. It should be noted that entities can be organised into multiple different concepts and defined in multiple different ways, but this does not change their identity. For example, an apple is an apple, and also a fruit, yet it is what it is. Concepts (and their definitions) are not the same as identity: A thing's identity includes all of its properties and characteristics, whereas concepts are mental representations of a group of things derived from the identification and integration of said properties and characteristics.

Identity also applies to thoughts, knowledge, ideas, memories etc. These mental entities don't exist as physical objects as such; they exist as complex chemical reactions or electrical signals within our brains, yet we perceive them in a totally different way. They do exist however, and so they have identity.

Additionally, an entity is also the sum of its parts. You can talk about a computer as a whole, or in terms of its components — such as the processor, graphics card and case — or in terms of the plastic and metal it is constructed from, or in terms of the atoms which make up these constituent materials, but its identity never changes. Entities composed of other entities still have identity. Identity exists objectively and we can choose to focus on a particular part of an entity, and discover the identity of that part, but this does not contradict the identity of the whole, just as the identity of the whole does not contradict the identity of the parts.

Something cannot be both falling and rising, both red and blue, both alive and dead, or in two locations simultaneously. If reality had no identity, you would not be able to think anything. You would not be able to create concepts as they would overlap and fluctuate in a vain attempt to identify a reality with no set identity. You wouldn't be able to have an opinion on anything as you need to conceptualise whatever it is that you form opinions on. The identity of something causes it to behave in a specific way under a specific set of circumstances. Contradictions do not exist in nature, so something cannot be both one thing and something contradictary at the same time and/or in the same respect.

It is important to observe the interrelation of these three axioms. Existence is the first axiom. The universe exists independent of consciousness. Man is able to adapt his background to his own requirements, but "Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed" (Francis Bacon). There is no mental process that can change the laws of nature or erase facts. The function of consciousness is not to create reality, but to apprehend it. "Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification." Peikoff (1997)

The Nature of Existence


Causality is a corollary of the law of identity and is essentially the law of identity applied over time (to action) which refers to how entities interact with each other in a specific way depending on their properties. The (exact) same cause will have the (exact) same result each time it is performed. This is because things are what they are, and will act as such.

Causality describes entities performing actions and interacting causing their identities to change. The identity of an entity includes its position, weight, chemical structure etc. The nature of change is dependent on the nature of the entities involved. For example, melting ice: Heat energy causes the molecules to vibrate and eventually start to move around freely at a certain temperature, causing the ice to become a liquid, i.e. water. If the ice is uncontaminated then the ice will melt as soon as the temperature rises beyond 0 degrees celsius, though the same would not be true for say, a lump of iron. The changes are determined by the identity of the entities involved. As the entities change, so do their natures. With their altered identities, subsequent actions change accordingly. This continual process of action, reaction and interaction is all determined by the initial identities (at any given moment). Change is constant, governed by the laws of the universe: Time moves forward, and the forces of gravity, electromagnetism, and nuclear forces are the (known) confines which determine how things will change as time progresses. Identifying and understanding these specific forces and how they work is not a philosophical matter however, but a scientific one.

Primacy of Existence

The Primacy of Existence is the irrefutable fact that existence comes before consciousness. Reality is objective and cannot be altered by wishes, prayers, miracles or whims. As mentioned earlier, it is as Francis Bacon said "nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed", meaning we must act in accordance with reality and its identity in order to affect it. Consciousness is the faculty which perceives and identifies that which exists; it is not a means of controlling or affecting the rest of reality in any way, nor is it the cause or creator of existence.

Directly or indirectly, every phenomenon of consciousness is derived from one's awareness of the external world. Some object, i.e., some content, is involved in every state of awareness. Extrospection is a process of cognition directed outward -- a process of apprehending some existent(s) of the external world. Introspection is a process of cognition directed inward -- a process of apprehending one's own psychological actions in regard to some existent(s) of the external world, such actions as thinking, feeling, reminiscing, etc. ... A content-less state of consciousness is a contradiction in terms. Rand (1966)

The Primacy of Existence means that the metaphysically given is not controllable through consciousness alone. Though a person may rearrange elements of existence through their actions, whether it be laying bricks to build a house or focusing one's mind and thus causing electrical signals to occur in one's brain, the metaphysically given laws of nature cannot be broken. The metaphysically given is absolute.

With all this in mind, Objectivism rejects both idealism (the view that consciousness is independent of existence and which implies the primacy of consciousness) and materialism (the idea that there is existence but no consciousness; that consciousness is a biological illusion). Objectivism rejects that there is a dichotomy between the two. Consciousness exists as a product of things which exist in reality.

Summary of Metaphysics

  • Existence exists.
  • Consciousness is conscious (and is conscious of something).
  • A is A. Reality and everything in it has a specific identity.
  • Causality is the axiom that entities will act and/or behave in accordance with their identity.
  • Existence is primary. Consciousness is secondary.
  • The metaphysically given is absolute.
  • Idealism & materialism are a rejection of one or more of the three axioms.

Part 1.2 - Epistemology

Epistemology is the examination of how we acquire knowledge. It looks at our reasoning, logic and understanding of the world, and at how we formulate ideas and concepts. It examines what it means to be conscious and the validity of our senses and explores the relationship between our mind and the external world.

The Base of Cognition

Sensation & Perception

All knowledge is derived from sensory input. We experience the world as images, sounds, smells, tastes and physical feelings, and these are collectively called sensations. Perception is an automatic process which integrates that which we sense over time, into percepts (for example, our perception of distinct objects and entities). With the data acquired through sensations and integrated into percepts we can gain knowledge through forming concepts / abstractions.

All knowledge begins with percepts, so perception is the base of cognition (not basic sensation, as sensations are automatically integrated into percepts by our brain) which means that the perceptual level is the given. Sense data is also valid, and denying this is self-contradictory since such an assertion implicitly relies upon the validity of the senses, due to the fact that sense data is the only possible source of the alleged knowledge of their invalidity (even if said knowledge is declared to be uncertain itself). Also, since all knowledge requires sensory input, all knowledge is acquired after one is born (or at least after one's senses are developed and functioning); human beings begin life tabula rasa (blank slate). Human beings have no innate ideas.

Sensory qualities are also necessarily real. Consciousness doesn't create its own content or even the sensory forms by which it obtains its content. These forms are determined entirely by ones senses and existence acting upon them, in accordance with causality. The senses and consciousness itself are subject to identity just like the rest of existence. The world as we experience it may indeed be different that as experienced by other creatures which may have radically different sensory "equipment", but this does not indicate reality is subjective because all sensory perception draws from one, same reality. Reality is the same no matter how you perceive it, and so all conscious beings operate within the same "frame of reference". For example, if a person is colour-blind he may see something as grey which another person sees as green. These two perceptions in no way contradict each other, and both are valid. The object in reality is a specific colour caused by a specific wavelength of light, it is what it is, and how a person perceives it does not matter. If the above colour-blind person were to use a device which measured wavelengths of light he would, of course, get the same result as someone who is not colour-blind. The distinction here is between the subjective and the personal, the former meaning the experience is primary, the latter meaning reality is primary.


Volition means free-will. Volition is a corollary of the axiom of consciousness, although not all conscious beings possess the faculty of volition. Volition is self-evident via introspection. It is the act of focusing one's thoughts on a subject, so introspection itself is a volitional act - the act of focusing one's consciousness on itself. Volition is used to form concepts, to induct general propositions and to deduce conclusions regarding specific situations concerning them. Volition relates to the primary irreducible choice of focusing one's thoughts. Focus is purposeful awareness, which gives one the power to think, judge and evaluate. It is the first cause within a human consciousness. From this starting point, one chooses the causes that shape one's actions. A biological determinist may argue that free-will is merely an illusion and we are controlled by chemicals - in essence, we do not really think at all. This is false. Our brain and the chemicals associated with it are what cause free-will. Free-will is self evident, and just because it has a cause like anything else does not negate its existence. It is the task of science to discover exactly how our brains create free-will. We do not perceive the world like a movie, incapable of affecting its outcome; we are able to select amongst imnumerable alternatives at every moment of our lives.

Volition is axiomatic because in denying volition one would have to assume it in the process. How? Validation depends on the mind being free to accept the validation or not. A mind incapable of freely accepting the validity of a given claim would not be able to have knowledge any more than your knee has knowledge when it jerks after being tapped (notice how axioms are always at the base of knowledge. This is the nature of axioms. They are general ideas that cover all knowledge and are necessary for it to be knowledge).

Conceptual Thought

Concepts & Integration

Human beings have the ability to think conceptually rather than just in terms of percepts. Without this ability one would have to treat every entity as entirely unique and different, allowing for no significant progression or development of knowledge. Concept-formation is a means to achieving a unit-economy, i.e. to economise an unlimited amount of information into a finite number of easily processed, abstract units. A concept then, is the integration of two or more particulars (i.e. units - i.e. a separate member of a group with two or more similar members) into a single mental classification, isolated and unified by specific characteristics. For example the concept "cow" isn't one cow in particular, it implicitly subsumes every cow that has ever been and every cow that could possibly be as a single generalised whole. Concepts aren't bound to the particulars that they derive from, so if all cows were destroyed, the concept would still exist.

Concepts can be also be used as units themselves and integrated to form higher-level concepts, for example the concept of crime requires the concept of law, which itself depends upon other concepts. Concepts are contextual, in that they can be expanded and / or made more specific or complex as one's knowledge grows and as certain concepts become obsolete in light of new knowledge and must either be revised or become useless.

A concept is formed by a mathematical process, taking similarities between multiple entities, whilst discarding the differences and the particular measurements of the similarities ("measurement omission"). An attribute is a characteristic of a thing which is reducible to a unit of measurement, such as shape, size, velocity, weight, colour etc. Commensurable (commonly measurable) attributes are taken as the CCDs (Conceptual Common Denominators) which allows differentiation and integration. The concept of table, therefore, is formed by isolating the attributes (CCDs) that constitute "tableness", i.e. support(s) and a flat surface upon which items may be placed (both elements of shape), and omitting the specific (quantitative) measurements involved, such as height, weight, color, number of supports, diameter of surface, etc. The process of concept formation is comparable to algebra: Specific characteristics of perceptual concretes (such as the overall height of a given table) are replaced by variables (x, y, z etc.) which denote some quantity. It is in what relation the quantities are to each other, and whether the quantities fall within the range of the concept, which is of importance. For example, a helmet without a certain degree of hardness would simply be a hat. Hardness (or the protection that it offers one's head) is part of what differentiates a helmet from other headwear. Additionally, a solid piece of metal that has no hollow area in which to place one's head would also not be a helmet as hardness is, of course, not the only characteristic which constitutes a helmet, it must also be wearable on one's head. Units of measurement themselves (such as centimeters or seconds) are also concepts, however in this case the specific measurements (e.g. of length or time) are retained and everything else is omitted.

One could potentially create an almost infinite number of concepts in this way, which is why the purpose of the concept is vital. Concepts must serve some useful, rational purpose. Additionally, the specific characteristics taken should only be those which are necessary to make an adequate distinction. This because concepts are there to reduce the complexity of knowledge as much as possible, as to make it easily accessible and easily manipulated.

A concept is a mental integration of two or more units posesssing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted. Rand (1966)

There is also the idea of "broken units". These are entities which are subsumed under a particular concept, but which lack a characteristic shared by the other units of the concept of which it is a member. The characteristic may be any characteristic, including the distinguishing characteristic of that concept. These concepts are derivative of the concept under which they are subsumed. A broken unit is to be regarded as a unit of the concept from which it is derived is because it should have the characteristic it lacks, as determined by its goals or purpose. Broken units are essential tools for conceptualisation, because they allow us to omit contextually non-essential units which would otherwise wipe out the possibility of defining and conceptualising facts about living organisms and man’s purposive creations. Broken units only relevant to living or purposive entities: For example if you cut a rock in half you do not get two halves of a rock, you get two rocks, whereas the opposite would be true if you sliced a dog in half.


The definition of a concept is the final stage of conceptualisation. The basic function of a definition is to distinguish a concept from all other concepts and thus to keep its units differentiated from all other existents. A definition identifies a concept's essential characteristics, which are the genus (CCD) and the differentia (differences from other existents that share the same genus). These characteristics must be fundamental, i.e. they must be responsible for all or most of the units' remaining distinctive characteristics. An excellent metaphor for the term "definition" is that of a file folder with a label. The file folder's contents represents the concept, while the label represents the definition. The contents of the folder can increase as more sensory knowledge regarding the existents to which the concept refers is obtained, and the definition may be revised if it no longer effectively differentiates between the concept it refers to and other concepts.

Use of the Mind

Objectivity & Logic

Thinking, to be valid, must adhere to reality. The use of objectivity allows one to attain reality-oriented thought. Objectivity is the volitional use of reality as the ultimate standard of evaluation. It is the act of determining the truth by referencing reality, and making one's thoughts and ideas conform to reality. The concepts of truth and falsehood are only meaningful in reference to reality. Logic is the conforming of one's ideas to the law of identity, the art of non-contradictory identification. Concepts are objective because they are based upon that which exists in reality. Concepts which are arbitrary or not based on reality are not concepts but floating abstractions. An example of such a floating abstraction is God. The idea of God does not in fact reference something that exists in reality, it is purely imagination and is utterly detached from reality. Objectivity is the volitional adherence to reality by the method of logic, and it is only through this method that proper concepts can be formed.

There are two broad philosophical viewpoints which reject the reality-based objective nature of conceptual knowledge. Intrinsicism claims that conceptual information exists within entities themselves, so humans simply have to absorb such information by passively observing them. Subjectivism rejects the objectivity of concepts altogether, claiming that reality is whatever one (or a group of persons) says it is. Both perspectives fail to recognise the unity between reality-based sense perception and thought-based concept-formation.

Context & Hierarchy of Knowledge

Context means "the sum of cognitive elements conditioning an item of knowledge." In other words, knowledge is relational on every level, rather than an assortment of isolated fragments. Every item of knowledge is interconnected. Context is what sets an item of knowledge's relationship to reality, and thus sets its meaning and proper use. Part of the contextual nature of concepts / knowledge is its hierarchical nature. Items of knowledge are ranked in order of logical dependency according to each item's distance from the base of perceptual data with which cognition begins. Reduction is the means of connecting advanced knowledge to reality by travelling backward through the hierarchical structure involved, i.e. identifying in logical sequence the intermediate steps that relate a cognitive item to perceptual data.

Since knowledge is contextual, certainty is also contextual. Human knowledge is finite, so certainty is only meaningful in the scope of one's knowledge. One can be certain of something when referencing one's current array of knowledge, and still be wrong. For instance, within the context of one's knowledge one may be certain that the Earth is flat. When more evidence is attained such as being able to circumnavigate the globe, this knowledge can be expanded (rather than contradicted) e.g. "The Earth appears flat due to its size, when viewed from the surface. However, the totality of the Earth is spherical." During the gathering of evidence, any confirmable conclusion must also pass through a continuum from unknown to possible to probable to certain. An example would be the investigation of a murder.


Reason is the (only) means of achieving conceptual knowledge, and such knowledge is acquired through the volitional use of logic and objectivity to integrate percepts to form concepts. Reason is also the means of manipulating and evaluating ideas. Through reason we can judge new ideas to be true or false by applying logic and objectivity, and if the new ideas do not contradict reality or other knowledge one has, then they can be integrated into what we already know. If a new idea contradicts known facts then it is either false, or the premise / current knowledge is false.

Reason is used volitionally. One is always confronted with the option to think or not think, to focus or drift, to confront or evade. Proper use of reason requires focus and clarity, it requires effort. Through reason human beings are able to determine how to go about gaining information through perceiving the world, and also to determine what kind of information we need to fill gaps in our knowledge. Reason is then the means to combining that new information with the rest of our knowledge. Knowledge can only be formed through reason; reason is absolute. In essence, reason is a human being's basic tool of survival. Its data is percepts, its content is concepts and its method is logic.

All this said, humans are not infallible and can make honest mistakes. One can receive perceptual information that should not be taken at face-value (optical illusions for instance, which require a degree of interpretation and knowledge of the way in which man's senses and mind work), one may make logical errors or create improper concepts, or one may be lied to. Further reasoning and objectivity is the only way to correct and avoid such errors.

The Arbitrary

An important rule of logic is that the burden of proof rests on the person who makes any positive assertion (e.g. "God exists"), and that one cannot attempt to prove a negative assertion (e.g. "prove that God doesn't exist"). An assertion must begin with facts, not an absence of facts; otherwise it is an arbitrary assertion. An arbitrary claim is one for which there is no evidence, either perceptual or conceptual. Since the statement is detached from the realm of evidence, no process of logic can assess it to determine its truth (correspondence with reality) or falsehood (contradiction with reality). The rational response to such a claim is to dismiss it, without discussion, consideration, or argument.

Skepticism & Mysticism

Skepticism is the non-trust of our senses, the idea that nothing is certain. Sure, I can't "prove" that I am objectively real to someone who doesn't trust their senses. In their view, I could be a figment of their imagination. I know I am not, but they don't, and there is no way of truly proving that I am "real". We are confined to what our senses tell us, so we may be "in the Matrix" so to speak. However, such are arbitraty claims. It is impossible to find some kind of "pure truth" since we can't step outside our own consciousness. Skepticism makes the concept of "certain" meaningless, since a concept only has meaning if it subsumes some things and not others, and by their definition everything is uncertain. Skepticism denies that human beings can acquire knowledge in any manner. The position is both nihilistic, in that it is an assault on one's ability to posess knowledge, and self-contradictary, in the senses are the only possible source of the alleged knowledge of their invalidity.

Mysticism is also a rejection of reason as it claims knowledge can be acquired through automatic internal feelings, divine revelations, instinct or intuition rather than via the senses. Mysticism rejects cognition as the sole means of knowledge and looks towards revelation, supernatural insight, the word of God etc. Both mysticism and skepticism seek to escape the absolutism of reason and thus to allow their followers to apply reason only when they feel like it.


Emotions are automated responses which correspond to one's values. They correspond to one's previous value judgements. Emotions are not tools of cognition, in that they can't be relied upon as a means to knowledge of reality as one's senses can. They are a guide, that reflect whether or not one is acting according to their values or against them, as well as whether their values are being threatened or contributed to by other people, events or circumstances. Both skepticism and mysticism essentially lead to emotionalism - i.e. the following of one's feelings, irrespective of where they come from, as opposed to following reason and reality.


Living Organisms as Goal-Directed and Conditional

Life is a clear distinguishing factor amongst entities. Entities which are not alive react, on a very simple level, to the laws of physics. Living entities on the other hand, have self-generated actions which occur in order to keep the entity alive. Life is a condition which must be sustained through constant action. Non-human living entities simply react to direct stimuli / sensations (e.g. plants, mussels) or percepts (e.g. dogs, rabbits). Humans beings are unique amongst all living organisms known to exist in their ability to choose between life-enhancing and life-destroying actions via conscious choice. No other living being is capable of wilfully destroying its own life (qua whatever it is).

Reason as the Basic Means of Survival

All living things have a means of survival. The most basic organisms such as plants simply have in-built mechanisms to sustain life. They are not conscious and the process is automatic. Animals, such as dogs, cats and horses, are conscious, but their survival is based on instincts, and this process is also automatic. Non-human organisms acquire and process metaphysically given raw materials automatically. The same is not true for human beings. Humans must acquire knowledge about such raw materials and knowledge of how to use them to their advantage. Humans integrate past knowledge with present observations in a conceptual form through the process of reason, enabling them to make long-range survival plans. Reason is therefore a human being's basic means of survival.

Reason as an Attribute of the Individual

Reasoning is a process carried out by an individual's mind via the excersise of the metaphysically given attribute of human beings; volition. Reason is a chosen process, it is not automatic. Collective consciousness or thought does not exist. One person may share his or her conclusions with other people, but those other people can choose to excersise their own reasoning in order to accept or reject such conclusions. Of course, one can also simply accept or reject ideas at random or passively, refusing to use reason entirely. The idea of collective thought is incorrect at the metaphysical level however, as is the theory of determinism. Both of these deny the process of conscious concept-formation by arguing that concepts are either present at birth and are a result of biology, or that they are "injected" and integrated into a person's knowledge without any internal processing - the hypodermic syringe model of knowledge and ideas. The individual human is a sovereign entity and is totally responsible for his own thoughts and actions due to being capable of judging and evaluating which choices he/she should make, and which actions he/she should take.

Summary of Epistemology

  • Sense data is valid, and the only source of facts about reality.
  • Reason is the only means to attaining and developing conceptual knowledge.
  • Reason includes the use of logic, integration, induction, deduction and objectivity.
  • Concepts, formed by integration and differentiation of percepts, allow complex thought.
  • Concepts are derived from facts of reality.
  • Knowledge is contextual and heirarchical.
  • Reason is a human being's basic tool of survival.
  • Reason is an attribute of individuals.

Continue to Part II: Ethics >>>


Peikoff, L. (1991). Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. New York: Meridian.

Rand, A. (1966). Introduction To Objectivist Epistemology. New York: Penguin.