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A Field Guide to Objectivism

A Field Guide To Objectivism.
Todd Howe‘s bekende uittreksel van Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s “Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand” lijkt van het Web verdwenen. Vanwege het belang van dit document heb ik besloten het op mijn website te publiceren. Todd Howe‘s famous summary of Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s “Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand” seems to have disappeared from the Web. Because of its importance I have decided to publish it on my website.
Contents:

I. Metaphysics.

  • Existence, consciousness, identity are the basic axioms.
  • The axioms mean: existence (reality) is, consciousness exists perceiving it, something is what it is.
    • “There is something of which I am aware” sums them up.
  • Causality is a corollary of identity, relates an entity and its action.
    • Every entity has identity, which it must act in accordance with (it cannot contradict it’s own nature)
    • This is the law of identity applied to action, all actions are caused by entities.
  • Existence possesses primacy over consciousness:
    • One is conscious because one exists, not vice versa.
    • i.e.: the object of consciousness precedes its subject – that to which consciousness is directed must necessarily come before consciousness itself.
    • Consciousness observes reality, it does not alter its identity (non-contadiction).
    • Knowledge of existence (apart from one’s consciousness) can be gained only by directing one’s consciousness outwards, to apprehend reality.
    • Knowledge of consciousness itself may be gained by introspection.
  • The metaphysically given is absolute.
    • Anything in existence apart from human action is metaphysically given.
    • The metaphysically given is “necessary” since it’s non-existence would involve contradiction (causality).
    • Necessary is the antonym of chosen, but man-made objects don not violate causality.
    • Man must enact the requisite causes by rearranging combinations of natural elements.
    • Value judgments can not be made of the metaphysically given, it simply is.

Back to Contents.

II. Epistemology.

  • To validate epistemology, one must first validate sense perception and volition.
    • If one is unable to observe reality (without distortion) there can be no cognitive enterprise since there are no innate ideas, conceptual content is derived from the senses.
    • If the conceptual level is automatic, if human beings are determined, then no cognitive guidance is applicable.
Perception.

  • The validity of the sense is an axiom, it is a precondition of proof.
    • If one is conscious of that which is, then one’s means of awareness are one’s means of awareness;
      are valid – a corollary of consciousness.
    • Sense organs are a link in a causally determined chain, they do not have an ability to distort; they give us evidence of everything impinging upon them, the full context of the facts.
    • Sensations are caused in part by objects in reality and in part by our organs of perceptions (in the forms they provide) – a difference in sensory form, however, does not matter. Beings with different senses will not come to different conclusions, they simply gain different kinds or amounts of knowledge.
    • Sensations are real, they are the inexorabl effects of primaries, they are neither wholly in the object or the subject, they are results of an interaction of the two; however in the sense that the source of sensory form is a fact independent of consciousness, they are “out there”.
    • Consciousness, like all entities, possesses identity; it is finite and limited,it is something which has to grasp its objects somehow.
    • It is not omniscient – an infinite consciousness would have no identity, it is a nothing, it does not exist since it has no identitiy in particular – infinity is merely a potentiality, the actual is always finite.
    • A means to perception cannot be used to negate perception.
    • The perceptual level is the metaphysically given, the brain integrates disparate sensations into percepts automatically.
    • The conceptual level, however, is not automatic.
Volition.

  • The actions required of a consciousness on the conceptual level are not automatic.
    • The primary irreducable cause of volition is the choice to “focus” ones consciousness.
    • This decision to perceive reality precedes value judgments and ideas.
    • Volition does not defy causality – man is neither indeterminate nor determined, man chooses the causes that shape his actions, his actions do have causes; they are both caused and
      free.
    • Volition is axiomatic, self-evident by introspection.
    • To ask for proof of free will is to presuppose the validity of volition, since proof is only necessary because of free will.
    • Volition is a corollary of consciousness.
  • Thus the need for epistemological norms is proven.
Concepts.

  • The conceptual level (which animals do not possess) is the ability to regard entities as units.
  • Units are things viewed as being in existing relationships.
  • Differentiation and integration of entities into a concept are the means to a unit-perspective, concepts achieve “unit-economy” – they condense the vast array of units “out there” into a single idea – so instead of the need to remember all the trees ever encountered, one simply remembers the concept tree and it’s characteristics.
  • Words, language, are essential to the process of conceptualization and thought by providing a visual/auditory “tag” for a concept, itself functioning as a unit.
  • The unit, both in measurement and conceptualization, brings the universe, the potential of all existents and quantities within the range of finite consciousness.
  • Man relates concretes quantitatively; to form a concept we retain characteristics but omit their measurements (which exist but are not specified).
  • A concept is “a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristics with their particular measurements omitted”.
  • Higher level concepts (those removed from the strictly perceptual level) also involve measurement omission, they are abstractions from previous concepts.
  • A definition is the final step in concept-formation.
  • A definition specifies the essential characteristics of a concept’s units, since listing all characteristics is impossible. 
  • The genus and differentia, or species, are the necessary parts of a definition, which reflect the differentiation of the units from a larger group (genus).
  • Concepts are contextual, as are definitions since man’s mind operates under a certain context of knowledge (it is not omniscient, it has identity).
  • As one’s knowledge expands, definitions rnay have to be revised to reflect the new context – the new definition does not contradict the old one however, it is just a refinement of it since the facts in the old definition no longer serve to differentiate the units subsumed.
  • Concepts also remain open-ended to new knowledge – characteristics which are added to the concept which do not contradict earlier knowledge.
  • A definition is made on the basis of the concept’s fundamental characteristie(s); the definition implicitly contains all known features, but it is not interchangeable with the concept itself – it is a condensation.
  • Concepts and definitions are objective, there is a real rnetaphysical precedent (observed characteristics), which are processed by a volitional consciousness; concepts are the products of existence and consciousness.
  • Some concepts (synonyms or borderline cases) are optional, one can alter an existing concept to accommodate the new concept, create a new concept, or simply describe the object (i.c.; hanging tables) as long as the option makes no cognitive difference or leads to contradiction.
Objectivity

  • Knowledge is the grasp of an object through an active, reality based process chosen by the subject (to find this method and explain it is epistemology’s purpose).
  • This method is logic (‘non-contradictory identification’).
  • Objectivity, the means to knowledge, is “volitional adherence to reality by the method of logic”
  • Knowledge is contextual and hierarchical
    • A concept is objective when defined within the full context of current knowledge, this context cannot be stripped away since knowledge on everv level is relational, a non-contradictory sum – not disconnected concretes.
    • Knowledge is hierarchical, proof is available by reduction to perception (axioms); ‘stolen concepts’ cannot be proven to have any relation to reality – dropped context.
  • False concepts represent attempts to integrate errors, contradictions, and cannot be reduced to perception – they are invalid. 
Reason

  • The objectivist epistemology amounts to the injunction to follow reason.
  • Reason is “the faculty that organizes pereeptual units in conceptual terms by following the principles of logic”.
  • Reason is the faculty of proof, one cannot then ‘prove it’ as such by simpler factors, it must be accepted since it is reality.
  • However reason can be validated
    by showing that it is man’s only means of knowledge, and that it can lead man to certainty.
  • Reason is man’s only means of knowledge, all other claims are reducible to emotional response (i.e.; how do you know? “I feel I am right”).
    • Emotions are not inexplicable, they are products (effects) of ideas.
    • They are an automated value judgrnent based on explicit or implicit beliefs.
    • There is no dichotomy between reason and emotion, they are integrated.
    • Since emotions are the consequences of conclusions, they can only seem inexplicable if one does not explicitly identify and logically integrate ideas.
    • Emotions are not tools of cognition because they have no means of independent access to reality, their basis can be either true or false.
    • Emotions are important, Objectivism is not anti-emotion (stoicism), emotions play an essential role in life, but not in cognition.
    • Arbitrary statements are neither true nor false, they are entirely divorced from cognition, they are worse than false, they are wholly invalid.
    • One can transfer the status of an arbitrary statement to truth or falsehood only by relating it to an established context.
    • The onus of proof is on someone who states the arbitrary, one cannot prove a negative or disprove the arbitrary if it has no relation to existenee – “no inference can be drawn from a zero” which has no impact on reality.
  • Reason leads one to objective certainty.
    • Certainty is contextual, like concepts and definitions.
    • Certainty is an absolute within the relevant context.
    • Further knowledge will not lead one to contradiction of previously held ideas, if their contextual nature is preserved 

Back to Contents.

III. ETHICS.  

Man’s Nature.

  • It is crucial to identify what man’s nature is; normative ethics (value judgrnents) presuppose an answer to this question, for it is necessary to know man’s nature in order to know what we should do.
  • Living organisms are goal directed and conditional.
  • Their existence requires action to maintain (death is a static state)
  • Man is a living organism.
  • There are three forms of consciousness: sensual, perceptual, conceptual.
  • Man cannot live by the survival means of lower organisms, ours is a conceptual consciousness and our means of survival is reason; we survive by means of our knowledge and action, not unerring instinct.
  • Reason is an individual attribute, there is no ‘collective mind’
    • Men may share their knowledge, but not their thinking.
    • A conclusion can be reached by discussion, but each person’s brain is theirs alone to use.
    • The individual is a sovereign being.
Value.

  • A code of ethics should deal with three questions:
    • For what end should one live (value) – life
    • What principle should one follow to achieve this (virtue) – rationality
    • Whom should benefit from one’s actions (beneficiary) – oneself.
  • Morality is not a primary, facts of reality give rise to it.
  • A value is “that which one acts to gain and/or keep”.
  • A value needs both a valuer and at least two choices, an altemative to the value; otherwise it cannot be a value.
  • The alternative of existence vs. nonexistence is a precondition of values, an immortal being could not possess them, only living organisms have grounds to pursue a particular side of this alternative – life is the root of value.
  • Morality is a code of values accepted by choice.
  • Man needs morality in order to survive – man’s life is the root of morality.
  • If man is to sustain his life, he must act long range.
  • This need to project consequences into the future is made possible only by the same kind of consciousness that necessitates it – man must conceptualize the requirements of survival.
  • Man must abstract principles (a general truth on which other truths depend) and then act on principle in any given circumstance.
  • The opposite, a short range outlook, viewed long-range, is self destructive (pragmatism).
  • Rationality is the primary virtue, reason the ruling value.
  • Evasion of reality constitutes the essence of irrationality, of evil.
  • Reality is an interconnected whole; any evasion of its parts will grow in scope if it is sustained, resulting in intellectual disintegration, in non-perception.
  • Hope, faith, wishing are the opposite of virtue.
  • The individual is the proper beneficiary of his own moral action.
  • Egoism – rational self-interest – is the correct policy -‘selfishness’.
    • Involves not sacrificing yourself to others, nor sacrificing others to oneself.
    • Man’s life is not ruled by conflict, it does not require martyrs.
    • Neither does egoism rule out caring for those whom you value.
  • Values, like concepts, are not intrinsic (i.e. mandated by gods) or subjective (picked arbitrarily), but objective – they depend on a proper relationship between your mind and existence.
  • Value presupposes an act of evaluation, it is not good in itself.
  • The ‘good’ is also an aspect of reality in relation to man, its not intrinsic or arbitrary.
  • The three ruling values of one’s life if one chooses to live are – reason, purpose, self-esteem.
  • These values imply and require all of man’s virtues.
Virtue. 

  • The primary virtue is rationality; six derivative virtues are:
    • Independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productivity, pride.
    • These are useful for clarification of the primary virtue, but not necessarily an exhaustive list, they are the minimum knowledge of virtue needed to follow reason consistently.
    • Independence is one’s acceptance of the responsibility of forming one’s own judgments and of living by the work of one’s own mind, it is an orientation towards reality, not towards living off of others.
    • Integrity is loyalty to one’s own convictions and values, loyalty to rational principles.
    • Honesty is the refusal to fake or evade reality, it is the rejection of unreality.
    • Justice is the virtue of judging men’s character and conduct objectively, and of acting accordingly when dealing with them – rationality when evaluating others.
    • Productivity is the process of creating material values, whether goods or services – adjustment of nature to man (this is the main existential content of virtue).
    • Pride is the commitment to achieve one’s own moral perfection, it is moral ambitiousness.
  • The initiation of physical force against others is the primary vice, which negates the ability to employ reason.
  • Force is the opposite of both mind and value – good cannot be achieved through evil. 
Happiness.

  • In existential terms, the moral man’s reward is life.
  • In emotional/spiritual terms, the concomitant reward is happiness.
  • The achievement of happiness is the only moral purpose of ones life.
  • Virtue is practical – there is no dichotomy between virtue and value since virtue is the means to value, to be moral is to be practical.
  •  Virtue is not automatically rewarded however, since man is neither omnipotent nor omniscient.
    • It is rewarding in the sense that it maximizes one’s possibility of success.
    • Virtue is long-range, one must enact the means to succeed.
  • As virtue is practical, so evil is impotent, capable only of negation.
    • Evil is capable of destroying only itself and its victims.
    • No thought, knowledge, or consistency is necessary to destroy.
    • Evil can only exist as a parasite on the achievements of virtue if one gives it sanction to do so.
  • Morality can only be viewed as impractical if one holds a flawed view of consciousness and the nature of existence – a culmination of errors.
  • Happiness is the normal condition of man.
    • Pleasure’s cause is the gain of some value, which on the physical level is a requirement of survival – pain is the opposite.
    • The emotion of joy results from the gain of some value chosen on the conceptual level, suffering from a failure in this regard.
    • Pleasure/pain is a barometer of the fundamental altemative of life vs. death.
    • Properly, so is joy/suffering – but man’s chosen values are not necessarily in harmony with the requirements of survival.
  • Happiness is the state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values (since a course of self-destruction is an anti-value course, one cannot long pursue values opposed to life and be happy, since irrational values cannot be achieved – the irrational man is tortured, unhappy).
  • Happiness is not the absence of unhappiness, but vice versa – values can only be achieved by seeking goals, not by seeking to escape consequences.
  • Rationality is a sufficient precondition of happiness, because though one may be beset by obstacles, the pain is superficial.
  • Beneath this pain are the values of reason, purpose, self-esteem – one feels the efficacy of knowing that achievement is possible.
  • Contrast: the irrationalist feels that happiness is superficial, beneath which lies anxiety, ‘nausea’, conflict, self-doubt, metaphysical pain.
  • Happiness is thus the normal underlying state – one holds the recognition that the universe is benevolent (neutral), that it is not malevolently pursuing your destruction.
  • By accepting this premise, one refuses to take pain seriously, to grant it metaphysical primacy or significance; pain is a stimulus to corrective action (What can I do?) not (What is the use?).
  • A rational man needs not only to know of his efficacy, but toexperience it metaphysically as well.
  • Sex is the way in which one directly experiences a celebration of life, of self-esteem and the benevolent-universe conviction.
  • Sex is to love what action is to thought, to introduce a breach between the two (under the appropriate circumstances) is to breach one’s integrity.
  • Sexual feeling is a summation which presupposes all of a rational human being’s moral values and one’s love for them (and one’s self), and one’s love for a partner who also embodies them; it is a physical capacity in the service of a conceptual need of mind-body harmony; it is an end in itself and not necessarily a means to a further end (i.c. procreation).
    • One cannot reverse cause and effect – if one wishes to gain self esteem through sex, it becomes an act of escapism, of trying to momentarily diminish the anxiety caused by false premises (malevolent universe) – it is tantamount to groveling for self respect.
  • Any human pleasure is largely spiritual, meaning not mere satisfaction of physical need.
    • Our pleasure comes dominantly from our emotions, frorn human satisfaction.
    • This principle applies preeminently to sex – no human pleasure so intense can be dominantly a matter of physical sensation – it is dominantly an emotion, and it’s cause – intellectual ecstasy .

Back to Contents.

IV. Politics.Government.

  • Politics is the normative branch of philosophy which defines the principles of a proper social system – it rests upon, and is an application of, ethics.
  • What kind of a society conforms to the requirements of man’s life? is the question all political principles must answer to.
  • The basic principle of politics is – individual rights as absolutes.
  • Rights have no meaning outside of a social context, they are a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action with regard to other men.
    • Rights are the link between the moral code of a man and the legal code of a society, they subordinate society to moral law.
  • The fundamental right is the right to life, which has the derivatives of the right to liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.
    • Man has a method of survival, his mind – and he requires the freedom to act and achieve his values – liberty.
    • To sustain life, man needs to create the material means of his survival – the right to property is the right to gain, keep, use, and dispose of material values.
    • Man needs to be governed by a motive to sustain his life, which is his own welfare – the right to happiness is this right, the right to live for one’s own sake.
  • Freedom is indivisible, none of these rights are possible apart from the rest.
  • Man’s life is the moral standard, it is only the requirements of man’s life that make morality (and rights) possible.
  • These are the only rights – all other valid rights are applications of these three, and are derived from them.
  • Rights pertain only to action – they are the freedom to act, the freedom from physical compulsion, interference or coercion (force).
  • A man’s rights impose no duties on others – they are stated in the form “freedom firom…”X or “thou shall not…”, not “freedom to…” X, or, “you must…” since man does not act by permission.
  • Rights are a negative obligation, not
    to infringe another’s rights, they do not constitute a claim to assistance on others, nor are they a guarantee of success in all endeavours.
  • The idea of human rights vs. property rights is a contradiction – it means some human beings want to make others their property (by controlling their ability to live independently).
  • Rights are an attribute of the individual, there are no such things as collective rights (rights possessed by a group) since these all demand a distinction between beneficiaries and servants.
  • An individual can neither acquire new rights nor lose rights by belonging to a group.
  • There are no rights to other’s labour, no rights of groups, nor rights of parts of humans or non-humans
  • Rights can be violated only by the use of force.
  • Rights are objective, and their protection involves protecting innocents from force.
  • This is the sole moral purpose of govemment.
    • A govemment’s power must derive from the people, it is a servant and not a ruler.
    • It is the agency of protection, of self-defence.
  • The government has a monopoly on the use of retaliatory force in a rational society – this use of force cannot be arbitrary, it must be objectively defined by law.
  • Citizens therefore delegate the right of self-defence to the government except in cases of immediate peril.
  • Government, therefore, must consist of police, military, and a court system in order to protect citizens against criminals (both individuals and agressor nations) and to resolve honest disputes and misunderstandings (contracts, Civil law).
  • Since force is inherentty negative (destructive), it must be used in this capacity only to destroy agents of destruction.
    • Government’s power is thus inherently negative, it cannot be used to sustain virtue.
    • It must not intervene in the intellectual or moral lives of its citizens.
    • The function of government is to protect freedom, not truth or virtue.
    • A government can play no part in promoting the philosophy it is based upon, this is the responsibility of private citizens (if they so choose).
  • Laws must be objective and clear-cut, neither capricious in interpretation nor indefensible; meaning, not arbitrary.
    • Citizens cannot spend their lives trying to anticipate the government’s whim.
  • The government may not initiate force in regard to its own legitimate functions by demanding service in the police or the militia, nor may it seize property to finance its activities (taxes).
Capitalism.

  • Politics identifies the principles which should govem every social field.
  • One of the aspects of a proper political system is a proper economic system.
  • The economic system which does not prevent man from acting in accordance with individual rights is capitalism.
  • Capitalism is the only moral social system.
    • It is the social system based on the recognition of individual rights (incl. property rights) in which all property is privately owned.
    • Capitalism is the moral system because it is the only system which subordinates society to moral law.
    • It adheres to the virtues of independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, pride.
  • Capitalism rewards the pursuit of rational self-interest and thus, though this is not its primary validation, everyone benefits.
    • The justification of capitalism is that it is a system which implements a scientific code of morality – which recognizes man’s nature and needs – which is based on reason and reality.
    • The good of the public can only be achieved through freedom – to reject this causal sequence is to reject reason, capitalism, the public good, and freedorn – this leads to slavery and statism.
  • Capitalism is objective because it is based on the proper view of metaphysics and epistemology.
    • Virtue and objectivity are the same phenomenon as viewed from the aspect of action (existence) or thought (consciousness) – it is the proper volitional relationship between consciousness and existence.
    • Economie valuc (price and profit) can not be set or gained arbitrarily under a capitalist system.
    • Economic power is not the same as political power (political power is negation, economic power (like knowledge) is an earned value.
    • The degree to which these attributes are arbitrary is the degree to which a society has adopted statist controls – unadulterated capitalism has never yet existed.
  • Opposition to capitalism is based upon a bad view of epistemology – on rejection of reason to some degree – evasion, whim, dialectic, etc.
  • To defend it, one must first grasp capitalism’s intellectual basis.
  • Two opposing systems of thought not conflicting “ideologies” (meaning, arbitrary political systems viewed in a vacuum), is the arena in which the intellectual battle for the world is being fought.

Back to Contents.

V. Esthetics.

  • The last of the five branches that comprise a full system of philosophy is esthetics, the philosophy of art, since art is a need of man, not simply a professional field.
  • Art has the purpose of fulfilling an essential spiritual need of human life.
    • Man’s consciousness is conceptual, and a spiritual being needs guidance.
    • This guidance is provided by philosophy, which integrates principles.
    • However, man cannot explicitly, consciously, think in philosophical terms all the time, he must have an implicit philosophical context available at all times – an ulitimate integration, a sum of his metaphysical value judgments; since his mind is an integrating mechanism, it needs this vision, this unity – this is the function achieved by art.
  • Art is a “selective re-creation of reality according to an artists metaphysical value-judgments” – whether these judgments are explicit or not.
  • An artist presents what he considers to be of metaphysical import.
  • Art is an end in itself, it’s purpose is to show, not tell (not didactic).
  • The telling is the province of philosophy, but either art or philosophy alone are not enougb to satisfy man’s need of philosophy.
  • Art converts man’s concepts into the form of a percept – it not only integrates metaphysics, but objectifies it in the form of an existential object – presenting it not as a content of consciousness, but of existence.
  • Since the purpose of man’s consciousness is to observe, this conversion makes one’s metaphysical abstractions into a concrete, which one may deal with directly, in the same way that language concretizes concepts.
  • Men respond to art in a profoundly personal way since it is either an affirmation or rejection of their deepest values.
  • Both subject and style are significant in art – one reveals the artist’s metaphysics, the other his psycho-epistemology.
  • Art cannot be an instrument of literal reproduction of reality (naturalism).
  • It is a selective recreation – since art is subject to contemplation, everything included is important by the fact that it is included, it acquires metaphysical significance – in life, one ignores the unimportant, in art – one omits it.
  • All men are able to respond to art by virtue of an implicit sense of life – a subconsciously integrated appraisal of man and life which is created as a sum of one’s choices and conclusions throughout life – most men do not know in explicit terms what they consider to be important, but they consider it nonetheless – and since art is implicitly philosophical (if not explicitly) they react accordingly.
  • There is a difference between philosophical judgment and esthetic judgment.
    • In judging an artwork’s philosophy, one is interested in truth.
    • The purpose of art however is to show – and so an artwork’s philosophy is irrelevant to an objective esthetic judgment.
    • It is on the basis of an artwork’s theme that one judges it, as in how well it projects this theme, to what degree of mastery.
    • Three ways to judge esthetic value are selectivity in regards to subject, clarity, and integration.
      • The subject of an artwork ought to suit its theme, it can not be meaningless, random, or plagiarized.
      • Art is not for art’s sake; but for man’s sake – philosophical freedom is not the freedom to dismember art, thus non-selectivity in regards to art’s subject, or non-representational art, undercuts itself.
      • Technique is not enough by itself.
      • Clarity is also essential since the purpose of art is not to revel in ambiguity, but to overcome the opacity of human existence, to show it’s essence – not to disintegrate and destroy art
      • The hallmark of art is integration, every item included must be part of an indivisible whole – the inclusion of the insignificant produces a contradiction, it undercuts the artist’s recreation of reality as being unreal.
  • Art can be judged rationally – it is neither in the object nor in the eye of the beholder – beauty is a value, it is objective, it is in the object,a s judged by a rational
    beholder.
  • It is both an esthetic appraisal and one’s own philosophic standards which one must onsult to judge whether a work of art is of value to oneself – it may be a great work of art, but it is not a contradiction to not like it.
  • Esthetics completes philosophy, by linking it back to concretes, to metaphysics, to reality.

Back to Contents.