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Wednesday, December 22, 2021


Ayn Rand claimed to base her “philosophy” on the Principle of Identity.  From this, she said, all else could be derived.  I have always been rather enchanted by this wacky claim. Say what you will, it is certainly economical. I think about her sometimes when I post a brief thought or emotional musing which then generates, by some mystery, 50 or 60 comments on the most disparate subjects, none of which, I would have thought, had much of anything to do with what was in my mind when I wrote the post.


Well, the world is slowing to a crawl as it does each year when the Christmas holidays loom so I thought I would try as an experiment to see whether I could replicate Rand’s success. Here then is my thought for today.


A is A


Have at it.


Another Anonymous said...

“A” is the first letter of the word “allyship,” which has just been named as the Word of the Year by

Michael said...

"A is A."

Eh, I'm not sure. What if A is B?

I guess it depends on what the meaning of "is" is.

On the other hand, we mustn't forget that Frege was an antisemite.

And from here, we're a short step from confirming Godwin's Law ("an Internet adage asserting that as an online discussion grows longer (regardless of topic or scope), the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Adolf Hitler approaches 1").

Chris said...

I have derived pleasure over the years from going to the counter in bookstores and telling them someone accidentally shelved Ayn Rand in philosophy.

That is all.

Rob Hughes said...

1) A is A.
2) ???
3) Profit!

DDA said...

And, the now classic quote:
“There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs."

Ridiculousicculus said...

P1: Objective is good.
P2: Subjective is bad.
P3: P1 and P2 mean P1 cannot be P2.
C: Objectivism is good and everything else is Subjective and bad.

s. wallerstein said...

How does Ayn Rand derive her philosophy from the principle of identity?

That's a genuine question.

I've never read any Ayn Rand nor any Lord of the Rings either. Neither was yet a cult book when I was 14, a long time ago. Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies were cult books then, although I certainly didn't see them in those terms when I read them, at age 14 or maybe 15 or maybe even 16. By the time I heard that Lord of the Rings was a cult book to read, I already had reached the stage of avoiding cult books.

Anonymous said...

2 + 2 = 5
Gender and sex are just concepts
GMO Vaccines are safe and effective
COVID is as bad as the plague
Abortion is just about protecting the rights of women
World leaders care about the masses
Follow the science
Two weeks to flatten the curve
Climate change is the biggest threat to humanity
Domestic white supremacists are the biggest threat to the US
Black is sometimes white

Another Anonymous said...

No thread on this blog would be complete without some comment by Another Anonymous regarding a comment by s. wallerstein.

I have never read Ayn Rand either, although I have read article about her, from which I understand that she is a proponent of selfishness. She is therefore self-centered, in accordance with which the “I” is the most important person in the universe. This equates with equating the universe with one’s own identity.

Another Anonymous said...


Of the 11 propositions you have posted, the first and the last are completely false. All of the others are either completely true, or substantially true.

Anonymous said...

And then there's this:

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

Two thoughts:

First, as a Literature prof I had frequently said, "That's a firm grasp of the obvious."

Second: "The conceptual shells that were to house the whole...have, in view of the immense expansion of society and the strides made by positive natural science, come to seem like the relics of a simple barter economy amidst the late stage of industrial capitalism." Adorno, Negative Dialectics

Michael said...

I haven't spent any time reading Rand, and am unlikely to. But in the event that I bump into a Rand enthusiast in person, I'll probably feel obliged to speak of her as kindly as I know how to, namely as someone who (as far as I can tell second- and thirdhand) explored some philosophically interesting themes and had some philosophically interesting ideas/tendencies which can also be identified and appreciated in other writers; e.g., if someone's interested in egoistic individualism, they could probably be referred to Max Stirner; if someone wants an intelligent, influential, and sympathetic discussion of capitalism, then probably Adam Smith; and didn't Rand herself admire Aristotle? (For his virtue ethics? I'm not sure.)

Not sure what to make of her "A=A," either.

Ridiculousicculus said...

Rand is worth reading if you want to understand the stories conservatives tell themselves about what it means to be an American. Like in Atlas Shrugged you get awesome gems like this:

"There's nothing of any importance in life - except how well you do your work. Nothing. Only that. Whatever else you are, will come from that. It's the only measure of human value. All the codes of ethics they'll try to ram down your throat are just so much paper money put out by swindlers to fleece people of their virtues. The code of competence is the only system of morality that's on a gold standard.”

Merry Christmas.

Anonymous said...

"There's nothing of any importance in life - except how well you do your work. Nothing"

Was it Martin Heidegger that said "you are what you do"?

s. wallerstein said...

I don't believe that Heidegger said that. It doesn't sound like him. To begin with, Heidegger doesn't speak of you, but of Dasein.

Sartre might have said that as a simplied explanation of his philosophy as in Existentialism is a Humanism, not in Being and Nothingness.

Another Anonymous said...

Come on guys and gals. It's already 3:15 EST, and we only have 16 comments. We can do better than that!

Anonymous said...

Well, we could open the door to a flood of "disparate comments" by intruding some comment on Rand's influence on today's Republicans. Or we could go even more bizarre and query her relationship to Sally Rand (aka Helen Gould Beck, to try and obviate one of Another Anonymous's unneeded elaborations of the obvious). That little bit of ad hominem is intended solely to elict the multitude of responses Another Anonymous called for at 3:14 pm.

Go for it, y'all

another anonymous said...

Or we could note that since AA asserted it was already 3:15 EST when the electronic system timed his comment at 3:14, that he's living in a different time frame from the rest of us?

Anonymously Anonymous said...

A is A

3 thoughts

אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה

A is A, always A, but not always.
The musicians of the orchestra tune to the A "above middle C" set by the oboist. But that could mean a 440Hz A, a 439Hz A, 452Hz, or some other frequency of A, depending on the orchestra's customs and how the oboe itself was tuned for that performance. And how that A is received by listeners isn't necessarily the same. Clear and sharp to the oboist playing the note, muddled to the presbycupic octogenerian in the hallway outside the auditorium, and maybe even a different note entirely compared to the original when played back from a recording on a Victrola.

We can check whether a string of characters is a literal palindrome using a variety of algorithmic approaches. The method can be as prosaic as (in Swift):

var txts = ["A is A", "A é A"]
for txt in txts {
  print("Is '\(txt)' a palindrome?\n\(String(txt == String(txt.reversed())) )\n")

or a bit more exotic, using recursion, as (in Python):

def isPalindromic(s):
  if len(s) <= 1: return True
  else: return s[0] == s[-1] and isPalindromic(s[1:-1])
txts = ('A is A', 'A é A')
for txt in txts:
  print(f"Is '{txt}' a palindrome?\n{isPalindromic(txt)}\n")

Either of those should produce:

Is 'A is A' a palindrome?

Is 'A é A' a palindrome?

John Rapko said...

As Feuerbach demonstrated, 'A = A' is true iff A is an element of the set {Man; was er frisst}.

John Rapko said...

Addendum: the 'frisst' (and not 'isst') is a nod to Brecht.

Anonymous said...

A is B

Danny said...

I rather enjoy Ayn Rand, I think it's kind of intriguing how constantly she's attacked for supposedly being not so much a genuine intellectual. I find her preoocuptations interesting, which is rather a good beginning.

Thus, for example, this business about how the law of identity states that each thing is identical with itself. This is how it is 'in logic', and one may proceed from how to the point that it is the first of the historical three laws of thought, along with the law of noncontradiction, and the law of excluded middle. And supposedly, the objectivism of Ayn Rand which is based on just these three laws, though of course, few systems of logic are built on just these laws. And I find it difficult to ignore that Aristotle believed the law of non-contradiction to be the most fundamental law. If Ayn Rand seems to be emphasizing something different than Aristotle, it may be because she's trying to be more accessible. I think there are more and less accessible sides to Ayn Rand's preoccupations, and I give her some credit for trying to be accessible. One might simplify, or distort, with some justification in terms of not just trying to be delivering a bit of learned content. Or at least, this is how I understand Ayn Rand. If she seems to be contradicting Aristotle about logic, then I don't simply assume she's that pretentious.

Consider your point that ' I have always been rather enchanted by this wacky claim.'

Ayn Rand has flair for making perfectly straightforward and really, mainstream claims that you might often agree with, sound wacky. Such as atheism, and such as regard for logic.

I might suggest that if anything is fundamental to objectivism, it's the idea of being objective. This is the Objectivist's panacea for all your problems, hiding in plain sight. This is how logic comes into it.

Anonymous said...

1 is 2

Another Anonymous said...

Thank you all for your participation in Prof. Wolff’s experiment.

Between 3:14 and 4:56 P.M., 8 new comments were added. That averages to a comment every 12.75 seconds. Outstanding!

And, so far, the gold medal goes to Anonymously Anonymous for his creative musical plus palindrome comment, and for his use of the word “presbycupic.” Bravo!

Happy Holidays everyone, regardless what holiday you celebrate, or do not celebrate!

Anonymously Anonymous said...


Ahmed Fares said...

[I hope this comment is relevant to the discussion about identity]

There is a world you do not see. Everything in this world is a symbol of something in that world, and is a ladder to that world. I could quote you some Islamic sources to that effect, but the last time I did that, some of you guys got your panties in a bunch. So I'll quote what I consider to be a very smart Jew instead.

In Judaism we are told that whatever we see in this world reflects its source in the spiritual world. For example, the Torah says G-d created man in His image. So, by visiting the features within man, we have a small inkling of what is happening in the source of man, G-d.

The Rebbe explained. Mere mortals who live on a physical plain must work backward, and when we see something in this material world, we try to understand its spiritual counterpart, its underlying deep down, and source energy. Holy people who live on a spiritual realm, seeing what exists there, know for sure there must be this manifestation in its corresponding physical expression.

A Torah Jew is sensitive that there is always perfect compatibility and symbiosis between the spiritual and the physical. The physical is a direct result and mirror image of the spiritual (the source of the physical).
—Shlomo Ezagui (The Times of Israel)

aaall said...

Who says A must say B.

Went to a Nathaniel Brandon lecture back in 1962. A question from the audience led to a digression on Dagny Taggard's use of birth control. It's all fun and games until her disciples wind up chairing the Federal Reserve Board and being Speaker of the House.

“Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back”

"This is the Objectivist's panacea for all your problems, hiding in plain sight."

And then one hits 65 and one rationalizes Social Security and Medicare.

Another Anonymous said...

I want to especially thank Anonymous at 5:02 P.M. for his link to the mathematical proof that 1 = 2.

On Saturday, we are meeting at my sister-in-law’s home to celebrate Christmas. I have drawn up and printed copies of the mathematical proof that 1 = 2, which I have titled, “A CHRISTMAS MATHEMATICAL MIRACLE,” a copy of which I will hand out to each of the guests.

Today, as I do every year, I shopped around for humorous Christmas cards to send to friends. I found the perfect card, which I purchased 12 copies of (yes, I only have 12 non-Jewish friends). The front of the card pictures an elderly woman saying: “A virgin birth I can believe, but finding three wise men? Come on!”

DDA said...

The 4:08 comment by Another Anonymous certainly wins the prize.

Michael said...

This sentence in Ahmed's comment made me smile, too:

I could quote you some Islamic sources to that effect, but the last time I did that, some of you guys got your panties in a bunch.

I always liked that expression, but I haven't used it in a while, for fear of sounding sexist. But as Ali G once asked, "What's wrong with being sexy?" (See also: ali g interviews noam chomsky (YouTube))

Jim said...

I love Chris's anecdote about the mis-shelving of Rand in the bookstore. I wish I had thought of that. I also like DDA's comparison to LOTR and Atlas Shrugged, although I think other books might be replacing them among bookish 14 year olds these days.

-- Jim

Fritz Poebel said...

I don’t know (and I care even less) what Ayn Rand meant by “A is A.” Looks like a contentless analytic statement to me. Put some content in it, and then (perhaps) we’ll have something to talk about, besides why are tautologies necessarily true? But the statement immediately reminds me of three other , and much more interesting, mullings-over of this sort of thing in the history of philosophy. One is Hegel’s disparagement of the A=A identity philosophy of Schelling/Fichte in the Phenomenology of Geist, which cost Hegel his friendship with the wunderkind Schelling. A second is Heraclitus’ attack on identity. How long does something have to be the same (i.e., A=A) for it to qualify as identical? And the third is Bishop Butler’s (whoever he was) claim that “Everything is what it is, and not another thing,” which I know only from the motto to G.E. Moore’s Principia Ethica. From what little I know about Rand, I suspect that she was alluding by her A=A to some extreme form of atomistic subjectivity that she and/or her acolytes nevertheless called objectivism. Alan Greenspan, of irrational exuberance notoriety, was one of her acolytes. As was Paul Ryan.

Achim Kriechel (A.K.) said...

a little story about who invented A=A.

It was Ammī-ditāna in 1897 B.C., a merchant who owned a counting house south of Susa, today called Umm Qasr, right on the coast of the Persian Gulf. He was constantly annoyed by the fact that merchants who came with their boats across the Gulf to trade goods with him did not pay their loans. At one point, he was walking on the beach and saw a boy with a knife carving notches into two pieces of wood that the sea had left behind at low tide. The notches went diagonally from one piece of wood to the second. At that moment, Ammī-ditāna had an idea. He would have two pieces of wood of equal length made for each of his customers who bought from him on credit. Each credit of a certain value would be marked with a diagonal cut through both pieces of wood. If the credit was paid back, this was marked by an opposite cut in the wood.

Shortly thereafter, all the merchants in Umm Qasr copied Ammī-ditāna's ingenious idea, and even the king's courtier in Babylon heard about it and invented the first bank in which from now on the law applied: wood = wood.

Later, Parmenides and even later Plato heard the story of Ammī-ditāna and thought about it.

Achim Kriechel (A.K.) said...


Heraclitus also heard the Babylonian story and was very skeptical. He did not believe that both woods could ever remain the same. Just as one could not step twice into the same river, A would never remain A.

Another Anonymous said...


Was Gertrude Stein saying the same thing as Ayn Rand when she wrote, “A rose is a rose is a rose,” or was she saying, or intending to say, something more substantive than Ayn Rand?

And what about Shakespeare’s declaration, “What's in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet; So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd, Retain that dear perfection which he owes[.]” Is he saying something different from Rand and Stein, and more substantive?

Another Anonymous said...

Having given some time to thinking about my own query, I wish to offer the following:

According to Heraclitus, a rose is not a rose is not a rose, because the rose we look at now, when we look at it a millisecond later has lost a petal, or has lost some of its fragrance, or, in quantum mechanical terms, has rearranged its atoms so that it is not exactly the same rose it was a millisecond ago.

But this underscores, perhaps, the point that Stein is making, that for purposes of language and communication, it is necessary for us to use the same word to refer to what is substantially the same thing, otherwise we continuously would have to rename everything we talk and write about, which would make communication impossible – there would be no time to agree on what new words to refer to each item. So, the fact that we cannot step into the same river twice does not require that we keep reaming the Mississippi River. (I suspect that Ayer and Quine have written about this somewhere.)

Rand is, I suspect, making a different point, more along the lines with Shakespeare – that regardless what words or names we attribute to things, we should not confuse the thing with the word or name we attribute to it: A = A, even if we decide to call it B.

Does what I have written make any sense, or am I all wet?

Now, getting back to whom Richard III is referring when he says, standing alone on the stage, “this son of York” …..

Michael said...

And the third is Bishop Butler’s (whoever he was) claim...

Haven't gotten around to him, but he's probably worth a read! There's a chapter on him in C.D. Broad's Five Types of Ethical Theory; representing the other four types are Spinoza, Hume, Kant, and Sidgwick. Here are some words from the author:

His [Butler's] Sermons on Human Nature...are his most important contribution to ethics... In 1736 appeared his other great work, the Analogy, which is perhaps the ablest and fairest argument for theism that exists. (FTET, p. 5)

It was...fashionable in Butler's time to deny the possibility of disinterested action. This doctrine, which was a speculative principle with Hobbes, has always had a certain vogue. It is not without a certain superficial plausibility, and it has naturally been popular both with vicious persons who wanted a philosophical excuse for their own selfishness and with decent people who felt slightly ashamed of their own virtues and wished to be taken for men of the world. One of Butler's great merits is to have pointed out clearly and conclusively the ambiguities of language which make it plausible. As a psychological theory, it was killed by Butler; but it still flourishes, I believe, among bookmakers and smart young business men whose claim to know the world is based on an acquaintance with the shadier side of it. In Butler's day the theory moved in higher social and intellectual circles, and it had to be treated more seriously than any philosopher would trouble to treat it now. This change is largely the result of Butler's work; he killed the theory so thoroughly that he sometimes seems to the modern reader to be flogging dead horses. Still, all good fallacies go to America when they die, and rise again as the latest discoveries of the local professors. So it will always be good to have Butler's refutation at hand. (FTET, pp. 54-55)

Michael said...

Here's some stuff on Rand's "A is A":

I'll spend some more time on it later today, but so far, eh... It doesn't strike me as drivel, but it doesn't seem outstanding, either. (And I can't really speak to the depth of her writings, since it's just a summary I'm consulting here.) Most likely nothing that hasn't been considered elsewhere in the history of metaphysics. When I read this, for example -

Rand agrees with the Cartesian view that one cannot coherently deny the existence of one's own consciousness. Unlike Descartes, however, Rand denies the 'prior certainty of consciousness', i.e., the idea that we can be aware of the contents of our own minds without knowing whether any extramental reality corresponds to them; for Rand, there can be no content without an external reality. Rand regards consciousness as inherently relational: to be conscious is to be conscious of something beyond one’s own consciousness, and of one’s consciousness itself only secondarily. reaction is to think, "Isn't that along the lines of what Kant was driving at his Refutation of Idealism? And aren't there some big names in phenomenology that understand consciousness as always pointing beyond itself?" The thing is, I'm too much of a novice in my studies to have a lot of confidence in these vague parallels, but they among others do come to mind; and (supposing those aren't wildly off-base) it seems like a better use of one's limited time and energy to concentrate on Kant and phenomenology than on someone who's reputed as more of a recent "cult" figure, for lack of a nicer term.

Eric said...

LOL @ Chris (bookstores) and DDA (LOTR vs Atlas Shrugged).

Another Anonymous said...

I am here posting the proof based on Anonymous’ comment, above.

a = b
a2 = ab
a2 _ b2 = ab – b2
(a + b) (a – b) = b (a – b)
(a + b) = b
b + b = b
2b = b
2 = 1

Eric said...

Fritz Poebel, Achim Kriechel, Another Anonymous:

This is probably well-worn material for professional philosophers, but I will weigh in anyway. (I mean, when has that ever stopped me in the past?)

When I first heard the quote about not being able to step into the same river twice, I thought that the idea was incredibly profound. However, on further reflection, I realized that in some senses it is wrong, or at least misleading.

For most of us, our general conception of sameness in a river does not depend on the individual currents in the flow of the water or on the quantum characteristics of individual atoms and subatomic particles that make up the river. So changes in any of those individual elements have no bearing on our sense of whether it is the same river.

But conceptions of sameness in any entity are all relative. Consider the woman widely known as Jane Roe from the Roe v Wade case. Years after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of her argument that, under the Constitution, the state could not prevent her from obtaining an abortion, she said that her beliefs had changed, and she became an activist in the anti-choice movement. For most people, she was no longer the same person, because our conception of her was entirely based on her stance on abortion rights. I don't know whether she had a pet dog or cat, but assuming she did, from her pet's perspective, her changed position on abortion had absolutely no direct bearing on whether she was the same person. Her pet surely considered her the same, if she continued to treat the pet the same as she had before.

Similarly, a marked decline in the population of bass in a river after the introduction of an invasive species would strike a bass fishing enthusiast for whom the river was a favorite spot as a dramatic change. But a child whose only relationship with the river is that her family always drives over it on the way to grandma's house probably would not think of the river as having changed.

Eric said...

Incidentally, the quote attributed to Heraclitus might be slightly different than the way it is often remembered, or so I read on the internet:
"Into the same rivers we step and do not step, we are and are not." One interpretation of this is that the river has changed in some ways, but is the same in other regards; and we ourselves when we try to step again into the river have changed in some ways, but are unchanged in others.

The entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Heraclitus is worth a gander, in terms of the uncertainty over what he actually said, and what he meant.

(I see that the author of the current article there is Daniel W. Graham, who is, or has been, chair of philosophy at BYU—unless there is another Daniel W. Graham who is a philosopher. Graham was in the news when he fired, or his department fired, an adjunct faculty member who had publicly disagreed with the university's support for gay marriage ban back when Bush and the Republicans were trying to pass a nationwide ban by constitutional amendment. Kudos to the faculty member, Jeffrey Nielsen, who told a reporter that he himself hadn't really known any gay people before he had written a guest editorial in the newspaper disagreeing with the official LDS position.

Rabbit holes.)

Michael F said...

On the 1=2 (?) issue, I'm reminded of an old joke:

Q: How much is 2+2?
A: Buying or selling?

Another Anonymous said...


As an aside, Jane Roe, whose real name was Norma Leah Nelson McCorvey, recanted one more before she died, disclosing that the reason she publicly disclaimed support for abortion was that she had been paid by right to life organizations to do so.

GJ said...

"And aren't there some big names in phenomenology that understand consciousness as always pointing beyond itself?"

Probably all the major figures in phenomenology. Sartre is notably explicit on this:

"All consciousness, as Husserl has shown, is consciousness of something. This means that there is no consciousness which is not a positing of a transcendent object, or if you prefer, that consciousness has no 'content'" (BN).

He goes on to say:

"The first procedure of a philosophy ought to be to expel things from consciousness and to reestablish its true connection with the world, to know that consciousness is a positional consciousness of the world. All consciousness is positional in that it transcends itself in order to reach an object, and it exhausts itself in this same positing."

Achim Kriechel (A.K.) said...

One question would be whether we could even talk reasonably without the assumption that A=A. Since " to think " is only another word for " conversation with oneself " the further question is: Can we think at all without the tacit assumption that A=A is valid?

Michael said...

That is helpful, GJ, thanks.

Two more historical references re. "A=A," this time from French philosophy of science.

What is mysterious at first sight is that these tautologies should on occasion be so surprising, that there should be in mathematics and logic the possibility of invention and discovery. As [Henri] Poincaré says: "If all the assertions which mathematics puts forward can be derived from one another by formal logic, mathematics cannot amount to anything more than an immense tautology. Logical inference can teach us nothing essentially new, and if everything is able to proceed from the principle of identity, everything must be reducible to it. But can we really allow that these theorems which fill so many books serve no other purpose than to say in a roundabout fashion 'A=A'?" Poincaré finds this incredible. His own theory is that the sense of invention and discovery in mathematics belongs to it in virtue of mathematical induction, the principle that what is true for the number 1, and true for n+1 when it is true for n, is true for all numbers. And he claims that this is a synthetic a priori principle.

(A.J. Ayer, Language, Truth, and Logic, 2nd Edition, p. 85)

[Émile] Meyerson's realistic view of theory is intimately connected to his famous thesis that to explain is to identify. According to this thesis, to explain a phenomenon scientifically is to identify it with a theoretical description that replaces our common-sense description. So, for example, the kinetic theory explains heat by identifying it as the motion of molecules, and electromagnetic theory explains the current in a circuit by identifying it with the flow of electrons. Meyerson supports this thesis through detailed historical studies of chemical and physical theories, studies that challenge [Pierre] Duhem's positivist histories. He also uses this thesis to argue that a surd of irrationality underlies the scientific enterprise. Since to explain is to identify, a total explanation of the universe would require reducing it to a sheer undifferentiated unity. This, however, contradicts the plurality of objects that always confronts science and that, accordingly, poses an impassable limit on rational explanation.

(Gary Gutting, French Philosophy in the Twentieth Century, p. 38)

Anonymous said...

I'm late to this party, but I feel obliged to point out that computer scientists find it useful to use the value not-a-number or NaN, which has the curious property that NaN ≠ NaN. It seems that even the law of identity is a particular tool rather than a "law of thought".