Ayn Rand's Argument against Immeasurability
Luke J. Morris
A Journal for Western Man-- Issue XXX-- January 16, 2005
|One often hears people,
including New Agers, evangelicals, and other touchy-feely types claim that
universal concepts such as love ‘cannot be measured.’ Religious groups for
several millennia have been applying this idea to God - the great divine
spirit, whoever He may be, is infinite, and thus ipso facto
immeasurable. But in her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology,
Ayn Rand offers a clever little refutation of the possibility of the
existence of an immeasurable entity. While it is hard to do her position
justice outside the context of the entire work, one paragraph sums up the
Measurement is the identification of a relationship in numerical terms - and the complexity of the science of measurement indicates the complexity of the relationships which exist in the universe and which man has barely begun to investigate. They exist, even if the appropriate standards and methods of measurement are not always as easily apparent nor the degree of achievable precision as great as in the case of measuring the basic, perceptually given attributes of matter. If anything were actually "immeasurable," it would bear no relationship of any kind to the rest of the universe, it would not affect nor be affected by anything else in any manner whatever, it would enact no causes and bear no consequences - in short, it would not exist. (39)
This argument is subtle, and needs fleshing out to show how it works. This is how I read it:
Everything that exists, exists in relation to something (or everything) else.
The identification (and quantification) of particular relationships is measurement.
Every existent bears some such relation or relations that can be measured (from 1 and 2). The measurable relationships exist even if the particular methods and standards of measurement in given cases have not yet been discovered, and even if exacting precision in measurement cannot be achieved. (This applies to relational concepts such as love, as well as to perceptually given concretes.)
Therefore, to be actually ‘immeasurable’ would be to bear no relation to anything else (from 3).
A thing that bears no relation to anything does not exist (from 1).
Therefore, an immeasurable thing cannot exist (from 4 and 5).
This argument applies to anything described as ‘infinite’ as well as ‘immeasurable’, since if a thing were actually infinite it could not be relationally quantified to anything finite, and thus could not be measurable.
The argument disproves the possibility of a God of the Christian type - an omniscient, omnipotent, infinite being - but of course this does not prove the impossibility of any type of divinity. A finite deity, who fell within standards of possible measurability, is not ruled out here. That, however, is beside the point. The point is that whatever exists is measurable in some way. Naturally, this necessity can be sidestepped if one wishes to deny (1), but then the challenger faces the burden of proof in showing how something could exist bearing no relation to anything else. And even proving this would seem to entail a contradiction, since to prove the existence of a non-relational thing would be to stand in some relation to it. A challenge may be levied at (3), if one holds that it does not follow from (2); that is, if we argue that the fact that some particular relationships can be measured does not entail that all relationships are measurable. But here the challenger again faces the burden of proof in showing how one thing can stand in relation to another without there being some possible method and standard by which to measure that relationship. The burden does not lie on Rand to show that every relationship must be measurable; if there is a relationship at all, it seems to entail a difference and a similarity of some sort, in some degree, which entails comparability by some similar standard, which entails measurability.
Luke J. Morris is the Vice-President of the Hillsdale Liberals, an intellectual group devoted to the ideas of classical liberalism (http://www.hillsdaleliberals.com) and a contributor to The Rational Argumentator. Mr. Morris can be contacted at hithluin@YAHOO.COM.
TRA feature has been edited in accordance with TRA's Statement
Visit TRA's Principal Index, a convenient way of navigating throughout the issues of the magazine. Click here.