Reply to Touchstone

The issue of THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES recently issued (– December 2022) includes a paper by Dr. Kathleen Touchstone titled “Error, Free Will, and Freedom.” It engages importantly with earlier writings of mine, and because the next issue of JARS will be its final issue, and it is already at the printer, I’m making a reply to Touchstone’s paper simply in online posts.

4 thoughts on “Reply to Touchstone

  1. Kathleen Touchstone’s main-stage representation of what I wrote in OBJECTIVITY in the 1990’s about internal indeterminism is incorrect. I rejected the idea that quantum indeterminism could play a role in these organic processes. The classical Boltzmann-regime and chaos processes in the classical regime are the only plausible candidates for micro indeterminism in neuronal process as far as I knew or know even now. 

    I do NOT accede “the source of volition is errors.” I argued that error occurs, contra Descartes, in animal capabilities not requiring free will. But the circumstance that error arises without conceptual intelligence and free will does not entail that error Is the source of free will. Although, it suggests that cognitive error, conceptual or more primitive, is a necessary attendant of intelligence and free will.

    I do NOT accede “this error [thence free will] is due to indeterminism that is associated with quantum probability” or “credit error—specifically as it relates to quantum probability—with being the root of free will.” I did NOT conclude: “Of the three sorts of chance, quantum probability offers the only possible physical source for volition because of the presence of indeterminism.” Rather, classical processes can be the physical bases of neuronal indeterminism once one rejects the illicit projection of regular classical isolated, independent, determined process-streams onto wider physical reality. A softening of the picture of determinism in ordinary physical reality is required (V2N4, pp. 183–86; also “Reply to Eilon” in V2N5 Remarks): a keeping true to actual physical process before us everyday, which leaves a possibility for neuronal processing systems, so far as I know, that yields free will.

    Everything else in Touchstone’s representations of my old papers is accurate. I thank Dr. Touchstone for her deep dive into and recognition of the significance of those papers:

    Boydstun, S., Chaos, OBJECTIVITY V2N1:31–46. Online at: http://www.

    ——. Volitional Synapses: Part 1. OBJECTIVITY V2N1:109–38. Online at:

    ——. Volitional Synapses: Part 2. OBJECTIVITY V2N2:105–29. Online at:

    ——. Volitional Synapses: Part 3. OBJECTIVITY V2N4:183–204. Online at:


  2. ~Additional comments on Kathleen Touchstone’s “Error, Free Will, and Freedom”~

    The first full paragraph in Gibson, p. 147, which Touchstone relies on, is dubious history of quantum mechanics, at least in the impression it gives, and its ascription to Schrödinger of the idea that a photon’s position does not exist until it is observed is very unlikely to be a correct ascription; that sounds more like Bohr and von Neumann. Touchstone got right as preludes to QM the wave character of light and the Planck/Einstein new reasons for a particle character of light. But the building order of QM, in the 1920’s, went like this: DeBroglie’s wave, Heisenberg’s matrix mechanics. Schrödinger’s wave mechanics, Born’s statistical interpretation of the wave (as recounted in my V2N2, pp. 121–25). (Warren Gibson, “Modern Physics versus Objectivism,” THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES, 2013, V13N2, pp. 140–59.)

    I think it is important to hold forth, as Touchstone did in this paper, the idea that rights violations occur not only because of willful evil, but from innocent errors, including errors in identifying what rights there are. But I think it true also that rights are abridged by willful evil. As I understand her, Rand would agree that willful evil is a reality (contra Socrates), and she had it that that was possible through the power of evasion and irrationality.

    I don’t think the Randian Benevolent Universe Principle (BUP) should be taken as Touchstone did, as an ideal situation in which all people act morally by their own lights. It is, rather, the standing condition that the human as rationally acting animal is in a physical world suited to the human. (Which really is due to the evolution of our wing of primates evolving into rational animals, which was due to the adaptive advantage of joint intentionality, which would chagrin Rand were she still around to see this work: A Natural History of Human Thinking by Michael Tomasello, 2014.) Unfortunately, Rand left out of the fundamental stance of BUP that one is in company of other rational animals with whom to cooperate.

    Touchstone represented Rand as holding: “Since man’s life is his ultimate value, rights are necessary.” Left there, that’s a big leap. Touchstone follows up with Rand’s connection of instrumental rationality with moral virtue and the need of rights for operation of that rationality. But besides Rand’s life-as-ultimate-value-and-necessity-of-rights, there is also in Rand the argument: Life is an end in itself. Individual human life is an end in itself. Rationality includes recognition that the lives of others are ends in themselves and should be treated as such. That too is a line of Rand’s reasoning to rightness of respecting rights of others. Because of this second way of basing rights under Rand’s ethical theory, I decline the tout court conclusion that Rand’s case entails that “rights are based (secondarily) on errors . . . . . .”


  3. Learn from Dr. Touchstone’s paper, I should say, in the following way: Take her springboard from my old papers as opposite the conclusion I drew in those papers. Take it as Touchstone’s conclusion drawn from material presented in those papers. Then learn from her of new research and thought that further elaborates the conclusion she had incorrectly drawn (i.e., take the conclusion for true while reading her paper, even though it can’t really be inferred from my works), such newer works from these two, for notable example:…/index.php/autori.html…


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