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DavidOdden

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  1. I have a meta-question about why you’re saying these things in this particular way. I suggest rearranging the claims in a more hierarchical fashion. For example I conclude that #1 is wrong, but perhaps not literally false. What is most wrong about #1 is that is draws on fragments of concepts but skips lower level concepts that are necessary for making identifications. As for #1, to if-and-only-if with “meaning”. “sentence” concept to “word” for definition, necessary bypassed which the sticking a have is giving the in scheme relate you order. Oops, I meant, sticking with the if-and-only-if scheme for giving a definition, you have bypassed the concept “sentence” which is necessary in order to relate “word” to “meaning”. So first the word-string must be a sentence: it must follow the rules of sentence-syntax. “String of words” refers to a something bigger than “sentence”. However, between the two, there is also “phrase” e.g. “the members of Congress”, which is not a sentence and does not quality as a statement (=assertion), but it has meaning. Words, as well, have meaning. The correct approach to the topic, IMO, is to start with the fact that words have meaning, and word combinations may have a meaning which is composed via a proposition-building function – the rules of the language (I’ll totally skip the details, but they have to do with how word-combinations in an order have a specific meaning in a language, so that “the dog chased the cat” means something different from “the cat chased the dog”). Being a statement (I assume you consider this to be a synonym for assertion) is a property of certain sentences – other sentences are “questions” or “commands”. Only assertions are true or false. “Congress” or “ruins” is neither true nor false, and “the members of Congress” is neither true not false. However, both have meaning. Questions and commands are kind of sentences – they are not just “strings of words”, and they have meaning, but they are neither true nor false. So I conclude that #2 is false: “meaning” applies to more things than just statements. This is kind of fatal to the enterprise of relating units of language to reality. Your corollary A also has to face the problem that questions and commands have meaning and are sentences, but not statements / assertions. I don’t understand what #3 is intended to say (what is its function in your system?). The assertion “The House voted to condemn Trump” is true, that is, it describes a fact. The assertion “The House voted against condemning Trump” is false, which means that it describes the opposite of a fact, or, its denial describes a fact. The assertion “Trump was assassinated in 2018” is also false (does not correctly describe reality), but it clearly has meaning and it does not mean the same thing as “The House voted against condemning Trump”. I especially do not understand what you mean by the relationship between the something that a statement says and the statement’s referent. I assume this is intended to get at the notion of “correspondence” or the fact that a certain proposition describes a fact – I just need some unraveling of this way of talking about truth. Getting back to those rules of language and the proposition-building interpretative function for sentences, sentences like “Sentence A is true” is actually the same problem as “I just saw a rat” or “You found my watch”. They have “loose end” terms: “I”, “you”, “my”, and “Sentence A”. If you take try to interpret language completely out of context, the watch sentence describes (or misdescribes) at least 520 facts, i.e. it is always huge out-of-context contradiction. Clearly, this sentence is true (or false) once we settle on the intended referent of “you” and “my”. There are social rules about how we objectively determine intended reference especially in sentences contructed by other people, though in the case of “I”, it plainly means “the guy talking”. The problem with “Sentence A” is that out of context there is no hope of assigning any referent to that clause (therefore no hope of determining if the sentence is true), but in context, it may be true or false, or neither. Sentences like “Sentence A is true”, “Sentence A is in Spanish”, and “The dog is barking” presuppose the existence of “Sentence A” or “The dog”. I think that sentences with false presuppositions do not describe a fact, so they are false and not true.
  2. If you start, as you do, from the fact that a person has no right to create child porn, it follows that a pornographer does not have a right to the results of his violation of the child’s rights, and he cannot rightfully give away or sell such objects. Child porn is analogous to stolen goods: the fact that you as a customer didn’t steal it doesn’t give you rightful title to the goods. There is no generic ‘right to privacy’, but there are property rights. The only person who could have any right to the porn would be the child. Criminalizing recipt of child porn is analogous to criminalizing receipt of stolen goods.
  3. There is vastly more that distinguishes languages besides “how the languages sound”. Mandarin grammar and Latin grammar as pretty close to opposites on the structural spectrum. There are rational individual reasons for preferring one language over another that aren’t just aesthetics. If I plan to do business in France, it would be more sensible for me to learn French than to learn Russian: and vice versa. I personally like languages that exploit consonants more than vowels and that have a strong rhythmic pattern, on aesthetic grounds. But that’s just language as object of entertainment – it doesn’t determine which languages I will study, where the choice is based on practical utility to me (it turns out that the “pleasing” languages are not professionally so useful to me). Another aesthetic basis for distinguishing languages is the logic of its structure (meaning that you have to actually understand the logic of the language’s structure). Of course, you also need a basis for making a judgement – should you value arbitrary quirkiness, or symmetry and regularity? I value languages which have the superficial appearance of irregularity and complexity whose logical structure is in fact simple and regular, but involves the interaction of rules. There is a competing aesthetic that values transparency: simple rules that don’t involve thinking about the context where the rules apply. My preference for the former is based on what it reveals about cognition, and not whether I might effortlessly learn a language so that I can negotiate contracts. Because the efficiency argument is used widely in discussions of “best language”, I have to point out that counting words and sentences is not the right way to view efficiency. Word can be extremely short or extremely long, and correspondingly, in some languages a single word can frequently convey an entire proposition (example: Greenlandic), but in some languages virtually all propositions require multiple words (example: Vietnamese). Greenlandic words can be very long, Vietnamese words are very short. Efficiency is about effort expended to do something, so what effort is expended in uttering a sentence, or three? You have to move your articulators; you have to compute the structure of the utterance (there is more, but start there). We still have no idea how to objectively measure the cost of uttering or computing a sentence. A slightly better metric would be the number of articulatory units needed to express a proposition (it does not matter how many sentences or words) – the fewer, the better. If it takes 10 minutes to ask for a sandwich, or a ride to the airport, then maybe the language is truly inefficient. My experience is that such a situation when it arises is not a result of the language, it is the result of social norms in that society (don’t just bluntly ask for a ride, circumlocute and get to the point after 10 minutes). So again, a language cannot be evaluated as a floating abstraction, it has to be in the context of a specific purpose. You learning a language will be different from me learning a language. Experiencing sound-aesthetics is something else; analyzing the logical structure of a language is a third thing. Communicating with others is a fourth. The context of you as evaluator matters hugely: do you only speak English and are you picking up a language so that you can do business in Japan? Or are you trying to deepen your understanding of man by learning more about this vital tool of thought?
  4. The question of “best language” has plagued (pestered) linguists for decades, the question being a plague because there are so many different purposes that could be used as the standard for evaluating. Admirably, you specify a particular function – converting concepts into concretes (not e.g. “physical efficiency”, “popularity” and so on). I think it would be advisable to say what it means to evaluate a language as a means of concretizing concepts. However, I have to disagree with Rand’s statement that the function of language is expressing concepts: it is expressing concepts and propositions. We don’t just utter words – “horse”, “eat” – we utter propositions – “I need to borrow your horse so I can get something to eat at the store”. What would it mean for a language to be good for this purpose, or bad? If it were completely impossible in some language to express certain propositions (including contradictions), that would be a “bad language”. But every human language has that capacity. Differences between languages are not in terms of what can be somehow expressed, but in terms of computational efficiency. As an example, in North Saami, there is a word gabba which in a single word refers to “an all-white reindeer”. That language has a concept that is lacking in English: we can express the same thing, but it requires a more complex propositional arrangement (not just white, not entirely white; that color is then attributed to “reindeer”). So where Saami has more vocabulary in a certain domain, we can call on the resources of language rules (and can express “all-white pig; all-white house; all-white horse” and so on in an analogous fashion, where Saami does not have specific words for these other all-white things). Of course they can use the same rule-based mechanism as we do for expressing thoughts about all-white horses; they just have some additional concepts, befitting their particular circumstances. Languages do differ substantially in their systems of rules in a way that might seem to relate to “goodness”. In some languages, the rules for putting words together are very transparent, general and simple (Turkish is usually the example brought out to illustrate that point), and in other languages, the rules are very complex and item-specific – English is on that end of the spectrum of complexity. For example, you know what “up” means, but it doesn’t mean that in collocations like “look up”, “take up”, “mess up”, “give up”. While English is more chaotic in this respect, we still can convey all possible concepts and propositions using the resources of English. It’s just that we have to call on a larger set of more specific rules to do that. There is no real cognitive downside to having more rules that are more specific compared to some other language, as long as there are, in fact, rules in the language. If every proposition required its own rules, that would be a bad language, because you can express an unlimited number of propositions, but you can’t learn an unlimited set of rules. Back to my question: what does it mean for a language to be good or bad for the purpose of expressing propositions?
  5. As Doug Morris says, we need to start by explaining how we form the concepts “if” and “then”. These are hard scientific questions about how children actually form concepts, but it is difficult to tell whether a child has actually formed a given concept at a particular time. Remember that adult concepts are not the same as child concepts (as Rand points out in ITOE). “Mama”, “dada” refer to individuals and are not concepts – they are the names of unique existents. But children can go through a phase of concept-formation where these are concepts (referring to adult family males, or females) and eventually de-conceptualize the words when they realize that “dada” in our culture doesn’t apply to the individuals “grandfather” or “uncle”. The child definition of “man” certainly does not involve knowing about a rational faculty. Before we try to account for forming very high level logical concepts like “if” and “then” (meaning “therefore”, not meaning “at that time” or “subsequently”), we have to discover how children acquire their first logical concepts. The three most obvious to me are “concept”, “property” and “entity”. To be able to define “concept”, you have to have at the minimum the concept “entity” (the existents that can be perceived) and “property” (these entities have some defining property that sets them apart from those entities). If you have a concept “concept” as well as “property”, then you can form the concept “proposition” (the basis for forming the concept of “proposition” is actual propositions which are, in experience, statements about properties of an individual or concept). You can’t form a concept “if” if you don’t have a concept “proposition”. And so on. I think the most that can be reasonably expected is making reasonable conjectures about how children might acquire higher-level knowledge, based on factual knowledge of what children actually do. Actually determining whether these conjectures are at least probably true is quite a tall order. As for the concept modus ponens, that is a concept that most adults do not have, and it is pretty clear that it is explicitly taught and not induced from examples (unless someone has finally figured out a lesson where people can actually induce modus ponens as distinct from modus tollens from examples). What we perceive is somebody saying or writing an explanation of the concept, and it’s similar to coming to know about “ion”, “valence”, “epistemology”.
  6. I will ask what you mean by " how we come to know this inference rule", but specifically, are you asking about real acquisition of knowledge, that is, is this a cognitive and scientific question, or are you asking about abstract logical relations between concepts? If the former, I claim what "we" do not know this rule, though some of us do, and qua rule we mostly learn it – to the extent that we firmly learned it – in Logic 150. There are other rules of logic (modus tollens, modus ponendo tollens) which "follow from" the law of identity: they are consequences of, but not the same as, the law of identity. Again, cognitively / developmentally, the law of identity is a very high level abstraction that generalizes over numerous specific laws. So I think it is important to distinguish how we learn, and what the resulting logical conclusio(s) are.
  7. The relationship between brain or DNA and “pattern” is not “is a”. A brain is an organ composed primarily of neurons and secondarily of glial cells, and it has the potential to do certain things, at least when attached to a living being. DNA is a molecule with a particular structure, just as sucrose is a molecule with a particular structure. DNA likewise has the potential to do certain things, and that potential is less tied to the organism being alive. In comparing your definitions to Rand’s, I notice that Rand’s are very focused and minimalist: they concisely say what the essential characteristics of “life” are. Your definitions say much more, which is a disadvantage. The purpose of a definition is to reduce the difference between two sets of referents to be distinguished, and befitting its cognitive function, it should be a minimal statement of what makes life distinct from anything else. A definition is not a catalogue of all or most knowledge about an existent. You expand Rand’s definition of life to include having “the ultimate purpose of flourishment”. Why should this be part of the definition? What, indeed, is flourishment? What necessitates this complication of the definition of life? We can still reach conclusions about rational goals and flurishing even if we don’t complicate the definition of life – see various works of Tara Smith on the topic, who adheres to the classical definition of life.
  8. On a tangential point, your list of 11 is a list of eleven nouns / concepts, and not propositions. I presume you have in mind some relationship between the list of words and 11 propositions, but I don't know what proposition "intentionality" represents, so I don't understand how it is different from "free will".
  9. In my opinion, the problem of living a rational existence in an irrational social context is the most challenging ethical problem that an Objectivist will face. There is no question that you should not steal another person’s property. Should you receive stolen property? Is it okay if you associate with a thug who breaks into houses and distributes stolen goods to you, if you yourself don’t go into the house? Are you morally cleansed if you denounce (but still accept) the proceeds of such theft? Clearly not. And suppose you really need that stolen stuff to survive (for example, you have no job skills and there are no unskilled job opening in the town), does that make it okay to accept stolen goods? I gave you two options here: gain job skills, or move elsewhere. There is always a choice, and you should always frame your decisions in terms of alternative actions and their consequences. One option would be for you to refuse to do the assignment, which b.t.w. would be the worst choice given the alternatives. Assuming that you need a copy of the blueprint to do the assignment, why would you not instead acquire a legal copy? Possible answer: it costs money. Say it costs $1, is that an impossible burden for you to bear? Or $1,000 (and any point in between)? This is a way of quantifying your ethical values. Why should you be concerned with the losses suffered by another, when you are not directly the thief: isn’t that just self-sacrifice? What harm are you doing yourself by silently accepting stolen goods. Again, what else could you do? Privately compensate the rights-holder? Incidentally, I don’t entirely accept your claim that the material is being illegally distributed, though for rhetorical purposes here I do. How do you know that the material is being illegally distributed? Is this based on the instructor’s confession? I’m just saying, check your assumptions.
  10. In that case, apart from reporting it to the copyright holder, I would also report it to the university authorities. Every university that I know of aggressively swats instructors who violate copyright law, because otherwise the institution also becomes liable for an infringement suit, and such a suit is much more likely compared to a case against an infringing instructor (deeper pockets).
  11. I suggest that you explain in some detail why you think you should buy the books or borrow them from the library, and not make use of the course materials (I assume that the materials are lawful – it is entirely possible that the instructor is engaging in piracy). When you answer this, focus on the issue of whether the holder of the copyright has granted you (“one”, generally, not you by name) permission to copy the material. Or, is the rights-holder the victim of force: has force been used to prevent him from asserting his property rights? Since I am assuming that the material is used lawfully, you have to look into what the law says are his rights, and then evaluate whether this is plainly wrong under Objectivist ethics. One distinct possibility is that the author has in fact granted permission to reproduce certain things for certain purposes. As a textbook author, I have done that, and it is clear what I granted permission to copy. Sometimes people simply rely on the law: they feel that they don’t need to explicitly grant permission to do something that is legal to do. That means that you don’t actually know whether your usage is without permission. If you know that your (legal) use is contrary to the will of the copyright holder, that could mean that the law does not fully recognize the owner’s objectively-justified rights. For example, the law allows one drawing to be reproduced from a book (there must be compensation). The copyright holder might reasonably want a different rate of compensation (which is not negotiable, and is determined by a state monopoly); they might simply want people to buy the whole book. But the law says, this is how we will protect your rights, and we will not use government force to protect further rights that you claim which are not recognized under law. For example, a person might assert that he holds copyright for a period of 400 years, but the law (in the US) says “life plus 70 years”. This is a clear case where there must be explicit laws encoding what that right is. So the question that you ought to ask and answer is, why would it be immoral for you to make use of a legal provision that allows such copying? Are you initiation force against the property owner; are you advocating expropriation of intellectual property? If you believe that existing copyright law does not properly protect IP, how should the law be changed: and how can you make your actions conform to that ideal, without sacrificing yourself?
  12. The first step in reasoning is that you must be able to perceive and identify facts of the world. “Identifying” implies discrimination – as Binswanger points out, concept formation depends on identification of similarities in two or more things excluding a third. The second step is assignment to a linguistic form. The third step towards reasoning is forming propositions, which involves developing the “subject/predicate” distinction (i.e. you have to have the rather high-order concepts of entity and attribute). Then you have to grasp some sophisticated laws of logic. Survival qua man is not possible if you only know how to discriminate cats, dogs, pigs, sheep and people. Children don’t clearly get to the third stage until they are over 2 years old, and it takes a few more years to get to that last stage. It is not clear when they get to the second stage, because infants know things that they can’t do. They have to have developed the motor control necessary to say “dog”, “cat” (even imperfectly). They also need to develop auditory and visual skills to the point that they can discover that this thing is a “dog” and that thing is a “cat”. Some while ago, it was realized among developmental scientists that we don’t have to wait for children to utter recognizable words in order to conclude that they have developed basic language skills, we can also test whether they can perceive language units. I would say that at present we don’t have much knowledge of what’s in their brains below 6 months, but the main impediment to them speaking is lack of motor control, and not a cognitive lack.
  13. There is a huge amount to discuss here, and the first step is to understand the implication of “What would a modern alternative comprehensive online school look like?”. First, the question needs to be what a school should be, which makes more explicit that schools have a purpose and we must identify that purpose – the ultimate goal of education – before we can say how we will get there. The purpose of a school is primarily to develop a person’s skills in logic. The secondary purpose is to convey factual conclusions which a person needs, in order to survive (qua man, not just morgue-avoidance). The qualifications “modern, alternative, comprehensive” do not usefully delimit the thing that we seek. Bear in mind that contemporary educational practices are alternative practices, relative to the practices of the 50’s and 60’s. Being “alternative” is not an objective value, but following different practices could be valuable. We can drop those qualifiers, and ask simply “What is the best way to educate people online” (that is what I take to be the essential and reasonable goal behind the question). A corollary question is, how or why would online education (OE) differ from in-person education (IPE)? In favor of OE is that it largely eliminates transportation, scheduling and physical-facility problems faced by IPE. Speaking against OE is the fact that it makes student-teacher interaction more difficult (huge lag time between question and answer). A partial advantage of OE is that some aspects of the process can be automated; a partial disadvantage is that some aspects of the process cannot be automated, but they are anyway. I am very wary of claims about online instruction being less expensive. This may be technically true, but not necessarily a good thing. In some instances, this is accomplished through the selflessness of the instructor: I don’t need to tell you why that is not a good thing, though they have the right to self-sacrifice. In many cases, it is accomplished via the false premise “If we just set this up right, we can let the program run unattended”. You can certainly set up a system that doesn’t require significant human intervention (as teaching does), but they have not at all persuaded me that they are providing a satisfactory product. This, I would say, is the major discussion point regarding online education. IMO, the currently optimal approach is IPE with well-structured online supplementary material.
  14. “Potential person” would have to refer to something at the embryo end of the developmental scale. “Man” a.k.a. “person” already expresses potential – man is the animal with the faculty of reason. A faculty is a potential, not an actual performance. The potential to integrate and identify already exist before birth, though clearly not through the whole of fetal development. A fertilized egg is a potential person, and probably a fetus at 26 weeks is still just a potential person (that is, those facts which enable man’s special identification and integration powers are still under construction: but they get constructed before birth). In other words, I think that appeal to “potential” is confusing, when speaking of a concept defined in terms of a potential.
  15. Since all concepts (by definition) are abstractions, referring to “concepts involving some amount of abstraction” suggests that you mean “those concepts which involve some amount of abstraction”, as distinguished from “those first-order concepts drawn directly from experience”. I take it that you simply meant “when it understands concepts”, period. Now the next question would be, what do you mean by “understands concepts”, as opposed to “has concepts” or “forms concepts”? Frankly, before ITOE was written, I don’t think anyone really understood concepts but of course we have used them for eons. Why not simply say “has concepts”? The question of how plain the meaning of words is difficult. There are no intrinsic relations between words and referents, i.e. the relationship between “yellow” and what it refers to is not because those sounds necessarily convey the property of yellowness. The relationship between a word and its referents is conventional and defined only in the context of a particular language. I use the word “person” in this discussion because it refers to the same thing that “human” does, and the same thing that “man” does except when “man” is used to refer to “adult human male”. Do you agree that “person” and “human” refer to the same thing? Do you also agree that “person” and “man” when used in the sex- and maturational-neutral sense refer to the same thing? I would expect so, but perhaps you will surprise me. However you answer those question, how do you justify your answer? I base my conclusion on my knowledge of what things the word refers to. Perhaps my knowledge is wrong – at one time, I was wrong about the referent of “rafter”. Rand makes two essential identifications, which I agree with. A propos “man”, A propos “reason”: I’m not introducing a covert “heresy” argument; if you disagree with either of these identifications, that’s fine, but I’d like to see a reason to reject them, and also what you would replace them with. It looks to me like the disagreement has to do with what the referents of “man” are.
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