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DavidOdden

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Everything posted by DavidOdden

  1. Neuromarketing and choice

    Three terms here need to be closely scrutinized. The most egregious is “impose”. It retreats from the clearly false claim of “force”, while retaining the negative connotations of “force”. Here is a usage that gets to the core of imposing: “I don’t want to impose, but would you be able to drive me to the airport?”. The requester has a goal, the requestee probably does not share that goal, and the requester’s plan of action is to get the other to accept his goal. Imposing and persuading differ in the extent to which the requestee opposes accepting that goal. If he is neutral or only mildly opposed, we say that you persuade him to accept the goal. When force is not involved, imposing is just a way of negatively characterizing persuasion (the self-deprecating use of “impose” in the example manipulates the other party into denying that he opposes the goal, a denial manifested as a ride to the airport). In the context of the advertising discussion, it is redundant rhetoric, conveying nothing not already contained in “what people want”. “Want” is a basic emotional relation to a thing. The ideology that you are arguing against has an implicit premise that people’s actions should be caused by their emotions, so you should engage in trade only if you have a particular emotional connection to the thing in question. And furthermore, since advertising is stipulated to be bad, that emotional state must exist before exposure to the advertising (since advertising is held to improperly influence one’s emotional state). So, does exposure to advertising create the requisite emotional state (directly or indirectly)? It certainly can. My initial emotional state was that I wanted (indeed, needed) a new cell phone. By exposure to advertising, my emotional state was changed, indirectly, to the point that I wanted a specific cell phone so much that I bought it. That emotional state was the byproduct of a rational change of state: I became aware of the properties of that phone, in comparison to others, and I concluded that it was the proper choice, given my requirements. The important thing is that initially, I did not want that phone. There was a lack of emotion: no attraction or repulsion, because I was unaware that the phone existed. Advertising expanded my knowledge, and secondarily created a desire. I didn’t want it initially, I came to want it. “Advertising” is a tricky concept. Obviously, when a company provides information about its goods and services, that is advertising. The same goes for information provided by third parties; and it need not just be goods and services – political advertising abounds. Not just electoral advertising, but ideological advertising (you will see full page ideological ads in the New York Times every so often: you see ideological advertising on people’s front laws, car bumpers, lapels, and email signatures). When a person takes out an ad in the paper, intending to influence people’s beliefs, that is a kind of advertising. Giving a speech in public can have the same effect: is that really different from advertising? The essence of advertising is “communicating something, in the hopes of achieving an end”. I surmise from they way you present your opponents, that there are claiming that “neuromarketing” methods have been scientifically proven to override rational decision-making (and this is evil, though maybe they are claiming that this is good). I would respond by challenging the premise that “neuromarketing” has a scientific foundation. My reading of Fisher, Chin & Klitzman “Defining Neuromarketing: Practices and Professional Challenges” is that the practice verges on junk science (it is a popular medium phenomenon, not a systematic body of peer-reviewed experimental results). They surely must be familiar with this article, if they know the literature. (That's "if" number 1). In a few cases where there is some supposed support for some vaguely related idea, for example McClure, Li, Tomlin, Cypert, Montague & Montague “Neural Correlates of Behavioral Preference for Culturally Familiar Drinks”, the results are pretty simple and unsurprising. Subjects may prefer Coke, or they may prefer Pepsi, and that preference can be observed in the brain using fMRI. Subjects are also able to visually identify Coke vs. Pepsi cans; and you might be able to trick people into thinking that they got Coke if they get Pepsi but see a picture of a Coke can. These results can reasonably be interpreted to mean that existing “wishes” may have physical correlates in the brain. Correlation is distinct from causation: the fact that an existing mental state can be physically quantified does not mean that we can directly manipulate the brain to bring about that mental state. I haven't touched the glaring statistical problem. You will notice in the Coke paper that there is zero discussion of subject demographics. This is not surprising for medical research, but it is fairly shocking for behavioral research like this (with a thin veneer of medical slapped over it). What is the "population" that these subjects were drawn from? Assuredly, not "humans" – it's a very restricted subset of humans. I've seen these ads, where an experimenter recruits subjects for e.g. a taste test that takes an hour (or whatever) and there is some reward. People who respond to these ads are not a random sample of humans – they live in Houston, have free time and an inclination, and do not self-filter, thinking "What kind of craziness is this?". Whatever those 67 people did, there isn't a lot of reason to infer anything about humans in general from that study. Arming yourself with this kind of background is useful in case you plan to interact with these people again on this topic. Unfortunately, the world is full of cranks who will randomly assert falsehoods, pretending that there is underlying science. The response "I'm not your teacher; look it up yourself" is a clear give-away that they don't control the technical literature.
  2. Neuromarketing and choice

    Be careful using the word "force". The government frequently forces me to do things that I don't want to do. Arguments of this type often weasel in the word "force" when they mean "get", like "I forced him to see that his argument was silly, by reducing it to an absurdity" – meaning, I got him to do so, though he was reluctant. Advertising most certainly can influence our choices, and many people are indeed suckered in by the implications of slick advertising – they focus on the pretty face and hip music, ignoring all of the important technical questions that they ought to ask about the product. I presume that you do not believe that all people are swayed only by rational product-info facts. So then what exactly are you trying to argue against? Next time, I would concentrate on where the word "force" is first used. Stop the conversation when someone says "They don't have any choice" – where exactly is the science that shows that people are incapable of making a choice when... under what conditions? Scrutinize the science critically. The best response to the "go look it up" challenge is "give me a citation". I always demand a legitimate vetted scientific publication. Not a blog post, a propaganda website, but a real scientific journal. This is mildly risky, because often the claim proffered in a publication can't be evaluated without knowing the jargon of the field (especially in the behavioral sciences), and it does mean yo need to be able to access journals typically behind a paywall. "Give me a citation", i.e. "put your money where your mouth is", often generates an outraged response like "Everybody knows this", so at least you will know whether you're dealing with ideologues or scientists with bad ideology.
  3. Not every “mental integration” is a concept. The sentence “Rand spoke at Ford Hall” mentally integrates many facts, and it is not a concept. Concepts are a specific kind of mental integration – where for reasons of cognitive economy, two or more existents are distinguished from others, and are represented with a single mental symbol. Just as there are multiple collocations of more than one horse which is identified by “horses”, there are multiple events of speaking at Ford Hall by Rand that are identified by that sentence. Refering to multiple existents is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for concept-hood. The whole point of the concept “concept” is that it is a parsimonious means of identifying things that have a perceptible similarity. There is a concept that sort of covers the situation of horse-plurality i.e. horses as a group, though it is not particular to horses: “herd” (omitting measurement of the particular species, such as cow, horse, deer, cat). I think it is mistaken to think of horses in relation to herds (or individuals in relation to society) as the same thing as legs in relation to tables. You can build a society or a herd from a number of individual horses or people: you can decompose a table into a number of parts such as legs and leaves. In fact, I don’t think that “horses as an entity” is correct. Maybe separately you want to think over what an “entity” is, but saying “electrons as an entity” is the wrong way to talk about electrons. The one thing I can see of interest about “horseness” is that it’s another example of a word composed of two symbols, each of which expresses a concept: we have “horse”, plus “-ness” which refers to “the mental product of abstracting the essential characteristics that define a concept”. Or, more succinctly, “that which defines…”. Clearly (I hope), that which defines horses is not the same as horses. Actually, because of its tainted association with the “problem of universals” and the question “where is the horsess in a horse?”, I would use people to not extend ‘-ness’ to nouns and demonstratives, as some philosophers do.
  4. It is not a problem if you say that the referent of “dog” is “those existents that are dogs”. A “referent” is “a thing referred to”, and as long as you understand what it means to “refer”, there should be no problem. The question is, what things refer? A proper name, concept, or phrase can refer (the name “Rand” refers to a specific individual; the concept labeled “dog” in English refers to a class of animals; the phrase “the author of Atlas Shrugged” or “my dog” refers to a specific invidual, the latter being more dependent on context). In Classical Greek γνω- (gnō-) is only part of a word (or of many words), and it refers to “knowing”; the mathematical symbol ∂ is not a word, and it refers to “partial differential”. Confusion may come from the fact that Rand says that concepts refer, but other things do refer, many of which cannot be concepts. ITOE focuses on concepts and not on language, so we do not know what her theory of “reference” would have been. She says (with bold added) Language is a code of visual-auditory symbols that serves the psycho-epistemological function of convening concepts into the mental equivalent of concretes. Language is the exclusive domain and tool of concepts. Every word we use (with the exception of proper names) is a symbol that denotes a concept, i.e., that stands for an unlimited number of concretes of a certain kind. … A concept substitutes one symbol (one word) for the enormity of the perceptual aggregate of the concretes it subsumes. Symbols include special letters, concepts and the other things I mentioned, but it is not clear what to do with phrases since calling a combination of words like “the author of Atlas Shrugged” a symbol stretches the notion of symbol. My account of “referring” is that a symbol or sequence of symbols refers. The question of whether “horses” is a concept is a very good one, in my opinion. There should be no doubt that “white reindeer” (in English) is not a concept, it is a phrase, similarly “my book” or “the house” are not concepts, they are combinations of concepts forming phrases. “Horses” is a combination of two concepts (and a combination of symbols): one pertaining to the animal, which is a word in its own right, and another, the symbol referring to plural, namely -s, which itself is nota word. Because of how English grammar works, that combination is itself a word, which encodes constituent concepts in the same way that “the house” combines two constituent concepts (and symbols, and words). There are no automatic concepts, but there are natural concepts, ones that easily arise from the nature of reality and the mind. Rather than saying that it is automatic, I would say that it is inescapable.
  5. Then I think you face a serious problem: existence is intolerable for you. I am not suggesting that you should kill yourself, I am suggesting that you should re-consider how intolerable America is for you. Remember that Atlas Shrugged is fiction, and there is no such place as Galt’s Gulch. Existence qua man implies existence somewhere: and there is nowhere better than here. Suppose for instance that you find that Iran imposes no FDA-like restrictions on experimental drugs, and that Iranians do not generally advocate imposing such restrictions on people: would that they justify moving to Iran? I can give you a few thousand reasons why you should not. Or maybe move to Canada. One problem (of many) with moving to Canada is that their system of law does not have the free speech protections that we have, and you can be silenced there in a way that you can’t be silenced here. One of the downsides of free speech is that it means people can advocate statism. The way to combat statism is not to pack up and move to a more statist regime, it is to use that power of free speech to combat statist rhetoric. You can do that in two ways. One is to narrowly argue the science, but a better approach is to argue the moral principle – it’s not the business of the government! The federal bill itself is less than ideal, since it only recognizes a basic human right in case you have been diagnosed to be terminally ill and the treatment complies with whatever arbitrary restrictions the state imposes (Congress passed up the opportunity to use the Supremacy Clause to more fully guarantee individual rights).
  6. For a more detailed presentation of "unit", read the Ayn Rand Lexicon entry on unit. Objectivism does not generally use or rely on the term "referent", which is used in other approaches, and which is not well defined. As long as you don't import anything philosophically sketchy from the term "referent" besides "that which a thing refers to", then it's okay to talk about a "referent". "Unit" does not imply any act of referring, but concepts do refer, to units (which are existents). The label (word) attached to a concept refers to those existents. To give a concrete example, dog #1 is an existent, and it is a unit, but the dog does not refer to itself – it is itself. The dog's name, such as "Poika", refers to the specific existent, and the word "dog" refers to that existent, as well as many others.
  7. As a reminder, " A concept is a mental integration of two or more units which are isolated by a process of abstraction and united by a specific definition". Unicorns and irrational numbers exist, though they are not physical things. Fiction especially science fiction relies heavily on imaginary concepts. The similarity between a fictional individual and a fictional concept is that they are both fictional.
  8. Rights are those conditions necessary for man’s survival, qua man. Protecting the individual from the collective is a specific application of the concept of rights, having to do with society’s relationship to man (rights are not there so that the individual is protected from the collective. Also note that no rights to things: rights pertain to actions – you have a right to live, to act according to your judgment (this is what “liberty” is about). These are specific perspectives on the fundamental right, that of a man to exist. But to exist doesn’t mean just “be a pile of atoms; be a slave’, it means exist as a man (existence implies identity). Which means, to exist as a man; in accordance with the nature of man – you exist as a reasoning being. Your actions are chosen, by you, because they befit your specific nature. Only you can determine what your nature is, e.g. whether you like the wind-swept prairie or skyscrapers. Your only right, in a social context, is to be free from the initiation of force. The often-enumerated rights to life, liberty, property rights, pursuit of happiness, freedom of speech and so on are all just identifying concrete consequences of the right to be free from force. It’s a mistake to promote pursuit of happiness to the status of a fundamental right, or happiness as a fundamental desideratum. Happiness is a result of something else, and is not a primary goal. Happiness is the result of achieving your goals. The right way to look at it is, you have the right to pursue your own goals. If you are allowed to pursue those goals and you achieve them, you will be happy. The “right to pursue goal” adds to “liberty” the important notion that actions should have a purpose.
  9. Using geometry to fight gerrymandering

    IMO we should resolutely oppose efforts to limit "gerrymandering", with the same vigor that we oppose "fairness" and "equality", "climate change" and thousands of other meaningless political buzz-words. We must especially oppose those forces of technocracy which claim they have a technological means of nailing jelly to a tree. Although science is real, the contemporary slogan "Science is real" does not refer to that fact, it refers to an authoritarian premise, which needs to be identified and combated. We do not need a technological solution to the problem of language. (Hint: there is no "problem of language")
  10. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    This thread has covered a lot of ground, which unfortunately makes it a bit incoherent. I suggest focusing on a specific issue of substance that is repeatedly raised, having to do with the government’s use of force to enforce proper law. I would set aside questions about social contracts, fraud, breach of contract, the nature of force and its relationship to consent, and inalienability of rights; I would also set aside the titular question of NAP qua primary principle in Objectivism (there is no denying that it is the fundamental principle of libertarianism). The issue requiring focus is this paraphrase of what Rand has said: “force in society may only be used in response to the initiation of physical force and only against the person who initiates the force”. Some version of this is said in nearly a dozen points in Rand’s writing, for example “Men have the right to use physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use” (The Objectivist Ethics). She is consistent in saying “against those”. The question is, what are the practical consequences of this principle? In connection with a crime involving the police and courts, there are at least 8 ways in which force is actually used in response to the initiation of force. Assume that the act is a theft, and the police are not witnesses to the act. Questioning: The police may stop and detain a person because they have a reasonable suspicion that he committed a crime. Arrest: The police may take a person into custody because they have evidence that he probably he committed a crime. Appearance: A person will be required to appear in court, and be identified as the criminal actor. Search: A person’s property may be searched and seized, and used as evidence pertaining to whether he committed the crime. Testimony: A person may be compelled to appear in court and testify as to relevant knowledge. Truth: A person who testifies will be forced to tell the truth (perjury is a crime, punishable by imprisonment). Jury service: A person (not the accused: having no relationship to the case) will be compelled to serve on a panel of jurors who decide facts and determine guilt. Courtroom conduct: A person who testifies or argues on either side of the question will be compelled to follow the lawful instructions of the judge. The issue, as I see it, is whether any of these 8 forms of force would be prohibited under the principles of Objectivism. If all of these forms of force were prohibited, protection of rights by the government (thus, man’s survival qua man) would not be possible, and since Objectivism is all about man’s survival, there would be something amiss. The main lacuna that needs to be filled is the epistemological one. Although proper force is to be limited to those who initiate it, it is not self-evident who those people are. Some force must be available to the government prior to the lawful determination of guilt. An arrest is predicated on the belief that a person has initiated force, but that belief may be mistaken. Moral responsibility for such uses of force rests with the person who did in fact initiate force. A system of objective law would allow use of force when, in a certain context, there is reason to believe that a person has initiated force. The nature of that reason relates to the legally allowed level of force. When there is just a reasonable suspicion, a limited degree of force is proper; when it is probable that the person committed the act, more force is proper; proof of the act results in the highest degree of force allowed under the law (the actual punishment). The possibility of error in the use of force does not mean that government cannot be allowed to fulfill its function. In short, and in the context of the legal determination of guilt, force is to be used against those whom the evidence indicates have initiated force (this is not limited to the officially indicted). Questioning, arrest, required appearance and search are all actions directed against persons whom we reasonably conclude initiated force: this includes all of the agents who acted to bring about force, including those not prosecuted. The use of force in connection with truthful testimony and enforcing courtroom conduct is not necessarily aimed against the rights-violator; it is, however, not improper initiation of force, rather it is a consequence which you accept to, when you appear in court. The one area of possible complication regards compelled testimony. As for compulsory jury duty, I see no possibility of reconciling that with Objectivism: see Rand’s position on taxation and the military draft. In discussing how a government based on Objectivist principles would operate, we must assume that some people will be irrational (will refuse to act in their own self-interest), but we cannot assume that most people are irrational – if they were, we’d have the kind of government we have now. Compulsion would not be necessary, and is hardly necessary now. This leaves the question of when it is permissible to seize property to be used as evidence, and to compel a person to testify (compelled action). In the case of a person with no culpability for the act, the choice to uphold the virtue of justice must remain the choice of the individual, to be made according to their hierarchy of values. “A right is the moral sanction of a positive—of his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice”. A man has the right to keep his property even when the government has a deep desire for it and perhaps a very compelling reason to want to take it, even just temporarily. It has been claimed above that a legal system cannot be objective if it is arbitrarily deprived of information: a person may not refuse to provide information arbitrarily. But contained within that argument, I find two very troubling suppositions. One is the premise that the government may rightly determine what a man’s hierarchy of values should be – if your hierarchy is not “right”, and you place your values above the interests of another, your values will be set aside. Second, the supposedly objective inquisition into a man’s motivations for a choice means that a man must be able to articulately argue for and thus defend his rights against government intrusion, in order to enjoy those rights. An objective legal system, in its procedural aspect, means that the rules which it uses are objectively stated, so that any man can know what is required of him. What that would entail, in evaluating the acceptability of a rationale for not testifying, is that the system must state which values of an individual can override the government’s interest in finding facts, and which values of an individual are found to be unimportant. I presume it is clear why this contradicts the basic political ideas of Objectivism.
  11. Are contradictions meaningful

    Logic is the art of non-contradictory identification: one of the secondary things that you can do with it is employ it in an argument. Its primary function is cognition. When I speak of “meaning” in the logical sense, I am speaking of literal meaning, that is, in the way that one uses it in the context of talking about logic (as opposed to general human behavior). The meaning (referent) of a proposition is always the product of linguistic rules and knowledge of individual concepts. The feeling that one can “kinda make sense” out of a contradiction in terms such as “A dog is not a dog” is that many of the parts do refer to something. “A dog” does have meaning, as does “is not a dog”, but the entire proposition does not refer to anything, literally. Once you go beyond the realm of logic, you can indeed assign an indirect communicative intent, which might be “I plan on confusing you in this argument”, or “That is the most ludicrous argument I have ever heard”. It totally depends on context.
  12. Are contradictions meaningful

    I would say that baby gibberish a.k.a. babbling, is completely meaningless in all senses. It is a physical exercise related to refining motor control over vocal anatomy, and it is not a manifestation of language (it is a precursor to language). The “motivation” is that infants need to understand how to relate movement of articulators to sounds, and this is the experiencial precursor to forming words like “mama”. There is no intent to communicate with babbling. Baby cries, which vastly precede babbling (are present from birth) are automatic responses to pain. These kinds of noises, along with physical gestures that babies make, are caused, but they are not caused by an intention to communicate anything. The cause of baby crying is of concern to the parent, in case there is something they can do to alleviate the problem. But when a newborn cries because it is hungry, that is not communication of an intention, that is a physical response. There are at least three distinct senses of meaning (or, “mean”). The broadest notion of meaning is “is evidence that”, so rocks can have meaning, e.g. “Those rocks mean that there was a landslide here recently”. A somewhat narrower sense, in the context of human actions, is “intend” exemplified by “I didn’t mean that you should have to get up and close the door” (in saying “It’s drafty”). Virtually always, when somebody says “That’s not what I meant”, they are saying “I did not intend to communicate that proposition”. Many statements are not expressions of an intended proposition, instead they indirectly communicate a fact. “You could have asked me” is virtually guaranteed to not be a recognition that a person has the ability to address questions to another, instead it is a communication of hurt feeling. Saying “My feelings are hurt because you didn’t ask me” is a literal communicative proposition. Some of these hidden meanings (communicative intentions) are pretty obvious, and some are obscure. The narrower sense of meaning, which I think we are discussing here (in light of the OP), is the logical sense, having to do with the objective relationship between words and concept, sentences and propositions. When a child says that there is a monster under the bed, they are not setting forth a logical proposition, but they are communicating something. It is important for Objectivists to not confuse the subjective – an intention to communicate something – with the objective – the proposition expressed by a statement. When the two do not line up, that is, when a person can not reasonably be thought to have actually asserted the proposition that they objectively have asserted given their words, then we must recognize the difference. Especially in a political context, it is mandatory that we challenge the disparity between what was literally said, and what people are likely to conclude was intended. I don’t deny that the word “mean” is used in very many distinct ways: I am saying that we have to understand that they are not interchangeable. Using a word like “intend” for the communicative sense distinguishes that sense of “mean” from the logical sense.
  13. Are contradictions meaningful

    There is an important epistemological distinction between the true, the false, and the arbitrary. “Truth is the recognition of reality” (quoting from Galt’s speech). As stated in Peikoff’s Objectivism: The philosophy of Ayn Rand ch. 5 Or, as Binswanger in How we know puts it, the false contradicts known facts. Not all statements have a connection to evidence, and Peikoff points to a third epistemological category, the arbitrary: Similarly Binswanger identifies the fact that A “contradiction in terms” lacks the cognitive-identification characteristics required for a proposition to be true or false: it is arbitrary. However, a false statement contradicts the facts.
  14. Are contradictions meaningful

    As an aside, the original quote says ‘sleep’, not ‘are currently sleeping’. To show that the sentence is meaningless, you first have to show what “mean” means. When an expression means something, it refers to that thing. It would be pointless to get into a long technical wrangle establishing what that sentence would refer to, but non-technically, it’s clear that it claims that certain things and actions exist, and the things are doing those actions. As MisterSwig points out, ‘colorless’ and ‘red’ are mutually incompatible, at the most basic definitional level, and nothing can be colorless and red. I will ignore ‘colorless’ because I believe that it’s meaning is more subtle than the denial of ‘having color’; but ‘red idea’ also invokes a contradiction, in this case involving the nature of ‘idea’ (not the definition) and the definition of ‘red’. Likewise, the nature of the act ‘sleep’ contradicts the nature of an action being ‘furious’ (and finally, ideas cannot sleep: an idea is non-living, and sleep is an action of a living thing – again, a contradiction). A contradiction does not identity or refer to any existent. When an expression means something, it refers to an existent. A contradiction lacks meaning, or, is meaningless.
  15. I don’t believe that your definition of “reference” is correct: perhaps you could persuade me. “Reference” in the relevant sense is “the act of referring”. We should dig deeper into what things “refer”, but as a start, expressions refer. Not all expressions are concepts. “The new occupants of the White House” refers to real people, and those people are the referents of the expression, but “The new occupants of the White House” is not a concept. If you want a set-theoretic definition of “reference”, it should be the set of all expressions of any type, paired with their referents (plural or singular). You might coin a word “word-reference” which specifically refers to just concepts and the things they refer to. In that case, r is a set, not an individual (it’s not a singular referent, it’s all of the referents). We can mostly set aside the concept of “reference” (though not the matter of what refers), because it is irrelevant to cooking up and evaluating the invalid concept “anti-reference” (it’s relevant to the proof of contradiction). “Anti-reference” could almost qualify as a label, although again it should be “word-anti-reference” if the goal is to only look at a kind of referring relation of concepts, and not those of everything that refers (briefly: denial of a proposition is not invalid). Because we need to evaluate the potential legitimacy of the putative concept qua concept, the label needs to be replaced so that there is no surreptitious smuggling in of ideas from other, valid concepts. For the sake of clarity, we should call this concept “glank”. A glank is the complement of the referents of a concept – everything that a concept does not refer to. An example of a glank would be a relationship between “dog” and the universe (not just things, but also abstractions, and any other fact such as the fact that adding baking soda to vinegar causes the mix to foam up) – it refers to everything except for dogs. It is cognitively valid to assert the proposition “this is a dog”, and it is equally valid to deny that proposition. The denial of a proposition is not automatically a concept. We do have valid method-concepts that pertain to denial – “denial, exclusion, contradiction, complement”. We can easily construct an expression which identifies the glank of a concept, using ordinary language expressions such as “everything that is not a dog”. The question is whether the word “glank” does something that makes it superior to the compositional expression “everything that is not”. In order for this monster glank to be elevated to the status of a concept, it needs cognitive validity, some purpose. There may be a narrow professional context (anti-cognitivist logicians) where it is useful to be able to quickly say “the complement of the concept C with respect to all existence”, so that instead of constantly saying “the cardinality of the complement of the concept ‘dog’ with respect to all existence is identical to the cardinality of the complement of the concept ‘run’ with respect to all existence”. Instead, philosophers could more efficiently say “the cardinality of the glank of dog is identical to the cardinality of the glank of run”. This would not suffice. “Glank” was cobbled together to relate concepts and things that they don’t refer to, but the complement relationship is broader, so we need to create “florn”, which is the complement of the facts that any expression identifies. Thus the florn of “everything that is not a dog with blue eyes and grey fur” is, simply, the universe, minus those dogs that have both blue eyes and grey fur. A glank is a florn where the expression is a word. The florn of “a dog with blue eyes and grey fur” includes all expressions (sentences, clauses and words are not actual dogs of that type), all actions (running is not a dog), all cats, rocks etc., and all dogs which don’t have blue eyes or don’t have grey fur. The florn of a dog (an actual dog) is undefined, because an actual dog is not a linguistic expression, and “florn” takes an expression as its argument. Similarly, “reciprocal of blue” is undefined. Since the florn of “dog” is not an expression, the florn of the florn of “dog” is likewise undefined. In your proof of contradiction, you don’t distinguish between A and “A”, which is a problem. Since we can identify what a concept refers to, we can evaluate the proposition “the concept A does not refer to X”. But we are not directly aware of all existents that a concept refers to, nor are we directly aware of all existents that are not instances of that concept. Regarding your final conclusion, is your point that we are not aware of all referents (are not omniscient)? If not, I don’t see wherein lies the problem with evaluating the denial of a proposition.
  16. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    This would be a good point at which to raise questions: I don’t understand what you mean by “physical force”. Let’s consider two other kinds of rights-violations: punching a person in the face, and stealthily taking cash from their home (let’s say, unbeknownst to them, though this could also be with them seeing you do it, if that matters). I presume that you would consider the former to involve physical force, but if not, please clarify. How about the latter? In what way is ‘physical force’ involved? What about a friendly handshake, or accidentally touching a person on a crowded subway. Is that “initiation of force”? And finally… back to the punch in the face: suppose we’re talking about boxers or stuntmen in a movie. Are they initiating force and should they be imprisoned? If not, why not (don’t just say “they agreed to it” – you haven’t shown that agreeing has any bearing on what force is). You ask how a person can properly defend himself against breach of contract and fraud (“how can a person … properly defend himself against it”, where it can only sensibly refer to “fraud (n)or violations of contract”). If you are asking “how do you prevent this from this happening to you”, the answer is caveat emptor. If you are asking how you restore your property rights, that is what the legal system is for. You assuredly do not have the right to poke the guy with a knife, as you would if someone were actually beating you. The problem I see is that you’re attempting to put things under the umbrella of self-defense that have no business there. For one, it simply is not true that “self-defense must be implemented via a government”. If a man attempts to beat me or steal from me, I may quite rightfully defend myself forcibly, without the intervention of the government. It is however correct that such a use of force must be placed under the objective control of the law – every jurisdiction has laws permitting self-defensive force. Self-defense pertains to the immediate situation that arises when the government cannot intervene, i.e. when someone is beating on you right now and the cops are not there, or someone is taking your property right now. When it’s not right now, it’s not self-defense. Where you say “It is improper for anyone to use physical force or the threat of physical force to prevent or respond to that which another has the right to do”, I have two objections. First, “use physical force or the threat of physical force” is redundant, in fact whenever a principle is stated in terms of “A or B”, that should tell you that the principle is misstated. The mind does not deal well with arbitrary lists. Second, “prevent or respond to that which another has the right to do” misses the point, which I think is amply made in Rand’s writing, that the principle is about “forcing a mind”, and not the complex list that you set forth. I take the following two sentences from Peter Schwartz’s essay “Free markets and free minds” as the clearest explication of “force”: It is my judgment that if you were to focus on what “force” is (and basically accept Schwartz’s sentences, although I highly recommend the whole essay), many (though not all) of the issues that you are facing would go away.
  17. Objectivism in Academia

    I either agree or disagree, depending on what it would mean for a philosophy to ‘need’ something. Given what I take to be our individual yet shared long-term interests, we need it. It is true that Objectivism was not created for the narrow purpose of discussion just between people who are paid to teach philosophy; it was created for general use by all people, who have a philosophy (my punctuation is correct). Insofar as it is in our best interest to live in a rational society, it is in our best interest that rational ideas be widely accepted. This implies that they should be widely understood, which in turn implies that they should be widely heard of. In light of the nature of contemporary civilization and culture, today’s academicians are the precursors to tomorrow’s intellectuals and academicians. Academicians are not the sole forces shaping future culture, but they are extremely important, and thus I cannot accept “too bad for you” as the proper response to any academic resistance. On the contrary, we “need” to redouble our efforts, to the extent that we can figure out how to do so. Which is not to deny that banging one’s head on the wall can cause headaches.
  18. I’ve been there and done that, so maybe I’ll take a crack at explaining it to you. One of the basic concepts that an understanding of the term requires is that of “truth”, or, from How We Know, Cars exist, and they don’t have a truth value, in the parlance of philosophy. Propositions have truth value. At this point, we are somewhat stymied, without a definition of “proposition”. There is no controvery over the fact that propositions are not the same as sentences: Logic 150 deals with the topic entirely differently: it doesn’t have sentences, truth, of cognitive content. A truth table looks like this: P Q P ∧ Q T T T T F F F T F F F F There are also truth trees, and formal deductive systems like Kleene. “Truth tables” are about “T” and “F” – you can also use 1 and 0. “Propositions” in this approach are arbitrary atomic letters with no cognitive content. There remains a large unsolved problem of relating classical notions of proposition and truth to these kinds of tables. A formalist definition of “tautology” might be “a formula that always has the value T”, where “always” is a yet-to-be-defined weasel word. An example is P (P ∨ ¬P) T T F T With just bare-letter propositions and the three primitive Boolean operators, “always” refers to the fact that T is the value of the formula for any selection of T or F assigned to the primitive letters. Unfortunately, this cannot yet be connected to truth or cognitive content. The above is a canonical example of a formal tautology, though to compute that you have to go through a series of inferences (you refer to the reference tables for ∨, ¬, ∧ and supply the letter under the formula column that matches the given configuration of T and F for atomic letters on the left). We can call each such line an “imaginable world”: then a formula is a tautology if it has the value T in all “imaginable worlds”. A contradiction is a formula with the value F in all “imaginable worlds”. But again, this is strictly within the contentless formal approach. Things get more difficult when you move closer to real propositions, such as “Socrates drank”, “Aristotle rules” and “Plato blows”: here we have expressions with two words, and no logical connective. Truth tables require logical connectives. At the very least, we would like to be able to at least express these sentences, and their denials, the hope being that you might devise a definition of “tautology” and “contradiction” in the formal approach, once you venture into predicate calculus. The stumbling block is translating from such things with cognitive content (direct or indirect), to some content-free form. Objectivist epistemology prohibits context-dropping, while standard formalist approaches encourage it. Let’s say that we have a person Xocrates, and we know that he was born in Macedonia, he first went to Albania at age 18, he ate one fish in Albania, and he died the instant he ate that fish. In formalizing a proposition about Xocrates – “Xocrates went to Albania after his birth in Macedonia” – the formalist approach hopes to substitute some “definition” of terms into a formula. The proposition that he was born in Macedonia and that he first went to Albania at age 18 are clearly relevant to proving that Xocrates went to Albania after his birth in Macedonia, whereas one can intuit that the circumstances of his fish problem are not relevant, so formalists will drop that context. Formalists can even drop extremely relevant context, such as the fact that birth entails existence. It is just as contradictory to say that Xocrates was born and did not exist, as it is to say that being whipped and burned is the same thing as not being whipped and burned. The sentence “For all integers x, there exists an integer y such that 2x + 3 = y” can probably be translated into some symbolic form, and it would prove to be a tautology if you have the correct translation. In all imaginable worlds (‘for all imaginable values of x and y’), this formula (or would-be formula, if we could fully formalize it) has the value T. So one problem with “tautology” is that some people seem to think that “For all integers x, there exists an integer y such that 2x + 3 = y” is not a tautology (and I’ll assume that this is a tre statement and not an error). Thus there must be at least two definitions of tautology, which is a problem. Actually, it’s well-known that there are zillions of definitions of tautology: it’s not really a concept, it’s more a meme, a vague notion that lives somewhere.
  19. To briefly get back to the original question, it is clear that Peikoff rejects the standard philosophical concept "tautology". The problem with the transcription which KyaryPamyu cited is that it doesn't represent what Peikoff wrote, it's what he said. In his writings, you can see that he abjures the term because he always puts scare quotes around it (plus, of course, what he says about so-called tautologies). It's possible but unlikely that he did air quotes when he said "tautology", and the quotes were not transcribed. "Tautology" is an invalid concept (though you may plead for validity, by removing the thing that makes it invalid). To be valid, there has to be a definition: it has to identify a specific range of things. We don't know what "tautology" refers to, and until we do, it's pointless to get into an extended discussion of it. Since the term is widely used in philosophy, I am inclined to attribute some meaning to it, thus I would more or less accept William O's initial quote from the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy: it is The pure form of these statements does not render them always true. A formula which is "always true" is something like "P ∨ ¬ P", but these are meaningless formulas. The proffered tautologies are not of this form. In the Cambridge examples, there might be a valid method of translating the statements into a symbolic form such that these are "tautologies". For example, you have to add a special stipulation of referential identity in these cases (see the last example: we must additionally assert that the first Socrates is the same individual as the second Socrates – we're not mixing Socrates the philosopher and Socrates my dog). Examples like "A brother is a male" is "tautological" not by dint of the form, but because of what we know of the referents of words "male" and "brother", and we know that experientially. It is particularly obvious that one cannot arrive at a formalization of "tautology" by simply inserting the definition of a word, when you are dealing with names, which have no definition. As for concepts and proper nouns, to quote ITOE, "A concept is a mental integration of two or more units which are isolated by a process of abstraction and united by a specific definition". A noun is the label by which we access a concept. A proper noun is a noun identifying units that name that name – they have no CCD. "Cow" identifies a range of existents with certain characteristics; "William" simply is a conventional label that some people have.
  20. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    I don’t know what you mean by “inadvertent” breach of contract: this is probably a terminological issue. When a party unknowingly does a thing contrary to a contract, that might be considered a “breach”. In an objective legal system, force would not come into play until the person knows of the act (“you failed to paint the wall”) and authoritatively knows that he agreed to (the court rules that that is part of the contract). In the case of Apple v. FBI, there clearly was initiation of force, by Farook Malik. So all that remains to be decided is whether the FBI demand is legitimate. That question was was mooted, and would not have been resolved by reference to objective law anyhow. Since we can’t see the arguments, we can’t judge them on their merits, but I am inclined to conclude that the order was unlawful. I think the fact that you’ve lost track of is that moral responsibility for the use of force against innocents lies with the initiator of force. I believe there has been a reasonable amount of discussion of the “collateral damage” problem here. I think that may be the lacuna for you. I take it that you’re alluding to some alternative to the Objectivist acount of retributive force, essentially only accepting defensive force. A person who commits, say, assault, does thereby lose all right to be free from assault, in a manner prescribed by objective law.
  21. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    When you do a thing to a person and directly override their will, you have direct force. When you do a thing to a person and you have conditional consent ("I agree, providing...") but do not satisfy the condition that consent was predicated on, you have indirect force. I don't understand your attempt to make resisting a subpoena (etc) an instance of initiation of force, if that's what you're up to. A person who denies the rights of others cannot claim those same rights for himself. The justification for government use of force derives from the virtue of justice – a person who acts like an animal will be treated like an animal, in a fashion objectively set forth by law.
  22. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    I recommend Peter Schwartz's 2011 essay "Free Minds and Free Markets", available from the ARI Estore, which provides a detailed analysis of the relationship between force, rights, freedom, voluntary action: the concept “force” denotes a physical action to which we are subjected against our will. Thus the concept of "force" employed by physicists it not the same as the philosophical one that Rand speaks of. A handshake is not the initiation of force; speaking to a person is not the initiation of force.
  23. If You Could Have Any Superpower, What Would It Be?

    I would opt for omnipotence, since all more specific cool stuff is implied by that concept. It wouldn't matter if I decided to keep my identity secret, because if I didn't like the universe one way, I can always wish it were different, and it would be. That is, if I could have any power I wished for,
  24. Making Freedom: A Proposal

    (I partially don't understand your question, so I'll answer the broader question that you raise). I am basically restating Rand, in the Objective Law lecture. Copyright is an excellent example of why those details are a requirement. Rand lays out the basic philosophical justification for patents and copyrights, but does not say, for example, how long copyright should be held, nor what the penalties for infringement should be, nor whether works require registration in order to enjoy protection. The answers to these questions cannot be trivially derived from application of Objectivist principles, and some details must be fleshed out via a political process. The law has to be objectively stated, so that any man can know the consequences of his actions. Assume that we rewrite copyright law in a fashion that seems to suit Objectivism, stating – somehow (that would itself be a fascinating project) – that when a man writes some work, it is his property, and no man can use it without his permission until he has been dead for 70 years. The penalty for violating this law is the lost revenue, plus $1,000. Now suppose a politician gives a speech, which we find to be egregious, and we criticize his speech, quoting an actual sentence of his. Of course, under the law, we need his permission to quote him, so we get sued. There is clearly a flaw in the law that we crafted: we should have included sort quotes for the purpose of discussion. At the point of the trial, we can do one of two things. First, we can enforce the law; second, we can disregard the law, and let each judge, or juror, decide what the proper outcome is. The principles of Objectivism do not clearly say whether a law that is in error should be ignored, or must it be enforced. At the highest level of political persuasion, we (as Objectivists) need answers to these questions, so that we can discuss the issues at all levels with others who will eventually determine the political shape of our nation. You probably will not ever engage your neighbor in a fine-pointed discussion of law and protection of rights. We have to be able to utterly persuade others that a system of government that objectively states and applies the law, where the law is created exclusively to control the use of force, is actually possible. Anytime the answer to a "How do you..." question is "We'll figure it out", that calls our program into question. If it isn't actually possible to say what the law will be in Objectivist utopia, it is unlikely that a large body of voters will embrace a pig in a poke. Even if we can get a majority of voters to irrationally vote for our pig in a poke (without fully understanding and believing the arguments for doing so), this does not solve the problem since the othre side can just as easily persuade voters to embrace their pig. We may be able to persuade others to adopt some vague philosophy embracing libertarianism and Objectivism, because many people see the two as being very similar at least in politics, but our goal (or at least mine) is not to change our government to some kind of Guy Fawkes libertarian regime. We don't all have to engage everybody else at the highest intellectual levels, and it might suffice to persuade a majority of the masses to vote for candidates claiming to move us in the direction of secular Regan conservatism, if your concern is to undo some of the political erosion of our freedom. Just remember that there are 9 people who make massively important decisions about our rights, people who do think about very subtle principles. We don't just need to convince a generation of voters, we need to convince generations of intellectuals. To do that, we need to be able to both articulate the abstract principles, and identify the concretes (or, more concrete principles). In other words, I "call BS" on the claim that we've done everything we can do, apart from gulching. I'm identifying a major gap, and I'm calling for serious shovel work.
  25. The topic is treated in Peikoff’s “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy”, published in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. The man point is that Objectivism rejects the analytic-synthetic dichotomy. This extract well summarizes the point: Whether one states that "A man is a rational animal," or that "A man has only two eyes"—in both cases, the predicated characteristics are true of man and are, therefore, included in the concept "man." The meaning of the first statement is: "A certain type of entity, including all its characteristics (among which are rationality and animality) is: a rational animal." The meaning of the second is: "A certain type of entity, including all its characteristics (among which is the possession of only two eyes) has: only two eyes." Each of these statements is an instance of the Law of Identity; each is a "tautology"; to deny either is to contradict the meaning of the concept "man," and thus to endorse a self-contradiction. Along similar lines, “If one wishes to use the term "tautology" in this context, then all truths are "tautological." (And, by the same reasoning, all falsehoods are self-contradictions.)”
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