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Everything posted by Boydstun

  1. I’d say the asking and finding of why and how is at the core of reason provide it is taken as understood that reason is always with a body and brain with a living developmental history and within a social context of coordination and training during in its development. However, I’d also stress observation, and by that I mean more than just a perceptual apprehension along one’s way. I mean a centered deliberate attention to something in perception (or thought) or how to get a new perception of that sort. There is a stage of the crawling infant, before any language acquisition, in which the infant cannot make visual observations while crawling. He or she crawls a bit, then stops and looks, then resumes crawling. Those self-world and inter-human observations of the infant are part of its growing package of reason, I’d say. Of course, it’s with languaged observations and languaged pursuits of why and how that we have full-blown reason. But at this fuller stage, I’d still want to stress the factor of observation and add the factor of reason thinking about itself. It needs to get to know what it can reasonably expect of itself. I don’t know how self-conscious they were about it, but the Babylonian observations of the paths and times of certain things in the heavens, their recording of those things and trying to fit mathematical schemes capturing those recurrences was not much pursuit of how and why. But it was within their ability in that culture, and it attained a better picture of the surface-what, which could be helpful later to other astronomy folk in more advanced cultures trying (sometimes terribly prematurely) to get somewhere with the how and why. Back when I first read Atlas Shrugged (while in college, but on the side), 10 years after it was first published, I formulated a saying for myself: “to reason is to question.” That’s fine if that is understood to mean that questioning is essential to reason, but not so hot if it is understood to mean that anything passing for a grammatically correct question can pass for an episode of reason. I do rather like Rand’s definition of reason as the faculty of identifying and integrating the evidence of the senses. I’d note, however, that our reason we put to work in pure mathematics is circumscribed by that definition in only a nebulous way. Also, the definition is on its face too much setting us pondering the givens in perception as merely evidence to use in winning our way to the real physical world, when really that is not her full picture of our way with the world and our blend of thought and action.
  2. William, looking through the "Look Inside" Table of Contents and text available from that first book, by the psychology professor, it looks like a large compendium of human errors, conceptually and scientifically amenable to analysis and discovery of their mechanisms. Starting with the second chapter, that is. In that, it seems like Dennis (Ninth) is right. However, the first chapter does seem to parade some all-too-common irrationalities that it suggests will be explained by the material in the succeeding chapters. I don't know if the book does fulfill that, and it is indeed unclear from what is shown whether the author regards the irrationalities such as murderous religiosity as anything more than deterministic errors. Also, I don't catch anything about rational belief such as our belief that the moon illusion is an illusion. In fact, he just seems to wave his hand, saying surely no one could believe the moon could be actually a larger size near the horizon. But what about people 25,000 years ago? They had natural language like us, but not our accumulated exploration, science, and mathematics. I don't see why they would not just presume the moon changes its size in the way it visually appears to change. I've taken a photograph of the rising moon before with my camera. It's marvelous largeness in our eyes is just not there in the photo. The largeness and marvelousness are not there in the photo. We have rational methods of investigating illusions. Not only in how they come about, but for determining that they ARE an illusion in the first place. Offhand, it does not look like this book stresses, if it addresses it at all, that we have rational beliefs and methods and why THEY are so compelling.
  3. “The process of a child’s development consists of acquiring knowledge, which requires the development of his capacity to grasp and deal with an ever-widening range of abstractions. This involves the growth of two interrelated but different chains of abstractions, two hierarchical structures of concepts, which should be integrated, but seldom are: the cognitive and the normative. The first deals with knowledge of the facts of reality—the second, with the evaluation of these facts. The first forms the epistemological foundation of science—the second, of morality and art.” (Rand 1965a, 10) --quote in my From Integrity to Calculus , Rand tells the religionist: “Whenever you committed the evil of refusing to think and to see, of exempting from the absolute of reality some one small wish of yours, whenever you chose to say: Let me withdraw from the judgment of reason . . . the existence of God, let me have my one irrational whim and I will be a man of reason about all else—that was the act of subverting your consciousness, the act of corrupting your mind” (1037). Rand was not opposed to feelings. She was not against the idea of the human soul, provided it is thought of as naturally part of one’s living body and mortal as one’s body. In Fountainhead she has dialogue between Keating and his wife Dominique in which soul is given the expressly nonreligious meaning: that in one that is one’s genuine person—not only one’s body—one’s will and meaning, that in one which independently thinks, values, decides, and feels (GW II 454–55; cf. 1957, 1057). -- from my Mysticism - Kant and Rand (Part 1 -Reason) . When philosophers lay out theories of good definition, they are theories of an explicative kind of definition (see David Kelley’s Art of Reasoning, chapter 3). Consider Rand’s definition of reason as the faculty that identifies and integrates the evidence of the senses. In my dictionary, I find reason defined as the capacity for rational thought, rational inference, or rational discrimination. The terms rational and thought go to already familiar synonymies with reason. The differentia within the rational, in this dictionary definition, are the discriminatory and the inferential. Rand’s definition stays close to the common usage reflected by the dictionary, but it replaces discrimination and inference by their kin identification and integration, it eliminates the non-explicative rational, and it adds a base for the activities of reason, specifically, deliverances of the senses. Rand’s definition is explanatory of the common usage found in the dictionary, and it is tailored to tie neatly to a particular wider philosophical view. Quine could say this is a fine explicative type of definition. Rand has given the term reason a new synonymy. The various contexts in which reason under the dictionary definition is properly used remain contexts in which reason under the new, explicative definition is properly used. The new definition covers the processes of drawing distinctions and making inferences. The new definition also applies to the wider processes of identification and integration of sensory evidence, processes in which the narrower processes are embedded. --from my On Quine's "Two Dogmas" PS - Welcome to Objectivism Online.
  4. Test of Stochastic Collapse-of-the-Wave-Function Models Probing the Quantum Interface with the Classical and How the Q-Regime yields the C-Regime Quantum Optomechanics with Photonic Crystals
  5. Bill, There is an article about Noether and the continuing importance of her results for modern physics in the June 23, 2018 issue of Science News. This report includes her work as pertinent to general relativity. I am familiar with her work from my background in physics. Philosophers of physics know her work and write about it sometimes in scientifically informed articles or books on ontology. I see there is a nice fairly recent review article on her work and particle physics here. Stephen
  6. SL, Where I've mentioned Merlin Jetton, I was saying something about his views, but in any posts that I've not expressly mentioned his position(s) in his JARS (#35) paper, "what is being proposed" are my own criticisms of Rand's ethical theory, and probably have only some overlap with his thinking. (I do not agree with all the views he express in the article; if someone else reads it, perhaps we can discuss it.) I've bandied these criticisms of mine (with examples) about these Objectivist-type public posting sites a few years now. These are 'old hat' to me, and none include what I develop further upon them in my book in progress (which I'll leave secret). By the way, in the 1990's, in my philosophy journal Objectivity, I never wrote anything concerning my ethical differences with Rand, although I think their onset was in the early '80's. (I began reading Rand in 1967, my copy of The Virtue of Selfishness is the paperback Signet one, the pages are often separated from the binding, they are yellow and crumbling at the edges, and I hope no words of it go missing before I myself go missing. Economy, after all.) Rand and I concur that to significant extent, one can choose whether one will make someone else's benefit the primary motive of one's action or make one's own benefit the primary motive of one's action. Her view and argument was that it should always be the latter. Because I disagree with that uniformity, I'd say my disagreement with Rand in this area is a matter of broad principle, not disagreements in complexities of application. Then too, my own theory, presumably eventuating in a combination of the former and the latter alternatives, will be from a systematic viewpoint, stemming from my fundamental metaphysics and my portrait of the nature of life per se and of the life constituting human consciousness; and this circumstance too, inclines me to say my disagreement with Rand in this area is a difference of broad principle. I'm out of the present discussion. I've other things I need to think on. I hope some readers at this site will obtain the copy of JARS with Merlin's paper, and I hope this thread will not become useless as a thread for announcements concerning Objectivism in academia through inundation of other sorts of posts, excellent as these posts ensuing my announcement and taste of the Jetton paper have been.
  7. In Rand's egoism, the aimed-for beneficiary of every action should be oneself. Not only the aimed-for beneficiary in organizing one's life as a whole. If one aids a Steven Mallory, it should be for the potential of a value one wants to see in the world. It should be for the joy one experiences in seeing such artworks and the joy one takes in the company of such creators in the world. It is one's own experiences and joys that should be the aim of such an action, not firstly the interests, potential achievements and experiences of Mr. Mallory himself. All proper examined values should be in relation to oneself as beneficiary, on Rand's view, although she would have the normal, healthy constitution of oneself significantly include need for self-visibility through certain others: Visibility.
  8. New at Check Your Premises: How Should Philosophy Professors Approach Ayn Rand by Greg Salimieri
  9. SL, None of us want to get sidetracked from your original honest questions. Talk of injustice was part of Rand's answer, but her answer to your questions are crystal clear. She did not think it right to have as motive for your actions the benefit that accrues from the action to persons other than you the agent. I suspect that you disagree with that view of hers. I gather Merlin disagrees with it. I disagree with it, have often said so, and speaking only for myself, I count it as a serious suspicion one should have of the possible complete correctness of any authentic ethical egoism whatever, from Socrates to Rand. I applaud that long string of philosophers who have made a valiant effort to justify all moral virtues on the basis of self-interest. It is a worthwhile effort and has shown the great extent to which moral virtues ARE justifiable by purely self-interest. Moreover, for my own part, I enthusiastically agree with Rand on the virtue(s) of selfishness. I agree with her there are things rightly condemned as wrong and wrongly called selfish. I agree with her that there are things rightly called selfish and wrongly condemned as wrong. But that does not amount to ethical egoism, not as the sincere challenge has been sincerely taken on from Socrates to Rand. EVERY moral virtue must stand on the rationale of purely self-interest in all the settings for moral virtue in any theory of moral egoism with no tap dancing. And in this effort, Rand did not distract or confuse or water down. She went for a real ethical egoism.
  10. SL, There is a scene in The Fountainhead in which the narrator lays out the sort of third-party situation you describe. It’s upshot, it has struck me, is that when the outside pressure to help your fellow man is lifted, as it is lifted in the mind of Roark, then men feel a natural benevolence towards each other. This narrative is at the opening of Roark’s ultimate court trial, in which Rand will give him an extended soliloquy to lay out her main positive message of the book. However, I think you are mistaken concerning the passage Merlin quoted from the Introduction to The Virtue of Selfishness. She means exactly what she wrote there, full tilt. She makes clear there that she is not assuming at the outset of argumentation that “the proper beneficiary of moral values” is oneself. That is not a moral primary in her view, rather, “it has to be derived from and validated by the fundamental premises of a moral system” (x). She takes her argument in “The Objectivist Ethics” to have shown that “man must be the beneficiary of his own moral actions. / . . . Since all values have to be gained and/or kept by men’s actions, any breach between actor and beneficiary necessitates an injustice . . . . Nothing could ever justify such a breach, and no one ever has” (ix). From “The Objectivist Ethics” ~ “Man’s life is a continuous whole. . . . ‘Man’s survival qua man’ means the terms, methods, conditions and goals required for the survival of a rational being through the whole of his lifespan—in all those aspects of existence open to his choice. / Man has to be man by choice—and it is the task of ethics to teach him how to live like man. / The Objectivist ethics holds man’s life as the standard of value—and his own life as the ethical purpose of every individual man.” (24–25) “It is only on the basis of rational selfishness—on the basis of justice—that men can be fit to live together in a free, peaceful, prosperous, benevolent, rational society. / Can man derive any personal benefit from living in a human society? Yes—if it is a human society.” (32)
  11. ***** Split from Objectivism in Academia ***** The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies is in its eighteenth year of publication (Penn State University Press). It issues twice a year, July and December. I have all its issues, hardcopy, from its beginning. I’ve mentioned elsewhere on Objectivism Online an extensive review, in the July 2018 issue, of Harry Binswanger’s book How We Know. I notice also in this issue a paper “Egoism and Others” by Merlin Jetton, a long-time friend of mine. In his contribution “Egoism and Others,” Jetton draws Rand’s ethical egoism as an extreme position, polar opposite the extreme altruistic ethics of Comte. That sketch seems right. But Jetton writes “Contra Rand, one can benefit others without self-sacrifice” (85). I don’t think that statement in itself is an exact representation of Rand. She characterizes voluntary productive, romantic, and esthetic relationships as benefitting both self and others. Jetton later tempers that statement on Rand, thankfully, in his addressing for example her ambitious essay “The Conflict of Mens’ Interests.” Jetton conveys altruism as taking various forms. Rand’s notion of altruism, he correctly takes as entailing self-sacrifice. He maintains that Rand disdained altruism in any form and that this stance “may actually detract from a person’s self-interest” (85). “Rand advocated self-interest all the time and typically treated acting for the interest of others as equivalent to self-sacrifice” (86). Correct. Jetton concurs with Rand’s stance that one should not live for the sake of another. Contra Rand, he writes: “Acting for the sake of another is sometimes the rational thing to do” (87). I concur, and I concur that this is contra Rand (notwithstanding denials or fogging of this ascription to Rand by some sympathizers with Rand’s egoism). Jetton observes that among our choices of action, there are ones “you might agree that anyone similarly disposed would have in such circumstances” (87). He dips into a work by Charles Larmore, a former professor of mine, in filling out this idea. From the reflective plane of regarding ourselves as responding to reasons and binding ourselves to reasons, Jetton goes on to gauge the morality of benefitting others in business, familial, fiduciary, governmental, and charitable relationships, marking up Rand’s pertinent words all along the way. An additional basic frame of Rand’s ethical egoism I think would be worth examining in future examinations and assessments along the lines of Jetton’s present study is her proposition “Life is an end in itself.” This is a basic frame not only for her ethical egoism, but for her case for universal individual rights. And the latter, with their justification, could have fertile ramifications for treatment of others, even going beyond scope of the law.
  12. I’d forgotten all about that, Ninth. This speculation of Ron Merrill is on pages 61-62 of his book The Ideas of Ayn Rand (1991). It is disappointing to learn from Merrill that, in the Talmudic account, Sodom was not destroyed for the sodomy in the town. I’d hoped we’d find out some day what sexual inventions had caught on over at Gomorrah. By Merrill’s report on the Talmud, these cities were destroyed on account of collectivism, and in the case of Sodom, for “placing envy and equality above benevolence and justice.” I didn’t find Ron’s speculation on some fun he thought Rand was having in placing some parallel particulars with the S&G tale in her story of the strike and withdrawal of good people to the Colorado refuge. In Ayn Rand Explained (2013, 120), Marsha Enright also did not find this speculation of Ron’s likely correct from his evidence brought forth.
  13. Of related interest: In May of 1964, Rand wrote a letter to Prof. John O. Nelson at the University of Colorado. The letter includes the following paragraph: “I must mention that Galt’s Gulch is not an organized society, but a private club whose members share the same philosophy. It exemplifies the basic moral principles of social relationships among rational men, the principles on which a proper political system should be built. It does not deal with questions of political organization, with the details of a legal framework needed to establish and maintain a free society open to all, including dissenters. It does not deal with specifically political principles, only with their moral base. (I indicate that the proper political framework is to be found in the Constitution, with its contradictions removed.)” Letters of Ayn Rand, Michael Berliner, editor (1995, 626) ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Also relevant: "Small and large organizations support themselves in entirely different ways. The theory [Olson's] indicates that, though small groups can act to further their interest much more easily than large ones, they will tend to devote too few resources to the satisfaction of their common interests, and that there is a surprising tendency for the 'lesser' members of the small group to exploit the 'greater' members by making them bear a disproportionate share of the burden of any group action." From the publisher, concerning Mancur Olson's The Logic of Collective Action.
  14. . There is a stimulating substantive review of Harry Binswanger's How We Know in the July 2018 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. The review is 41 pages. The author is Robert L. Campbell, and he brings to this artful engagement wide acquaintance with the theoretical philosophy of Ayn Rand as well as his knowledge of pertinent cognitive psychology, which is his profession. http://www.aynrandstudies.com/Subscriptions.html
  15. There is an example of feeble thinking Rand gives that seems to me to be an excellent case of what she called ‘floating abstraction’ though she doesn’t call that out in her presentation of this case. That example is a use of the abstraction ‘truth’. I want to quote three paragraphs before that truth-paragraph too. I think her concern expressed here fits the weight of attention Objectivist writers, including Rand, have tended to give to everyday trip-ups by floating abstraction, in comparison to diagnoses of floating abstraction in the ‘castles-in-the-air’ of Rationalist philosophers. “There is an old fable which I read in Russian . . . . A pig comes upon an oak tree, devours the acorns strewn on the ground and, when his belly is full, starts digging the soil to undercut the oak tree’s roots. A bird perched on a high branch upbraids him, saying: ‘If you could lift your snoot, you would discover that the acorns grow on this tree’. “In order to avoid that pig’s role in the forest of the intellect, one must know and protect the metaphysical-epistemological tree that produces the acorns of one’s convictions, goals and desires. And, conversely, one must not gobble up any brightly colored fruit one finds, without bothering to discover that it comes from a deadly yew tree. If laymen did no more than learn to identify the nature of such fruit and stop munching it or passing it around, they would stop being the victims and the unwary transmission belts of philosophical poison. But a minimal grasp of philosophy is required in order to do it. “If an intelligent and honest layman were to translate his implicit, common-sense rationality (which he takes for granted) into explicit philosophical premises, he would hold that the world he perceives is real (existence exists), that things are what they are (the Law of Identity), that reason is the only means of gaining knowledge and logic is the method of using reason. Assuming this base, let me give you an example of what a philosophical detective would do with some . . . catch phrases. “‘It may be true for you, but it’s not true for me’. What is the meaning of the concept ‘truth’: Truth is the recognition of reality. . . . The same thing cannot be true and untrue at the same time and in the same respect. That catch phrase, therefore, means: a. that the Law of Identity is invalid; b. that there is no objectively perceivable reality, only some indeterminate flux which is nothing in particular, i.e., that there is no reality (in which case there is no such thing as truth); or c. that the two debaters perceive two different universes (in which case no debate is possible).” (“Philosophical Detection” – 1974) Harry Binswanger points out in How We Know that definitions are the main help in remembering what is the hierarchy of one's concepts which though validly structured in the past, may have faded (214). Rand invokes definitions in the preceding detection.
  16. ET, I agree about the deceit in that example used by B. Branden. It came up very prominently again this year, with the big spending bill following on the tax cuts. It would be often claimed that, well, the tax cuts (and regulation removals) would be so tremendous, the economy would boom so much, and the income tax receipts would be so great that there won’t be a deficit. It sounded to me very much like a sop thrown to those really concerned with a balanced budget, a smokescreen for what had really been decided: the interest in a balanced budget lost to other interests, and more debt is the reality. My inclination on your closing question would be: both. By the time I was a senior in high school, I’d become a Christian Socialist. That was for the simple reason that I’d concluded that private property should be abolished because it allowed people to be selfish, and selfishness was wrong. Altruism was right, and it was the focus of what moral virtue consisted of. But if such a young man were willing to really begin to cash out all those ideas and ideals in terms of practical reality and practical connection to other ideals also held (such as individual liberty), they begin to wither as ideals.
  17. Invictus, where you say “random associations” wouldn’t it be enough to just say “associations”? If I understand you correctly, your contrast is with rational derivations and cognitive connections to reality, especially concrete perceptual reality, and that sort of derivation and connection is in contrast to associations even if we can see the association is not random. I mean our most basic meaning of the concept ‘breakfast’ could sensibly be “meal following pretty closely a pretty full sleep.” One could have associations with ‘breakfast’ such as what kinds of foods are typical at that meal or the association of ‘breakfast’ with its typically being in the morning. We can see why those associations get attached, they’re not random, and it’s enough to contrast associative connections with reasoned ones. I take it that when you talk of adopting a concept from others, you mean adopting it without understanding it very far. I can get a square concept of ‘mineral’ from geology class. Your analysis strikes me as landing pretty well on Rand’s concept of a ‘floating abstraction’. I mention Rand because this error and its name were formulated by her. She gets a monopoly on it, so to speak. Similarly, with Whitehead and the fallacy of ‘misplaced concreteness’. With the general, long-standard fallacies and their names, such as the fallacy of ‘hasty generalization’, there too, it’s good to stay fixed on the exact concept defined and not simply presume what it is that the name is suggesting without official definition. I mention this for all of us.
  18. STEPHEN - Yes, the Berkeley idea seems the same, but in other terms. And a lot of Objectivist types when thinking about the nature of mathematics come down rather like Berkeley. I disagree with them both on the mathematical situation. We do have physical applications of complex numbers. But we did not have any such applications (i.e., physical structures known to coincide with the structure of complex numbers) at the time complex numbers were first thought up. They were never ungrounded in rationally grasped realities, even before physical application was found for them. And there are other things mathematically sensible that to this day we’ve found no physical instantiation of, and perhaps there is no such instantiation. Rand wrote against the idea of a system of free-market private protective agencies replacing government in the primary functions of the latter: “Nor can one call it a floating abstraction, since it is devoid of any contact with or reference to reality and cannot be concretized at all, not even roughly or approximately.” Here she seemed to think of floating abstractions as having some weak connection to reality. Although, presumably, that could still leave them of limited use and even detrimental for knowledge. On the NOT side, it occurs to me that I’ve NOT noticed any Objectivist writings taking Platonic Ideas as floating abstractions. The fact that such Ideas have regular relations to concretes may perhaps be enough to save them from being the sleaze of floating abstractions, even though we do not obtain them by abstraction from concretes perceived by the senses. In the 1960’s while articulating Objectivism, together with Rand and others, Barbara Branden gave a lecture series called “Principles of Efficient Thinking.” Therein she spoke in a kind of psychological-type way of persons who characteristically think in terms of floating abstractions. She said they don’t see the trees for the forest. There’s “nothing in his head but floating abstractions—that is, abstractions which he’s unable to concretize, which he believes, without any idea of what they would actually mean in reality. / An example of this kind of thinking is a meeting at which a political candidate declares that he stands for a balanced budget, decreased taxes, and increased government spending; and his audience bursts into applause. No one who understood concretely what these abstractions meant could possibly applaud. / A man who holds floating abstractions understands words not in terms of what they denote, but in terms of what they connote. Words connote things to him. They call up pleasant or unpleasant emotions, associations, memories. They suggest; they do not denote. His abstractions float in space, untied to meanings, to facts, to reality.” (Transcribed on p. 178 of the book THE VISION OF AYN RAND.) In the 1980’s Leonard Peikoff gave a lecture series called “Understanding Objectivism.” I notice there that he thought of Leibniz, and presumably Rationalists more generally as dealing in floating abstractions (which is rather the idea you get of Rand’s view of Rationalism in her “For the New Intellectual” even though she doesn’t use the name ‘floating abstraction’ there so far as I’ve found). Peikoff mentions a type of psychosis “which has some elements of being concrete-bound, and has some elements of floating abstractions (certain schizophrenics will build castles in the air), but still they are crazy, and Leibniz wasn’t.” (Transcribed on p. 265 of the book UNDERSTANDING OBJECTIVISM.) The quotation on floating abstractions you found in Peikoff’s OPAR is helpful. Thanks. There he seems to be back to thinking about persons not very philosophical in their thinking. (Cf. Rand’s ITOE 75-76; also p. 214 of Harry Binswanger’s HOW WE KNOW.) Gregory Salmieri maintains that floating abstractions are one possible result of not taking the dependency relations of concepts into one’s thinking. He seemed to have in mind the dependency chain of concepts ultimately to “first-level concepts” (presumably elementary concepts of kinds of concretes ordinary in perception). “A floating abstraction is a concept that has become detached in one’s mind from its basis in perception and has therefore lost its meaning (Peikoff 1991, 96).” (p. 71 in CONCEPTS AND THEIR ROLE IN KNOWLEDGE – REFLECTIONS ON OBJECTIVIST EPISTEMOLOGY.)
  19. FELLOW - Do you think that, without God to ground these other ways the world could have been, that such conjecture would be reduced to floating abstractions? / That said, if we could return more specifically to the topic of floating abstractions, I still suspect that I do not have a firm grasp on what they are. Peikoff, in OPAR, defines a floating abstraction specifically as "['Floating abstraction'] is Ayn Rand's term for concepts detached from existents, concepts that a person takes over from other men without knowing what specific units the concepts denote. A floating abstraction is not an integration of factual data; it is a memorized linguistic custom representing in the person's mind a hash made of random concretes, habits, and feelings that blend imperceptibly into other hashes which are the content of other, similarly floating abstractions. The 'concepts' of such a mind are not cognitive devices. They are parrotlike imitations of language backed in essence by patches of fog" (96). With this in mind, I take it that floating abstractions are not cognitively meaningless, since they will derive meaning from “random concretes, habits, and feelings” (perhaps use as well?) even though they have no objective referent. So, a floating abstraction does not have an objective referent, I gather—which I might put in other terms by saying that the concept does not refer to anything with ontic status. Peikoff seems to want to say that these are concepts in name only—inauthentic concepts—which cannot be put to any use in attaining knowledge. A system of floating abstractions might then be said to constitute a mere game of language. I am reminded of Bishop Berkeley’s remarks about theoretical mathematics, as opposed to applied, “The Theories therefore in Arithmetic, if they are abstracted from the Names and Figures, as likewise from all Use and Practice, as well as from the particular things numbered, can be supposed to have nothing at all for their Object. Hence we may see, how entirely the Science of Numbers is subordinate to Practice, and how jejune and trifling it becomes, when considered as a matter of mere Speculation” (Principles, §120)—regardless of whether you think he is correct, he seems to me to speak of floating abstractions, just in his own terms.
  20. FELLOW - I gathered as much; considered as formalisms, or even as eternal abstracta, the actual-potential distinction simply doesn't seem to apply. You wrote that “the experts would know far better whether it was yet specified enough to be truly a grounded possibility.” If we are discussing the point at which actuality had its genesis, then I worry that whatever grounded possibility there might be, it will not itself be grounded in anything actual, but will merely be a logical possibility that is grounded insofar as it is not self-contradictory. Did Newton discuss what grounds the possibility of such forces being different than they actually are? I am not familiar with Newton, but I conjecture it would be grounded in the will of God to bring forth a world with different physical laws. STEPHEN - Newton first established his bare mechanics, like what we call now his three laws of motion. He then argued the nature of central force in general within that framework for the orbits of bodies and showed that different dependence of the strength of force from the central area (such as falling off from the inverse cube versus falling off from the inverse square) leads to specific different shapes of orbits of bodies about such candidate centers. Then he can use Kepler et al. observations to say, well since the actual orbits of the planets about the sun have the shape of ellipses, the attracting force must be strong inversely to the inverse square separation. That candidate is the winner in the real world. That is then part of his formula for the force we call gravitation. It must have power of accelerating distant bodies with a strength falling off with inverse square. That then, is one specific form of force that he can fit into his second law of mechanics. So on the left of our equation, we put his expression for force in general (say, mass times acceleration, be a little too simplistic) and on the right we put the formula of the specific kind of force we are concerned with, such as the gravity force. Those are differential equations, and the solutions satisfying the equations give us the time course of the bodies in their paths in space. / In Newton's larger theological and metaphysical picture, he had space as co-eternal with God. As I recall, he had time beginning with God's creation of the material world in space, and in that part his was the usual view. PS - That space was 3D and Euclidean of course. Also, I meant to include that I'd wager he'd think God could have chosen inverse cube, say, rather than inverse square for the character of gravitation. For that matter, I don't know as he would have a reason for thinking God had to make a material world such that it had such a thing as gravitational force. Although without something like that, it becomes hard to imagine what humans, with their material character would be like. [Pretty floaty now I think of it.]
  21. FELLOW - To be clear about your view, you are saying that for something to be a genuine possibility, rather than a floating abstraction, it must be realizable through the potential contained in actual existents. So, rather than a groundless ontological ensemble of possible beings awaiting actualization, the possibilia are always contained in, as potential, actual beings and, in that way, await actualization. Prima facie, I have some sympathy for your view. What do you make of claims that the initial conditions of the world/universe/existence (though not the fundamental axioms) could have been otherwise than they were? The idea, I gather, is that many different sets of initial conditions were logically possible, though only ours was actualized. If those counterfactual claims can be assessed as true, it would seem that there would be no actual objects in which their possibility could have been grounded as potential. STEPHEN - Before addressing that, let me add a further point I forgot mention in the previous note. My conception about actuals, potentials, and possibilities does not pertain to purely formal realities such as pure mathematics. I mean that the actual-potential concepts do not pertain to them. Possibilities of course are entertained in mathematics based on previously established results shown to be true or false (or undecidable) with an aim to establishing new results. / But to your present question, possibilities of characteristics of those alternative to those that obtained at the initial singularity would seem grounded and cognitive provided they are specific and tied to established other physics. The physicists are talking specifics and have guide rails from other established physics in their papers on such alternatives. They have reasons (hard-won reasons) for saying that at the initial singularity its mass-energy, charge, and total angular momentum were the same as they are now. It would seem to me a sensible question to then ask What if the value of total mass-energy of the universe were not constant but instead oscillated in a simple harmonic way? The experts would know far better whether it was yet specified enough to be truly a grounded possibility. (Oh, I should have mentioned that the initial singularity is not no object.) / That sort of reasoning about alternatives was important in Newton's PRINCIPIA. He was able to show that if a central force had strength falling off as the inverse square of separation distance, a freely orbiting body would have and elliptical orbit; whereas, if the strength fell off as the inverse cube of separation distance, a freely orbiting body would have another perfectly specific shape of orbit, not an ellipse; and so forth. His physical assumptions and the mathematics for these conditionals are very specific and explicit. And there was light.
  22. FELLOW - That seems like a reasonable way to understand such concepts as geometric points. What do you think about something even more abstract, like merely possible objects? They might be said to exist, in the broadest sense (some philosophers have used the term 'subsist' to account for such things), but not in a narrower sense of the term 'exist' which only covers actual things. I'm trying to pin down just what sorts of things are ruled out as floating abstractions and which are not. STEPHEN - I do not myself allow as cognitive possibilities alleged possibilities that have nothing to suggest how they could be realized from the potentials of existing things. To be a cognitive possibility in my book, an idea has to do more than be merely not self-contradictory. There are other kinds of possibilities such as for our entertainment in fiction. But possibilities aiming to be cognitive, such philosophical reflections, yet which are not specifically grounded in potentials of actuals, are floating abstractions.
  23. I've recently had an informative exchange with a Facebook friend who is a serious student of philosophy. I need to keep that person's identity anonymous, so I'll just here name him Fellow. He posed the following question. I'll try to post installments of our exchanges in the next few minutes in this thread. Some digging has gone into this. And perhaps participants here will have some further thoughts. FELLOW - Stephen, I am contacting you with a question regarding an important idea that, as far as I am aware, is the product of Ayn Rand: floating abstractions. I chose to reach out to you specifically because I have run across some of your work (e.g. “Universals and Measurement”) and I judged that you might be able assist me given your knowledge of philosophy, and in particular Rand’s philosophy. I am interested in reading something relatively comprehensive on the subject of floating abstractions, and I was hoping you might be able to direct me to a resource which deals with floating abstractions in some detail. There is a section in Peikoff’s Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (p. 96) which describes what a floating abstraction is; yet, while it does bring some clarity to the subject, I still find the notion of a floating abstraction a bit murky and difficult to apply. For example, what about certain concepts in mathematics that seem to have some sort of use (e.g. transfinite cardinal numbers, or geometric points)? They seem to meet Peikoff’s description of floating abstractions as “concepts detached from existents”. STEPHEN - I'm inclined to think that in pure mathematics there is always connection to reality in that we reach a concept such as transfinite numbers and accept it only by it satisfying the requirements mathematicians have over centuries refined to qualify as a legitimate mathematical concept, with its connections to more elementary mathematical concepts and its emerging connections to other areas of mathematics. That is, for my part, there are binds of accepted mathematical concepts to reality and to our abstractive and inferential processes themselves other than the binds of such concepts when we do find them appropriate for application to empirical situations. Another thing I think good to remember is that there are apparently things concretely real that we access only by abstraction. Such would be an electron or a geometric point. That is not to say every validly established concept or theorem in mathematics having physical instance will have causal powers, such as an electron has. But things such as geometrical points might be also instanced physically (which Euclid, Descartes, and Newton inclined to take them to be), themselves be part of physical process and part of our empirical experience, yet not themselves possess causal powers. / I imagine my conceptions expressed in this note have some deviation from the picture Rand had so far as she got and some variance from the pictures reached by others who are intellectually indebted to her.
  24. . Oh, I was just interested what is your impression for the parallel question to yours: What do the French today think of Guyau? I was just curious, since I have an interest in this French philosopher. By the way, I thought your English was fine. Concerning a related question “What do Americans think of Ayn Rand?” my impressions are these: The egoism she brought on the scene, beginning to get some notice in the 1940’s due to her book and film The Fountainhead, was foreign to America. Individualism, fine; egoism, hell’s bells. There were traces of egoism in Emerson, but nothing like this. By egoism, I mean the idea of having self-interest as the ultimate justification for every right action and the throwing out of any old virtues that cannot be justified on that basis. Her championing of reason and her jettison of faith and the supernatural is, as you know, perfectly normal for those in American academia. But the egoism and the attendant pure capitalism of her ethical and political philosophy mean that she is pretty roundly shut out of serious development by philosophers who have won a place in academia. Outside of academia, in the wider literate public, her view upholding full reason, including her dismissal of the supernatural, and her view of morality based purely on self-interest are anathema. Though we are not a significant percentage of the American population, some of us read Rand and benefitted from her thought and productions in building our own wide understanding of things and in making a life for ourselves.
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