Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum


  • Content count

  • Joined

  • Last visited

About ewv

  • Rank
    Junior Member

Contact Methods

  • ICQ

Previous Fields

  • Country
    Not Specified
  • State (US/Canadian)
    Not Specified
  1. It's good to see so much common sense rejection of this fad about a UN plot, but one of its effects is as a distraction diverting attention from the very real problems of assaults on property rights in this country and the actual causes of them. They have already been experienced for decades and are still growing under a similar banner of preservationism, 'sustainability', government controlled 'smart growth', etc. It certainly exists, but to blame this on a UN plot is to reverse cause and effect. The ideology, its legal authority and policitical momentum have come from 'mainstream' viro pressure group lobbyists, whose agendas are only parroted by equally radical functionaries in the UN who have no authority to do anything. As someone who has been directly involved in fighting this for a couple of decades, I have to emphasize that you should not dismiss the problem as unreal or unimportant along with dismissal of UN plot conspiracy theories.
  2. The Nature Of Broken Units

    Nor is that belligerent misrepresentation what I did. I understand that you were using a short-hand when you said "Rationality is in the definition" but you do not understand its role in the formation of the (adult) concept and in the definition. That, not parts of speech, is what the paragraph was about. You misstated that the attribute of reason is included because of "mode of living and means of survival" and had also previously incorrectly stated and claimed to deduce that "The concept of rationality is not necessary to form the concept of man. Therefore it cannot be necessary for rationality to exist in every unit. [emphasis original]". While you dwell on misrepresentation of imagined "picayune" motives and accusations of "concrete-bound", your response ignores the explanation given and emphasized here and previously. You are confusing the chronological development of a concept with its logical structure. In an adult context of knowledge, man's having the faculty of reason is essential in distinguishing men from other animals. "Rational man" is the objective definition and is not "dispensible"; within the wider scope of knowledge, chronologically earlier definitions are not correct because they are no longer adequate to make the required distinctions, and they cannot be used to limit the role of the subsequent full essential characteristic, as has been explained in more detail previously. The expanded objective definition does not change the concept -- unless errors have been made, requiring reclassification. Maybe you are also missing that point. In the chronological development of a concept everything we learn is "additional" to what a baby has. That it is not at all the same thing as your statement, "This identification is additional knowledge that goes into the file-folder of "man" as a means to argue your position that it is "dispensable". Man's faculty of reason distinguishing him from other animals is THE distinguishing charateristic in the adult context of knowledge. It is not dispensable additional information in a file folder. This was not "another pointless paragraph"; you have missed an essential explanation. The insane man does not necessarily lack any rational faculty distinguishing him from other animals, and if his condition is a change, not something he was born into, his insanity does not change that he started as a normal, or more normal, man. He is the same entity, subject to change, not a new entity at every imaginable instance (time is in the universe, not vice versa) as has been explained previously. The same applies to the alleged 'problem' of a flat tire in the original article. How you apply your knowledge of men to an unusual case like an insane man depends on what his state is and how severe it is; some knowledge of normal men will not apply to him. The process has been outlined in more detail previously. Reality and knowledge are complex and that is not avoided by juggling "broken units" undermining and contradicting the basic principle of concept formation. This is not a "problem" in the fundamentals of Objectivist epistemology. These are not new issues just discovered some 40 years after IOE was written, and the basic epistemological issues not difficult. When someone encounters something new that is not immediately apparent to understand then yes it is a "problem" for him to solve, and there is nothing wrong with that, but this is your problem not Ayn Rand's. It is apparent that aside from your disagreements you are not understanding the explanations given in IOE or those given here in response to your statements, which responses and elaborations you appear to be ignoring in favor of repetition of incorrect statements often combined with belligerent personal accusations and misrepresentations. You must decide for yourself what you are trying to accomplish here and what you are willing to consider; I will not speculate.
  3. The Nature Of Broken Units

    Good for you! Keep at it. I realize you have been through it to some extent at least once already. You will get something new out of IOE every time you read it, and going back over it many times and thinking about different aspects in between is a requirement to get the kind of understanding you seek.
  4. The Nature Of Broken Units

    "Rationality" is not the distinguishing characteristic in the definition, which is "rational animal", meaning having the faculty of reason. And that attribute is not selected because it is our "mode of living and means of survival" (although that is a true statement), it is selected because it is the kind of consciousness we have that explains what we can do in contrast to all other animals; it is the fundamental characteristic that distinguishes us from them: This attribute is essential for the concept, it is not "additional knowledge". The definition of man is not and there is no requirement for it to be ostensive. That a very young child may start out with an ostensive or very crude definition does not require such a definition to remain as the objective definition under the standard of the widest context of knowledge known to man now, for the reasons summarized previously and explained fully in IOE Chapter 5, "Definitions", and further elaborated in the Appendix section on "Definitions". A paradox is a statement that appears to be a contradiction but which is not. There is nothing that prevents you from applying what knowledge about men that is relevant to an insane man. You know that he was born with the biological apparatus of the faculty of reason (along with all other common attributes of men), but later lost much of his capacity, or started with diminished capacity, (the relevant measurement) which is overwhelmed by something else driving him. If the creature was born wthout a brain at all then it is a different kind of animal and would be classified with 'men' as a borderline case. In any event, you know what he is and think about him with relevant concepts suitably qualified as appropriate, at the required level of abstraction. This is not a contradiction or "problem" with Ayn Rand's epistemology. Concepts are objective and contextual, not intrinsic, and you use them accordingly. One aspect of 'objectivity' in conceptual thought is knowing what you are talking about. If one doesn't, then no gimmicks or contradictory changes to Ayn Rand's basic theory of concept formation by shuffling "broken units" around under the table will help anyway.
  5. The Nature Of Broken Units

    [continued] You do not have a choice to include "one unit in a million that does not have that attribute" among undefined "decent candidates". The attributes that are essential characteristics must be possessed by the units to be subsumed by the concept in accordance with the "basic principle of concept-formation". This is not a matter of pragmatically including "some freak cases" as "far more useful". Pragmatists may attempt do that, but it is not in accordance with Objectivist epistemology. There are legitimate means of dealing with borderline or other "freak" or aberrant cases, or the so-called "freak" may already be legitimately subsumed by the concept because it does have the necessary characteristics to some degree. If a so-called "freak" does not possess the essential characteristic it is not subsumed by the concept. They aren't "thrown out"; they aren't there at all to be thrown out from because they are not part of the integration in accordance with omitted measurements of the essential characteristics culminating in the concept. There is no such thing as "part of the concept in some lesser way". You may later relate something to the referents of the concept in another classification for some specific objective purpose, but that doesn't put it into the original concept wholly or in "part" (whatever that might mean). The various methods of dealing with borderline cases may be pertinent, but there are standards for that and you would have to be more specific about what you are talking about. I suggest that a clearer explanation of the process of concept formation and definitions is found in Ayn Rand's own Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, including the appendix on the seminars. Breezily informal short-hand summary accounts, even though intended to provide helpful background, but not sufficiently carefully formulated and omitting specific issues relevant to the discussion encourage the kind of arbitrariness and rationalism that led to the problems with the "broken units" article and its defenses in the first place.
  6. The Nature Of Broken Units

    We do not simply "want" to group "a million units" we happen to "have". Concept formation is not arbitrary set membership of elements like a bag of marbles where you can throw anything else into the bag for any purpose or arbitrarily. The units selected must share commensurable attributes, and be selected for grouping for an objective cognitive purpose in accordance with essential characteristic(s) and following the principle of mental "unit economy". The units referred to by the concept are open-ended: the concept refers to all units that are, ever were, or ever will be in accordance with the essential characteristic(s), and not limited to "a million" or any other number. You also don't just "have" the symbol on one hand and the referents on the other, any group standing ready to be tagged by a word. The word is the perceptual form in which the process of integration is completed so that the concept can be used as a single perceptual unit -- the selected word acting as a symbol in perceptual form. Without the word you have not yet completed the process of integrating the referents into the concept. The word symbolizing the concept could have been something else; the concept, what units are integrated into it, and the definition are not arbitrary. In accordance with Objectivist epistemology the definition in terms of genus and differentia does not "allow us to 'plug in' our concepts into a network of concepts". Concepts are objectively formed in a hierarchy on a base of percepts and concepts from previously established knowledge. Definitions The "whole idea of a definition" is not to "link" the concept to other concepts in merely "some meaningful way". A definition's There is no "might have to choose between various differentia", there is a selection process in accordance with rules: [continued]
  7. The Nature Of Broken Units

    The concept of man most certainly does refer to rational animals and only rational animals; As the essential characteristic, "rational", i.e., possessing the faculty of reason, is not "dispensable". (And if rationality were not known as the essential characteristic then the issue of classifying non-rational creatures would not have come up as a "problem" and there would have been no alleged need for a proposed "solution" to change IOE to no longer require the essential characteristic for a so-called "broken" unit.) The chronological process by which one forms concepts and expands his knowledge does not change the fact that the essential, distinguishing characteristic for a concept is in fact essential and must at every stage of conceptual development be present in every unit subsumed by the concept. Later definitions, formed in the progression through wider contexts of knowledge, are the definition at each stage. The philosophically objective definition is framed to provide the essential characteristic within the widest context of knowledge available to mankind at the time, not the limited experience of a child. It is not a "dispensable" approximation to only what a very young child sees, no longer subject to the rules of commensuarability and what Ayn Rand called her "basic principle of concept formation" cited here previously. The formation of definitions is based on that. At a rudimentary level a child first forms the concept and a primitive definition based on visible characteristics. He may begin with a definition such as "a thing that moves and makes sounds" because in his limited context of knowledge he has only experienced enough to be able to make such a distinction and at that stage has no notion of "rationality" (and because essences are objective and epistemological, not intrinsic and metaphysical). When he learns more he expands the definition within the context of his expanded knowledge. Identification of rationality as the essential characteristic is necessary to maintain the concept 'man' in the wider context of knowledge in which one knows what rationalisty is. He must do this because he must make distinctions he had not previously made among facts he did not previously know about but now does. He states the new distinguishing characteristic within the expanded context of knowledge. This "one and only valid", expanded definition in terms of the necessity for "rationality" is not a "dispensable" approximation to "a thing that moves and makes noises". It states the improved, more precise, objective distinguishing characteristic made necessary by an expanded context of knowledge incorporating more information. Objective definitions at any stage of development are not held hostage to the limitations of primitive knowledge or the errors, confusions and imprecision possible at any level of knowledge during the process by which it grows. All kinds of aberrations, border line cases and qualifications arise that must be dealt with conceptually as one's knowledge and experience expands. These are dealt with in accordance with methods described in IOE through more abstract classifications, etc. They do not pose a "problem" in Objectivist epistemology and do not require a "solution" contradicting and replacing Ayn Rand's "basic principle of concept formation" -- by using the negative, derivative concept of "broken" that ignores increasing levels of abstractions and tries to fold back the side issues into the base level of conceptualization as if there were no higher level abstractions for classification.
  8. The Nature Of Broken Units

    The article claims to deal with so-called broken units, not "broken concepts" which prior to this no one had invoked, but in this additional sense there are certainly plenty of "broken concepts" in this thread too -- sometimes, more fundamentally, stolen concepts. If the essential characteristic is missing, then it is missing, and the unit is therefore out of the group at that level of abstraction. You can identify other things in common that you know about the unit regardless of the missing essential characteristic, but making use of it conceptually occurs at a higher level of abstraction and depends on the base concept. When forming the concept you look at many characteristics, both commensurable and not, but you need commensurability to make the grouping at all. You can't short circuit the essential and violate the basic principle of concept formation. Measurement omission for a non-existent characteristic has not "already occurred"; nothing was done at all for something that does not exist. To be commensurable the common measurement must exist. Measurement omission, in Objectivist epistemology, explicitly means disregarding the specifics of a commensurable measurement that exists, not omitting consideration of the non-existent. The article calls for that, but it is inconsistent with IOE. This is a misuse of both the razor principle ("not beyond necessity") and the meaning of "widest context of knowledge" as contextuality. The essential is a "necessary" attribute and does necessarily serve as the criterion to include or exclude a unit that has or does not have it. The "widest context of knowledge" available does not change that; it is used for selecting the essential from among all characteristics in common, i.e., commensurable. Additional knowledge you refer to can be used later in more advanced classifications at higher levels of abstraction to accomplish what is needed further, beyond what is identified as essential at the first level.
  9. The Nature Of Broken Units

    This will teach you to leave home without the Objectivism Research CD on your laptop! Yes, that discussion is in chapter 5, Definitions, with more on chronological vs. epistemological development in the appendix on the seminars. But it's too much to quote here. You are referring to the "rule of fundamentality", how to pick the "essential distinguishing characteristic" when there is more than one characteristic in common. It is essential in that it makes the rest possible, but that in turn presupposes that all the units have the characteristics to start with -- that too is essential: Picking the characteristic that explains the most is epistemological and contextual, but all the entities in the group must have these chacteristics; that is what you start with in the selection process in accordance with the "basic principle of concept-formation". It goes back to the conceptual common denominator (CCD) used to group the entities in the first place; all the units must have the characteristics in common. If there is only one characteristic in the CCD there is no selection process, but the essential characteristic possessed by all the units must still be identified to make the grouping.
  10. The Nature Of Broken Units

    Correct, it is not a matter of how often these situations come up. No, if it's a referent then it is, more loosely, "a part of" the concept. They are the same thing. The example you give of the lunatic could be a borderline case. You would have to be more specific. Does he function mentally at all? Is it temporary insanity? Are you specifically referring to the same man across time, or in accordance with his condition within a specific time frame singled out? How you deal with it also depends on the context in which it comes up. A specialized technical theory focused on genetic background would be different than assessing rights, for example. I reject the idea of a "broken unit" as any kind of starting point for a universal principle of applying the idea of "borderline case" because of its meaning (here) in an epistemological role that is not valid. You can of course use the compounded "broken unit" as a generalization of a broken something-more-specific, but such uses simply invoke the perfectly valid adjective "broken", a concept of a characteristic. So not all instances of broken are "borderline" issues at all. Something that has changed, like a broken chair, is the same entity it always was, and you know that. You have the concept "broken" to use in a qualified instance, i.e., as the compound concept "broken chair", used as if it were a single concept. It may be broken and still function, or it may no longer function at all, temporarily or disposed of on the scrap heap -- such considerations and the context in which you need to refer to it determine whether it is a "borderline case" and what method to use to deal with it. This all involves a higher level abstract thought than the base concept "chair" you started with (which is why the article correctly referred to broken unit as "derivative"). But such common situations of brokenness are different than, for example, a baby born with no brain (if that is possible), which starts off as a different kind of unit that as an aberration starts off as a borderline case to deal with right from the beginning. Further applications of even higher level abstractions come up when you talk about hypothetical 'men without brains', for example; you are using your abstract abilities to reconfigure entities in your mind (like cartoon characters). These are concepts of consciousness, with their additional complexity of multiple units referred to through the hierarchy of abstractions and combinations. You cannot reduce these cases to an epistemology based on "broken units" in which the essential characteristic required for the concept is missing. That would violate Ayn Rand's "basic principle of concept-formation" in addition to attempting to collapse the necessary process of higher level abstractions down to the base concept.
  11. The Nature Of Broken Units

    Contexts aren't true or false, they simply are, and higher levels of abstraction are not degrees of truth or falsehood -- I don't know what any of that was intended to mean. When you have a derivative concept like "broken" it depends on a more basic concept from which you start. There has to be something you are talking about which has changed, broken, etc. or there is nothing to talk about. Without a concept of the normal, the abnormal never comes up. You can conceptualize exceptions, aberrations, etc., and classify them for specific cognitive purposes, but they cannot contradict what you start with and do not change the concepts you start with. In the case of the "broken units" theory, contrasted with Objectivist epistemology, there is an attempt to include units under a concept that do not have the essential characteristic required to be subsumed in the concept in the first place. Recall that Ayn Rand emphasized, with respect to the process of measurement omission for the distinguishing characteristics for a concept, "Bear firmly in mind that that the term 'measurements omitted' does not mean, in this context, that measurements are regarded as non-existent; it means that measurements exist, but are not specified. That measurements must exist is an essential part of the process" [emphasis in original], and the "basic principle of concept-formation" is that "the measurements must exist in some quantity, but may exist in any quantity" [emphasis in original]. She did not write that the essential characteristic "must exist except when it doesn't". It must be there to have a measurement. Must means must. Essential means essential. The theory that rationalistically concludes that the essential characteristic need not be there after all in some units, and that this is "the key" to objectivity in concepts and "all knowledge", and is necessary for concepts, without which we can't "know anything about their referents", is a contradiction of the starting point and of Ayn Rand's "basic theory of concept formation", not just "maybe an overstatement". Simply observing these conclusions in the article ought to be enough to see immediately that something is very wrong even before going back to analyze where it went off the rails. You can conceptually deal with borderline cases, aberrations, etc., but that requires additional knowledge at higher levels of abstractions and additional conceptualization. You can't roll it all back into the original (base) concept without regard to that process and hierarchy, and further, contradict the original concept. The article not only concluded with that contradiction -- which is its reductio ad absurdum -- it made no mention or recognition of any of the process of abstractions from abstractions, border line cases, etc. described extensively in her theory. I think that that omission of consideration in the article had a lot to do with how it ended so badly. Ayn Rand discussed 'borderline cases', 'qualified instances', etc. after she described 'abstractions from abstractions', which in turn had to follow the introductory chapters on first level concept formation. These further principles did not fall back and replace the foundation with something else contradicting it. The hierarchy of abstraction must always be maintained.
  12. The Nature Of Broken Units

    It sure does in the base concept.
  13. The Nature Of Broken Units

    Don't let this degenerate into a discussion of epistemology!!! I responded, before immediately returning to the subject, to this: -- a condescending appeal to something other than any discussion of the content of the article in question, nevertheless revived here. The topic is the article on epistemology. I think that as a fairly recent business school graduate who writes, apparently primarily, political articles, he does have a lot of potential and a promising future, and that his article on "broken units", despite its major errors, indicates that. He is a very good writer and obviously is concerned with aspects of Ayn Rand's epistemology that most are not and do not grasp. Impact has been very well done for many years now and still is. I am glad that he is pursuing what he is. But none of this supports the thesis in the "Broken Units" article or means that its author has reached the culmination of his abilities or yet established a major career beyond what could be possible in a few years out of college. No one has complained about elucidating on what Ayn Rand wrote. It is not an elucidation. It has a main thesis that is incorrect and contrary to what Ayn Rand wrote. The article claims that the negative, derivative concept of "broken" is "the key to defending the objectivity of concepts, definitions, propositions, and therefore all of knowledge, is to be found in the concept of broken units" and "without omitting broken units, we could not define our concepts, let alone know anything about their referents". Both claims are preposterous. I would not "might describe", let alone describe, Ayn Rand's IOE as "pure conceptualization" versus "actual use of language". What is "illusory" about the article is the notion that it is a significant addition to Ayn Rand's IOE. The author's understanding of at least some important aspects of IOE did not lead in fact to a valid conclusion in its major thesis, and his facility in dealing with some elements of IOE should not mislead readers into thinking otherwise. To state this and describe why, in more detail than I originally thought would be necessary, is not "belittling", and certainly dealt with the issue more objectively than the stream of the sarcasm, the polemics and the misrepresentations of Stephen Speicher that have substituted for serious discussion here. This person's false insinuation that I have not explained anything myself somehow means that all I do is "go around belittling other people's work" is either an obvious logical fallacy or merely another resentful sarcastic smear, or both. It does not address the issues I previously tried to seriously raise, but this evidently is not the place for that.
  14. The Nature Of Broken Units

    Atlas51184's "amounts to" is his own repeated misrepresentation of Stephen's statement, with or without the rest of the context of Stephen's statements that Atlas51184 continues to ignore and which further contradicts Atlas51184's false restatement. Even selectively taken out of context, as he has done here, the statement that 'an entity that lacks the essential characteristic used in forming a concept is not the meaning of that concept' obviously does not mean or imply that a concept is being "equated with its definition". Claiming that it "amounts to that" is a gratuitous restatement with no regard for what has been said. The essential must be there. It distinguishes an entity that is referred to by the concept with everything else. That does not mean that the concept is the definition or is the essential characteristic(s) alone, and does not mean that essences are "metaphysical". Defining characteristics are not arbitrary and the definition of a bird is not "feather-having" alone. Nor can the nature of an entity across time (with changes, such as losing feathers) be ignored. An entity referred to by a concept is not an entity at a single instance of time, arbitrarily selected, as if it were not the same unit before and after and no connections between them. Furthermore, borderline cases, qualified instances, and other uses of classifications and grouping in different circumstances cannot be dealt with without regard to first having the base concept(s), then only afterwards taken together with the use of higher levels of abstraction and more advanced knowledge in a hierarchy, all of which was ignored in the original article -- even though the article clearly (and properly) recognizes that "broken units" is derivative, which requires that. The cognitive necessity for such processes and more complex classifications of even simple ideas does not justify the "broken unit" theory as "the key" to objectivity in concept formation. I think that the attempt to deal with more complex needs for classification involving exceptions, etc. without regard for cognitive mechanisms beyond first level abstractions was a major source of the error in the chain of reasoning leading to the article's main thesis of claiming that "broken units" is "the key", which conclusion on the face of it is preposterous and contrary to Ayn Rand's own explanations. It was not an 'elucidation', it was an attempt at 'improvement' -- through a substitution that I reject for reasons previously outlined -- and which substitution has not been defended on this thread, certainly not by the personal polemics here and the misrepresentations of Stephen Speicher. I find the kinds of issues that were originally raised in this thread to be very interesting and important, despite the original errors, but this is obviously not the place to try to discuss them.
  15. The Nature Of Broken Units

    The context, being your statements, makes it clear that it is you. You are replacing Ayn Rand's explanation of objectivity in concept formation with "broken" as "the key". That is not an elucidation, it is a replacement contradicting her explanation. It is not what she described as essence being contextual. There is no evidence whatsoever that she just "didn't bother to tell us" that she was really invoking "broken units". You can believe anything you want to, but it is not Objectivism and should not be presented as such.