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Found 1 result

  1. The following is a summary critique of "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology" by Ayn Rand, that I'm going to post here in reply to Eiuol's question: The study of concepts is about the study of abstractions or universals - not the concrete things which are everything that man perceives (p. 1-2). The question of whether *concepts* refer to something real, something that exists, is a question of whether *universals* are real, whether they exist. Put another way, it's a question of whether there are "natural kinds" - are the concrete things in reality grouped into such natural "kinds", such abstract or universal "identities", or are the things in reality entirely concrete and unique, and there are no such *natural* kinds, no shared universal identity between things - no universals, no abstract *concepts*, only *categories* grouping together concretes? This is the real "problem of universals", the question that concerns whether concepts "correspond to something in reality" (p. 2, 52-53, 74). The issue of concepts is an epistemological issue, but it depends on metaphysics. If all that exists are concretes, if metaphysically there are no such things as "universals" (or "kinds", or "essences"), then this leads to a radically different epistemology than if such abstractions do exist metaphysically. When it's put forward that we group things based on measurable criteria, this can be interpreted one of two ways: if there *are* natural kinds, that these kinds have distinctive measurements, and we can identify their essence by the method of measurement (and no supernatural revelation is necessary, as claimed on p. 53-54) - or, if there are *not* natural kinds, and that we can define a type of measure with which we group things together as "the same" or "different" according to subjective or pragmatic standards. Everything in reality does have measurements, and we can objectively identify the measures of each thing, and choose to group things according to whether their measurements fit some given criteria. But such categories as we devise on this basis alone do *not* "have a basis in reality" - the entities are real, the measurements are real, and we can define groupings which do contain real things, but if there is no *natural* kind, a *natural* grouping of things that share the same measurements because of some underlying metaphysical *necessity*, then the category is not something based in reality, but rather it is based on our own subjective criteria. Either a concept is defined in order to *correspond* to a metaphysically real identity and *identify* its referents, or a category is defined in order to "provide an identity", by one's own subjective convention, and *specify* its referents (p. 11, 40). Subjective criteria outlined by Rand include: 1) defining categories based on the utilitarian requirements of the entities, as in defining a table by how we intend to use it instead of by its constitutive characteristics (p. 12, 22), 2) defining categories for the sake of unit economy, in cases where we have to employ long descriptions frequently and can shorten our thought by defining a new name (p. 63), or 3) constructing a definition of a category relationally, for the purpose of differentiating some group of entities from what's *not* in the category within your current context of knowledge (p. 13, 40), instead of constructing a definition for the purpose of identifying the constitutive measurements of the object itself (p. 42, 45, 73). The appeal to there being strict rules without any room for arbitrary whim does not mean that the formation of a category is not ultimately justified subjectively (especially if it's admitted there's room for optionality, as in p. 70-73) - it is still subjective as long as the formation is based on your own subjective, pragmatic requirements, rather than on the objective requirements dictated by the objects in reality (p. 43, 70-71). Such subjective categories cannot be held without contradiction as your knowledge expands. Since every individual concrete differs in at least some measure (p. 143), any universal claims over a category would be contradicted by at least some other concretes in the given category if there is no metaphysical principle that ensures they are essentially identical (p. 43). This is the usual justification for having a skeptic epistemology (such as those philosophies of science propounded by Popper, Kuhn, etc.) where all truth is subjective when coming from materialist and empiricist metaphysical premises (p. 48-49, 75). Another point that seems frequently equivocated: a concept is *abstract*, and thus subsumes all possible entities of a certain kind (whether any have been perceptually observed or not). The meaning of such a concept is the *kind*, and *all* entities of that kind (p. 17-18, 21). Creating a system of categories merely for grouping perceptually observed entities is rather concrete-bound, and the meaning of such a category is *only* the collection of those concrete entities that have been perceptually observed previously (p. 10), and *not* the kind itself, and the infinite variation of possible entities of that kind. A concept can, in principle, be reduced to a set of measurements and observable perceptions (which one may have never actually perceived), but a category is directly, concretely reducible to the set of one's previously observed perceptions which are a part of that category (p. 15). While it's true that a sensation itself cannot be communicated to someone incapable of perceiving it (e.g. the color blue to a blind person), the meaning of a concept can be, since a concept is abstract - it's only the meaning of a *category*, which reduces *concretely* to perception, which cannot be communicated (p. 40-41). Either there is no universal identity between concretes which logically necessitates the universal concept and therefore our concepts are defined subjectively and pragmatically, and our claims over them have no real truth status, or else there *is* a universal identity, metaphysically, which holds it together and makes universal concepts, claims, and induction possible. You can't have it both ways. Since Rand vigorously denounces intrinsicism and essences on the metaphysical level, her epistemology must necessarily be subjective and pragmatic, essentially no different from any logical positivist or philosopher of science, and just as meaningless and lacking of rational justification. The same goes with the ethics and politics, too, I'm afraid.
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