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progressiveman1

What does 'valid' mean?

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I was having a discussion with a guy who tries to lower Ayn Rand's reputation because he thinks she used terms incorrectly. One of the things he pointed out was that Rand called the senses valid and she called concepts valid. His point is that they are not "valid", they just are. I think, and I think he agrees, that the senses provide accurate knowledge of the world, but should they be called "valid"? For concepts, should a concept be called valid/invalid, as opposed to just 'concept' or not a concept?

1. What does "valid" mean?

2. Are the senses valid?

3. Are concepts valid?

Edited by progressiveman1

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I've only ever seen "valid" used rigorously with respect to logical arguments, and then it is merely a formal condition

An argument is valid just in case false conclusion cannot follow from true conclusions, so:

A,A->B therefore B

is a valid argument since A is assumed true and B is deduced true while,

A,A->B therefore ~B

is invalid.

As I said this is a purely formal condition and takes no account of the actual content of the arguments:

"George Bush is president","If George Bush is president then the sky is pink" therefore "the sky is pink" is perfectly valid as an argument, though in the sense of content (particularly the assumptio that "If GB is president then the sky is pink") might be questionable.

But these sorts of questions go beyond mere validity.

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I was having a discussion with a guy who tries to lower Ayn Rand's reputation because he thinks she used terms incorrectly. One of the things he pointed out was that Rand called the senses valid and she called concepts valid. His point is that they are not "valid", they just are. I think, and I think he agrees, that the senses provide accurate knowledge of the world, but should they be called "valid"? For concepts, should a concept be called valid/invalid, as opposed to just 'concept' or not a concept?

1. What does "valid" mean?

2. Are the senses valid?

3. Are concepts valid?

In an off-the-top-of-my-head thought, I would say valid means "proper to a certain purpose", where the some-but-any rule applies to the purpose. In this sense, the senses are a valid form of cognition, i.e. using the senses does give true knowledge of reality. In this sense, the senses are not valid forms of, say, cooking, because, as we all know, watching a pot does not make it boil. Are concepts valid is not a valid question (not a proper to the purpose of asking for information) because it is unanswerable is it stands. Some concepts are valid as a means of cognitive economy and representation of reality (and for quite a bit of other stuff, check ItOE), some are not, and no concepts are valid as a means of directly influencing reality. The way to determine if a concept is valid is to check if it has actual referents in reality (not the plural of referents... at least two. In this sense, "universe" is not a concept but a proper noun). punk's explanation is not valid in the sense of being a proper way to answer your question, but it is valid as an example of the rationalism that has infected modern philosophy.

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Here is how I answer these.

  1. "Valid" means "in accord with reality."
  2. The senses are valid because they are in accord with reality -- which is to say, reality and only reality "makes the difference" in what you perceive with your senses. (This does not mean the senses perceive all of reality.)
  3. Any particular concept may or may not be valid, but there is a valid method of making and using valid concepts. So you can say that "concepts are valid," i.e., using concepts to organize information and determine truth is valid, as opposed to not using concepts. Concepts are still only valid if you use them correctly.

Ask your friend what it would mean to say that the senses, or concepts, are not valid. It would mean that reality is not available by means of the senses, or that reality cannot be described by concepts. Immanuel Kant held such views.

[edit: for clarity]

Edited by necrovore

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I would say valid means "proper to a certain purpose", where the some-but-any rule applies to the purpose.
That is the correct definition. Using "valid" to refer a particular form of deductive argument is wrong because that is too narrow, and doesn't include e.g. "You need a valid student ID". The definition as "in accord with reality" seems to pick out the same general idea, except that it lacks the connection to "purpose", which is the essential property of something being valid (things are never just valid, they are valid for a purpose and can be invalid for another purpose).

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"Valid" can refer to the state where an argument's conclusion follows necessarily from its premises, or, it can refer to the status of something as true or reliable.

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Lets see if I understand.

The senses can be called "valid" because the purpose(the reason for which something exists) of them is to provide accurate knowledge of the world. The senses would be called "invalid" if they provided inaccurate knowledge of the world because it would go against its purpose.

I'm still confused why Ayn Rand said a concept could be valid or invalid. An invalid concept(for example, the word "greed") is not a concept at all. If its not a concept, how can it be considered an invalid concept?

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I'm still confused why Ayn Rand said a concept could be valid or invalid. An invalid concept(for example, the word "greed") is not a concept at all. If its not a concept, how can it be considered an invalid concept?
The explanation is on p. 49 of ITOE, that invalid concepts are:

words that represent attempts to integrate errors, contradictions or false propositions, such as concepts originating in mysticism—or words without specific definitions, without referents, which can mean anything to anyone, such as modern "anti-concepts." Invalid concepts appear occasionally in men's languages, but are usually—though not necessarily—short-lived, since they lead to cognitive dead-ends. An invalid concept invalidates every proposition or process of thought in which it is used as a cognitive assertion.

I don't recall Rand saying that 'greed' isn't a concept. A better example would be the term "extremism", an anti-concept that she wrote fair amount about.

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In an off-the-top-of-my-head thought, I would say valid means "proper to a certain purpose", where the some-but-any rule applies to the purpose.... [T]he senses are not valid forms of, say, cooking, because, as we all know, watching a pot does not make it boil. Are concepts valid is not a valid question (not a proper to the purpose of asking for information) because it is unanswerable as it stands.

That is the correct definition. "[P]urpose" ... is the essential property of something being valid (things are never just valid, they are valid for a purpose and can be invalid for another purpose).

Interesting that I failed to notice this even after Cogito pointed it out, but it is correct. I suppose some things have an implied purpose. The implied purpose of the senses is to get information; the implied purpose of concepts is to organize information. It would never have occurred to me to try to use the senses (and only the senses) for cooking. :lol:

Given a recognition of implied purpose, the question "Are the senses valid?" is answerable. The answer is "Yes," but perhaps it would be more accurate to say, "Yes, provided that your purpose is to obtain information about reality."

[Edit: spelling]

Edited by necrovore

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The explanation is on p. 49 of ITOE, that invalid concepts are:

words that represent attempts to integrate errors, contradictions or false propositions, such as concepts originating in mysticism—or words without specific definitions, without referents, which can mean anything to anyone, such as modern "anti-concepts." Invalid concepts appear occasionally in men's languages, but are usually—though not necessarily—short-lived, since they lead to cognitive dead-ends. An invalid concept invalidates every proposition or process of thought in which it is used as a cognitive assertion.

I don't recall Rand saying that 'greed' isn't a concept. A better example would be the term "extremism", an anti-concept that she wrote fair amount about.

She implied in AS that "greed" wasnt a concept by purposely showing there is no specific definition of the word. Either way, we can use the word "greed", "extremism", or any anti-concept for the example.

I read that passage in ITOE yesterday and based on my knowledge, I cant agree with her that they should be called "invalid concepts." How can it be a valid/invalid concept if its not a concept at all? For example, if one of our senses doesnt provide accurate knowledge of the world then it would be considered an invalid sense. With her definition of "invalid concept", isnt Rand describing words that arent concepts in the first place?

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I think it might be helpful, as with many philosophical questions, to turn to computing. In data entry, there are two important checking systems: data verification and data validation.

Data verification is concerned with checking that the data you enter into the computer is the same as the data present on the written copy. So, if a bank record were being filled in, from written data to typed data, one would look at the written data, check that it matched with the data shown on the computer, and continue. If the written content said "Gender: male" and the typed content said "Gender: female", this would be non-verified data. This is data which doesn't match reality.

Data validation, on the other hand, is when you check that the data entered into the computer is actually useable data in the first place. So, in the bank record example, "Gender: Male" and "Gender: Female" are the two examples of valid data. However, if it said "Gender: tomato", this would be an example of invalid data. It's data which is useless, which doesn't met any kind of logical parameter. One cannot be of the gender, 'Tomato'. It isn't a useful description of a gender. It lacks any purpose, it is: invalid.

A valid concept is one which not only matches reality, that is, the concept is based on the actual bits of data which form that specific concept; it is a concept which is useful, which can be used to describe something else, or to which descriptors can be added.

Edited by Tenure

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With her definition of "invalid concept", isnt Rand describing words that arent concepts in the first place?

They are "concepts" formed by isolating the wrong elements as essentials. For example, "greed" packages the (rational) desire to improve one's life while implying that doing so is wrong by invoking thoughts of unscrupulous means (i.e. theft or cheating).

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Okay, I see why concepts can be considered valid or invalid.

I dont think senses should be considered valid or invalid. The senses can be used to justify what is valid, but the senses themselves shouldnt be valid or invalid. And do you think validity only applies to thought and arguments, or can it be applied to other things as well?

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Actually, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the senses are NOT valid. Rather, they are the STANDARD of validity.

I dont think senses should be considered valid or invalid. The senses can be used to justify what is valid, but the senses themselves shouldnt be valid or invalid.

I still think reality is the standard of validity.

It is an important philosophical question whether the senses actually sense reality or not. It is obvious that the senses do not perceive all of reality, and that they can be distorted, e.g., by hallucinogenic drugs, or by injury to the sense organs themselves.

If the senses were the standard of validity, then it would not matter whether they sensed reality.

Kant used the limitations of the senses to argue that what we perceive is not reality, that true reality is unknowable to us, that we are forever cut off from reality.

Ayn Rand likened this to saying that a man is "blind because he has eyes" and "deaf because he has ears."

The Objectivist position is exactly the opposite -- that our senses have to have a nature of some kind in order to exist at all, and that nature necessarily includes limitations of some sort. If our senses were invalid, we would not have any means of discovering that they have limitations in the first place. Kant is upholding an ideal that cannot and does not exist.

It's the difference between saying "I cannot see ultraviolet light, therefore there is some part of reality that I am cut off from, therefore, I am cut off from reality," and saying "If my senses were invalid, how would I have known there was such a thing as ultraviolet light in the first place?"

The validity of the senses has to be used even in an attempt to deny it. Therefore, it is an axiom. It is probably a corollary to the axiom of consciousness, but I am not sure; I don't remember. I am sure there is more about it in chapter 2 of OPAR.

Edited by necrovore

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The senses ALWAYS perceive reality, therefore there is no problem in saying they are the standard of validity. One can make a mistake intellectually in interpreting their content, but the senses themselves are infallible.

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The senses ALWAYS perceive reality, therefore there is no problem in saying they are the standard of validity. One can make a mistake intellectually in interpreting their content, but the senses themselves are infallible.

Shouldnt the standard of validity be reality? Reality is what determines validity and our mind is what justifies validity.

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My take (I'm repeating some of what's already been said, so this acts as a nice summary):

1) as Necrovore said, valid means in accordance with reality. Echoing Cogito and David, I also add that it means taking into consideration the ENTIRE relevant context, and presenting what is having its validity questioned in a format appropriate to that context. Hence valid means something actually is or does what it is supposed to be or do, where be and do are some aspect of dealing with reality.

2) the idea of the senses as valid means that every last iota of data they give is both fully and exclusively the product of what actually exists. That includes every little thing interposed between what is perceived and the final recognition of the data in consciousness, including the extremities of the sensory organs, the nervous system, and pre-conscious primary cerebral data processing in the vision-centres of the brain.

Lazlo is correct: the senses are valid in that they are infallible, and error arises from mistaken interpretation of the data and nothing whatever in the data themselves. There is no such thing in reality as invalid sense data. If you perceive it, it is there - and what and where that 'it' is are separate questions. Therefore even wierdness like sensory data arising from phantom limb syndrome and synesthesia are 100% valid, which is why they are topics in medical science rather than evidence of mysticism or something.

What we perceive is real, but it is also provided to us in a format peculiar to us. The aim of knowledge is to delve deeper than that. It just so happens that with our particular sensory make-up we have to take our connection to existence via our senses as they exist. Another creature would have different data, both in format and in quantity (eg birds can perceive magnetism directly). Necrovore is correct: even though all knowledge is reducible to what is directly perceivable, the standard of validity is not sensory data but existence itself. Thus a rational reptile hailing from Delta Pavonis who has four eyes perceiving the EM spectrum from near-infrared to UVA would have the same theories of astrophysics than the even stranger creatures one finds in NASA bunkers, and the two could validly learn from and argue with each other accordingly.

3) again agreeing with Necrovore, the idea of concepts as valid means they have been formed following the whole correct methodology. See ItOE for more details.

What concepts are supposed to do is provide an awareness of an aspect of reality that cannot be directly perceived but is nonetheless completely real. For example, the concept of the house cat is based on taking awareness of a bunch of house cats, identifying what is common among them and not shared by other entities, and using that information in such a way as to justifiably say that they are the same class of thing. One does not perceive the concept 'house cat,' what one perceives is all the individual house cats one runs into, and the concept being valid means that one can find another graceful and furry little creature that shares the same characteristics and in the right way, and then justifiably say "that's another a house cat." Everything one learns about house cats will be applicable to that new house cat, even though you haven't examined it beyond looking at it.

The method is valid because one can only proceed on the basis of the actual characteristics of the entities being united to form the concept, and one has chosen the correct characteristic on which to make that unification. What is correct depends on the context in which you are forming that concept. Here, unlike sensory data, there is a distinction between valid and invalid concepts. An invalid concept is one formed other than by the correct method. They are invalid because the methodology involved elements that were not warranted by the actual state of the relevant parts of existence. For example, the concept of a god is formed from taking concepts such as consciousness and creativity, then extrapolating some parts and taking away others, and then throwing in a set of fantasies for good measure based on appeal to emotion over and above reality. The concept of a god is a child's inventiveness taken into adulthood.

When concepts grow complex, validity also means not just that any particular concept has been properly formed but every single one of a concept's roots and the roots of those in turn and so on down to the first-level concepts (such as house cat) have also all been validly formed. This is especially important, and difficult, when one comes across a concept for the first time being used by others.

JJM

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Ask your friend what it would mean to say that the senses, or concepts, are not valid.

He's not my friend. :) He does not think they are valid or invalid. He thinks validity only applies to thought, such as arguments. I dont agree with him.

Edited by progressiveman1

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as Necrovore said, valid means in accordance with reality.

I think you are describing the concept "truth". I am agreeing with the general definition that valid means: "well grounded in logic or truth or having legal force; "a valid inference"; "a valid argument"; "a valid contract"; "a valid license"".

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I think you are describing the concept "truth". I am agreeing with the general definition that valid means: "well grounded in logic or truth or having legal force; "a valid inference"; "a valid argument"; "a valid contract"; "a valid license"".

I hold 'true' to be a subset of 'valid,' that truth represents validity as applied to conceptual-level statements. A valid statement is a true one, but not all that is valid is an example of 'truth.' Reasoning is valid because it leads to the truth when properly done. Sense data are all valid, but they're not examples of truth because they're not conceptual-level.

JJM

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