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The Nature Of Broken Units

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ewv, you don't seem to be familiar with the basics of the Objectivist theory of concepts, and you seem perfectly happy to use that ignorance to condescend to the other people in the thread, who do know what they are talking about.

I dont think thats entirely accurate,

(DPW):

"The reason we omit broken units is precisely because doing so enables us to gain knowledge. Without omitting broken units, we could not define our concepts, let alone know anything about their referents. ""

and..

(DPW):

"It must be noted that broken units are not omitted in the same way measurements are. When we omit measurements, we do so on the premise that the measurements must exist in some quantity but may exist in any quantity."

This appears to be a different angle on the necessity of measurement ommision in concept formation.....

however, the paragraph between these two raises concerns .....

(DPW):

"Since conceivably every particular characteristic about man, for instance, could be broken in one unit or another, without omitting broken units, we would be unable to define “man” and thus retain the concept. Is man a rational animal? Some men are born without a rational faculty. Is man a thumb-possessing animal? Some men have no fingers at all. Is man an animal who walks on two legs? Some men can’t walk and have no legs. Without omitting the relevant broken units, our ability to conceptualize would be paralyzed."

As in the first quote, "unable to define" seems a bit strong. I enjoyed the essay, but this strong statement may be the reason evw is taking a strong stance against the importace of broken units in concept formation. But, imo, examined from start to finish, in full context, the essay is not in contrast to objectivist epistemology as evw is asserting.

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..., "unable to define" seems a bit strong.
Strong in what sense? If for every decent differentia one unit in a million is broken, then we can literally not define the concept that refers to that group of referents. So, by "strong" I assume you mean that there are many concepts where we do not run up against this problem. So we may be unable to define some, but we could still define others. Is that the sense you meant, or is there something else?

..., but this strong statement may be the reason evw is taking a strong stance against the importace of broken units in concept formation.
It does not appear to be his objection, at least not his primary one. I don't think his objections are about whether such broken units are to be found across all sorts of domains, or are restricted to a few. From what I can tell, EVW seems to be saying that a broken unit is a borderline case. So, a lunatic is not quite a man, but more of a borderline case of a man. I could be misinterpreting him, because some parts of his posts are unclear to me. I think it is also possible that he's saying that a lunatic is one of the referents under the concept man, but not part of the concept man.

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When you have a derivative concept like "broken" it depends on a more basic concept from which you start.
We are dealing here with units that are "broken", not concepts that are broken. There are units are still within a concept, the same concept, despite lacking the essential characteristic. This is a problem if you think "Must means must. Essential means essential", because then you "must" cast out the broken unit into a separate concept. An oxygen atom that gets one of its protons knocked out of it is not a "broken oxygen atom", it is a nitrogen atom.

Instead, we recognize what should be there and that there is no basis to form a new concept based on the broken units. Everything we know about a concept applies to the broken units except those facts specifically relating to the missing attribute. Epistemological measurement omission cannot occur because physical attribute omission has already occurred. The Razor applies here:

The requirements of cognition determine the objective criteria of conceptualization. They can be summed up best in the form of an epistemological "razor": concepts are not to be multiplied beyond necessity—the corollary of which is: nor are they to be integrated in disregard of necessity.

Many of the physical attributes of man are not fundamentally related to his essential characteristic of rationality. Since no new concept is justified by the presence of a new attribute, and there is a basis in physical similarity to apply the old concept for medical and nutritional purposes, brainless babies and lunatics get relegated to the old concept. The broken units are justifiably omitted when otherwise employing the concept, because employing the concept is invoking the essential characteristic by means of the objective definition, "determined according to widest context of knowledge available."

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Strong in what sense? If for every decent differentia one unit in a million is broken, then we can literally not define the concept that refers to that group of referents. So, by "strong" I assume you mean that there are many concepts where we do not run up against this problem. So we may be unable to define some, but we could still define others. Is that the sense you meant, or is there something else?

It does not appear to be his objection, at least not his primary one. I don't think his objections are about whether such broken units are to be found across all sorts of domains, or are restricted to a few.

Correct, it is not a matter of how often these situations come up.

From what I can tell, EVW seems to be saying that a broken unit is a borderline case. So, a lunatic is not quite a man, but more of a borderline case of a man. I could be misinterpreting him, because some parts of his posts are unclear to me. I think it is also possible that he's saying that a lunatic is one of the referents under the concept man, but not part of the concept man.

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.

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This discussion reminds me of Rand's explanation of concepts and their definitions. She describes one possible evolution of the definition of the concept 'man' as a child grows and gains experience. (I think it's early in ITOE, but I'm in an airplane without the book. It would be great if someone would pull the relevant quote.)

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.

She also states that the essential characteristic is an epistemological choice and should be the charachteristic on which the most other common characteristics depend. In this sense 'essential' means 'that which best captures the essence of the referents' commonalities', not 'that which is required for an existent to be a referent of the concept'.

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:

When a given group of existents has more than one characteristic distinguishing it from other existents, man must observe the relationships among these various characteristics and discover the one on which all the others (or the greatest number of others) depend, i.e., the fundamental characteristic without which the others would not be possible. This fundamental characteristic is the essential distinguishing characteristic of the existents involved, and the proper defining characteristic of the concept. [emphasis added]

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.

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We are dealing here with units that are "broken", not concepts that are broken.

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.

There are units are still within a concept, the same concept, despite lacking the essential characteristic. This is a problem if you think "Must means must. Essential means essential", because then you "must" cast out the broken unit into a separate concept. An oxygen atom that gets one of its protons knocked out of it is not a "broken oxygen atom", it is a nitrogen atom.

If the essential characteristic is missing, then it is missing, and the unit is therefore out of the group at that level of abstraction.

Instead, we recognize what should be there and that there is no basis to form a new concept based on the broken units. Everything we know about a concept applies to the broken units except those facts specifically relating to the missing attribute. Epistemological measurement omission cannot occur because physical attribute omission has already occurred.

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.

The Razor applies here ... Many of the physical attributes of man are not fundamentally related to his essential characteristic of rationality. Since no new concept is justified by the presence of a new attribute, and there is a basis in physical similarity to apply the old concept for medical and nutritional purposes, brainless babies and lunatics get relegated to the old concept. The broken units are justifiably omitted when otherwise employing the concept, because employing the concept is invoking the essential characteristic by means of the objective definition, "determined according to widest context of knowledge available."

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.

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"Man" is a first level concept, but "rational" is an abstraction several levels above the first level. Rationality can be dispensed with in certain cases because it is not the true reason for having the concept in the first place. 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.

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Strong in what sense?

Well, I can see that part of the argument that evw is making is that the derivative concept, "broken" is not "the key requirement for defending the objectivity of concepts", my use of the word "strong" was lazy, however, Im confused.... could you explain this part in more concrete terms?

(sN)

"If for every decent differentia one unit in a million is broken, then we can literally not define the concept that refers to that group of referents."

Im fairly new to this, and Im sure you're correct, Im just missing something. Isnt a decriptive phrase sufficient in these instances? What can we "not define"?

thanks..

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(sN)"If for every decent differentia one unit in a million is broken, then we can literally not define the concept that refers to that group of referents."

Im fairly new to this, and Im sure you're correct, Im just missing something. Isnt a decriptive phrase sufficient in these instances? What can we "not define"?

By "define" I meant "formulate a definition for". Suppose we have a million referents that we want to subsume under a single concept. We use a single word to name this concept. The way we think, we need a single word to represent concepts that are important to our purposes; yet, in another sense, the word is just a sound/symbol, and somewhat arbitrary. So, on the one hand, we have this single visual-auditory symbol, and on the other we have the million referents. The definition is a succinct way to describe these 1 million, in a way that also ties them to everything else: i.e. to our other knowledge. This is why the classic definition is expressed as genus-differentia. We name the larger class (say one with 1 billion referents) under which we are classifying these 1 million referents belong, and we also say what makes this class of 1 million different from the other 999 million). This allows us to "plug in" our concept into a network of concepts.

We might have to choose between various differentia. The whole idea of the definition is to link this concept to other concepts in some meaningful way. So, let's assume we restrict ourselves to meaningful differentia. Now, suppose that whichever one of the decent candidate differentia we choose, there is one unit in a million that does not have that attribute. What do we then do? How do we construct a definition? Do we fall back on less meaningful, but more prevalent, differentia? Doing so would defeat the purpose of having the definition. It is far more useful to define using the most fundamentally meaningful differentia, while recognizing that whenever we do so, there might actually be some freak cases among the referents.

I still don't have a good handle on the objections raised in that other thread, and here; but it sounds like one objection is that such freaks are not part of the concept, or only part of the concept in some lesser way. I'm not sure whether the idea is to throw them out of the set of referents to which the concept refers, or to say they are on the "borderline", osomething else.

Anyhow, it isn't my purpose to address those objections in this post, but to address the question you raised. Hopefully, this makes the issue clearer, even if it does not convince you of one side or the other.

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"Man" is a first level concept, but "rational" is an abstraction several levels above the first level. Rationality can be dispensed with in certain cases because it is not the true reason for having the concept in the first place. 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.

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.

The rules of correct definition are derived from the process of concept-formation. The units of a concept were differentiated -- by means of a distinguishing characteristic(s) -- from other existents possessing a commensurable characteristic, a "Conceptual Common Denominator." A definition follows the same principle: it specifies the distinguishing characteristic(s) of the units, and indicates the category of existents from which they were differentiated.
If definitions are contextual, how does one determine an objective definition valid for all men? It is determined according to the widest context of knowledge available to man on the subjects relevant to the units of a given concept.

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).

[H]e doesn't have to select a fundamental characteristic from among a great many different observed characteristics. On that level of development, he has observed only two characteristics distinguishing man from inanimate objects: these objects are motionless and silent, man moves and makes noises. Here he doesn't yet choose a fundamental from among many characteristics which distinguish man from inanimate objects, because he doesn't have that knowledge. The only distinctions he can observe are the defining characteristics. They are essential by default, in effect -- because he can't observe everything at once.

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.

It is at this stage that he asks himself: What is the common characteristic of all of man's varied activities? What is their root? What capacity enables man to perform them and thus distinguishes him from all other animals? When he grasps that man's distinctive characteristic is his type of consciousness—a consciousness able to abstract, to form concepts, to apprehend reality by a process of reason -- he reaches the one and only valid definition [emphasis added] of man, within the context of his knowledge and of all of mankind's knowledge to date: "A rational animal [emphasis orginal]."

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.

If his grasp is non-contradictory, then even if the scope of his knowledge is modest and the content of his concepts is primitive, it will not contradict the content of the same concepts in the mind of the most advanced scientists.

The same is true of definitions. All definitions are contextual, and a primitive definition does not contradict a more advanced one: the latter merely expands the former. [all emphasis orginal]

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.

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Rationality is in the definition of man because it is his mode of living and means of survival. This identification is additional knowledge that goes into the file-folder of "man". We can apply that knowledge when confronted with an anomaly such as an insane man by concluding "this man cannot survive on his own." A mere ostensive definition would not support such a conclusion. And yet, we could not even apply our additional knowledge without conceding that this is, in fact, a man and so the knowledge we have about man in the abstract applies to this particular man before us.

Do you not see the paradox here? Can you provide an account justifying the application of abstract conceptual knowledge to a particular which is outside of the defined boundary of that concept?

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By "define" I meant "formulate a definition for". Suppose we have a million referents that we want to subsume under a single concept. We use a single word to name this concept. The way we think, we need a single word to represent concepts that are important to our purposes; yet, in another sense, the word is just a sound/symbol, and somewhat arbitrary. So, on the one hand, we have this single visual-auditory symbol, and on the other we have the million referents.

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.

The definition is a succinct way to describe these 1 million, in a way that also ties them to everything else: i.e. to our other knowledge. This is why the classic definition is expressed as genus-differentia. We name the larger class (say one with 1 billion referents) under which we are classifying these 1 million referents belong, and we also say what makes this class of 1 million different from the other 999 million). This allows us to "plug in" our concept into a network of concepts.

We might have to choose between various differentia. The whole idea of the definition is to link this concept to other concepts in some meaningful way.

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

preserve ... the logical order of their [concepts] hierarchical interdependence".

The "whole idea of a definition" is not to "link" the concept to other concepts in merely "some meaningful way".

A definition is a statement that identifies the nature of the units subsumed under a concept

A definition's

purpose is to distinguish a concept from all other concepts and thus keep its units differentiated from all other existents.

There is no "might have to choose between various differentia", there is a selection process in accordance with rules:

A definition must identify the nature of the units, i.e., the essential characteristics without which the units would not be the kind of existents they are. [emphasis original]
The rules of correct definition are derived from the process of concept-formation. The units of a concept were differentiated -- by means of a distinguishing characteristic(s) -- from other existents possessing a commensurable characteristic, a "Conceptual Common Denominator." A definition follows the same principle: it specifies the distinguishing characteristic(s) of the units, and indicates the category of existents from which they were differentiated.

The distinguishing characteristic(s) of the units becomes the differentia of the concept's definition; the existents possessing a "Conceptual Common Denominator" become the genus. [emphasis original]

[continued]

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[continued]

So, let's assume we restrict ourselves to meaningful differentia. Now, suppose that whichever one of the decent candidate differentia we choose, there is one unit in a million that does not have that attribute. What do we then do? How do we construct a definition? Do we fall back on less meaningful, but more prevalent, differentia? Doing so would defeat the purpose of having the definition. It is far more useful to define using the most fundamentally meaningful differentia, while recognizing that whenever we do so, there might actually be some freak cases among the referents.

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.

I still don't have a good handle on the objections raised in that other thread, and here; but it sounds like one objection is that such freaks are not part of the concept, or only part of the concept in some lesser way. I'm not sure whether the idea is to throw them out of the set of referents to which the concept refers, or to say they are on the "borderline", osomething else.

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.

Anyhow, it isn't my purpose to address those objections in this post, but to address the question you raised. Hopefully, this makes the issue clearer, even if it does not convince you of one side or the other.

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.

Edited by ewv

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Rationality is in the definition of man because it is his mode of living and means of survival. This identification is additional knowledge that goes into the file-folder of "man". We can apply that knowledge when confronted with an anomaly such as an insane man by concluding "this man cannot survive on his own." A mere ostensive definition would not support such a conclusion. And yet, we could not even apply our additional knowledge without conceding that this is, in fact, a man and so the knowledge we have about man in the abstract applies to this particular man before us.

Do you not see the paradox here? Can you provide an account justifying the application of abstract conceptual knowledge to a particular which is outside of the defined boundary of that concept?

"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:

What is the common characteristic of all of man's varied activities? What is their root? What capacity enables man to perform them and thus distinguishes him from all other animals? When he grasps that man's distinctive characteristic is his type of consciousness—a consciousness able to abstract, to form concepts, to apprehend reality by a process of reason -- he reaches the one and only valid definition [emphasis added] of man, within the context of his knowledge and of all of mankind's knowledge to date: "A rational animal". [emphasis orginal].

("Rational," in this context, does not mean "acting invariably in accordance with reason"; it means "possessing the faculty of reason."...)

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.

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"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:
I used the word "rationality" because I needed to lead off the sentence with a noun, and "rational" is an adjective. Both word forms refer to the same concept and the same attribute as referent. Being picayune and concrete-bound instead of following along conceptually in a discussion of concept formation is no way to exemplify the method in action.

This attribute is essential for the concept, it is not "additional knowledge".
It is additional when starting from the first level, and it is also essential from the adult context. These are not contradictory, so this is another pointless paragraph.

There is nothing that prevents you from applying what knowledge about men that is relevant to an insane man.

Yes there is something very seriously wrong that prevents me from applying knowledge about men that is relevant to an insane man. Since "man is the rational animal", and an insane man has no longer any rational faculty, then since he lacks the essential characteristic he must not be a man. "Must means must. Essential means essential."

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EWV, Clearly we're on two sides of a pretty simple issue, on which little else is left to be said without repetition.

Of course, I do strongly second your suggestion that anyone interested in the topic should read Rand's Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, including the appendix on the seminars.

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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.

Although I have not given IOE the rigorous examination that is required of a subject of this matter, I do own a copy, and have read it. My request for help from sN was not with the intention of taking his views on this particular hurdle Im getting over as the last word on the subject. I realize that there are no shortcuts to deepening my understanding of a subject as complex as the theory of knowledge, and "arbitrariness and rationalism" wont be a problem, at least not in my case.

j..

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Although I have not given IOE the rigorous examination that is required of a subject of this matter, I do own a copy, and have read it. My request for help from sN was not with the intention of taking his views on this particular hurdle Im getting over as the last word on the subject. I realize that there are no shortcuts to deepening my understanding of a subject as complex as the theory of knowledge, and "arbitrariness and rationalism" wont be a problem, at least not in my case.

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.

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I used the word "rationality" because I needed to lead off the sentence with a noun, and "rational" is an adjective. Both word forms refer to the same concept and the same attribute as referent. Being picayune and concrete-bound instead of following along conceptually in a discussion of concept formation is no way to exemplify the method in action.

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.

It is additional when starting from the first level, and it is also essential from the adult context. These are not contradictory, so this is another pointless paragraph.

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.

Yes there is something very seriously wrong that prevents me from applying knowledge about men that is relevant to an insane man. Since "man is the rational animal", and an insane man has no longer any rational faculty, then since he lacks the essential characteristic he must not be a man. "Must means must. Essential means essential."

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.

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You misstated that the attribute of reason is included because of "mode of living and means of survival"
This is only a misstatement if it is not the essence of every living thing. But it is, so no misstatement here.

The insane man does not necessarily lack any rational faculty distinguishing him from other animals,
The problem is his lack of rationality distinguishes him from other men. The essential attribute is missing. Oh dear, what to do? We only counted him a man in the first place because of his rational faculty. Or is that not true?

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.

Unit status is preserved across time and changes if we can track the continuous presence of the same entity? So a puddle of water is a different kind of ice, a butterfly is a unit of or qualified instance of the concept caterpillar? A dead animal is still an animal? No, your theory is a peculiarly static theory of essences and in that respect has a similarity to intrinsicism. Somehow the vanished attribute hangs about a changed object like a ghost, guiding the thinker to the true nature of the object. This new theory also contradicts your previous contention that "Must means must. Essential means essential." Neither theory is Objectivism, wherein a concept refers to the same units regardless of the definition, and the proper definition (when choosing among valid alternatives) is relative to context.

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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.

Yes there is something very seriously wrong that prevents me from applying knowledge about men that is relevant to an insane man. Since "man is the rational animal", and an insane man has no longer any rational faculty, then since he lacks the essential characteristic he must not be a man. "Must means must. Essential means essential."

Perhaps I've misread, but you both, Grames and ewv, have used an "insane man" as an example in the discussion, and you both seem to be saying that, given his lack of rationality, or rather, perhaps, the lack of a rational faculty (assuming that insanity implies, in some cases at least, a total loss of a rational faculty), he is no longer a man, no longer belongs, as a unit, to the concept of "man."

Why then do you call him an insane man? Even if you abbreviated it to, he's insane, he's an insane what?

If he's not still a man, qualified as insane, then what is he?

He still exists as some kind of being; is he now just an animal? If so, what kind of animal is he? If he regains his sanity, does he then revert to being a human animal, a man? And what kind of an animal was he during his period of insanity?

Isn't the whole idea of a "broken unit" implicit in the conceptualization of anything which can under certain conditions be broken?

Edited by Trebor

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Perhaps I've misread, but you both, Grames and ewv, have used an "insane man" as an example in the discussion, and you both seem to be saying that, given his lack of rationality, or rather, perhaps, the lack of a rational faculty (assuming that insanity implies, in some cases at least, a total loss of a rational faculty), he is no longer a man, no longer belongs, as a unit, to the concept of "man."

At the point in the discussion where you have quoted me, I am playing Devil's Advocate and throwing evw's own words back at him. I think an insane man is a man, and I think evw does too, but we disagree on why it is so. Quoting evw, "Must means must. Essential means essential." is a strong statement that is not compatible with regarding an insane man as a man after all.

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At the point in the discussion where you have quoted me, I am playing Devil's Advocate and throwing evw's own words back at him. I think an insane man is a man, and I think evw does too, but we disagree on why it is so. Quoting evw, "Must means must. Essential means essential." is a strong statement that is not compatible with regarding an insane man as a man after all.

Thank you for the clarification.

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Can anyone explain how the following principles applies to the issue of broken units?

A definition must identify the nature of the units, i.e., the essential characteristics without which the units would not be the kind of existents they are.

But observe that all these activities (and innumerable others) require a conceptual grasp of reality, that an animal would not be able to understand them, that they are the expressions and consequences of man's rational faculty, that an organism without that faculty would not be a man—and you will know why man's rational faculty is his essential distinguishing and defining characteristic.

Questions: Is a "brainless baby" a unit of the concept "man"? If causality determines that a certain characteristic is not present in a particular existent, then by what principle does one hold that the existent "should" have that characteristic? How does the goal of one group of existents (those that can hear, for example) require or imply some process be present in another group of existents that don't have the characteristic ("should be able to hear but can't")?

The fallacy of division: When a premise gives you information about the group and reasoning is applied that the information is true of the individuals in the group.

"Man can see color," we omit from that identification men who cannot see and men who cannot see color because those are broken units with regard to man's ability to see. They should be able to see...
That some men cannot see color is not omitted from the generalization "man can see color." The generalization would be true if only one man on earth could see color and everyone else could not. An equally valid generalization is "man cannot see color." The two generalizations simply apply to different sets of men. Remember, generalizations are statements of causality, and both color and color-blindness (or complete blindness) are caused processes. Edited by A is A

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