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Objectivism vs. Nominalism?

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I have read almost all of Rand's writing and had many discussions with various Objectivists which has led me to ask this question:

Do Objectivists consider themselves as distinct in any respect from Nominalism concerning concepts, etc..? If so, how?

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Do Objectivists consider themselves as distinct in any respect from Nominalism concerning concepts, etc..? If so, how?

You have said in the past you've read ITOE. What about the foreword (the first page of the book) does not satisfactorily answer how Objectivism is distinct from nominalism?

Edited by Eiuol

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Nominalism clashes with Objectivism, because nominalism holds that concepts are subjective. Objectivism rejects the notion of nominalism, and anything related to it, such as:

The Analytic-Synthetic dichotomy

Subjective value

Moral relativism

Linguistic Analysis

etc.

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The introduction gives a brief overview of Nominalism (along with the other major positions on the issue), but does not explicitly state how or why Nominalism is false/ different from the Objectivist Position.

Thank you Black Wolf, for an actual answer. I appreciate it.

I still have a question as to how the actual systems differ though. What you listed (black wolf) seem to be symptoms of Nominalism. Objectivism obviously does a very good job of avoiding all those symptoms, but it still seems like there is a remarkable similarity between the Objectivist Position on "concepts"/"universals" and the Nominalist position-- that they are mere names or "abstractions" which help us to reason rightly..

It would be helpful if someone could list the specific differences between the two positions, i.e.:

"Nominalism holds that (abc), and in contrast to this, Objectivism holds that (xyz)"

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The online Ayn Rand Lexicon is always a good place to start a search on various Objectivist topics.

Here's the entry for Nominalism

Edit: Miss Rand's epistemology is the heart of Objectivism. Miss Rand's theory of concepts is the heart of her epistemology.

Edit: Key, in contrast with Nominalism: Concepts refer to their units, not just to their definitions, not just to the CCD (Conceptual Common Denominator) or the Distinguishing Characteristic(s) -- the genus and species which both differentiate the units from all other existents, but also unite or relate them to all other existents in a hierarchical, ever growing order and knowledge rooted in the self-evident given in perception (of entities) -- but to everything known and yet to be known about the units; all the units, past, present and future.

Concepts (and principles) retain all we know, not just the distinguishing characteristics of the units. This is related well in Dr. Peikoff's lecture (free for registered users of the Ayn Rand Institute, on their "Registered User" page -- registration is free; link for "Registered User" page on upper left of home page), "Why Should One Act on Principle." (Lecture is about an hour and followed by a Q&A of about 30 minutes.) This relates to the issue that all knowledge is ultimately reducible, in principle, to perceptual, self-evident data.

Edit: Everything man will ever learn is reducible to perception. Said another way, everything man will every learn is implicit in perception.

Edit: For an excellent example of reducing a concept to perception, see Tara Smith's lecture, "Justice"

Edited by Trebor

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Thanks, Trebor. I will try to listen to that soon.

Here is a passage that I think summarizes the source of my confusion concerning the Objectivist position here:

"It is Aristotle who first formulated the principles of correct definition. It is Aristotle who identified the fact that only concretes exist. But Aristotle held that definitions refer to metaphysical essences, which exist in concretes as a special element or formative power, and he held that the process of concept-formation depends on a kind of direct intuition by which man’s mind grasps these essences and forms concepts accordingly.

Aristotle regarded “essence” as metaphysical; Objectivism regards it as epistemological.

Objectivism holds that the essence of a concept is that fundamental characteristic(s) of its units on which the greatest number of other characteristics depend, and which distinguishes these units from all other existents within the field of a man’s knowledge. Thus the essence of a concept is determined contextually and may be altered with the growth of man’s knowledge. The metaphysical referent of man’s concepts is not a special, separate metaphysical essence, but the total of the facts of reality he has observed, and this total determines which characteristics of a given group of existents he designates as essential. An essential characteristic is factual, in the sense that it does exist, does determine other characteristics and does distinguish a group of existents from all others; it is epistemological in the sense that the classification of “essential characteristic” is a device of man’s method of cognition—a means of classifying, condensing and integrating an ever-growing body of knowledge."

ITOE, 52. http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/definitions.html

So, Obviously Rand rejects the part of Aristotle that I hilighted with Red, but why must the metaphysical aspect of the essence be rejected along with it? Why not just get rid of the intuition part and keep the metaphysical essence part?

The Yellow is what makes Objectivism seem like Nominalism.

The Green (really almost everything in that bottom paragraph) seems to have little to no difference from the Aristotelian/Realist position that essences are metaphysical. Either I severely misunderstand Rand here, or she doesn't disagree with Aristotle as much as she thought...??

If the essence of a thing is not metaphysical, then to what does the epistemological concept refer? And if the concept does not refer to something metaphysical, then how is this different from Nominalism at the core?

Likewise, in the Lexicon link to Nominalism provided above, the majority of the quotes are from Peikoff's ASD in which he seem to argue vehemently that a definition ought to include all the characteristics of all of its referents, while Rand seems to argue that a definition ought to only focus on the essential/defining/fundamental characteristics of the referents (as can be seen in the Lexicon quotes for "Definitions").

So which is it? Does Objectivism hold that the definition of "Man" includes all the characteristics of every man (like having a thumb, having two eyes, etc..) as argued by Peikoff in ASD -- OR does Objectivism hold that the definition of "Man" is properly "rational animal" since defining a concept with non-essentials cuases so much trouble as Rand points out in many other places..??

And if the first, does a man who loses an eye suddenly become something other than "Man"? (What's the difference between this & Nominalism?)

If the second, then doesn't this imply that there IS a metaphysical essence to which the concept refers? (What's the difference between this & Realism?)

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So, Obviously Rand rejects the part of Aristotle that I hilighted with Red, but why must the metaphysical aspect of the essence be rejected along with it? Why not just get rid of the intuition part and keep the metaphysical essence part?

Because metaphysically, there are no 'certain characteristics' of an object that are more essential to its nature than any other characteristics. We can have a definition for 'cat,' which names the essential differentiating features of cats as X, Y, and Z, but if I point to a particular cat, those features are no more or less essential to the existence of that cat than any other features. Which characteristics are included in a definition is not a decision we make by simply looking at cats in isolation and attempting to find some 'essence;' we make that decision by determining which characteristics most effectively differentiate those units that we want to designate as 'cats' from everything else. It's not a decision we can make based on metaphysics alone. On the metaphysical level, all characteristics of an object are on par with all others; they're simply aspects of that object. This is why essence is not metaphysical.

If the essence of a thing is not metaphysical, then to what does the epistemological concept refer? And if the concept does not refer to something metaphysical, then how is this different from Nominalism at the core?

This is where much of the confusion about O'ist epistemology occurs. A concept refers to the actual objects out in the world, the units, that we seek to unite under the concept. So the concept of 'cat' does not refer to the essentiality of 'catness,' but rather to all actual cats out there, past, present, and future. The referents of a concept are metaphysical, but are not specific. The referents of a concept and the definition of a concept are not the same thing. The definition specifies features that allow us to determine which objects are subsumed under a concept, but it does not and should not specify everything about a concept.

For example, take the concepts of 'gas,' 'liquid,' and 'solid.' Now, a definition of 'liquid' from a few centuries ago would have consisted of, roughly, a state in which matter retains some definite volume but has no fixed shape. Nowadays, however, we would define it and the other states of matter in terms of intermolecular forces. In moving from one definition to the other, the 'essence' that we used to define liquid changed with our expanding knowledge. However, the concept itself did not change. The concept still refers to the same objects that it always has, only now we are able to more accurately specify what about those objects causes us to group them together.

Likewise, in the Lexicon link to Nominalism provided above, the majority of the quotes are from Peikoff's ASD in which he seem to argue vehemently that a definition ought to include all the characteristics of all of its referents, while Rand seems to argue that a definition ought to only focus on the essential/defining/fundamental characteristics of the referents (as can be seen in the Lexicon quotes for "Definitions").

Peikoff most assuredly does not argue that. Take this quote, in which he might appear to be advocating that:

On a rational view of definitions, a definition organizes and condenses—and thus helps one to retain—a wealth of knowledge about the characteristics of a concept’s units. On the nominalist view, it is precisely this knowledge that is discarded when one defines a concept: as soon as a defining characteristic is chosen, all the other characteristics of the units are banished from the concept, which shrivels to mean merely the definition.

Notice, he does not say that the definition should include all those other characteristics, he is saying that the concept should include them, by referring to whole, complete things in reality and not merely disembodied 'essences.' Now, the definition should still include only select characteristics, but the meaning of the concept should not be 'merely the definition,' but rather the actual units subsumed by the concept. I think you're getting confused by assuming that the meaning of a concept and the definition of a concept are the same thing in the Objectivist view, which they are not (they are in the nominalist view, and they are in fact to most people as well; this is why the Objectivist view of concepts is so commonly misunderstood).

So which is it? Does Objectivism hold that the definition of "Man" includes all the characteristics of every man (like having a thumb, having two eyes, etc..) as argued by Peikoff in ASD -- OR does Objectivism hold that the definition of "Man" is properly "rational animal" since defining a concept with non-essentials cuases so much trouble as Rand points out in many other places..??

Again, no one in the Objectivist camp is saying that the definition itself needs to include all those characteristics, only that we can never forget that the concept refers to units in reality which have many more characteristics than merely those specified in the definition. Peikoff is arguing that we cannot sever the link between concepts and objects in reality by substituting definitions (which properly focus on essentials) for concepts themselves (which refer to objects with complete characteristics).

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Thanks, Trebor. I will try to listen to that soon.

You're welcome. I think, hopefully, that you'll find the lectures helpful.

Aristotle regarded “essence” as metaphysical; Objectivism regards it as epistemological.

Correct.

Objectivism holds that the essence of a concept is that fundamental characteristic(s) of its units on which the greatest number of other characteristics depend, and which distinguishes these units from all other existents within the field of a man’s knowledge. Thus the essence of a concept is determined contextually and may be altered with the growth of man’s knowledge. The metaphysical referent of man’s concepts is not a special, separate metaphysical essence, but the total of the facts of reality he has observed, and this total determines which characteristics of a given group of existents he designates as essential. An essential characteristic is factual, in the sense that it does exist, does determine other characteristics and does distinguish a group of existents from all others; it is epistemological in the sense that the classification of “essential characteristic” is a device of man’s method of cognition—a means of classifying, condensing and integrating an ever-growing body of knowledge."

ITOE, 52. http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/definitions.html

So, Obviously Rand rejects the part of Aristotle that I hilighted with Red, but why must the metaphysical aspect of the essence be rejected along with it? Why not just get rid of the intuition part and keep the metaphysical essence part?

Definitions (Lexicon): "Metaphysically, a fundamental characteristic is that distinctive characteristic which makes the greatest number of others possible; epistemologically, it is the one that explains the greatest number of others." Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 45.

Metaphysically, the essence does exist as do all of the unit's characteristics. They all exist, but some characteristic(s) are more fundamental than others, metaphysically.

If the essence of a concept can change (be another characteristic than it was formerly in a context of lesser knowledge), which it can, with the growth of knowledge, then it should be obvious that the essence is not metaphysical but epistemological. Whatever characteristic is the essence, it is picked out (of all the metaphysical characteristics of the units) as being the one that explains the greatest number of other attributes or characteristics of the units.

Miss Rand goes through (in ITOE) the development of a child's (quite proper, given the child's context of knowledge) definition (identification of the essence, the essential characteristic(s)). The child's definition changes with his growth of knowledge and therefore his definition requires updating to reflect his growing knowledge.

The Yellow is what makes Objectivism seem like Nominalism.

If you understand the distinction in what I just said, then perhaps you see now why the yellow, "Objectivism regards it [the essence of a concept] as epistemological," is correct, that the essence (definitional) is epistemological, not metaphysical. Were it metaphysical, it would be the same no matter the context of knowledge.

The Green (really almost everything in that bottom paragraph) seems to have little to no difference from the Aristotelian/Realist position that essences are metaphysical. Either I severely misunderstand Rand here, or she doesn't disagree with Aristotle as much as she thought...??

If the essence of a thing is not metaphysical, then to what does the epistemological concept refer? And if the concept does not refer to something metaphysical, then how is this different from Nominalism at the core?

See the difference now? (No matter the definition, again which may well change with the context of knowledge, whatever the essence is, though it is a metaphysically existing characteristic, that it may change reflects the fact that it is epistemological. Metaphysically, it does exist. Only epistemologically is it the essence, definitional.

Likewise, in the Lexicon link to Nominalism provided above, the majority of the quotes are from Peikoff's ASD in which he seem to argue vehemently that a definition ought to include all the characteristics of all of its referents, while Rand seems to argue that a definition ought to only focus on the essential/defining/fundamental characteristics of the referents (as can be seen in the Lexicon quotes for "Definitions").

So which is it? Does Objectivism hold that the definition of "Man" includes all the characteristics of every man (like having a thumb, having two eyes, etc..) as argued by Peikoff in ASD -- OR does Objectivism hold that the definition of "Man" is properly "rational animal" since defining a concept with non-essentials cuases so much trouble as Rand points out in many other places..??

And if the first, does a man who loses an eye suddenly become something other than "Man"? (What's the difference between this & Nominalism?)

If the second, then doesn't this imply that there IS a metaphysical essence to which the concept refers? (What's the difference between this & Realism?)

To identify which characteristic is the essence, one is selecting it out of the context of everything that one knows about the existents or units of the concept. The concept "Man" does include all of man's characteristics and the definition implicitly recognizes that knowledge. Out of all that is known, such-n-such a characteristic, which is "a fundamental characteristic is that distinctive characteristic which makes the greatest number of others possible," epistemologically, it is "the one that explains the greatest number of others."

If the proverbial rational spider from Mars was discovered to exist, then the definition of "Man" would have to change to reflect that knowledge, that fact. "Rational" would no longer be an essential characteristic distinguishing man from all other animals (there's now another rational animal, that spider). Some other characteristic would have to be selected from all of man's characteristics, and "Man" would be then then be defined as the "some-other-characteristic animal" to distinguish man from such spiders.

Edited by Trebor

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Thank you to both Trebor and Dante.

I have a better understanding of the official Objectivist Position on this now and will continue to think through it... more thoughts to come (maybe).

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Rand's got some similarity to the nominalists, particularly to medieval Thomas Abelard. She's certainly distinct from the tradition in that she thinks there is a nature to concepts beyond man's cognition, but not without it.

This paper by Allan Gotthelf discusses Rand and her relation to realism VS nominalism to some extent.

EDIT: Also, here is a topic where I discussed the similarities and differences between Rand and famous nominalist Peter Abelard

http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.php?showtopic=20528&st=0&p=264014&#entry264014

Edited by TheEgoist

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Jacob,

I thought you might like to have these references in this thread.

Ayn Rand on Concepts – Another Approach to Abstraction, Essences, and Kinds

Allan Gotthelf

[Edit: I see Ryan has just noted that one.]

Aristotle’s Conception of Universality & Advent of Universals

Gregory Salmieri*

Here are some remarks of mine (2006) on the placement of Rand’s theory of concepts among contemporary theories (see also A, B, C). I have not treated the relation of Rand’s objectivist theory to contemporary forms of moderate realism, such as that of David Armstrong, John Bigelow,* or Andrew Newman.* Anyway, here is what I have:

These questions remain lively in philosophy today: What, in reality, corresponds to a particular concept in the mind? What is the relation of universals to concrete particulars? What is the ontological status of concepts, of universals?

Rand summarizes and critiques four traditional answers to those epistemological and metaphysical questions: extreme realism, moderate realism, nominalism, and conceptualism. The two realist schools regard concepts and universals as intrinsic, “as special existents unrelated to man’s consciousness—to be perceived by man directly,” though not by sensory means (53). The nominalist and conceptualist schools regard concepts and universals as subjective, “as products of man’s consciousness, unrelated to the facts of reality” (53).


In Rand’s theory, concepts are regarded as objective, “as produced by man’s consciousness in accordance with the facts of reality, as mental integrations of factual data computed by man—as products of a cognitive method of classification whose processes must by performed by man, but whose content is dictated by reality” (54).[1]

David Armstrong’s celebrated treatise on universals appeared in 1978. This watershed work classified all the traditional and contemporary schools (save Rand’s) under a great divide: realism and nominalism. Realism is divided into extreme and moderate realism, where these now include modern varieties, not only ancient and medieval varieties. The realist holds that in mind-independent reality, there are not only particulars, but universals. Nominalism is divided into predicate, concept, class, and resemblance nominalism. The nominalist holds that there is nothing in mind-independent reality besides particulars and that each particular is a single undifferentiated whole.[2]

Under Armstrong’s characterization of realism and nominalism, we should say that Rand’s theory is neither. Rand holds that everything in mind-independent reality is a concrete particular. That includes recurring properties and relations. It includes the similarity relation (1, 10, 13–15). Unlike epistemologists in the moderate realist tradition, which includes Armstrong himself, Rand does not take for universals the multiple identical or similar entities, attributes, and actions that exist in mind-independent reality. The constitution of a universal requires also the membership relation and measurement relations in Rand’s view. These are not in mind-independent reality, though their bases are in mind-independent reality.[3]

Rand’s theory is not realist, neither is it nominalist. In her view, the properties and relations on which universals and concepts are based—properties and relations such as identity, similarity, and having measurable dimensions—are concrete circumstances that occur independently of whether we grasp them and compose our concepts with them.


Armstrong’s division of the schools and his arguments concerning their virtues and failings is the main currency with which subsequent academically successful work on universals has been transacted. What Rand had called nominalism would now be called predicate nominalism. What she had called conceptualism would now be called concept nominalism.[4]

Predicate nominalism proposes that a particular object is a stone just in case “is a stone” applies to it. To say that the object is an instance of a stone is only to contend that the word stone correctly means such objects as this one. There is nothing more to the universal stone than the meaningful word stone. The universal is merely the shadow of the word.


One objection to predicate nominalism is that stones are the kind stones before the predicate “is a stone” comes about. How could correctly saying of something that it is a stone be logically prior to the existence of the kind stones? It could not. Authentic predication is identification of identities (Boydstun 1991, 44–45). If identifying any and all concretes were logically prior to the existence of those concretes, then identifications of any and all concretes could be made before any such concretes existed. Like some monotheists, we might imagine such identifications prior to all concrete existence as residing in the divine understanding. This is not logically possible under Rand’s conception of logic. A wholly nonconcrete identifier has no identity and cannot exist (Rand 1957, 1016, 1035–37; 1966–67, 39, 79–82; 1974, 24–31). The existence and identity of some concretes is logically presupposed for authentic identifications. Most stones are among those preexisting concretes. Moreover, identification of stones designed by humans are not logically prior to the identities of these possible concretes. Identification in predication is not logically prior to identity.


Being specifically a stone is more than having “is a stone” said of it. Predicate nominalism ignores the metaphysical objectivity of universals. The universal said in the general term stone is an aspect of particular existents held in a certain way by conceptual consciousness.

Concept nominalism proposes that a particular object is a stone just in case it falls under the concept stone in the mind. But, surely, many particulars were stones before one obtained the concept stone subsuming those particulars. The argument just given against predicate nominalism goes through against concept nominalism.
[5]

Predicate nominalism and concept nominalism do not countenance the circumstance that predicates and concepts are actions of consciousness holding as their object those aspects of existence that are under their correlate universals. They do not countenance universals. That is, they do not countenance the circumstance that the objects of predicates and concepts are aspects of existence held in a certain way by consciousness. These theories neglect universals and so neglect the sound anchorage of predicates and concepts to the world.


Extreme realism about universals, as Rand remarked, proposes that universals are mind-independent existents that are the archetypes in terms of which concretes may be characterized. The archetypes are to be “perceived by man directly, like any other kind of concrete existents, but perceived by some nonsensory or extrasensory means” (53). A nice modern example of this sort of view is Kurt Gödel’s favored view of the epistemology and ontology of sets, in the theoretical sense of the term sets.

Any collection of seventeen items is an instance of a certain single self-same finite set, which we may call S17. Gödel thought that just as we perceive by the senses some collection of concrete items that are seventeen in number, so the mind perceives purely intellectually the universal S17 of which that particular concrete collection is a member.

In Rand’s view, all consciousness is a specific sort of action on a content, and this action is made possible by a specific means. That would be so for a direct intellectual perception no less than for a direct sensory perception (78–82). It is so for direct sensory perception. A sensory perception is an action of consciousness having a content that is some aspect of concrete particular existents.

Gödel agreed that direct intellectual perception would require some definite means. He conjectured that there was some such means, so far unknown to us, but that it was independent of our sensory means of comprehending existence. To this day, the means of purely intellectual perception that Gödel envisioned remains undetected, not located, and unnecessary to suppose. We have available far less extravagant accounts of the objectivity of sets and our knowledge of them. These accounts invoke means that are at root sensory, and Rand’s is such an account.

Rand would have us analyze the concept length as an attribute of many kinds of objects (and of the spaces between them). The attribute and its objects are given in perception. We can mentally isolate the attribute and consider it apart from the particular objects in which it has been perceived. Our concept of seventeen inches is a particular magnitude of length applicable to innumerable different objects and regions of space (6–8, 10–11). The concept number and the concept set are demonstrably implicit in the concept seventeen inches, seventeen pears, or seventeen anything. Abstract entities like numbers and sets are traceable to sensory perception. They are ontologically and cognitively objective. There is no need to take them to be intrinsic, no need to take them to be mind-independent archetypes accessed by mysterious means. We can account for them more realistically than is done by extreme realism.


Notes

[1] Rand’s definition of concepts as amended by me is that they are “mental integrations of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted or with the particular measurable forms of their common distinguishing characteristic(s) omitted” (Boydstun 2004, 285). (The italicized portion of this definition is Rand’s fundamental definition.) I have noted two senses of universals and have defined them as follows: “Universals as (abstractions that are) concepts are concept classes with their linear measure values omitted. . . . Universals as collections of potential concept-class members are recurrences on a linear order with their measurement values in place” (ibid., 286). Notice that in taking universals to be concept classes with or without their measurement values, universals are natural classes in the logicomathematical sense. These are not intrinsic in the intrinsic-subjective-objective trichotomy; they are objective.


[2] Armstrong 1978, 11–16, 48. Since the appearance of Armstrong’s book, a third major class of theories has grown up, and these are called trope theories. These hold that mind-independent reality includes no universals, but that in addition to concrete particulars such as tables, mind-independent reality includes tropes (abstract particulars) such as the temperature of a particular table. A trope in one concrete particular may resemble, but is never perfectly the same as, a trope in another concrete particular (Rodriguez-Pereyra 2002, 22–23). Rand’s is not a trope theory.


[3] See further, Boydstun 2004.


[4] See Armstrong 1978, 13–15.

[5] Rand’s theory of universals is not class nominalism because in her view the classes that are designated by concepts are not arbitrary collections (1966–67, 13). Her theory of universals is not resemblance nominalism since her theory does not take resemblance, or similarity, as an unreduced primitive. Rand analyzes similarity in terms of identical measurable attributes possessed in various degrees by the things perceived as similar (13). Identity, differences, and differences of degree are the eminent primitives in Rand’s theory, and they are taken to be in the world independently of our cognitions concerning them. See also Register 2000, 211–12; Den Uyl and Rasmussen 1984, 15–18; Jetton 1998, 64–65; and Saint-André 2002.

References

Armstrong, David 1978. Nominalism and Realism. Volume 1 of Universals and Scientific Realism. Cambridge: University Press.


Boydstun, Stephen 1991. Induction on Identity. Part 2. Objectivity 1(3):1-56. 


---------. 2004. Universals and Measurement. Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 5(2):271-305. 


Den Uyl, Douglas, and Douglas Rasmussen 1984. Ayn Rand's Realism. In The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Jetton, Merlin 1998. Pursuing Similarity. Objectivity 2(6):41-130.

Rand, Ayn 1966-67. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Expanded 2nd ed. Harry Binswanger and Leonard Peikoff, editors. New York: NAL Books.

Register, Bryan 2000. The Universality and Employment of Concepts. Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 1(2):211-44.

Rodriguez-Pereyra, Gonzalo 2004. Resemblance Nominalism. Oxford: University Press.

Saint-Andre, Peter 2002. Conceptualism in Rand and Abelard. Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 4(1):123-40.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Note, an error in the preceding:

It is a common mistake concerning Gödel's realist view on the ontology of sets. Gödel did not maintain that the means of purely intellectual perception (mathematical intuition) in mathematics and set theory is distinct from the conceptual faculty that operates on sensory perceptions. He writes in 1963: "Evidently the 'given' underlying mathematics is closely related to the abstract elements contained in our empirical ideas."

Gödel was not proposing a second conceptual faculty. He was proposing that the relationship between the abstract elements in our concepts and reality differs in kind from the relationship of our sensory data to reality. So the argument I made against Gödel's platonist view in my preceding survey is irrelevant.

For this correction, I am indebted to a note in "Truth and Proof: The Platonism of Mathematics," by William Tait. This essay is contained in his book The Provenance of Pure Reason (OUP 2005).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

By the way,

. . .

Kant’s theory of concepts, like Rand’s, does not fit on either side of the traditional realist-nominalist division. Rand’s theory of concepts is accurately classified as neither nominalism (including conceptualism) nor realism. It can be rightly classed as mensural objectivism. Kant’s theory can be rightly classed as synthetic formalism.

. . .

Edited by Boydstun

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So, Obviously Rand rejects the part of Aristotle that I hilighted with Red, but why must the metaphysical aspect of the essence be rejected along with it? Why not just get rid of the intuition part and keep the metaphysical essence part?

Good thread. To highlight what I think is important: The essence of a thing is just a regular characteristic regarded from a certain perspective. The perspective can change depending on context. Remember that a concept reffers to a thing and all its characteristics, and which characteristic is regarded as essential is contextual. This aids in the priciple of unit economy. Essence is always "qua" (fill in the blank). Your essence as a man is that you talk, reason, and move around. Your essence as a member of this forum is that you have discussions and debates about Objectivism on the internet. Its always "qua" something.

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I'm sorry that I haven't had a chance to fully check out the referenced material, but I'd like to throw my own personal working theory out in order to get some responses.

Essences cannot be solely Epistemological because they would not accurately coorespond to reality and therefore would be non-sense (Nominalism). Therefore essenses are Metaphysical in some sense.

The exact metaphyscial status of essences need not be known (i.e. Plato's theory of "forms in heaven" or Aristotle's theory of it being in the concretes, etc...)- regardless of in what sense they are metaphysical, they must be metaphysical in some sense.

**By the way, I think this is where people get so riled up about this issue-- thinking that if realism is true, then some particular brand of realism must be true (whether Plato's or Aristotle's or whoever else). Perhaps no one has yet accurately identified the correct "brand" of realism-- this doesn't mean that it isn't true. It is possible to conclude that metaphysical essences are real in some sense without yet knowing in what sense.

Definitions and concepts are attempts (accurate to some degree or other) at identifying the essence of a thing. The metaphysical essence of a thing does not change, but our knowledge and understanding of it does change. This is why definitions can change; not because the essence has changed metaphyscially, but because epistemologically, we have discovered previously unknown information about that thing (information which has been true all along but which we were previously unaware of).

Example:

Man as a "rational animal" is the best description of the essence of Man given our current knowledge. If a "rational spider" were discovered, our definition (description of the essence of Man) would have to change- but the essence of Man didn't change metaphysically.

Metaphysically, everything has an essence. Epistemologically, we don't always know exactly what it is and our understanding of it is gradual.

I don't see how you can hold to any other position without logically leading into some irrational ideas.

Thoughts?

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I'm sorry that I haven't had a chance to fully check out the referenced material, but I'd like to throw my own personal working theory out in order to get some responses.

Essences cannot be solely Epistemological because they would not accurately coorespond to reality and therefore would be non-sense (Nominalism). Therefore essenses are Metaphysical in some sense.

Essences are epistemological because they are judgments made by a subject for a purpose. As there is no place for considering the subject and the subject's purposes in metaphysics an essence cannot be metaphysical.

At the first level the essence will be chosen from among the existential attributes of the entities referred to by the concept, but at higher levels an essential can be an abstraction itself and not a pointer to an existent such as an attribute. If some essences are not existential, then essences are not metaphysical.

Your comment "Essences cannot be solely Epistemological because they would not accurately coorespond to reality" completely ignores Randian theory of concepts at the first level, in which the essence is selected from among percepts held in common between the entities integrated together into the concept. Whatever is selected may or may not serve well as an essence but it will always and automatically correspond to reality because it is given by reality via perception.

Edited by Grames

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Essences are epistemological because they are judgments made by a subject for a purpose. As there is no place for considering the subject and the subject's purposes in metaphysics an essence cannot be metaphysical.

At the first level the essence will be chosen from among the existential attributes of the entities referred to by the concept, but at higher levels an essential can be an abstraction itself and not a pointer to an existent such as an attribute. If some essences are not existential, then essences are not metaphysical.

Your comment "Essences cannot be solely Epistemological because they would not accurately coorespond to reality" completely ignores Randian theory of concepts at the first level, in which the essence is selected from among percepts held in common between the entities integrated together into the concept. Whatever is selected may or may not serve well as an essence but it will always and automatically correspond to reality because it is given by reality via perception.

But what I am saying is that the attributes to which our concepts refer are metaphysical. Yes, we discover them via perception, isolate them via abstraction, and identify them via concepts, but they are metaphysical (real) the entire time. Our epistemological classification may develop and change over time- but it does so based on the metaphysical reality we encounter. Our epistemological classification of "cat" may start out as "furry animal" and progress into "furry four legged animal with a tail" and then into whatever it is today-- but the whole time, everything that is true about cats being cats has always been true, metaphysically and every difference between cats and dogs has been true, metaphysically.

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Yes, I basically agree that "everything that is true about cats being cats has always been true, metaphysically and every difference between cats and dogs has been true, metaphysically." But an essential is indistinguishable from a non-essential within the scope of metaphysics, precisely because all facts are equally true and significant. The act of selecting an essential is not within metaphysics, but what has been selected is metaphysical (when at the first level).

If I had more time I would go on to discuss the distinction between "fact" and "truth". Another post.

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For clarification, when I said "essences" I was not just referring to "that which is essential to a thing", but I was referring to any and all "attributes" so that when I was saying that "essences" are metaphysical, I meant that "attributes" are metaphysical.

And if we agree that attributes are metaphysical, then we are "all Realists now". lol.

However, if Oism holds that attributes are epistemological and not metaphysical, then that would be Nominalism.

Additionally, I think I would argue that an essential attribute is not just essential in an epistemological way, but that it is also essential in a metaphyscial way such that if absent or altered, the metaphyic would also be absent or altered respectively.

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Jacob said:

"However, if Oism holds that attributes are epistemological and not metaphysical, then that would be Nominalism"

Oism doesn't hold that.

Jacob said:

"Additionally, I think I would argue that an essential attribute is not just essential in an epistemological way, but that it is also essential in a metaphyscial way such that if absent or altered, the metaphyic would also be absent or altered respectively. "

All attributes, if altered, would change an entity metaphysically. But essence refers to a minds grasp of an existent through perception according to the requirements of the type and kind of consciousness perceiving the existent.

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.

Jacob said:

"However, if Oism holds that attributes are epistemological and not metaphysical, then that would be Nominalism"

Oism doesn't hold that.

Jacob said:

"Additionally, I think I would argue that an essential attribute is not just essential in an epistemological way, but that it is also essential in a metaphyscial way such that if absent or altered, the metaphyic would also be absent or altered respectively. "

All attributes, if altered, would change an entity metaphysically. But essence refers to a minds grasp of an existent through perception according to the requirements of the type and kind of consciousness perceiving the existent.

I just reread my statement and need to clarify. In fact, as Grames was pointing to, attributes are in the same boat as essence (epistemologically) in that all of an entities attributes metaphysically just are. The mental isolation of abstraction is what makes the seeming seperation. So all of the aspects of entities that are available to a consciousncess to abstract from are there metaphysically as one existent,"what is, is".

In this sense any seperateness of attributes are epistemological. Metaphysically entities just are.

Necessity itself is also regarded in a similar manner by Objectivist:

Prof. B: Is "fact" a concept like "necessity" in the following respect? The referent of "necessity" is the same in a sense as the referent of "identity"; but "necessity" is a concept which comes much later in the hierarchy and derives from our particular form of consciousness [i.e., from its volitional nature—see "The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made," in Philosophy: Who Needs It]. It is a concept we need to distinguish things outside our control from things in our control.

AR: Correct. <ioe2_243>

Prof. B: Is "fact" like "necessity" then—in that we need the concept "fact" for two reasons, both deriving from the nature of our form of consciousness? Number one is that our form of consciousness, like any, is limited and, therefore, we get information bit by bit, so to speak, and "fact" designates the bit of information or of reality that we have gotten. Or is it that "fact" is a concept which we need because we are capable of error?

AR: It is the second.

Prof. E: Which would not be true of the concept "existence."

AR: No.

Prof. B: So "fact" then designates existents, but it is used in a context in which it is relevant to distinguish knowledge from error.

AR: That's right.

Prof. B: It's not that the fact refers to the knowledge; it refers to the reality known, or possibly known.

AR: That is correct. It is a concept necessitated by our form of consciousness—that is, by the fact that we are not infallible. An error is possible, or a lie is possible, or imagination is possible. And, therefore, when we say something is a fact, we distinguish primarily from error, lie, or any aberration of consciousness.

And it serves another function: it delimits the concept "existence" or "reality." For instance, you may have noticed I often use in writing the expression "facts of reality." What have I added to the term "reality" by saying "facts"? I have narrowed it. I have said: whichever aspects, events, or existents you happen to know, these are the facts of reality—meaning: these are the things which actually exist. So it is like concretizing a very wide abstraction, such as "reality," but it isn't adding any new content.

Prof. B: That's what I was struggling to name by this "bit-by-bit" idea—that we don't grasp reality like God would, all at once.

AR: Ah, that's correct then. In that sense, yes. <ioe2_244>

Edited by Plasmatic

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"All attributes, if altered, would change an entity metaphysically. But essence refers to a minds grasp of an existent through perception according to the requirements of the type and kind of consciousness perceiving the existent."

This sounds like subjectivism. What am I missing?

"Because metaphysically, there are no 'certain characteristics' of an object that are more essential to its nature than any other characteristics."

But isn't man's rationality more essential to his nature than, say, having opposable thumbs?

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"Because metaphysically, there are no 'certain characteristics' of an object that are more essential to its nature than any other characteristics."

But isn't man's rationality more essential to his nature than, say, having opposable thumbs?

Metaphysically, if you choose any particular man and examine him, there is no characteristic that has some essence hidden away in it. He just is the way he is. Rationality is a better essential trait when forming a definition of man because it underlies and explains more characteristics of man than opposable thumbs. Thus, epistemologically, it is better suited to the task of defining man. However, metaphysically, for any particular man he has his rationality and his opposable thumbs and his hair and his eyes and they are all equally aspects of that man.

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Metaphysically, if you choose any particular man and examine him, there is no characteristic that has some essence hidden away in it. He just is the way he is. Rationality is a better essential trait when forming a definition of man because it underlies and explains more characteristics of man than opposable thumbs. Thus, epistemologically, it is better suited to the task of defining man. However, metaphysically, for any particular man he has his rationality and his opposable thumbs and his hair and his eyes and they are all equally aspects of that man.

:thumbsup:

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"All attributes, if altered, would change an entity metaphysically. But essence refers to a minds grasp of an existent through perception according to the requirements of the type and kind of consciousness perceiving the existent."

This sounds like subjectivism. What am I missing?

Metaphysically there is one state of being. There are no levels of existence. What would it mean to be essentially existent? Can one somewhat exist,partially exist or be somewhate non-existent? No. Essentiallity is a requirement of a limited consciousness.

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Metaphysically, if you choose any particular man and examine him, there is no characteristic that has some essence hidden away in it. He just is the way he is. Rationality is a better essential trait when forming a definition of man because it underlies and explains more characteristics of man than opposable thumbs. Thus, epistemologically, it is better suited to the task of defining man. However, metaphysically, for any particular man he has his rationality and his opposable thumbs and his hair and his eyes and they are all equally aspects of that man.

But Man is Metaphysically rational. Metaphysically, every man is rational. And, a man could be a man without opposable thumbs, or hair, or teeth, etc... But an animal which has no capacity for rationality would not be considered a man (according to that definition).

Edited by Jacob86

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