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Criticism of O-ist theory of concepts

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From: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ayn-rand/#TheCon

Critics have objected that Rand offers no argument against the possibility that some concepts may have their referents determined by the definition (Browne 2000; Long 2005a, 2005b). Rand describes the meaning of “capitalism,” for example, as “full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire” (1964a, p. 33). Since Rand does not regard such as a system as ever having existed, it's hard to see how the concept of “capitalism” could have been formed on the basis of its referents (what referents?); if instead Rand's definition of “capitalism” serves as the criterion to determine what would count as a referent, then some statements will be “true by definition” after all, thereby potentially resurrecting the analytic-synthetic distinction.

So the complaint in apparently this: Because capitalism has never existed, the only way we can figure out what counts as "capitalism" and what doesn't is by referring to the definition. Therefore, Rand's opposition to the analytic-synthetic distinction is inconsistent with her opinions on "capitalism"--she's embracing the notion of a referent being determined by a definition instead of other referents.

So isn't the appropriate response to this as follows: "Well, how did Rand come up with this definition? By perceiving referents and then forming a concept based on those referents. Are you seriously arguing that if I've never been to Texas that I can't form the concept of 'me in Texas' without referring to the referents of 'me' and 'Texas', but only by forming a definition out of the blue?"

Or is that not good enough? Is the here criticism more nuanced?

Admittedly, I haven't read these critiques yet (I'm gonna go do that). Here's one (apparently) http://www.aynrandstudies.com/jars/archives/jars7-1/jars7_1rlong.pdf

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Critics should read Ayn Rand. This is her definition of capitalism:

"Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned."

As you see, Rand's referents are individual rights which do exist.

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Leonid has this one right. A proper definition is in genus differentia form. We need to know the genus and differentia of capitalism separately as referents prior to it being possible to define capitalism.

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From: http://plato.stanfor...yn-rand/#TheCon

Since Rand does not regard such as a system as ever having existed, it's hard to see how the concept of “capitalism” could have been formed on the basis of its referents (what referents?)...

That's not a good criticism, because it's not a criticism of Rand's theory. Rand says concepts have to be formed on the basis of perception. That's different than saying concepts have to be formed from their referents. A paleontologist forms the concept "dinosaur" by studying fossils, not dinosaurs. Generally, if some trivial observation refutes a philosophical theory, you've not presented the theory correctly. That goes for non-Objectivism, as well.

softwareNerd likes this

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That's not a good criticism, because it's not a criticism of Rand's theory. Rand says concepts have to be formed on the basis of perception. That's different than saying concepts have to be formed from their referents. A paleontologist forms the concept "dinosaur" by studying fossils, not dinosaurs. Generally, if some trivial observation refutes a philosophical theory, you've not presented the theory correctly. That goes for non-Objectivism, as well.

This brings up the hierarchical nature of knowledge. First level concepts are those whose referents are known by perception, or in alternate terms first level concepts do not require prior concepts to be known in order to form them. Higher level concepts are not known simply by perceiving their referents, and this is what creates the critical role for definitions and the selecting of essences.

Because higher level concepts are formed from prior concepts those prior concepts must be known well, meaning having explicit definitions with those defining essential traits determined from the broadest context of knowledge available. Thus to form the concept of capitalism ("Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned") it is necessary to have prerequisite concepts which comprise the definition: "social system" "individual rights" "property" (and of course the connecting prepositions and terms such as "recognition")

Concepts are always formed from their referents, but the referents need be only reducible to the perceived, not actually perceived (abstractions can be formed from abstractions).

realityChemist likes this

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