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William O

Could Brand Blanshard be the most under-appreciated philosopher of the

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I apologize for posting this in the Questions About Objectivism forum, but I don't know where it would be more appropriate. (Edit: I also apologize for the truncated title, which should be "Could Brand Blanshard be the most under-appreciated philosopher of the 20th century?")

 

In his two volume work The Nature of Thought, Blanshard developed an epistemology based on integration. What follows is a very brief and imperfect summary of his epistemology based on what I remember from reading the book a while ago.

 

According to Blanshard, meaning arises when we integrate observations. For example, a tree doesn't really signify anything to a baby that has never seen a tree before. However, to you, seeing a tree is much more meaningful, because you have made a number of other observations of trees and learned much more about trees than the baby. To a botanist, the tree is even more meaningful, because their knowledge of trees is so thorough. The botanist will be able to pick out exactly what species of tree it is and explain how it differs from and is similar to other trees, whereas you may just have a vague feeling that it might be a maple, and to the baby it is completely opaque. The three of you simply do not see the tree the same way.

 

So meaning arises when we bring our observations into a coherent system. And the system gets wider and deeper over time, as we integrate our observations into broader ideas (broader concepts and generalizations) and narrower ideas (narrower concepts and generalizations). The two directions interact so that a broader idea can come back down to influence the development of a narrower idea, which can then come back up to influence a broader idea. Thus there is a continuous up and down cycle as more and more concrete observations get integrated into the system.

 

Blanshard's explanation for this is that there are necessary connections in reality that we discern as we make our observations coherent. These connections are available to us at first in only a weak form, as when we grasp that there is something about dogs that allows them to bark, but then become better known to us, as when we grasp what about dog anatomy allows them to bark specifically. In their pure form, these connections are as absolutely necessary as anything in mathematics.

 

Unfortunately, Blanshard had a strong rationalistic streak that led to grave mistakes. He was an idealist, he held that truth is coherence and therefore that there are degrees of truth, he held to something like Aristotle's view of universals, and he held that the process of integration could in principle continue until we reached an "ultimate system" that may bear no resemblance to anything we currently know. However, I think that these mistakes are fairly easy to spot and that his work is, overall, very deep and full of insights into how we gain knowledge.

 

Thoughts?

Edited by William O

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Not familiar with Blanshard myself. Nathaniel Branden gave Reason and Analysis a favorable review in The Objectivist Newsletter and mentioned The Nature of Thought in passing. Various Objectivist sources have cited his critique of materialism and reductivism.

Edited by Reidy

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Not familiar with Blanshard myself. Nathaniel Branden gave Reason and Analysis a favorable review in The Objectivist Newsletter and mentioned The Nature of Thought in passing. Various Objectivist sources have cited his critique of materialism and reductivism.

Good points, I forgot to mention that. I think Nathaniel Branden cited The Nature of Thought in The Psychology of Self Esteem, in connection with materialism.

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I first heard of Blanshard in Scott Ryan's book and then in the History of Modern Philosophy lectures. This sounds similar to something being discussed here elsewhere.

Edited by Plasmatic

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