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Questions About Entities and Actions

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Peikoff, in OPAR, p. 13

Quote

First, however, I must offer some clarification in regard to the concept of "entity." Since it is axiomatic, the referents of this concept can be specified only ostensively, by pointing to the things given to men in sense perception. In this case, one points to solid things with a perceivable shape, such as a rock, a person, or a table. By extension from this primary sense, "entity" may be used in various contexts to denote a vast array of existents, such as the solar system, General Motors, or the smallest subatomic particle. But all "entities" like these are reducible ultimately to combinations, components, or distinguishable aspects of "entities" in the primary sense.

So which entities are fundamental? Are fundamental entities more like people, rocks, and chairs, or are they more like subatomic particles?

I think that they are more like subatomic particles.

On p.14 he says,

Quote

In any given set of circumstances, therefore, there is only one action possible to an entity, the action expressive of its identity. This is the action it will take, the action that is caused and necessitated by its nature.

What constitues the circumstances which determine the action of a given entity?

Since the world consists only of entities and their actions, I think that the most reasonable answer is that the circumstances under which the action of an entity is completely determined consists only of the entities which act on the entity in question "just before" it performs its action.

But there are a few questions we need to consider.

1) Can an entity act on itself?

2) Can a fundamental entity act on itself?

3) If one entity acts on another, is it true that the other also acts on the first?

4) If entity A acts on entity B and entity B acts on C, does A act on C?

EDIT:

Oh and one final question, do actions exist in the same sense that entities do?

Edited by SpookyKitty

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1 hour ago, SpookyKitty said:

So which entities are fundamental? Are fundamental entities more like people, rocks, and chairs, or are they more like subatomic particles?

I think that they are more like subatomic particles.

The answer is found in the meaning of the concept fundamental. That means irreducible, not made as a result of integration of other entities into a new whole. Both fundamental entities and rocks are instances of "1" regardless of whether they resulted from integration. Your previous error was precisely treating fundamentals as "0" ("nothing").

1 hour ago, SpookyKitty said:

1) Can an entity act on itself?

2) Can a fundamental entity act on itself?

3) If one entity acts on another, is it true that the other also acts on the first?

4) If entity A acts on entity B and entity B acts on C, does A act on C?

EDIT:

Oh and one final question, do actions exist in the same sense that entities do?

1). If it the kind of entity that does have self generated action (LIVING ORGANISM), certainly. Do other entities act on themselves? Depends on how broadly you define "self generated action"

2). See above

3). That is called an "interaction"

4). This is the reason Aristotle developed different causation types. To attempt to deal with these types of contextual questions.

5). That is difficult to answer due to the ambiguity possible because of the axiomatic nature of the concept "existence". They both "exist" but actions are entity dependent, causally.

Edited by Plasmatic

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1) I don't see why not. There is a such thing as recursive functions and they work. That is, to make it concrete, the action of an entity can change the environment, which then could lead to the entity responding to that action it performed.  

2)  Depending on what you mean by fundamental entity, I don't see why this in principle can't be. I can't even think of a counter example (unless we are to assume a fundamental entity is void of any properties whatsoever, which would have already contradicted entity-base causation that Objectivism uses).

3) Sure. If you say something like "the red ball caused the blue ball to roll away", that would just be you focusing on the red ball as a subject. On a primary entity level, there isn't anything else to speak about. Once you advance in such a way that you are looking for a narrower look at how this occurs, you would be able to recognize that there are certain things the blue ball also does to the red ball. From there, you would just look at which actions originates in which entity.

4) Do you mean act on directly? Then no. If the red ball pushes the blue ball, which then pushes the green ball, clearly the red ball was not acting directly on to the green ball.  If you mean indirectly, then yes. Clearly the red ball had to act upon the blue ball in order to cause the green ball to roll. In that way, the red ball caused the green ball to roll.

5) Not in an identical sense. I mean, an action can only exist insofar as there is a tangible thing to embody the action. Something like a function. 'x' exists. f(x) can only happen (i.e. be actual and real) as long as there is an 'x'.

Plasmatic, isn't this sense of fundamental you are speaking of in an epistemic angle? You said "not made as a result of integration of other entities" which would sound like abstraction, when things like atoms are not abstractions. I am not sure if SK is speaking of here about being metaphysically irreducible, or epistemologically irreducible, but I think metaphysically irreducible is the point.

Specifically in the given Peikoff quote, only primary entities are spoken of. Primary in that sense was immediately available to your perception. This would not indicate that primary entities are metaphysically fundamental, only that they are fundamental to your recognizing those other existents. If they were metaphysically fundamental, that sounds like observer based metaphysics to me.

For quick reference that also defines what "primary" means in this context: http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/entity.html

Edited by Eiuol

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37 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

Plasmatic, isn't this sense of fundamental you are speaking of in an epistemic angle? You said "not made as a result of integration of other entities" which would sound like abstraction, when things like atoms are not abstractions. I am not sure if SK is speaking of here about being metaphysically irreducible, or epistemologically irreducible, but I think metaphysically irreducible is the point.

No Louie, integration is here a metaphysical term. Ms. Rand used the terms "welded together physically" to refer to the singular status of being a "whole" as against a collection of "parts".

 

Edited by Plasmatic

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33 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

Specifically in the given Peikoff quote, only primary entities are spoken of. Primary in that sense was immediately available to your perception. This would not indicate that primary entities are metaphysically fundamental, only that they are fundamental to your recognizing those other existents. If they were metaphysically fundamental, that sounds like observer based metaphysics to me.

Objectivism considers entities as the "only metaphysical primaries" and the cause of action. You are simply not taking the whole context of what Oism says about entities as primaries and that is the cause of your many year long confusion of metaphysics and epistemology in relation to entities.. EDIT: Entities are perceptual primaries because there is nothing else to observe! Even regarding the discovery of fundamental constituents Ms Rand agrees you have to bring it back to the perceptual.

Quote

When you talk about discovering the ultimate constituents of the universe, remember that in order to discover them, no matter by what calculations or by what machinery, you had to bring them to your perceptual level. You would have to say "this particle" is that which acts in such and such a way on subatomic particles, which act in such and such a way on atoms, which act in such and such a way on molecules, and all of that results in a material object such as this glass as distinguished from other material objects such as this ashtray. Unless you bring it back to the perceptual level, it's not knowledge. That is what has to be kept in mind always in speculating about ultimate causes, which have to be discovered by some, at present, unknown means. You still always have to bring it back to your sensory-perceptual level, otherwise it's not knowledge.

 

Edited by Plasmatic

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3 minutes ago, Plasmatic said:

Objectivism considers entities as the "only metaphysical primaries" and the cause of action.

This would sound like observer-based metaphysics which I don't think Objectivism is or aims to be. I mean, I explained the issue I see in what you said, you're welcome to show I'm wrong or to clarify. The only confusion here is what you mean (that's exactly why I am asking).

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Just now, Eiuol said:

This would sound like observer-based metaphysics which I don't think Objectivism is or aims to be. I mean, I explained the issue I see in what you said, you're welcome to show I'm wrong or to clarify. The only confusion here is what you mean (that's exactly why I am asking).

I don't understand what the above is saying.

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I'm referring to all of my post after I said "Plasmatic", as in the very last paragraph I wrote in my first post. It's problematic to me what you were saying. I saw the quote you posted. Yes, they are perceptual primaries, that's all the quote shows. Says nothing about metaphysically irreducible. Just to clarify, especially with regard to SK's questions, would you explain more what precisely metaphysically irreducible is?

EDIT: "observer-based" as in dependent upon what the observer sees on the perceptual level

Edited by Eiuol

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20 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

I'm referring to all of my post after I said "Plasmatic", as in the very last paragraph I wrote in my first post. It's problematic to me what you were saying. I saw the quote you posted. Yes, they are perceptual primaries, that's all the quote shows. Says nothing about metaphysically irreducible. Just to clarify, especially with regard to SK's questions, would you explain more what precisely metaphysically irreducible is?

You keep playing this game. I already did "clarify" that I am not referring to "abstraction" by saying "No Louie, integration is here a metaphysical term.". Your "sounds like abstraction" is a question about what I meant by "integration". You require no more clarity than my express denial of what you thought it "sounded like". I have quoted the relevant other excerpts many times over the years and you still respond as though you have no idea what Rand has to say on metaphysical primaries! Shall I point you to the many posts where I have pointed out the direct quotes about metaphysical primaries that you keep pretending doesn't exist?

 

What does "observer based metaphysics" mean?

Edit:

What more can I say about metaphysically irreducible than "not made as a result of integration of other entities into a new whole."?

Edited by Plasmatic

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SK, the referents of all epistemic primaries are metaphysical primaries. Louie doesn't understand this. 

All "perceptual" primaries are the result of metaphysically given facts.  The fact that there is nothing mind independent but entities. There is nothing optional about first level concepts. That part of epistemic hierarchy is metaphysically constrained.

Edited by Plasmatic

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3 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

So which entities are fundamental? Are fundamental entities more like people, rocks, and chairs, or are they more like subatomic particles?

I think that they are more like subatomic particles.

Another quote from OPAR you may find relevant to your inquiry is toward the end of page 44.

The task of identifying the nature of physical objects as they are apart from man's form of perception does not belong to philosophy, but to physics. There is no philosophic method of discovering the fundamental attributes of matter; there is only the scientist's method of specialized observation, experimentation, and inductive inference. Whatever such attributes turn out to be, however, they have no philosophic significance, neither in regard to metaphysics nor to epistemology.

Fundamentals in philosophy are used to induce philosophic principles. In physics, they are used to induce principles  regarding matter. Philosophic principles can help guide the physicist in his study of matter, but the discoveries in physics have no philosophic significance.

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Philosophy does dictate to physics however, that it cannot violate metaphysical principles. What is meant by "fundamental entity" is not a physics question. What qualities those fundamental entities have, is a physics question. Notice that quote does pressuppose that what is "apart from mans form of perception", is "objects".

Edited by Plasmatic

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Plasmatic,

I interjected that because of SpookyKitty's effort to superpose subatomic particles (a physics investigation of the fundamental attributes of matter) over top of or in contrast to, a string or list of first level concepts. 

Even to consider an atom as fundamentally an entity, physics had to integrate the data from many disparate areas to arrive at the atomic theory, as explored in both The Logical Leap, by David Harriman and the parallel audio presentation of Induction in Physics and Philosophy, by Leonard Peikoff.

 

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1 hour ago, Plasmatic said:

You keep playing this game. I already did "clarify" that I am not referring to "abstraction"

I know you're not, so I stopped talking about abstraction and focused on metaphysically primary. But then you gave me a quote about validating knowledge via a perceptual primary, which is what I meant by "epistemologically irreducible". Or "conceptual primary" might make more sense because validating knowledge certainly goes to a perceptual primary. That might not work either, since "conceptual primary" would sound like it is abstract, which it's not. So I'll stick to "perceptual primary". Doesn't make sense to call it metaphysically irreducible. This part also answers you, SK.

The bit about "welded at the parts" makes sense, but rather than argue who meant what, I will phrase it as a question. To what extent is it dependent on your position as an observer? If you were, say, Ant Man, what is perceptually primary is different than what it would be for me. Or if atoms were your perceptual primary, that would mean metaphysically primary is agent-relative. This is what I mean by "observer-based".

I mostly get what you mean by metaphysical primaries, Plasmatic, but I don't really see your explanation being specifically what Rand stated. In any case, it's worth pointing out that we didn't even disagree about the answer for 1 to 5.

Edited by Eiuol

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@Eiuol

@Plasmatic

I will respond to your answers to the 5 questions jointly, because you both seem to have given the same answers.

So first off, by "fundamental entity" I mean, not an entity which is most directly perceived, but the kind of entity which cannot be decomposed into any further entities. From now on, whenever I say "entity" I mean "fundamental entity" unless otherwise stated.

By "action" I mean, the kind of action which occurs between fundamental entities. That is, the kind of action which is not "direct" or "indirect", but whose only defining features are the entity performing it and the entity it is being performed on.

What I mean may be clearer if I state my intent with regard to these definitions. What I ultimately want to do is "boil down" the concept of fundamental entity so that it has no characteristics apart from its actions. That is, the identity of every entity should come down to only what it does under all possible circumstances ("the circumstance of an entity" meaning that which is determined solely by the collection of entities that are acting upon the entity in question).

Some further questions.

1) Since you both accept that a fundamental entity can act on itself, and Plasmatic furthermore thinks that all such "self-generated action" is a property of living things, then does that mean that fundamental entities which can act on themselves are living things?

4) You both seem to deny that actions between entities are transative. What I was asking in the original question was whether or not it is the case that if A acts directly on B and if B acts directly on C, then does A necessarily act directly on C? (Note that there should be no fundamental distinctions among actions between fundamental entities other than whatever entities they act upon.

Now let me explain the motivation for my definition of the identity of an entity as what it does under every possible circumsance. Mathematically, if x is the set of entities currently acting on the given entity, then f(x) is the set of entities that the given entity will act upon "right after", Call this, the entity's "action function".

I'm sure you will both agree that the identity of any entity is, at least in principle, completely knowable. The way we determine the identity of an entity in this scheme is to take the entity and then systematically put it under every possible circumstance and see what it does. In order to be consistent with the law of identity, the same entity should always perform the same action under the same circumstances.

Now if entities had inherent characteristics apart from their action functions, then it is possible that two distinct entities could perform the same actions under all possible circumstances and fail to be identical. The inherent characteristcs would then not be discoverable through any possible observation. I am sure you will both agree that this is absurd. So therefore, entities should have no properties besides their action functions.

Yay or nay?

 

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In your last paragraph, do you mean the distinct entities would be performing identical actions in identical situations? I wasn't sure I read it correctly.

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25 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

In your last paragraph, do you mean the distinct entities would be performing identical actions in identical situations? I wasn't sure I read it correctly.

Yes. I'm saying that it is possible that two distinct entities could have the same actions under the same circumstance for all possible circumstances.

Edited by SpookyKitty

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DW said:

Quote

Even to consider an atom as fundamentally an entity, physics had to integrate the data from many disparate areas to arrive at the atomic theory, as explored in both The Logical Leap, by David Harriman and the parallel audio presentation of Induction in Physics and Philosophy, by Leonard Peikoff

Do you happen to know where this is claimed in either reference, that the axiomatic concept entity had to be induced as relates to the instantiation of it in atoms? 

The very idea is ridiculous. Imagine If one said we have to run an experiment to verify if atoms have identity.....

 

Edited by Plasmatic

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Louie said:

Quote

I know you're not, so I stopped talking about abstraction and focused on metaphysically primary.

No, you need to review your own sequence of comments.  You made one post and I asked for clarity. You clarified you were referring to your "last paragraph" after "Plasmatic". You stated "I explained the issue with what you said" in your next post following the "Plasmatic" paragraph and then you asked for me to "clarify".  In that sequence of posts I already did clarify what you asked about. 

I'll address the rest tonight.

 

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3 hours ago, Plasmatic said:

DW said:

Do you happen to know where this is claimed in either reference, that the axiomatic concept entity had to be induced as relates to the instantiation of it in atoms? 

The very idea is ridiculous. Imagine If one said we have to run an experiment to verify if atoms have identity.....

 

I'm not sure I'm understanding your question. Chapter 1 of Harriman's book does an overview of concept formation and the basics of metaphysics. He uses the term "existents" until getting to causality and switches to the familiar "entities act".

The experiments done initially simply reduced substances to a homogeneous level. Valances, laws regarding gaseous volumes, Avogadro's number and other discoveries ultimately led to the conclusion atoms qualified as a bona-fide entities, per my take thus far.

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Perhaps this will help clarify this further.

From homogeneous consistency, valences, gas laws etc., causality states that there is some entity acting giving rise to the observations. Identifying what that entity is requires sufficient integration of the evidence to grant "entity status" to the concept of "atom".

Edited by dream_weaver

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@SpookyKitty

I will go by your definition of fundamental entity, SK. However, for your questions, I don't think the level of decomposition matters here. Whether decomposition is possible for a given object wouldn't alter my answers.

When you say action here as "whose only defining features are the entity performing it and the entity it is being performed on", that may be best described as "unary action", or what I'd describe as which actions come from and are only due to the entity itself. "Being performed on" is unclear, it still leads us to your question 4.

Why boil down an entity to only its actions? I mean, how does it help to also get rid of characteristics like shape for example? Although that is fine to do if you want to analyze the concept of causality, which requires abstracting away the details like shape. Either way, the identity of every entity would certainly come down to what it does in all possible circumstances. I agree with this. (I've argued elsewhere before that this would work even for anything with volition.)

1) Self-generated action is only one kind of "acting on itself". Self-generated here refers to the actions of animals or plants, i.e. biology. Discovering "self-caused" properties for fundamental entities I think would be a matter of special science, i.e. physics. In principle, they can.

4) Strictly speaking, if you suspect Objectivism requires a strange take on logic, this wouldn't be it. A -> B. B -> C. A -> C. That is, we know if A is true, then C is true if the whole statement is to be true. So if A acts, C will necessarily act as well. But it can't specify that every sense of the word "cause" is transitive. You didn't define direct, I don't even think transitivity would be called "direct". If you use the word "cause" in an unqualified sense, then yes, A necessarily acts on C with B as the means. But this wouldn't qualify for "unary action" I spelled out above because more than one entity is involved in getting C to act.

I agree with the absurdities you pointed out. But I don't think it shows that fundamental entities should have no properties besides their action functions. It makes me wonder, can what you call an action function also include things like shape which have a bearing on how entities act in the first place? Clearly, that is discoverable through observation. In other words, you could conclude that all characteristics of an entity, if the characteristics are real, will have a bearing on their actions. Even if they only differ in size, that too will lead to at least one difference in action if you put them through all possible identical circumstances.
 

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On 5/18/2016 at 5:51 PM, SpookyKitty said:

Peikoff, in OPAR, p. 13

So which entities are fundamental? Are fundamental entities more like people, rocks, and chairs, or are they more like subatomic particles?

I think that they are more like subatomic particles.

Whoa whoa, stop right there.  In looking for fundamental entities your mind is already leaping completely away from the topic at hand.  The topic at hand was explaining how and why the concept "entity" is an axiomatic concept.  "Entity" is an axiomatic concept for all men, and has been for all time regardless of their own level of knowledge of science or philosophy. 

"Fundamentality" can be applied to the realm of epistemology, and it can be applied to the realm of metaphysics, and it can be applied to the realm of physics, and what is found to be fundamental can be (in fact, IS) completely different referents in all three contexts.  Flipping back and forth between contexts carelessly can cause errors due to the equivocation fallacy.

The context of Peikoff's introduction of the axiomatic concept "entity" is definitely epistemological. Peikoff writes "Entities constitute the content of the world men perceive; there is nothing else to observe." (this is the next sentence after your quote)  This is before and apart from any and all inferences and integrations about the structure of the world and how it works, before any careful measurements or use of instruments that make observable that which is not.  In fact the primary importance of instruments is to bring into the realm of the humanly perceivable entities that which is otherwise imperceptible.  

All knowledge starts with what is called "the epistemological given", and for the Objectivism the given is the evidence of the senses.  Other philosphers have postulated other givens, such as Kant's a priori categories, or Descartes' "cogito ergo sum".   Objectivism does not postulate what the ultimate constituents of matter must be, and only offers some methodological constraints on what is logically permissible to entertain as a theory.  Physics is not philosophy, and philosophy can only specify that physics be consistent with itself and with the world as men are given to know it (however convoluted that might be).  Otherwise, "hands off!" or "laissez-faire!".

 

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