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SpookyKitty

A Definitive Criticism of Objectivist Epistemology

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Hey SpookyKitty, I have not read the paper, but if my understanding of Rand's theory is correct, axiomatic concepts are not arrived at by the process of concept formation, but by direct perception and experience. They are identifications:

"...of a primary fact of reality, which cannot be analyzed, i.e., reduced to other facts or broken into component parts. [...] It is the fundamentally given and directly perceived or experienced, which requires no proof or explanation, but on which all proofs and explanations rest." (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 55)

"The units of the concepts “existence” and “identity” are every entity, attribute, action, event or phenomenon (including consciousness) that exists, has ever existed or will ever exist. The units of the concept “consciousness” are every state or process of awareness that one experiences, has ever experienced or will ever experience (as well as similar units, a similar faculty, which one infers in other living entities)." (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 56)

Edited by KyaryPamyu

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Just now, softwareNerd said:

So, is the bottom line of this paper that you prove "a concept need not subsume at least two entities"?

And, if so, so what?

Well, yes, but there's more to it than that if you read the paper.

1) The definitive rejection of even a single component of the Objectivist theory of concept formation might seem small, but it is an important advance. It implies that there are innumerable concepts with less than two referents, and to which measurement omission cannot be applied. I didn't want to address the whole of the theory, yet, because I think its better to focus on one thing at a time.

2) We now have  a meta-theory of concepts which we can stand on when analyzing Objectivism, and it allows us to avoid many of its presuppositionalist characteristics.

3) I believe I have identified what logical form anything that replaces the Objectivist claim that there must be at least two referents for any concept cannot take.

 

Just now, KyaryPamyu said:

Hey SpookyKitty, I have not read the paper, but if my understanding of Rand's theory is correct, axiomatic concepts are not arrived at by the process of concept formation, but by direct perception and experience. They are identifications:

"...of a primary fact of reality, which cannot be analyzed, i.e., reduced to other facts or broken into component parts. [...] It is the fundamentally given and directly perceived or experienced, which requires no proof or explanation, but on which all proofs and explanations rest." (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 55)

"The units of the concepts “existence” and “identity” are every entity, attribute, action, event or phenomenon (including consciousness) that exists, has ever existed or will ever exist. The units of the concept “consciousness” are every state or process of awareness that one experiences, has ever experienced or will ever experience (as well as similar units, a similar faculty, which one infers in other living entities)." (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 56)

 

Right. They are simply assumed to exist. But the concept of existing things without identity is not assumed to exist (but is implied by axiom 19 and claim 20). Concepts like these are not axiomatic in Objectivism, and so they fall under Claim 20.

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Claim 21. Existence exists. That is, the concept represented by the predicate “has existence” exists.

'Existence', in this context, is a collective noun, referring to the sum of all existents. It's more common to simply refer to this axiom as 'existence'. 

A thing does not have existence, the same way a tree has branches. A thing exists. Existence subsumes every object or quality or event that exists, but is not itself a quality.

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Claim 22. A is A. That is, the concept represented by the predicate “has identity”

A is A actually means 'a thing is itself', not 'a thing has identity' - Galt’s Speech (For the New Intellectual), 125

"Ayn Rand offers a new formulation of this axiom: existence is identity. She does not say that "existence has identity" - which might suggest that identity is a feature separable from existence (as a coat of paint is separable from the house that has it) [...] When men have several perspectives on a single fact, when they consider it from different aspects or in different contexts, it is often essential to form concepts that identify the various perspectives" [the concept of identity is formed by direct observation] Leonard Peikoff - OPAR, p. 6-7

You are trying to use axiomatic concepts as predicates. "Things that exist but have no identity" is an invalid concept.

Edited by KyaryPamyu

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Just now, KyaryPamyu said:

'Existence', in this context, is a collective noun, referring to the sum of all existents. It's more common to simply refer to this axiom as 'existence'. 

A thing does not have existence, the same way a tree has branches. A thing exists. Existence subsumes every object or quality or event that exists, but is not itself a quality.

"Existence exists" is a statement which refers to the totality of things which exist, yes. Within the statement "Existence" is a subject which does not refer to the concept of existence. But when I say that the concept of "existence" exists, what I'm saying is that Rand's theory of concept claims that such a concept exists. That's an epistemological claim.

Since existence is a concept in Rand's theory, then it is definitely something which can be said of other things. As in "This tree exists". That is synonymous with "This tree has existence". I only use the phrasing "has existence" to avoid confusion with the logical modality of "exists".

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A is A actually means 'a thing is itself', not 'a thing has identity' - Galt’s Speech (For the New Intellectual), 125

"Ayn Rand offers a new formulation of this axiom: existence is identity. She does not say that "existence has identity" - which might suggest that identity is a feature separable from existence (as a coat of paint is separable from the house that has it) [...] When men have several perspectives on a single fact, when they consider it from different aspects or in different contexts, it is often essential to form concepts that identify the various perspectives" [the concept of identity is formed by direct observation] Leonard Peikoff - OPAR, p. 6-7

You are trying to use axiomatic concepts as predicates. "Things that exist but have no identity" is an invalid concept.

Same thing. "A thing has identity" is synonymous with "a thing is itself". Nowhere do I claim that existence (in any sense) does or does not "have" identity.

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You are trying to use axiomatic concepts as predicates. "Things that exist but have no identity" is an invalid concept.

Indeed I am. If the concepts of existence and identity had no predicates, then they could not form the basis of any knowledge whatsoever.

If you maintain that "things that exist but have no identity" is an invalid concept, then you are denying my axiom 19. In that case, you must explain how logic is possible when you can have the concepts A and B but not the concept "A and not B".

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SK,

I haven't read the paper (I did read the other post) but what I see missing from your general argument is the following (in bold).

From the Lexicon.

It is important to observe the interrelation of these three axioms [existence, consciousness, and identity]. Existence is the first axiom. The universe exists independent of consciousness. Man is able to adapt his background to his own requirements, but “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed” (Francis Bacon). There is no mental process that can change the laws of nature or erase facts. The function of consciousness is not to create reality, but to apprehend it. “Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification.”

In addition, by the time a person is old enough to wrestle with epistemological questions, he has already reached a conceptual level of cognition.  At the conceptual level, we don't "see" "percepts" , what we see are things: cars, trees, dogs, cats.  The transition from what can be termed a pre-language and/or perceptual level of consciousness occurs from nurturing and education i.e. a parent shows a young child and asks, "Would you like to play with the puppy... play with the puppy?"   The child's brain makes the connection because, well, that's what brains do.  It does require a healthy active mind and a nurturing enviroment, but it does it does not require axioms, theorems or proofs.

You seem to be critiquing Objectivism via some form of Verificationism.

Edit:  Objectivist Epistemology ain't that complicated.  Rand was countering, point-by-point, objections that could be raised by various other epistemic systems, i.e. Platonism, Aristotle's Metaphysics, Divine Revelation (Aquinas), Dialectic Rationalism (Kant, Hegel, etc.) Behaviorism (Marx, Watson, Skinner) and Logical Positivism.  She was giving, basically, a psychology based account of how knowledge is acquired coupled, of course, with the requisite metaphysical and ontological issues that pertain to philosophy that need to be addressed.

Edited by New Buddha

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21 minutes ago, New Buddha said:

SK,

I haven't read the paper (I did read the other post) but what I see missing from your general argument is the following (in bold).

From the Lexicon.

It is important to observe the interrelation of these three axioms [existence, consciousness, and identity]. Existence is the first axiom. The universe exists independent of consciousness. Man is able to adapt his background to his own requirements, but “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed” (Francis Bacon). There is no mental process that can change the laws of nature or erase facts. The function of consciousness is not to create reality, but to apprehend it. “Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification.”

 

What does that mean, in your own words?

 

Quote

In addition, by the time a person is old enough to wrestle with epistemological questions, he has already reached a conceptual level of cognition.  At the conceptual level, we don't "see" "percepts" , what we see are things: cars, trees, dogs, cats.  The transition from what can be termed a pre-language and/or perceptual level of consciousness occurs from nurturing and education i.e. a parent shows a young child and asks, "Would you like to play with the puppy... play with the puppy?"   The child's brain makes the connection because, well, that's what brains do.  It does require a healthy active mind and a nurturing enviroment, but it does it does not require axioms, theorems or proofs.

You seem to be critiquing Objectivism via some form of Verificationism.

 

I am not critiquing Objectivism via any form of Verificationism.

Quote

Edit:  Objectivist Epistemology ain't that complicated.  Rand was countering, point-by-point, objections that could be raised by various other epistemic systems, i.e. Platonism, Aristotle's Metaphysics, Divine Revelation (Aquinas), Dialectic Rationalism (Kant, Hegel, etc.) Behaviorism (Marx, Watson, Skinner) and Logical Positivism.  She was giving, basically, a psychology based account of how knowledge is acquired coupled, of course, with the requisite metaphysical and ontological issues that pertain to philosophy that need to be addressed.

So Objectivism has no epistemology onto itself, but is just a collection of rejections?

Edited by SpookyKitty

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Just now, KALADIN said:

Is this thread a joke? I don't think I've ever seen such a messy hodpodge of personal misunderstandings, clunky symbolism, and arbitrary assertions cobbled together to posture as a "critique". 

You know it would be a lot more helpful and persuasive to point at least one thing that you think is a misunderstanding or an arbitrary assertion. At least then we could have  a meaningful discussion about it.

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Theorem 25. There exists a thing which does not have existence.

Surprizing...

Quote

Theorem 26. There exists a thing which has no identity.

I am not surprized any more: I was immunized by Theorem 25 :worry:

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...the concept of non-existence also exists

Look up "anti-concepts" (in the Ayn Rand Lexicon). Might be useful... 

PS: What do you call a "thing"? In such an axiomatic approach as yours you should have introduced the term - in some way.

Edited by AlexL

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6 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

You know it would be a lot more helpful and persuasive to point at least one thing that you think is a misunderstanding or an arbitrary assertion. At least then we could have  a meaningful discussion about it.

Your approach to philosophy is like the modern mathematical approaches to economics, and the approach to finance that gave us "Modern Portfolio Theory". Even if you use theorems etc. in thinking through the problem -- dubious, but let's grant it -- if you cannot then distill your conclusions back into a form that a bright ninth-grader would get it, you're not doing reality-based Philosophy. The Bible, or the Bhagavad Gita, or the introduction to the Kama Sutra, or many of the Greeks did a far better job than philosophers who talk in theorems and their corollaries. 

Edited by softwareNerd

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You allegedly devote a whole one of seven pages of your paper to discussing the Objectivist theory. But you don't really discuss it at all, do you? Because you critically misrepresent Rand's view of concepts.

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The Objectivist theory of concept formation makes at least the following claims:

Claim 20. For every concept, there are at least two (non-mental) subjects subsumed by the concept.

[Bold added.]

It would be nice, in a "definitive criticism", if you at least gave a reference for this claim. I understand why you didn't, though. Because anyone who reads the first two paragraphs of chapter two in ITOE will see your parenthetical strawman.

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A concept is a mental integration of two or more units ... The units involved may be any aspect of reality: entities, attributes, actions, qualities, relationships, etc.; they may be perceptual concretes or other, earlier-formed concepts.

According to Rand, a unit (or "subject", as you put it) may be any aspect of reality, including prior concepts, which, even in your topsy-turvy reality, should qualify as mental subjects. Perhaps you didn't reference your strawman assertion because doing so would have highlighted your fallacy. Or perhaps you have substandard reading comprehension skills, which I find less likely given your subsequent, semi-clever use of the strawman.

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Proof. Similarly to the proof of theorem 24, since the concept of existence exists, by axiom 19, the concept of non-existence also exists, and by claim 20 and the definition of subsumption there exists at least one thing x for which “x does not exist” is true.

First, you invent a fantastic idea, basically that: something exists which does not exist. A is non-A.

Second, you use your "Claim 20" strawman to "prove" that a non-mental thing must both exist and not exist in reality in order for us to form this absurd concept.

And this is how you expect to convince us that Objectivism leads to absurd conclusions?

Try again.

Name the next paper: The More Definitive Criticism of Even Less Actual Objectivism.

Edited by MisterSwig

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Just now, AlexL said:

Surprizing...

I am not surprized any more: I was immunized by Theorem 25 :worry:

Look up "anti-concepts" (in the Ayn Rand Lexicon). Might be useful... 

PS: What do you call a "thing"? In such an axiomatic approach as yours you should have introduced the term - in some way.

 

Meh. You can't get anywhere if you first define every word in the dictionary.

 

Just now, softwareNerd said:

Your approach to philosophy is like the modern mathematical approaches to economics, and the approach to finance that gave us "Modern Portfolio Theory". Even if you use theorems etc. in thinking through the problem -- dubious, but let's grant it -- if you cannot then distill your conclusions back into a form that a bright ninth-grader would get it, you're not doing reality-based Philosophy. The Bible, or the Bhagavad Gita, or the introduction to the Kama Sutra, or many of the Greeks did a far better job than philosophers who talk in theorems and their corollaries. 

 

I think a bright ninth-grader would be able to read the whole paper just fine.

 

Just now, MisterSwig said:

You allegedly devote a whole one of seven pages of your paper to discussing the Objectivist theory. But you don't really discuss it at all, do you? Because you critically misrepresent Rand's view of concepts.

 

Only an idiot would spend a whole six pages trying to be as fair to Rand's theory as possible to then just turn around and misrepresent it, and I am no idiot. If there is a substantial misrepresentation, I'll retract what I said.

I spent only the last page discussing Objectivism simply because I wanted to show people what I already had before continuing on for another 20 or so pages. It would be kind of stupid to spend hours and hours of my life to writing a giant technical paper only for the whole thing to collapse due to a simple error I hadn't noticed on page 3.

But most importantly, I definitely do not intend to misrepresent Rand's view of concepts. You say:

Quote

It would be nice, in a "definitive criticism", if you at least gave a reference for this claim. I understand why you didn't, though. Because anyone who reads the first two paragraphs of chapter two in ITOE will see your parenthetical strawman.

 

I did not include textual references because I thought my audience would be informed enough about Objectivism to know whether Claim 20 accurately represents Objectivism. I will definitely include textual references in the future.

 

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According to Rand, a unit (or "subject", as you put it) may be any aspect of reality, including prior concepts, which, even in your topsy-turvy reality, should qualify as mental subjects. Perhaps you didn't reference your strawman assertion because doing so would have highlighted your fallacy. Or perhaps you have substandard reading comprehension skills, which I find less likely given your subsequent, semi-clever use of the strawman.

 

You have a point. I did make a mistake here.

 

But if we drop the qualifier (non-mental), does claim 20 then accurately represent Objectivism? Would you then accept the argument, as in:

 

Quote

Claim 20. For every concept, there are at least two (non-mental) subjects subsumed
by the concept.

 

Theorem 24. There exists a thing which has existence but no identity.


Proof. By claim 21 the concept existence exists. By claim 22, the concept identity
exists. By axiom 19, the concept represented by the predicate “does not have
identity” exists. Again by axiom 19, the concept represented by the predicate “has
existence and does not have identity” exists. By claim 20, there exist at least two
(non-mental) things subjects subsumed by the concept represented by the predicate “has
existence and does not have identity”. Therefore, there exists some x subsumed by
the concept represented by the predicate “has existence and does not have identity”.
By the definition of subsumption, there is at least one thing x such that “x exists
but has no identity” is true.
 

 

First, you invent a fantastic idea, basically that: 

something exists which does not exist. A is non-A.

No, first I establish that the concept "a thing which doesn't exist" exists. Not that there exists a thing which doesn't exist. The distinction is important.

Second, you use your "Claim 20" strawman to "prove" that a

non-mental thing must both exist and not exist in reality in order for us to form this absurd concept.

The proof still works even if you drop the qualifier 'non-mental'.

And this is how you expect to convince us that Objectivism leads to absurd conclusions?

Try again.

Name the next paper: The More Definitive Criticism of Even Less Actual Objectivism.

Well, the harshest critic is the most valuable.

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I havent read the whole thread and only read a couple of paragraphs before finding what I consider very large problems. I may or may not have time to address this....

Spooky, would it be correct to say that your interest in this topic was related to your persuit of the topic of dualism, ie, the ontology of mind and concepts?

Edited by Plasmatic

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Just now, Plasmatic said:

I havent read the whole thread and only read a couple of paragraphs before finding what I consider very large problems. I may or may not have time to address this....

Spooky, would it be correct to say that your interest in this topic was related to your persuit of the topic of dualism, ie, the ontology of mind and concepts?

I don't even remember that.

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PS: What do you call a "thing"?

Quote

You can't get anywhere if you first define every word in the dictionary.

Oh, it is very generous of you to comment on a post-script! But what about:

Quote

...the concept of non-existence also exists
Theorem 26. There exists a thing which has no identity
Theorem 25. There exists a thing which does not have existence.

Also: A "thing" which exists but does not have existence? Must be a very special thing... These conclusions don't bother you at all?

Edited by AlexL

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Just now, AlexL said:

Oh, it is very generous of you to comment on a post-script! But what about:

Also: A "thing" which exists but does not have existence? Must be a very special thing... These conclusions don't bother you at all?

 

The theorem is supposed be wrong. I don't seriously believe that there is a thing which exists but doesn't exist. It's a reductio.

Since the theorem is absurd, it must be that either Claim 20, 21, 22, or axoim 19 is false.

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4 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

You have a point. I did make a mistake here.

But if we drop the qualifier (non-mental), does claim 20 then accurately represent Objectivism? Would you then accept the argument...

No and no. Unless your argument now is that x can be a thought in your mind, because you have no basis for asserting that it's a non-mental thing in reality.

I'll just go away now and wait for the next installment.

Oh, I also suggest looking in a good dictionary for a "philosophically neutral" definition of concept, rather than trying to make one up on your own. Yours is way too technical to be accepted as common.

Edited by MisterSwig

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Just now, MisterSwig said:

No and no. Unless your argument now is that x can be a thought in your mind, because you have no basis for asserting that it's a non-mental thing in reality.

 

Yes, x is allowed to be a thought in your mind. I'm glad we could reach a point of agreement.

 

Quote

Oh, I also suggest looking in a good dictionary for a "philosophically neutral" definition of concept, rather than trying to make one up on your own. Yours is way too technical to be accepted as common.

 

Dictionary definitions aren't good enough.

 

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@MisterSwig

To expand on why I don't care about dictionary definitions:

1. If I had used a dictionary definition, people would inevitably complain that I didn't use Rand's definition.

2. If used Rand's definition, I'm conceding the argument right from the get-go and there's no point in discussing anything at all.

3. Dictionary definitions cannot possibly meet the standard of definition required to unbiasedly evaluate Objectivism. It is essential that the definition of 'concept' 1) capture what people ordinarily mean by 'concept' just like the axioms of arithmetic capture what people ordinarily mean by 'natural number' (even though those axioms are highly technical) 2) be precise enough that a proof of logical independence from the claims of Objectivism could be given.

Edited by SpookyKitty

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3 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

1. If I had used a dictionary definition, people would inevitably complain that I didn't use Rand's definition.

I don't think this is a real issue. If your stated goal is to find a neutral definition, then no Objectivist should complain about your use of a popular dictionary like Oxford or Merriam-Webster. We might point out any problems we see with the formulation or application of the definition in your arguments. But that's different. We don't expect non-Objectivists to use our definitions in their own arguments.

If the point is to start with a definition that's as neutral as possible, then it shouldn't be Rand's definition or your own. How are you avoiding "bias" by inventing your own definition?

In any case, as I said, I think your definition suffers from technical jargon like "phenomenon" and "output" and "statement." All of these terms require some special explanation in order to understand your usage of them. "Phenomenon" is a fancy word that refers to nothing in particular. What kind of mental thing is this phenomenon? "Output" is also used weirdly. How does a mental phenomenon output something? Is the thing creating another thing? And what do you mean by "statement"? Is the thing outputting a speech? I think you're using too many words in odd, unusual ways. A definition is supposed to be as clear and straightforward as possible. My American Heritage College Dictionary defines concept as "a general idea derived or inferred from specific instances or occurrences." Not perfect. But at least it has a more recognizable genus in "a general idea." This distinguishes concept from other mental phenomena like dreams, memories, or fantasies. Why not at least begin with a popular definition like this?

Quote

2. If used Rand's definition, I'm conceding the argument right from the get-go and there's no point in discussing anything at all.

The usual way of criticizing a theory is by first presenting it at face-value, and then by arguing for its inconsistency with reality or logic. It's really not that difficult to use an opponent's definition without conceding the validity of it, as long as you explain what you're doing as you go along.

But I'm not sure whether you intend to compare Rand's view to reality. It looks like you are stuck in a rationalistic mental maze which starts as early as the beginning of section two. There you talk about needing to first define concept before being able to offer any criticism of any theory of concept-formation. But that's not how things work. Do you need your own definition of hokobots in order to criticize any theory of hokobots? No. All you need to do is understand the definition as presented and figure out whether it corresponds to reality. For example, if I argue that hokobots are eight-legged fish that captain cruise boats to the planet Neptune, you should suspect right away that that's highly unlikely to be a real thing. Indeed, you should be able to offer some pointed criticism based solely on the internal illogic of the definition.

Quote

3. Dictionary definitions cannot possibly meet the standard of definition required to unbiasedly evaluate Objectivism. It is essential that the definition of 'concept' 1) capture what people ordinarily mean by 'concept' just like the axioms of arithmetic capture what people ordinarily mean by 'natural number' (even though those axioms are highly technical) 2) be precise enough that a proof of logical independence from the claims of Objectivism could be given.

This is a good example of rationalism. You have a sort of conceptual assertion: that a dictionary definition does not meet a particular standard for definitions. Then you try to deduce two specific criteria that a dictionary definition fails to meet; yet, in reality, these criteria are ridiculously easy to meet and completely undermine the original assertion.

One, it should be obvious that the main purpose of a dictionary definition is indeed to "capture what people ordinarily mean." And two, it's common knowledge that dictionary definitions are intended to be precise, and that it's extremely unlikely they will have any logical dependence upon the philosophy of Objectivism.

So can you explain again why "dictionary definitions cannot possibly meet the standard of definition required to unbiasedly evaluate Objectivism"? How many dictionaries have you consulted? And what exactly is wrong with their definitions?

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