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A Definitive Criticism of Objectivist Epistemology

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Just now, MisterSwig said:

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.

 

As someone who is objectivish (by which I mean that I, at the very least, take Objectivism seriously enough to consider things from an Objectivist perspective) if not an Objectivist(TM), I certainly would take issue with someone arguing against Rand's theory of concept based on a definition of concept which contradicts Rand's definition. I would be perfectly justified in doing so, because then their argument is circular.

 

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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?

 

Neutrality between me and Rand is not enough. This is not like a legal dispute where a third party can come in to arbitrate. There is no third party. Neutrality is needed to avoid circular reasoning, its not there out of some sense of "fairness". It's a very important and strict epistemological requirement.

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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?

 

"Phenomenon" is just "a thing that happens or occurs". A concept, as a mental phenomenon, then, is a thing that happens or occurs in the mind. By "output" I mean that the concept outputs things in the same sense that your computer "outputs" text to the screen. That is, by acting upon some part of the mind. I don't think I should really have to define "statement". Can you not tell that "Mars is red" is a statement?

The reason you wouldn't start with a definition like the kind Merriam Webster provides is the same reason that you would never use such a definition in a mathematical, scientific, or serious philosophical work. Dictionaries define words based on a history of usage in an extremely wide variety of contexts. Technical definitions are needed in order to ensure that you use the same meaning of a term consistently in every argument so as to avoid equivocation.

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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.

 

You're right that it's really not that difficult to use an opponent's definiton without conceding the validity of it, but in those cases, it is often far too easy to commit the opposite sin and simply assume (often without even knowing it) the negation of your opponent's definition. Then the whole debate devolves into splitting hairs about semantics.

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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.

 

What exactly do you mean by 'rationalism'? As I understand it, rationalism is a theory of knowledge that states that all knowledge is ultimately justified by self-evident truths. Where exactly do I argue or even imply such a thing? It seems to me that by 'rationalism' you mean any use of deductive logic at all.

Your own example illustrates exactly why you have to carefully define what you're talking about if you are going to seriously talk about it. You have confused the question of the existence of hokobots with the question of what hokobots are. It's the difference between the question "Do eight-legged fish that captain cruise boats to the planet Neptune exist?" and "If hokobots are eight-legged fish that captain cruise boats to the planet Neptune, then are six-legged fish that captain cruise boats to the planet Neptune hokobots or not?" There is no way to answer the second question by examining its "correspondence to reality".

As far as I can tell, there is no "internal illogic" in Rand's definition of concepts because, in her theory, a concept is just what the process of concept formation produces, and nothing more. But just because there is no internal illogic doesn't mean your idea can't be wrong. It's the same if I claim that my "car" factory produces cars because that's what a car factory does, and all the while, I'm actually making lamps.

 

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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?

 

Again, that's not rationalism.

If you think that it is easy to come up with a definition that meets those two criteria, then I would claim that you don't understand the critera.

By 'capture' I mean 'fully and absolutely capture' so that 1) a definitive answer can be given one way or the other whether this or that thing is or isn't a concept and so that there are no obvious counter-examples and 2) ensure that all related ideas (in our case, 'predicate', 'representation', etc.) relate to each other in the appropriate ways.

While it may even be true that any dictionary definitions are logically independent of the Objectivist definition, it is not true that logical independence can be proven. The standard of requiring proof of independence is on a whole 'nother level, and absolutely necessary if you want to provide any sort of definitive argument.

 

Edited by SpookyKitty

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8 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

By "output" I mean that the concept outputs things in the same sense that your computer "outputs" text to the screen. That is, by acting upon some part of the mind.

By rationalism I don't mean deductive logic, though rationalists certainly rely upon deduction to make their key arguments. What I mean is that a rationalistic argument proposes to glean some truth from pure conceptual reasoning, as opposed to making appeals to the facts of reality and working your way from the ground up, inductively. Deduction only works if you logically connect your idea to actual reality, without contradiction. But you don't do that. You won't even connect your idea to a popular idea.

Your idea is hopelessly being twisted into mental knots inside your own mind. Nobody, including yourself, has a clear understanding of what you're trying to argue. Whatever meaning there is to find has been thoroughly suffocated by a tangled web of wacky theorems and axioms and claims and definitions. I got you to see a critical error in Claim 20. But that's just the beginning. We could devote another couple pages of this thread to fleshing out what you really mean by concept!

I have personally watched a room full of elite Objectivists try to break a young Objectivist intellectual out of the rationalist mindset. It's not a pretty sight, and it takes a brutal effort simply to make a dent in the subject's psychological defense mechanisms. I'll make one more brief attempt to show you that something is very wrong with your definition of concept. Then I'll give it a rest for awhile.

Please google "concept definition" and peruse the various popular definitions. You'll notice that the genus is almost universally something like "a general idea" or "an abstract idea." You'll also notice that the differentia commonly makes it clear that the idea is a result of some prior process. Phrases like "derived from" or "formed by" are popular. Yet, not only does your differentia fail to establish that a concept is created, it actually does the opposite. It says that it's in fact the concept which does the creating, or "outputting", of some other thing (a "statement"), like a computer system outputs digital information.

Doesn't that strike you as very wrong? If you were serious about getting to the root of this, I think you would go to the OED and research the historical development of the word concept. And maybe write a ten-page philological essay on it. Because even Rand's definition establishes the fact that a concept is a creation, not a creator. You have a theory of concept-function, not concept-formation.

Edited by MisterSwig

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Just now, MisterSwig said:

By rationalism I don't mean deductive logic, though rationalists certainly rely upon deduction to make their key arguments. What I mean is that a rationalistic argument proposes to glean some truth from pure conceptual reasoning, as opposed to making appeals to the facts of reality and working your way from the ground up, inductively. Deduction only works if you logically connect your idea to actual reality, without contradiction. But you don't do that. You won't even connect your idea to a popular idea.

 

But I do connect my ideas to "actual" reality. If you actually read the paper you will notice that I am constantly giving concrete examples at almost every step.

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Your idea is hopelessly being twisted into mental knots inside your own mind. Nobody, including yourself, has a clear understanding of what you're trying to argue. Whatever meaning there is to find has been thoroughly suffocated by a tangled web of wacky theorems and axioms and claims and definitions. I got you to see a critical error in Claim 20. But that's just the beginning. We could devote another couple pages of this thread to fleshing out what you really mean by concept!

 

The error you speak of was certainly not critical. It was trivial. If it was critical I'd have had do to discard the whole argument.

My idea is clearly understood by at least me, and the argument as a whole, in my opinion, is actually extremely simple and focused. Your inability or refusal to understand it proves nothing. If there are some parts that aren't clear to you, I'd be happy to explain them. You at least have the opportunity to ask me questions on here.

It is already perfectly clear what I mean by 'concept'. The only thing not clear is why you continually make trivial objections such as the meaning of the word 'statement' (in fact, I give a definition of the word 'statement' in the paper itself) and 'phenomenon'.

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Please google "concept definition" and peruse the various popular definitions. You'll notice that the genus is almost universally something like "a general idea" or "an abstract idea." You'll also notice that the differentia commonly makes it clear that the idea is a result of some prior process. Phrases like "derived from" or "formed by" are popular. Yet, not only does your differentia fail to establish that a concept is created, it actually does the opposite. It says that it's in fact the concept which does the creating, or "outputting", of some other thing (a "statement"), like a computer system outputs digital information.

Doesn't that strike you as very wrong? If you were serious about getting to the root of this, I think you would go to the OED and research the historical development of the word concept. And maybe write a ten-page philological essay on it. Because even Rand's definition establishes the fact that a concept is a creation, not a creator. You have a theory of concept-function, not concept-formation.

 

Nothing about that strikes me as wrong at all. The idea that concepts, which are somehow created, cannot also create other things is just silly. Concepts, most critically, are used in the creation of knowledge!

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You have a theory of concept-function, not concept-formation.

 

Obviously. Why would I give a theory of concept-formation when it is theories of concept formation that my theorizing is supposed to evaluate?

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How about this, before continuing in your quixotic quest to misunderstand the obvious, why don't you show me that you actually read and understand what I wrote and can follow the argument?

 

Edited by SpookyKitty

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7 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

By rationalism I don't mean deductive logic, though rationalists certainly rely upon deduction to make their key arguments. What I mean is that a rationalistic argument proposes to glean some truth from pure conceptual reasoning, as opposed to making appeals to the facts of reality and working your way from the ground up, inductively. Deduction only works if you logically connect your idea to actual reality, without contradiction. But you don't do that. You won't even connect your idea to a popular idea.

Can't you rather produce a substantial argument, as opposed to accusations of rationalism or trivial dictionary-based arguments? I mean, not a word here has to do with an argument. It's nothing but a rant. I'd rather we discuss good points or ideas. Rationalism is a type of error, not an argument that someone is wrong. (I'm reading the paper in full now.)

 

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Just now, Eiuol said:

Can't you rather produce a substantial argument, as opposed to accusations of rationalism or trivial dictionary-based arguments? I mean, not a word here has to do with an argument. It's nothing but a rant. I'd rather we discuss good points or ideas. Rationalism is a type of error, not an argument that someone is wrong. (I'm reading the paper in full now.)

 

 

Make sure you read the second one. It's an updated version.

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7 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

The idea that concepts, which are somehow created, cannot also create other things is just silly. Concepts, most critically, are used in the creation of knowledge!

Concepts create reality too.

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13 minutes ago, SpookyKitty said:

 

41 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:

Concepts create reality too.

If you have nothing intelligent to say, there is no need to pollute the thread with your inane comments.

I'm just agreeing with you. Don't you believe that concepts create real things?

Edited by MisterSwig

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Just now, MisterSwig said:

I'm just agreeing with you. Don't you believe that concepts create real things?

 

Sure, in the same sense that man 'creates' real things.

EDIT: Boom! Pre-emptive strike! I'm ten steps ahead of you in every direction. ;)

Edited by SpookyKitty

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5 minutes ago, SpookyKitty said:

Sure, in the same sense that man 'creates' real things.

So why would it be inane to say that concepts create reality? A concept, like man, creates real things, right? They aren't unreal, are they?

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Just now, MisterSwig said:

So why would it be inane to say that concepts create reality? A concept, like man, creates real things, right? They aren't unreal, are they?

Concepts create knowledge when you combine them with reason and evidence, and obey the laws of logic.

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29 minutes ago, SpookyKitty said:

Concepts create knowledge when you combine them with reason and evidence, and obey the laws of logic.

So concepts, themselves, are not knowledge? They need to be combined with other things in order to create knowledge?

Is knowledge a real thing? How would you define it?

Edited by MisterSwig

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Just now, MisterSwig said:

So concepts, themselves, are not knowledge? They need to be combined with other things to be considered knowledge?

Is knowledge a real thing? How would you define it?

Well that's the first smart question you've asked in a while.

No, concepts themselves are not knowledge and they cannot be considered knowledge, period. By themselves, all they do is generate statements about things. They don't decide whether those statements are true or false.

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Is knowledge a real thing? How would you define it?

That's the million dollar question.

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Sorry to keep doing this to you @Eiuol, but here's a new updated version.

I fixed some spelling errors, made a slight modification to definition 6 and axiom 20. Also I added a consistency proof for my axioms as well as an independence proof for them. Huge leaps forward.

I really hope I have not misnumbered any sections.

 

objCrit4.pdf

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8 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

Well that's the first smart question you've asked in a while.

No, concepts themselves are not knowledge and they cannot be considered knowledge, period. By themselves, all they do is generate statements about things. They don't decide whether those statements are true or false.

That's the million dollar question.

Whether it's intended or not, the above is the very definition of Verificationism, in which "proof" is "truth".

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11 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

EDIT: Boom! Pre-emptive strike! I'm ten steps ahead of you in every direction. ;)

You can't even mock me without abusing common sense.

BTW - I took a stab at drawing up your tree of knowledge.

IMG_20170103_091214.jpg

From knowledge you deduce true and false statements. From each statement you deduce subjects and predicates. From subjects you deduce real and unreal things. From predicates you deduce concepts. Concepts then output statements, while subsuming a subject. And true and false statements together represent reality.

Is that about right?

Edited by MisterSwig

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3 hours ago, New Buddha said:

Whether it's intended or not, the above is the very definition of Verificationism, in which "proof" is "truth".

No - concepts need not be true, and not all concepts are valid. A concept doesn't say what is true, rather, its connection to reality determines if it is valid. A theory of truth is needed to evaluate or justify concepts. Verificationsm is about only empirical verifiable statements being cognitively meaningful, so that's different.

I think all valid concepts constitute knowledge, though. That is, knowledge need not be true to be valid.

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Just now, MisterSwig said:

You can't even mock me without abusing common sense.

BTW - I took a stab at drawing up your tree of knowledge.

IMG_20170103_091214.jpg

From knowledge you deduce true and false statements. From each statement you deduce subjects and predicates. From subjects you deduce real and unreal things. From predicates you deduce concepts. Concepts then output statements, while subsuming a subject. And true and false statements together represent reality.

Is that about right?

 

Knowledge only consists of true statements (although more qualifiers might be needed, but at minimum a statement which is known must be true).  True statements can be made about unreal things, and false statements can be made about real things.

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12 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

Sorry to keep doing this to you @Eiuol, but here's a new updated version.

No prob, I only just had time now.

*

Definition 2: If I get your idea, it'd be clearer to add that representations are not always true. There are erroneous representations, thus some representations are false.

Definition 3 and 4: Can't subjects also represent concepts? Why do predicates represent concepts? It seems rather arbitrary to declare this to be a concept instead of "predicates represent statements about subjects". That you talk about Mars and a red planet makes it seem less about concepts and more about matching statements to subjects.

Definition 5: Why can't concepts subsume other concepts? If all statements from the concept need to be true for the subject to be subsumed, and not all concepts are true, then it sounds like your definitions at this point aren't neutral at all. It is partial to SOME particular theory about what a true statement is.

Theorem 33: All you did is say that there is a predicate of a subject f which exists without identity. Yeah - and if that's still a concept to you, those would be an anti-concept or an invalid concept.

To me, it boils down to not all statements are true, and sometimes people use concepts intended to represent reality but don't represent reality truthfully in fact. You formalized ideas that I don't think were contested, except for possibly logical positivists. If you wanted to show how Rand's ideas in fact address formal philosophy, okay. Rand goes on to talk about perception and entities, alongside validating. She goes on to talk about things besides statements. I think you'd be able to simplify your style, do the formal parts if something is super tricky or hard to put into words as needed, and perhaps attempt more narrative/discussion.

This paper may prove useful:
http://web.archive.org/web/20070206173117/http://www.objectivistcenter.org/events/advsem04/JettonOaM3.PDF

Or this link:
http://www.noblesoul.com/orc/critics/  

 

Edited by Eiuol

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2 hours ago, Eiuol said:

A theory of truth is needed to evaluate or justify concepts. Verificationsm is about only empirical verifiable statements being cognitively meaningful, so that's different.

You are correct about the need for a theory of truth, but wrong about verificationism.

From ITOE, p. 47:

The nominalists of modern philosophy, particularly the logical positivist and linguistic analysts, claim that the alternative of a true or false proposition is not applicable to definitions, only to "factual" propositions.  Since words, they claim, represent arbitrary human (social) conventions, and concepts have no objective referent in reality, a definition can be neither true nor false.

15 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

No, concepts themselves are not knowledge and they cannot be considered knowledge, period.

Concepts are definitions and definitions are knowledge with objective referents in reality, period.

A given concept subsumes all characteristics known at present, is open-ended, and may expand as new knowledge is acquired.  Which particular characteristic of a concept relevant to a given proposition is contextual.  Thus all the following are empirically true propositions of Man: "Man is animal with two eyes." "Man is a bipedal animal." "Man is an animal with an opposable thumb."  But no one of these "propositions" can be substituted for entirety of the definition of Man.

The discarding of the multitude of characteristics of a concept by reducing it to a symbol, as per SK's paper, is very much in line with logical positivism and analytical philosophy.  This type of logic, whether called symbolic, formal, predicate - or whatever - has nothing to do with Objectivist epistemology.  Just the opposite.  This type of deductive logic will not "prove" anything.

Swig is very much right:

On 1/2/2017 at 11:47 AM, MisterSwig said:

By rationalism I don't mean deductive logic, though rationalists certainly rely upon deduction to make their key arguments. What I mean is that a rationalistic argument proposes to glean some truth from pure conceptual reasoning, as opposed to making appeals to the facts of reality and working your way from the ground up, inductively. Deduction only works if you logically connect your idea to actual reality, without contradiction.

Although I would change the word "idea" to "definitions", but I'm pretty much sure Swig would agree with that.

Edit: Reading SK's paper reminds me of a quote attributed to Russell regarding inconsistent logical systems.

If we admit 2+2=5 that means 4=5.  So, lets subtract 2 from each side  and  that gives us 2=3. Transposing, we have 3=2.  Now, lets subtract 1 from each side so that 2=1.  Now, since the Pope and Russel are two different people, and 2=1... Therefore, the Pope and Russel are one.

Edited by New Buddha

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1 hour ago, New Buddha said:

Concepts are definitions and definitions are knowledge with objective referents in reality, period.

Can be, not are... Properly formed ones are.
God is a concept. So...

1 hour ago, New Buddha said:

But no one of these "propositions" can be substituted for entirety of the definition of Man.

What about some set of propositions? Just wondering if you think concepts may be non-propositional.

 

All theories must -also- be logically consistent. Your example is about unsound arguments that are logically consistent. Forget if it looks like it's merely symbol manipulation. Seeing Greek letters doesn't need to trigger you. Just find 1) errors in logic, or 2) hidden premises. I find mostly 2, nothing for 1. The logic is fine.

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This thread is a mess:

Spooky's notion of "neutrality" is nonsensicle and impossible. (As well as useless.) All statements presuppose a backgrount set of positive beliefs about what the file folder the concepts one is using language to symbolize contains. There is no such thing as a definition that doesnt import ones own intensional notion of what units the concepts refer to and that is what spooky's "operational" definition" would actually involve. All true statements (and concepts) are tautologies in the sense that spooky wants to avoid. Every definition self-references the units over which the technology of language is being deployed to grasp and, or, communicate. 

Concepts are not definitions in any sense. Definitions are composed of concepts.

The meaning of a concept is it referents.

Definitions are only statements about the essential characteristics of a concept to aid integration not an exhaustive inventory.

Positivism and Verificationism is the least understood philosophy by most Oist. Oism shares the correspondence theory of truth with Positivist philosophy. Likewise constructivists have some of the most comical strawmen ideas about Positivism that exists.

Concepts are knowledge and pressupose perceptual knowledge of the genus and differentia of the concept.

Oism rejects any veridity-validity distinction often deployed by logicians.

Edited by Plasmatic

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17 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

Concepts create knowledge when you combine them with reason and evidence, and obey the laws of logic.

You need reason, which deploys logic and evidence to create concepts. 

Edit: P.S. You are not the first to complain on the main point of your paper. Your view is quite closely shared with Scott Ryan.

Edited by Plasmatic

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1 hour ago, Plasmatic said:

Positivism and Verificationism is the least understood philosophy by most Oist. Oism shares the correspondence theory of truth with Positivist philosophy.

Logical Positivism (and it's verificationism) is something distinct from Positivism.  And verificationism is something distinct from the correspondence theory of truth.

There are many philosophers that can be classified as Positivist - going back to at least Comte.  Which philosophers in particular are you grouping under "Positivist philosophy?"

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Just now, Eiuol said:

No prob, I only just had time now.

*

Definition 2: If I get your idea, it'd be clearer to add that representations are not always true. There are erroneous representations, thus some representations are false.

Hmm... yeah, that should be fixed.

 

Quote

Definition 3 and 4: Can't subjects also represent concepts? Why do predicates represent concepts? It seems rather arbitrary to declare this to be a concept instead of "predicates represent statements about subjects". That you talk about Mars and a red planet makes it seem less about concepts and more about matching statements to subjects.

 

Subjects only represent concepts when the subject is a concept. For example, in "Man is a rational animal" can be parsed as "the concept referred to as 'Man' is identical to the concept represented by the predicate 'a thing which is a rational animal'".

The reason is that subjects themselves are not necessarily concepts. For example "Jones is a man" is not talking about the concept of "Jones" (assuming such a concept exists), it is about Jones himself.

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Definition 5: Why can't concepts subsume other concepts? If all statements from the concept need to be true for the subject to be subsumed, and not all concepts are true, then it sounds like your definitions at this point aren't neutral at all. It is partial to SOME particular theory about what a true statement is.

 

They can. I'm not sure what you mean when you refer to concepts which are true.

 

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Theorem 33: All you did is say that there is a predicate of a subject f which exists without identity. Yeah - and if that's still a concept to you, those would be an anti-concept or an invalid concept.

 

What's an 'invalid concept', really? I don't think you can simply say that an 'invalid concept' is whatever produces a false statement about some subject, since that's true of virtually every concept.

 

Quote

To me, it boils down to not all statements are true, and sometimes people use concepts intended to represent reality but don't represent reality truthfully in fact. You formalized ideas that I don't think were contested, except for possibly logical positivists. If you wanted to show how Rand's ideas in fact address formal philosophy, okay. Rand goes on to talk about perception and entities, alongside validating. She goes on to talk about things besides statements. I think you'd be able to simplify your style, do the formal parts if something is super tricky or hard to put into words as needed, and perhaps attempt more narrative/discussion.

 

I think it's more helpful to think of concepts as the mechanism of representation and not as the representation itself.

 

 

 

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