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A Definitive Criticism of Objectivist Epistemology

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@New Buddha,

Putting a ", period" at the end of something doesn't somehow magically obviate the need for an argument. You have merely restated some of Rand's claims without addressing any of my arguments (or really, any arguments at all).

Your mistrust and lack of understanding of logic is your own. That an argument is formalized is not a point against it. Do you seriously doubt mathematics, or something?

@Plasmatic, I have no idea what you're even saying in that first big paragrpah of yours. If you or someone else can explain what is being said there, I'll respond.

I agree with some of the points you've made about definitions and concepts, but let me address an erroneous claim made by both you and New Buddha (and possibly Eiuol). That is, the claim that the "meaning" of a concept is its referents and also the claim that concepts constitute knowledge.

The problem with the meaning of a concept being its referents is that the same concept can have different referents depending on what is actually the case.

Take the concept of prime number. We say that x is a prime number if and only if it is greater than 1 and every divisor of x is either x or 1. We say that x divides y if and only if there exists a z such that xz=y.

Now, if the rules of multiplication were different, say we had the following alternative rules

1) for all x, x * 0 = x

2) for all x,y, x(y+1) = xy + x.

Here's a multiplication table:

----| 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

0    0  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

1    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

2    2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

3   3 4 5 6 7 9 10 11 12

....

It's clear from this table that every natural number  divides every number greater than or equal to itself. And that there are no prime numbers.

I will now address the claim that concepts constitute knowledge. The reason that they don't is that understanding a statement is not the same thing as knowing it. Concepts only provide understanding, not knowledge. When you have the concept of prime number, you understand the statement "123231314898117 is prime", but you do not know whether or not 123231314898117 is prime.

 

Edited by SpookyKitty

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4 minutes ago, SpookyKitty said:

Your mistrust and lack of understanding of logic is your own. That an argument is formalized is not a point against it. Do you seriously doubt mathematics, or something?

As someone with an engineering background, no I don't doubt mathematics.  I use it every day.  But I understand the limits of formal logical systems.  When a structural engineer uses mathematics to size a beam or a footing he doesn't "learn" anything new.

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55 minutes ago, New Buddha said:

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

It is probably easier for you to state what you think the differentia is in your view of P vs LP. LP is very often just called P.

Of course the correspondence theory of truth is not synonymous with verificationism. I didn't say it was. However V is a species of correspondence theory.

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29 minutes ago, SpookyKitty said:

The problem with the meaning of a concept being its referents is that the same concept can have different referents depending on what is actually the case.

Lets be real clear here. 

Do you agree that these two statements are not synonymous:

1).  People sometimes use the same word to stand for different referents as other people.

2).  The same concept can have different referents depending on what is actually the case.

edit: you very often attempt to prove a philosophical premise via the use of an example that contains a special science theoretical claim. I mean theoretical  in the technical sense of the scientific realism debate over theoretical terms. I suggest you use a non theoretical abstraction to make your point so you don't stumble over needless disagreements about theoretical claims. Can you defend your above quoted claim with a non theoretical instance of a "concept having two different referents"?

Edited by Plasmatic

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Just now, Plasmatic said:

Lets be real clear here. 

Do you agree that these two statements are not synonymous:

1).  People sometimes use the same word to stand for different referents as other people.

2).  The same concept can have different referents depending on what is actually the case.

Yes, I agree.

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Just now, Plasmatic said:

edit: you very often attempt to prove a philosophical premise via the use of an example that contains a special science theoretical claim. I mean theoretical  in the technical sense of the scientific realism debate over theoretical terms. I suggest you use a non theoretical abstraction to make your point so you don't stumble over needless disagreements about theoretical claims. Can you defend your above quoted claim with a non theoretical instance of a "concept having two different referents"?

 

I suppose you mean the claim that a concept can have different sets of referents depending on what is actually the case?

If so, consider the concept of "aboveness". Imagine that a book is on a table. Suppose that someone moves the book so that it is under the table? Does your concept of "aboveness" thereby change?

Imagine that the world was such that everything lay in the same plane. Nothing would be above anything else, but that does not mean that the concept of "aboveness" would be meaningless.

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1 hour ago, SpookyKitty said:

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'".

Well, at least by what you're trying to do, attempting to reason from a perspective without assuming that Rand is right, I say this imports in premises that don't need to be assumed. Why limit parts of a concept to predicates?

Besides, I don't see any explanation of why one predicate (written as a definition) is able to be identical to a concept.

Basically, I'm saying you lose the neutrality in the earlier sense. Your notion of concept is specific, and is specific on what is included in a concept. That's far from neutral. At best, it's only a partial analysis.

1 hour ago, SpookyKitty said:

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.

True. I'll fix that to say that if one knows their concept refers to nothing or can't show it refers to something in reality, it is invalid. A false statement may be valid, depending on what evidence the speaker has and context of knowledge. Concepts strive to be true. At this stage of the paper, it is sufficient to say "not all concepts are valid" so that the reductio is no longer a worry.

" concepts as the mechanism of representation and not as the representation itself. "

I don't follow. More detail please.

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1 hour ago, SpookyKitty said:

The problem with the meaning of a concept being its referents is that the same concept can have different referents depending on what is actually the case.

 

One may discover that a changing set of referents suggests that the concept should be split into two separate concepts..

Knowledge includes concepts, not that you know everything to know about a concept if it is part of knowledge.

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3 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

 

I suppose you mean the claim that a concept can have different sets of referents depending on what is actually the case?

If so, consider the concept of "aboveness". Imagine that a book is on a table. Suppose that someone moves the book so that it is under the table? Does your concept of "aboveness" thereby change?

Imagine that the world was such that everything lay in the same plane. Nothing would be above anything else, but that does not mean that the concept of "aboveness" would be meaningless.

This is a non sequitur.  You are equivocating between the general concept of "aboveness" and wether a particular entity is above any other.  How you could turn this equivocation into an argument for a concept having different referents is a mystery.

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3 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

Imagine that the world was such that everything lay in the same plane. Nothing would be above anything else, but that does not mean that the concept of "aboveness" would be meaningless.

 Explain to me how you think you could form the concept of aboveness in this situation.

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Just now, Plasmatic said:

This is a non sequitur.  You are equivocating between the general concept of "aboveness" and wether a particular entity is above any other.  How you could turn this equivocation into an argument for a concept having different referents is a mystery.

 

How is this an equivocation on my part? You are the one who is claiming that the concept of "aboveness" is dependent on what things in reality satisfy the relation of "aboveness".

Just now, Plasmatic said:

 Explain to me how you think you could form the concept of aboveness in this situation.

 

A point P does not lie in the given plane if for every point B in that plane, there exists a line PB distinct from every line in the given plane. For such a point, if I have to look up to see it, then it is "above" the plane.

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50 minutes ago, SpookyKitty said:

How is this an equivocation on my part? You are the one who is claiming that the concept of "aboveness" is dependent on what things in reality satisfy the relation of "aboveness".

That is not what I said at all. How you think "the concept of "aboveness" is dependent on what things in reality satisfy the relation of "aboveness" means the same thing as the statement:

"the meaning of a concept is its referents."  

Is also a mystery.

50 minutes ago, SpookyKitty said:

A point P does not lie in the given plane if for every point B in that plane, there exists a line PB distinct from every line in the given plane. For such a point, if I have to look up to see it, then it is "above" the plane.

Lol, how are you gonna look up to see something if there is no up because you are on a 2d plane and therefore no place for anything to be ? 

Edited by Plasmatic

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Just now, Plasmatic said:

 

That is not what I said at all. How you think "the concept of "aboveness" is dependent on what things in reality satisfy the relation of "aboveness" means the same thing as the statement:

"the meaning of a concept is its referents."  

Is also a mystery.

Lol, how are you gonna look up to see something if there is no up because you are on a 2d plane and therefore no place for anything to be ? 

 

In the first part you are saying that we can have a concept of aboveness even if no things in reality satisfy that relation. And in the second part you are saying just the opposite. Or at least, that's how it appears. How is it possible that the "meaning" of the concept of aboveness is its referents, when, at the same time, you maintain that I'm wrong in thinking that therefore the concept of aboveness is dependent on what actually is or isn't above whatever else?

As for the second part, just because everything happens to lie in a 2d plane, does not mean that space is not 3-dimensional, just that everything happens to lie in some 2d plane of a 3d space. Note also, that we have concepts of hyperspace even though no one has ever seen such a thing.

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SK,

First off, thank you for kicking off an interesting discussion. It has been most enjoyable.

Now, I don't understand what you say on page 6 paragraph 3. In particular, you say

Quote

All one would have to do to 'disprove' Rand's theory is to subly assume the existence of a concept which is tailor-made to refute her theory and proclaim victory. But that would be a cheap shot which hurts the user more than the target.

I do not know what "subly" is. Was this supposed to be "subtly"?

Let me subtly assume the existence of a concept that is tailor-made, etc. There is a concept in mathematics called a field. Examples of fields include the real numbers, complex numbers, finite fields and so on. Would it be fair to say that the concept "field" subsumes these subjects? Now, there is something called a complete field. Examples of complete fields include real numbers and complex numbers, etc. These subjects are subsumed by the concept "complete field". Finally, there is something called a complete ordered field. It seems to me that this is a concept. I have combined well-defined concepts to form a new concept. A priori, one does not know whether there exist any such subjects until once shows that the real numbers do in fact constitute a complete ordered field. Therefore we know that this is not an empty notion. Also, a priori one does not know how many such subjects exist. However, there is a proof that, up to isomorphism, there is only one such subject, the real numbers.

Was "complete ordered field" never a concept? If it was a concept until it was shown that there was only one, at what point did it cease to be a concept? Was it no longer a concept when someone first proved that there was only one such subject? What is a concept in your own mind until someone informed you of the proof that there was only one, making "authority" the determining factor concerning concepts. Or, was it once you read and understood the proof that it ceased to be a concept?

I believe that "complete ordered field" is a concept despite the fact that there is only one. Was this a cheap shot?

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14 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

In the first part you are saying that we can have a concept of aboveness even if no things in reality satisfy that relation.

No, that is not what I said at all. You gave an example of a situation were a entity (book) occupied the relation of being above something else as one instance of a unit of "aboveness" and then described a 2nd situation that does not satisfy the conditions that qualify as an above relation. This cannot be a valid defense of your claim that "a concept can have different sets of referents depending on what is actually the case?" because your second situation has nothing to do with an above relation. Since the 2nd situation is not an unit of "aboveness" it doesnt even make since for you to offer it as an instance of aboveness whatever...it is an example of two different referents but there is no rational reason for one to accept the 2nd as an instance of an above relation. 

Let me give you an example of what your claim would mean to an Oist.

For Oist the meaning of the concept "dog" is all the past, present and future animals that have the range of measurements that constitute the essential characteristics laid out in the definition of "dog". That means that all the referents of the concept are of the same kind. Your claim would deny this and allow other entities without this essential range of measurements to be a referent of the concept. For example a machine with four wheels and a combustion engine would be a instance of a different referent that one following your semantic criteria could call a "dog" because the semantic criteria of the concept is not constrained to units with the same range of measurements.

You make no argument for this grouping together of disparate referents into one concept. You just give an example of two different categories of measurement and say it proves that a concepts meaning has two different referents. Nonsense!

Its like handing 10,000 pennies to a  person as payment for a car marked 10,000.00 and then saying that pennies and dollars both satisfy the conditions of the sale because concepts have different referents.... 

Edited by Plasmatic

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21 hours ago, Plasmatic said:

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. 

Since SK asked about this, and I don't know if I understand it either... Let me try to rephrase it. Please let me know if this is right, Plasmatic:

True neutrality is impossible, insofar as when one speaks by using language, a background set of positive beliefs is already contained within the concepts of a statement. If concepts represent a metaphorical file folder containing all information of a particular concept, then these concepts cannot be emptied at will. After all, any understanding of a concept includes its intension, that is, what it is already understood to mean, even if an extension is neutral and has no associated perspective. SK's operational definition attempts to ignore intension. Definitions actually self-reference a concept's referent and all of their predicates, extension, intension, and anything else they contain.

That's the rephrase.

But isn't it smart to "go back" and retrace the steps in developing a theory in order to validate it? That'd be a sensible way to talk about neutrality.

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14 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

As for the second part, just because everything happens to lie in a 2d plane, does not mean that space is not 3-dimensional, just that everything happens to lie in some 2d plane of a 3d space. Note also, that we have concepts of hyperspace even though no one has ever seen such a thing.

So your reality departing hypothetical is that a physically contsrained 2d plane can take place in a 3d universe?  

Hyperspace is a nonsensical theoretical unicorn of modern science. I don't care to debate it.

Edited by Plasmatic

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14 hours ago, Eiuol said:

Well, at least by what you're trying to do, attempting to reason from a perspective without assuming that Rand is right, I say this imports in premises that don't need to be assumed. Why limit parts of a concept to predicates?

Besides, I don't see any explanation of why one predicate (written as a definition) is able to be identical to a concept.

Basically, I'm saying you lose the neutrality in the earlier sense. Your notion of concept is specific, and is specific on what is included in a concept. That's far from neutral. At best, it's only a partial analysis.

 

My conception of 'concept' comes from the fact that in Rand's epistemology, they are supposed to solve the problem of universals, hence they must be things which are said-of other things. This is the traditional view of concepts since at least the time of Aristotle.

My notion of neutrality is that the negation of Rand's claims cannot be proven from just the definitions and axioms presented. This is about as neutral as anything can get without beign pointless.

Quote

True. I'll fix that to say that if one knows their concept refers to nothing or can't show it refers to something in reality, it is invalid. A false statement may be valid, depending on what evidence the speaker has and context of knowledge. Concepts strive to be true. At this stage of the paper, it is sufficient to say "not all concepts are valid" so that the reductio is no longer a worry.

" concepts as the mechanism of representation and not as the representation itself. "

I don't follow. More detail please.

 

Ok, but that wasn't exactly what I meant. To make myself clearer. Suppose that I hold an invalid concept. What exactly does that mean? It sounds like invalid concepts would lead to misunderstanding. But I maintain that it is the lack of a concept that causes misunderstanding.

Even though mermaids aren't real, the proposition "There are no mermaids" is perfectly intelligible and also true.

On the other hand, ruling out propositions that 'contain' invalid concepts would basically annihilate logic, which is kinda why I argue that Rand's claim that a concept needs at least two referents should be rejected.

EDIT: It's more helpful to think of a concept as kind of a mental program that constructs an epistemic representation of reality. Whether that representation is accurate or not, depends on things external to the program-concept, so concepts are not things which are either true or false.

Edited by SpookyKitty

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4 hours ago, aleph_1 said:

SK,

First off, thank you for kicking off an interesting discussion. It has been most enjoyable....

 

I understand everything except your overall point.

Edited by SpookyKitty

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Just now, Plasmatic said:

No, that is not what I said at all. You gave an example of a situation were a entity (book) occupied the relation of being above something else as one instance of a unit of "aboveness" and then described a 2nd situation that does not satisfy the conditions that qualify as an above relation. This cannot be a valid defense of your claim that "a concept can have different sets of referents depending on what is actually the case?" because your second situation has nothing to do with an above relation. Since the 2nd situation is not an unit of "aboveness" it doesnt even make since for you to offer it as an instance of aboveness whatever...it is an example of two different referents but there is no rational reason for one to accept the 2nd as an instance of an above relation.

 

I think you misunderstood. I am not saying that the second example is an instance of the aboveness relation. We agree that it is not. What I am saying is that, after the book has been moved, my concept of aboveness does not change. Now, you could respond to this by saying that the concept of "aboveness" includes any currently existing instances as well as any that ever were or will be. That's fine, I sort of overlooked at.

However, if, counterfactually, the book had never been above that table (nor will it ever be), my concept of aboveness would have been no different. Whereas you must say that in that counterfactual scenario, the concept of aboveness would somehow be different.

Quote

Let me give you an example of what your claim would mean to an Oist.

For Oist the meaning of the concept "dog" is all the past, present and future animals that have the range of measurements that constitute the essential characteristics laid out in the definition of "dog". That means that all the referents of the concept are of the same kind. Your claim would deny this and allow other entities without this essential range of measurements to be a referent of the concept. For example a machine with four wheels and a combustion engine would be a instance of a different referent that one following your semantic criteria could call a "dog" because the semantic criteria of the concept is not constrained to units with the same range of measurements.

You make no argument for this grouping together of disparate referents into one concept. You just give an example of two different categories of measurement and say it proves that a concepts meaning has two different referents. Nonsense!

Its like handing 10,000 pennies to a  person as payment for a car marked 10,000.00 and then saying that pennies and dollars both satisfy the conditions of the sale because concepts have different referents.... 

 

Well that's because I don't agree with that statement. What I am saying is that, even if there were no dogs anywhere or anywhen in the universe, the concept of "dog" would still make sense. Just as the concept of "mermaid" makes sense even though there are no mermaids.

Quote

So your reality departing hypothetical is that a physically contsrained 2d plane can take place in a 3d universe? 

 

I'm not sure why you need to add the qualifier "reality departing" to "hypothetical", but you still haven't answered the argument.

Quote

Hyperspace is a nonsensical theoretical unicorn of modern science. I don't care to debate it.

 

HAHAHAHAHAHAH! :D

This is an absolutely laughable and stunning display of ignorance and crankish math-skepticism! Go back to highschool, plasmatic, the adults are talking.

Edited by SpookyKitty

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1 hour ago, SpookyKitty said:

My conception of 'concept' comes from the fact that in Rand's epistemology, they are supposed to solve the problem of universals, hence they must be things which are said-of other things. This is the traditional view of concepts since at least the time of Aristotle.

You might find this interesting.  Induction Without the Uniformity Principle.

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1 hour ago, SpookyKitty said:

On the other hand, ruling out propositions that 'contain' invalid concepts would basically annihilate logic, which is kinda why I argue that Rand's claim that a concept needs at least two referents should be rejected.

Can you provide a concrete example of a single referent for which a concept is required and which cannot be referred to simply with a proper noun?

Can you succinctly state a reason why any abstraction would be required in the case of a truly single referent?

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1 hour ago, SpookyKitty said:
2 hours ago, Plasmatic said:

Hyperspace is a nonsensical theoretical unicorn of modern science. I don't care to debate it.

HAHAHAHAHAHAH! :D

This is an absolutely laughable and stunning display of ignorance and crankish math-skepticism! Go back to highschool, plasmatic, the adults are talking.

It would be nice to see something on justification as it relates to conceptualization here rather than resorting to an ad hominem attack.

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1 hour ago, SpookyKitty said:

My conception of 'concept' comes from the fact that in Rand's epistemology, they are supposed to solve the problem of universals, hence they must be things which are said-of other things. This is the traditional view of concepts since at least the time of Aristotle.

Sure, they are at least things said of some other thing. This is a fine starting notion for a discussion. But there is no reason I see to say a concept must only consist of statements. The problem of universals as I understand is and to connect particulars to something wide as a universal. Such a universal to Rand is a concept, and speaks of things in addition to statements, such as percepts. Rand didn't attempt to prove herself right by the premises you started with - she had more. You already arrived at the idea "more is needed".

Thus we arrive at discussing concepts being invalid and valid, rather than only true and false. Definition 2 already presents us with erroneous representations, as is sensible to do. You said, essentially, "not all concepts are any good".

Validity is a way to introduce human error into epistemology. That is, validity is about justification. I may be justified in saying dolphins are fish if I were Aristotle, but from what I know about dolphins now, there is no justification to say dolphins are fish. An invalid concept would be an unjustified concept entirely, not just a few unjustified predicates from a set of predicates that make up my concept "dolphin". Notice I didn't say "the" concept there. If concepts are representations, they may be different in other minds. The intension may not be identical between us, even if the extension is identical. So, we need to slow down and get to things like a) what makes a concept justified, and b ) do concepts contain things in addition to statements or predicates?

Propositions that contain invalid concepts are no issue. Perhaps there's a better word besides "invalid". I'd still like to call a mermaid  a concept, one that I also know in fact is not justified.  Rand is at least claiming that two or more referents are required for a concept to be proper/valid/justified. Once you answer a and b, and see if the "at least two" idea fits, your paper could be considered finished.

Your edit makes sense, and I agree.

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4 hours ago, Eiuol said:

But isn't it smart to "go back" and retrace the steps in developing a theory in order to validate it? That'd be a sensible way to talk about neutrality.

 neutrality (simple Google search on "neutrality")
    1. the state of not supporting or helping either side in a conflict, disagreement, etc.; impartiality.
    "during the war, Switzerland maintained its neutrality"
    2. absence of decided views, expression, or strong feeling.
    "the clinical neutrality of the description"

The notion that discussing something in the absence of decided views and/or expressions totally misses the point.

Exiting ITOE for a few thoughts from Galt's Speech:

[M]an's reason is his moral faculty. A process of reason is a process of constant choice in answer to the question: True or False?—Right or Wrong?

"A rational process is a moral process.

Returning to ITOE: To retrace the steps of a theory—in order to validate it—subject the theory to a step by step breakdown of its reasoning. Keep in mind the distinction between errors of knowledge and breeches of morality while addressing if a theory of concepts can be neutral, possessing the trait or quality of having the absence of being right or wrong. Apply this to the theory of concepts and even to the concepts used to descry any particular theory of concepts.

Right or wrong?

It is crucially important to grasp the fact that a concept is an "open-end" classification which includes the yet-to-be-discovered characteristics of a given group of existents. All of man's knowledge rests on that fact.

Right or wrong?

The pattern is as follows: when a child grasps the concept "man," the knowledge represented by that concept in his mind consists of perceptual data, such as man's visual appearance, the sound of his voice, etc.

Right or wrong?

When the child learns to differentiate between living entities and inanimate matter, he ascribes a new characteristic, "living," to the entity he designates as "man."

Right or wrong?

When the child learns to differentiate among various types of consciousness, he includes a new characteristic in his concept of man, "rational"—and so on. The implicit principle guiding this process, is: "I know that there exists such an entity as man, I know many of his characteristics, but he has many others which I do not know and must discover." The same principle directs the study of every other kind of perceptually isolated and conceptualized existents.

I realize this thread is in "The Critics of Objectivism", but if points such as these are to be ceded, then there is not much to be said for the right in the face of the wrong—thus granting the enormity of the smallness of the enemy per Rearden's observation during his trial.

 

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