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SpookyKitty

A Definitive Criticism of Objectivist Epistemology

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@StrictlyLogical

 

One more thing I forgot to mention. Note that, unlike the proper noun 'cogisolution', I can apply the predicate "a thing which is a solution of equation 1" to its non-referents, such as 7, and obtain true statements like "7 is not a cogisolution".

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6 hours ago, Eiuol said:

If an idea is false as far as its logical structure, it does not matter why the idea is there, except to find a new solution. I don't see how the argument is rationalism either, even if wrong about its conclusion.

What idea?

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1 hour ago, softwareNerd said:

What idea?

Here in this thread anyway: That 2 or more referents are required for forming a concept, basically.

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Posted (edited)

On 1/7/2017 at 1:04 AM, Eiuol said:

First: I don't see how that is a concept, to the extent that it isn't a set of all the predicates for the concept. If you mean it is the only predicate for the concept, then see the discussion on proper nouns. I'm leaving aside for now the bit on if predicates are sufficient for a total representation.

If you are only using that as shorthand, then it is really just a group of ideas. If you really want it to stand for a concept, well, give it a single word. Moving on though, let me alter your example to get at my idea.

Suppose we gave it a word, "cogisolution" (I just like how it sounds!). Suppose also that a cogisolution refers to all the solutions of a really strange and hard to grasp equation. As it turns out, there is only one solution, despite it being totally reasonable before to expect many solutions. There's exactly and only one answer. So then on out, people talk about the answer as -the- Cogisolution. It does not require any number of units or referents, except one, nor any extra baggage of what a concept denotes. You could call it a "concept" as in "stuff needed for cognition that stand for subjects", except that's not what Rand was getting at: solving the problem of univerals was the point. We get a theory of particulars, or a theory of relating ideas to reality, but we don't talk about universals. Could a Cogisolution be a universal when it is only one particular?

Let's make it less fictional. Suppose that we use Pi instead of a Cogisolution. It is exactly one number, and it is treated as a proper noun. It's constant, there is no variety. Pi is universal in the sense it applies to ALL circles, and it certainly is important for reasoning ABOUT circles. Yet it doesn't work in a way that there's a unity of Pis, or the nature of Pis. Circles can be universal, as one would wonder how THIS circle and THAT circle are both circles. You'd need some universal about THOSE things which you label as circles, so then "circle" would be that universal - and Rand calls that a concept. Again, Pi isn't like a universal at all, as useful to reasoning as it is.

I had more riffing to do on -total- representations of concepts, but it may be better in a separate thread.

 

To see the difference between a concept and a unit most clearly, I think it is of vital importance to keep two things in mind.

1) Concepts can be applied to things. Proper nouns cannot.

2) Counterfactuals.

With regard to #1, Pi is definitely like a universal in the sense that it can be defined by the predicate "a number which is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter." The same ratio appears in many different circle. In this case Pi is a proper noun which refers to a singular concept, but, confusingly, also refers to a single real number. This is just an ambiguity in our language, in my opinion. The sequence of digits, 3.14159265... makes no sense apart from the concept of "a number which is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter."

With regard to #2, although there are many concepts with just one referent in the reality that actually is, counterfactually there could have been more. For instance, it may have been that there was only one white thing in the entire universe, but "white", even though it is in only one thing in that counterfactual universe, could have been in more things had circumstances been different.

This last idea is, I think, the crux of the matter. I think it also explains why the mere possession of concepts does not translate into the possession of any knowledge. Possessing the concept of whiteness would only tell you that white things may exist, not whether or not any, in fact, do exist. It also allows you to reason about white things (i.e., consider statements of the form "If there are any white things, then they are such that...") in the form of hypotheticals, but it does not alone tell you whether the antecedents of those hypotheticals actually obtain.

In short, concepts allow you to reason about any possible world, and it is precisely by this power to encompass all possibilities that prevents them from ever becoming knowledge. Just contrast the possession of the concept of whiteness with the possession of a true sentence involving whiteness such as "Snow is white." One may possess the concept of whiteness in any possible world, but one may possess the knowledge that "snow is white" only in those worlds where snow is, indeed, white.

TL;DR: The possession of concepts only confers understanding, not knowledge. Understanding what a statement means alone does not tell you whether it is true or false, and is therefore not the same thing as knowledge.

Quote

Couldn't the conclusions you reached be a reason to say it -might- not be so sensible after all? Sure, going into an argument it might make sense, but clearly we need to amend one of your axioms or reject something. Or maybe you only need to add more. Point is, justification is necessary to continue. At the very least, you'd want to explore what it'd mean to accept as an axiom that a set of predicates is only one portion of a total representation of a concept.

 

I think I can tell you what it would mean. Given that the axiom is false, then, there must exist distinct concepts sharing all of the same predicates. If such concepts existed, then, in any possible language, there would always exist the possibility of confusing two different concepts. For instance, let us say that we have two concepts c1 and c2 such that both are represented by "a thing which is white" and all equivalent predicates. Then, if one says that "snow is white", then that statement could potentially be consistently regarded as both true and false.

This is not really a contradiction, even though it seems that way, but it does make having any sort of propositional knowledge really weird and complicated (and unnecessarily so, in my opinion).

Quote

I don't like the term axiom here a lot, but you're using it more like a common sense premise or like an axiom in math where you make an assumption then see what the end result is. So, it's not so bad, and I don't mind using it here, but it's probably not the greatest term considering your audience.

I don't know, I probably was saying that proper nouns are not concepts, so they're certainly not going to be the same as even a concept with just one referent. It's still closer to my viewpoint than them being the same. What do you say is the difference then between a concept with one referent, and a proper noun?

 

I think the above should answer that question.

Edited by SpookyKitty

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Posted (edited)

12 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

 

I agree that that's what it comes down to. And as I've said before, what we would lose is all abstract reasoning that concerns single things.

Suppose I tell you, "I just discovered that at least one 'cogisolution' exists!" (to borrow Eiuols terminology).

You then ask, "Ok, what is a 'cogisolution'"? Now, unless I have an example of a 'cogisolution' there is no way for me to answer the question, but it is possible for me to know that at least one 'cogisolution' exists, nonetheless.

How you ask?

Well I know that every odd-degree equation has at least one real solution. Therefore, the fifth degree equation above also has at least one real solution. I am therefore justified in saying that "At least one cogisolution exists." even though I can't give an example of such.

The reason that I can do this is because I have a concept that corresponds to 'cogisolution' even though I don't have any concrete examples of such.

Now, the question is, how can I possibly assign a proper noun to something I can't even give a single example of? What sense does that even make? It's clear that the referents of the concept "a thing which is a solution to equation 1" are precisely those things which satisfy the predicate, even if it turns out that there is one or none at all. But how, then, could the proper noun 'cogisolution' possibly acquire its meaning independently of the concept?

And what's worse is that there is and can only ever be one 'cogisolution', so how was that ever a concept in the first place if there are no concepts corresponding to single things?

 

This example deals with an unknown number of referents.  An unknown number of solutions Introduces uncertainty: presently the possibilities number greater than one. Showing that one needs a concept to deal with uncertainty which necessarily means two or more possibilities, is not an example of one needs a concept referring to a single unit.

What you actually have done here in your example is come up with units which are uncertain and have two or more possibilities which requires a concept and then afterwards given it a name cogisolution and claimed that it has a single unit.

 Let's deal with something certain, and particular, and therefor singular.

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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7 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

With regard to #1, Pi is definitely like a universal in the sense that it can be defined by the predicate "a number which is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter." The same ratio appears in many different circle. In this case Pi is a proper noun which refers to a singular concept, but, confusingly, also refers to a single real number. This is just an ambiguity in our language, in my opinion. The sequence of digits, 3.14159265... makes no sense apart from the concept of "a number which is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter."

 I think this is the point I'm making, that Pi refers to that idea, and the idea has no universal "Pi-ness" because Pi is only one number. But as I type this, I realize Pi isn't the best example (I can explain how "one" is a concept but not Pi, except that's not what I'm in the mood to do). Anyway, Pi only makes sense as a specific number, not as any unity or a universal grouping. I'd say by definition, a universal must refer to a grouping of at least two things. Pi fails to satisfy being represented by universals, despite satisfying being represented by predicates (that may or may not be a unity, i.e. a universal).

When I say grouping, I include -erroneous- groupings that may in fact end up referring to only one referent. Counterfactuals don't matter, as I am talking about how one understands and categorizes the world. The word you want is "category" or perhaps "natural kind". For these, they are groupings that are intrinsic to reality. As far as I've seen, categories are a different type of universal than a concept, and imply different ideas. I outright deny categories in this sense, and it's safe to say Rand did too. Your criticisms to me look like they're about categories.

I consider understanding to be a type of knowledge. Knowledge doesn't need to be true - I don't buy into the typical "justified true belief" idea. If you only know that white things may exist, that's still knowledge. Having the concept white does not guarantee truth, to be sure, but it does guarantee some knowledge as far as it's a reach for truth (at least normatively). Their inclusion the reach for truth is what makes concepts critical to knowledge, while categories -only- being  the truth and simultaneously involving all you said of #2 prevents categories from being knowledge.

7 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

For instance, let us say that we have two concepts c1 and c2 such that both are represented by "a thing which is white" and all equivalent predicates.

Combine them into one concept. Easy.

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16 hours ago, Eiuol said:

Here in this thread anyway: That 2 or more referents are required for forming a concept, basically.

Okay (just double checking).

To rephrase what I said: Rand does not imply that a concept must always have more than one actual, existing, concrete existent. 

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Posted (edited)

Just now, softwareNerd said:

Okay (just double checking).

To rephrase what I said: Rand does not imply that a concept must always have more than one actual, existing, concrete existent. 

 

She does, though. (although I guess it depends on what exactly you mean by 'concrete').

Edited by SpookyKitty

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1 hour ago, SpookyKitty said:

She does, though. (although I guess it depends on what exactly you mean by 'concrete').

Does she also imply irrational homo sapiens and/or lunatic homo sapiens are not subsumed under the concept of "man"?

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Just now, softwareNerd said:

Does she also imply irrational homo sapiens and/or lunatic homo sapiens are not subsumed under the concept of "man"?

 

What does that have to do with anything?

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Posted (edited)

2 hours ago, softwareNerd said:

To rephrase what I said: Rand does not imply that a concept must always have more than one actual, existing, concrete existent. 

Well, there are at least 2 units to abstract with as far as abstractions of abstractions, so you will always end up with two referents. I don't know where you get the idea that she thought that she didn't require concepts to refer to two things at least. Normatively, anyway.

Edited by Eiuol

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On 1/8/2017 at 2:06 PM, StrictlyLogical said:

This example deals with an unknown number of referents.  An unknown number of solutions Introduces uncertainty: presently the possibilities number greater than one. Showing that one needs a concept to deal with uncertainty which necessarily means two or more possibilities, is not an example of one needs a concept referring to a single unit.

What you actually have done here in your example is come up with units which are uncertain and have two or more possibilities which requires a concept and then afterwards given it a name cogisolution and claimed that it has a single unit.

 Let's deal with something certain, and particular, and therefor singular.

 

I believe that I have provided the example that was required. The mere fact that there may possibly be more than one referent of a given concept (even though there is, in fact, only one) is beside the point. In Objectivism, one cannot form concepts by using merely possible or unknown units.

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36 minutes ago, SpookyKitty said:

In Objectivism, one cannot form concepts by using merely possible or unknown units.

This is what you are doing, isn't it?

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Just now, StrictlyLogical said:

This is what you are doing, isn't it?

 

No, not really.

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On 1/8/2017 at 6:14 PM, Eiuol said:

 I think this is the point I'm making, that Pi refers to that idea, and the idea has no universal "Pi-ness" because Pi is only one number. But as I type this, I realize Pi isn't the best example (I can explain how "one" is a concept but not Pi, except that's not what I'm in the mood to do). Anyway, Pi only makes sense as a specific number, not as any unity or a universal grouping. I'd say by definition, a universal must refer to a grouping of at least two things. Pi fails to satisfy being represented by universals, despite satisfying being represented by predicates (that may or may not be a unity, i.e. a universal).

When I say grouping, I include -erroneous- groupings that may in fact end up referring to only one referent. Counterfactuals don't matter, as I am talking about how one understands and categorizes the world. The word you want is "category" or perhaps "natural kind". For these, they are groupings that are intrinsic to reality. As far as I've seen, categories are a different type of universal than a concept, and imply different ideas. I outright deny categories in this sense, and it's safe to say Rand did too. Your criticisms to me look like they're about categories.

 

I'm not really sure what you're saying, but I'm not talking about "categories" whatever that means.

Quote

I consider understanding to be a type of knowledge. Knowledge doesn't need to be true - I don't buy into the typical "justified true belief" idea. If you only know that white things may exist, that's still knowledge. Having the concept white does not guarantee truth, to be sure, but it does guarantee some knowledge as far as it's a reach for truth (at least normatively). Their inclusion the reach for truth is what makes concepts critical to knowledge, while categories -only- being  the truth and simultaneously involving all you said of #2 prevents categories from being knowledge.

 

Sure, understanding is a kind of knowledge in an everyday kind of sense. But when we are talking about predicates and concepts it is implied that we are talking about "knowing that...", which is not to be confused with "understanding that...".

Quote

Combine them into one concept. Easy.

 

First of all, I'm not at all sure what it would mean to "combine" two concepts into one. Secondly, even if you could, your position collapses, as then the new combined concept would have a total representation.

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2 minutes ago, SpookyKitty said:

I'm not really sure what you're saying, but I'm not talking about "categories" whatever that means.

I mean Kant's categories (unsure), but definitely natural kinds.

2 minutes ago, SpookyKitty said:

But when we are talking about predicates and concepts it is implied that we are talking about "knowing that...", which is not to be confused with "understanding that...".

I don't mean knowledge in a common language way, I really mean to say understanding is a type of knowledge. At best, "understanding" is just a less amount of knowledge than, say what a PhD in biology knows.

2 minutes ago, SpookyKitty said:

Secondly, even if you could, your position collapses, as then the new combined concept would have a total representation.

Combine in some manner as to use a word or some term that refers to both. I can describe it as an analogy. If you have two separate classes that are identical when using OOP languages, it would be smarter to use that as one single class. You'd delete one of them, or do something to make all instances of both classes into the same class. Editing your code or debugging would be a nightmare if you didn't.

You probably would wind up with a new representation, but you end up with a better representation that does the job of both.

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Here is a somewhat different tack on critiquing the offered critique (refering to objCrit2.pdf).

  1. The paper lists no author.  
  2. There is no bibliographic list of works cited. 
  3. Abstract starts out "We ..." but the first paragraph is "I ...".  
  4. Abstract makes a claim about finding internal inconsistency in Rand's epistemology, but then the first thing the author does is substitute his own definitions for Rand's terms in the name of "neutrality", immediately nullifying the entire point of the paper.
  5. The abstract is in error where it claims concepts must subsume two entities, Rand's definition is "two or more units".
  6. Rejecting the requirement that every concept subsume two or more entities is irrelevant in relation to Rand's system, doing neither good nor harm.

That's my superficial and cursory take from a brief page-through and reading of the first page.  However, ambition is a good thing and I appreciate SpookyKitty's effort in making a pdf of his article.

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On 1/8/2017 at 8:00 PM, SpookyKitty said:
On 1/8/2017 at 7:28 PM, softwareNerd said:

Does she also imply irrational homo sapiens and/or lunatic homo sapiens are not subsumed under the concept of "man"?

What does that have to do with anything?

It is relevant though it is a different topic. It is relevant because it is about epistemological approach: i.e. your approach to the topic and to reading and understanding the text. 

If you read Rand you'll see her speak of man/humans as being rational animals. Fine; but, she also thinks that is a defining factor. So, prima facie, one could assume she is saying that non-rational humans (or at least lunatics) are not human. In fact, why would one not read this as an obvious implication?

Similarly, you interpret Rand as saying that there must be multiple actual existing concretes in order to come up with a concept. In fact, a concept is like a set in math. Of course the crucial reason we have the notion of sets is to think about multi-member sets, and then about intersections etc. This does not preclude empty sets or sets with 1 member. It does not preclude sets that start out with 10 members and then they all die out and we can still think of the set. 

We can come up with a concept even though there are zero existents in that concept; but, we would never be doing this whole process if the classification of various entities into some organized manner was not a crucial human need. 

Edited by softwareNerd
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On 1/11/2017 at 0:14 PM, softwareNerd said:

 

It is relevant though it is a different topic. It is relevant because it is about epistemological approach: i.e. your approach to the topic and to reading and understanding the text. 

If you read Rand you'll see her speak of man/humans as being rational animals. Fine; but, she also thinks that is a defining factor. So, prima facie, one could assume she is saying that non-rational humans (or at least lunatics) are not human. In fact, why would one not read this as an obvious implication?

Similarly, you interpret Rand as saying that there must be multiple actual existing concretes in order to come up with a concept. In fact, a concept is like a set in math. Of course the crucial reason we have the notion of sets is to think about multi-member sets, and then about intersections etc. This does not preclude empty sets or sets with 1 member. It does not preclude sets that start out with 10 members and then they all die out and we can still think of the set. 

We can come up with a concept even though there are zero existents in that concept; but, we would never be doing this whole process if the classification of various entities into some organized manner was not a crucial human need. 

 

This is incorrect. Rand and Peikoff both say multiple times that a concept with no referents is not a concept at all.

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18 minutes ago, SpookyKitty said:

This is incorrect. Rand and Peikoff both say multiple times that a concept with no referents is not a concept at all.

Did Rand only once define man as a rational animal? (Infinite loop detected.)

Edited by softwareNerd

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17 minutes ago, softwareNerd said:

Did Rand one once define man as a rational animal? (Infinite loop detected.)

Snerd, the point is that Rand was clear that a referentless concept is not any real kind of concept. If you follow the thread, SK agreed (after some discussion) that this only makes sense as a normative definition, and I added that the definition Rand gave is intended as normative (SK says Rand didn't, but that's a separate topic). It's also one reason Peikoff gave the "two definition" idea of a concept - one definition is normative, and happens this way based on how concepts develop in time. Without that distinction - itself based on already working with Objectivist epistemology as a framework - Rand seems to be missing some fairly simple counter-claims.

And anyway, rational animal is rational capacity - even irrational people have that capacity. It's (an example of taking definitions too literally) not a good example of what SK is disagreeing with or why there is a disagreement.

 

Edited by Eiuol

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1 minute ago, Eiuol said:

...  normative definition,...

Ok. 

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