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epistemologue

Subjectivity and Pragmatism in Objectivist Epistemology

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The following is a summary critique of "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology" by Ayn Rand, that I'm going to post here in reply to Eiuol's question:

12 hours ago, Eiuol said:

Where is it implied or stated by Rand that the pragmatics are a fundamental part of metaphysical claims?

The study of concepts is about the study of abstractions or universals - not the concrete things which are everything that man perceives (p. 1-2). The question of whether *concepts* refer to something real, something that exists, is a question of whether *universals* are real, whether they exist. Put another way, it's a question of whether there are "natural kinds" - are the concrete things in reality grouped into such natural "kinds", such abstract or universal "identities", or are the things in reality entirely concrete and unique, and there are no such *natural* kinds, no shared universal identity between things - no universals, no abstract *concepts*, only *categories* grouping together concretes? This is the real "problem of universals", the question that concerns whether concepts "correspond to something in reality" (p. 2, 52-53, 74).

The issue of concepts is an epistemological issue, but it depends on metaphysics. If all that exists are concretes, if metaphysically there are no such things as "universals" (or "kinds", or "essences"), then this leads to a radically different epistemology than if such abstractions do exist metaphysically.

When it's put forward that we group things based on measurable criteria, this can be interpreted one of two ways: if there *are* natural kinds, that these kinds have distinctive measurements, and we can identify their essence by the method of measurement (and no supernatural revelation is necessary, as claimed on p. 53-54) - or, if there are *not* natural kinds, and that we can define a type of measure with which we group things together as "the same" or "different" according to subjective or pragmatic standards.

Everything in reality does have measurements, and we can objectively identify the measures of each thing, and choose to group things according to whether their measurements fit some given criteria. But such categories as we devise on this basis alone do *not* "have a basis in reality" - the entities are real, the measurements are real, and we can define groupings which do contain real things, but if there is no *natural* kind, a *natural* grouping of things that share the same measurements because of some underlying metaphysical *necessity*, then the category is not something based in reality, but rather it is based on our own subjective criteria. Either a concept is defined in order to *correspond* to a metaphysically real identity and *identify* its referents, or a category is defined in order to "provide an identity", by one's own subjective convention, and *specify* its referents (p. 11, 40).

Subjective criteria outlined by Rand include: 1) defining categories based on the utilitarian requirements of the entities, as in defining a table by how we intend to use it instead of by its constitutive characteristics (p. 12, 22), 2) defining categories for the sake of unit economy, in cases where we have to employ long descriptions frequently and can shorten our thought by defining a new name (p. 63), or 3) constructing a definition of a category relationally, for the purpose of differentiating some group of entities from what's *not* in the category within your current context of knowledge (p. 13, 40), instead of constructing a definition for the purpose of identifying the constitutive measurements of the object itself (p. 42, 45, 73).

The appeal to there being strict rules without any room for arbitrary whim does not mean that the formation of a category is not ultimately justified subjectively (especially if it's admitted there's room for optionality, as in p. 70-73) - it is still subjective as long as the formation is based on your own subjective, pragmatic requirements, rather than on the objective requirements dictated by the objects in reality (p. 43, 70-71).

Such subjective categories cannot be held without contradiction as your knowledge expands. Since every individual concrete differs in at least some measure (p. 143), any universal claims over a category would be contradicted by at least some other concretes in the given category if there is no metaphysical principle that ensures they are essentially identical (p. 43). This is the usual justification for having a skeptic epistemology (such as those philosophies of science propounded by Popper, Kuhn, etc.) where all truth is subjective when coming from materialist and empiricist metaphysical premises (p. 48-49, 75).

Another point that seems frequently equivocated: a concept is *abstract*, and thus subsumes all possible entities of a certain kind (whether any have been perceptually observed or not). The meaning of such a concept is the *kind*, and *all* entities of that kind (p. 17-18, 21). Creating a system of categories merely for grouping perceptually observed entities is rather concrete-bound, and the meaning of such a category is *only* the collection of those concrete entities that have been perceptually observed previously (p. 10), and *not* the kind itself, and the infinite variation of possible entities of that kind. A concept can, in principle, be reduced to a set of measurements and observable perceptions (which one may have never actually perceived), but a category is directly, concretely reducible to the set of one's previously observed perceptions which are a part of that category (p. 15). While it's true that a sensation itself cannot be communicated to someone incapable of perceiving it (e.g. the color blue to a blind person), the meaning of a concept can be, since a concept is abstract - it's only the meaning of a *category*, which reduces *concretely* to perception, which cannot be communicated (p. 40-41).

 

12 hours ago, Eiuol said:

Indeed there is no binding THING to unite a set of things to as a CONCEPT, so forming concepts is a matter of agent-focused... The necessity of holding it all to be true is the identity of what you're looking to understand and know about reality.

Either there is no universal identity between concretes which logically necessitates the universal concept and therefore our concepts are defined subjectively and pragmatically, and our claims over them have no real truth status, or else there *is* a universal identity, metaphysically, which holds it together and makes universal concepts, claims, and induction possible. You can't have it both ways.

Since Rand vigorously denounces intrinsicism and essences on the metaphysical level, her epistemology must necessarily be subjective and pragmatic, essentially no different from any logical positivist or philosopher of science, and just as meaningless and lacking of rational justification. The same goes with the ethics and politics, too, I'm afraid.

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Posted (edited)

This is not a critique.  It attempts to be one but it fails.

 

You misunderstand what the difference between subjectivity and objectivity IS and you have made arbitrary assertions.

Reality is (in part) made of electrons of identical mass, charge, lepton number (among a host of other properties and attributes which are exactly the same), but each one of them is different in terms of momentum, position, etc.  There is nothing subjective in identifying this fact and yet refraining from concluding (quite arbitrarily) that:

 

1 hour ago, epistemologue said:

there *is* a universal identity, metaphysically, which holds it together

(whatever that means)

or assuming arbitrarily that such is necessary to make:

 

1 hour ago, epistemologue said:

universal concepts, claims, and induction possible

 

Lacking any evidence whatever these are arbitrary assertions and must be rejected out of hand.

 

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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Your criticism of Rand's theory of concepts is that it is "subjectivist," but the concept of subjectivism you're using isn't the same as Rand's - on your view, it's basically just a pejorative way of saying she isn't an intrinsicist. But what we need is some reason to think that intrinsicism is true, which, as the previous respondent points out, you haven't provided.

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Posted (edited)

1 hour ago, SpookyKitty said:

I don't see how any reasonable person could possibly consider something like the pythagorean theorem a concrete object in the same sense that rocks are concrete objects.

I agree that an abstraction itself is not really a concrete as a rock, or a brain, might be. However, Grames' point seems to be that an abstraction qua abstraction is not metaphysically there on its own distinct and separate from an entity, and does not exist independently of a mind.

The facts which the pythagoream theorem refers to are metaphysical, i.e. the relations within reality all are real and independent of anyone realizing it. The -abstraction- isn't metaphysically given, even though the abstract relations are metaphysical as facts. I think Rand would agree if pressed on these issues - but we'll never know. So I'm going with abstractions being distinct from abstract relations or objects.

That Rand didn't expand on issues like this makes it so that pragmatism seems like a real implication. But that's only true if the apparent issues are never dealt with. There are ways to fix gaps; gaps only means there are undealt with issues. I agree with Epist that this needs to be talked about. So I'll critique him.

"3) constructing a definition of a category relationally, for the purpose of differentiating some group of entities from what's *not* in the category within your current context of knowledge (p. 13, 40), instead of constructing a definition for the purpose of identifying the constitutive measurements of the object itself"

To begin with, remember that Rand is talking about forming concepts. The human means of identifying is through noticing differences and similarities. Rand already accepts that perception is direct, so the percepts we are presented with are metaphysically given facts. What you see is reality. Ultimately any category you develop, if connected to perception, and done through differentiation, will necessarily refer to metaphysically given fact. Indeed, there are pragmatic elements of forming concepts. But #3 isn't one of them. The category qua abstraction is human-made, while it can refer to metaphysically given facts.

"Since every individual concrete differs in at least some measure (p. 143), any universal claims over a category would be contradicted by at least some other concretes in the given category if there is no metaphysical principle that ensures they are essentially identical (p. 43)."

Identity is the principle. We know that two or more particulars will at least differ on some measure. We also know that two or more particulars can share a measurement. Suppose two objects share only one measurement, color. You can then make a universal claim, about their colored nature. Now, I imagine you'd say "they will slightly differ on the color to a tiny degree". I'd say that a range of values is just as good and based on identity. That range may be selected for some pragmatic reasons (e.g. the ultraviolet spectrum fails to work for human eyes), yet the measure of the particular is metaphysically given. The purpose of doing that is to identify the nature of the existent itself,

 "and *not* the kind itself,"
Would you explain what a kind is, then? Is it an attribute? A concrete? Is it an abstract relation? How does a collection differ from a unity? I don't know what you think, so this paragraph I can't address.

"or else there *is* a universal identity, metaphysically, which holds it together and makes universal concepts, claims, and induction possible."
Existence. That's as universal as it get (and this necessarily goes with identity.

"vigorously denounces intrinsicism and essences on the metaphysical level"
On the ethical level she does somewhat... Intrinsicism in Rand's context is in regards to values. As in nothing is good without being good -for- someone. This also reflects her epistemology, knowledge being -for- someone. But metaphysically to Rand, there is no "true for you". There is just true or false.

Edited by Eiuol

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Eiuol, in #3 the issue is when definitions are relational. An objective definition will identify the essence of a given universal concept by the most fundamental constitutive properties of what it *is*. A definition (and thereby the concept) cannot be objective if it's based on what something is *not* - and especially as it relates to your current context of knowledge. These are subjective, pragmatic criteria.

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Posted (edited)

"Identity is the principle... You can then make a universal claim, about their colored nature."

Well that's exactly what's at stake here in siding with intrinsicism or nominalism. Is there such a thing as universal identity or not? Intrinsicism says yes, nominalism says no.

"Would you explain what a kind is, then? Is it an attribute? A concrete? Is it an abstract relation? How does a collection differ from a unity?"

A "kind" or an "essence" is ontologically basic in an intrinsicist metaphysics, so no, it can't be explained by any of those things, it is a principle of explanation itself. A "kind" or "essence" is the universal aspect of any given entity, attribute, or relation. See my final paragraph in my original post on the distinction between an abstract concept and a concrete collection, lookup the references in ITOE as well, Rand gives her own verbiage of that at times (though she denies its basis at other times).

Edited by epistemologue

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"On the ethical level she does somewhat... Intrinsicism in Rand's context is in regards to values. As in nothing is good without being good -for- someone. This also reflects her epistemology, knowledge being -for- someone. But metaphysically to Rand, there is no "true for you". There is just true or false."

"intrinsicism" in Objectivism refers to both "intrinsic theory of values" and to metaphysical intrinsicism. It does so for good reason, they go together. Rand denounces both. And it's not *just* the issue of "knowledge being for someone", it's *also* (logically, as a corollary), the existence of metaphysical universals to which abstract/universal concepts correspond. She denies the latter, too. And that *does* imply that everything is "true for you" - because every concept you use has a definition which is based on subjective and pragmatic criteria, so it's "true for you, for now" - but that definition can and does change; the concept has no universal metaphysical referent to hang on like she tries to make it out to.

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"Existence. That's as universal as it get (and this necessarily goes with identity." - not really sure what you meant by this. can you explain further?

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4 hours ago, Eiuol said:

I agree that an abstraction itself is not really a concrete as a rock, or a brain, might be. However, Grames' point seems to be that an abstraction qua abstraction is not metaphysically there on its own distinct and separate from an entity, and does not exist independently of a mind.

 

Yes, I have addressed this point and I have shown how Grames' argument fails to support it.

Quote

The facts which the pythagoream theorem refers to are metaphysical, i.e. the relations within reality all are real and independent of anyone realizing it. The -abstraction- isn't metaphysically given, even though the abstract relations are metaphysical as facts. I think Rand would agree if pressed on these issues - but we'll never know. So I'm going with abstractions being distinct from abstract relations or objects.

 

I don't think any realists with regards to universals or platonists would say that ideas about abstract objects are identical to abstract objects. People who think that are called idealists.

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1 hour ago, epistemologue said:

cannot be objective if it's based on what something is *not* - and especially as it relates to your current context of knowledge.

That's fine. Because a definition isn't formed until after integration. Differentiation is not the basis of objective definitions. It is part of concept formation. It'd be more productive to critique what Rand thinks about integration. After all, integration is largely saying what "X" is, that is, uniting a set of things (hence units of a concept, not just existents) under a concept, and the concept refers to reality provided all the other steps were performed properly.

59 minutes ago, epistemologue said:

Intrinsicism says yes, nominalism says no.

This is misleading. Nominalism is compatible with metaphysical intrinsicism. Any error theory suggests that there is no way to know for sure the metaphysical facts, thus all concepts are necessarily divorced from reality, merely an interpretation. Epistemological intrinsicism is not compatible with nominalism. To me, it looks like Rand means the fault of nominalism is that it thinks of all concepts as purely a matter of mental preference. And the problem with Aristotle and Plato is that they treated forming abstractions as grasping onto something innate to the mind, or a memory, or an essence to be -perceived-. Aristotle and others equated an epistemological process with the referent the process takes advantage of - the affordances the process harnesses.

1 hour ago, epistemologue said:

metaphysical intrinsicism. It does so for good reason, they go together. Rand denounces both.

I don't think she did. She's a believer in metaphysical intrinsicism, that's what "existence exists, A is A" is about. Perhaps she didn't say enough. But later Oist work really has a good sense of explaining that there are traits intrinsic to an existent that exist without relying on a thinker (David Kelley in Evidence of the Senses as I recall). The only issue is if integration can possibly allow you to know what is intrinsic to reality. So it goes back to the first part: is integration enough for objective identification?

1 hour ago, epistemologue said:

not really sure what you meant by this. can you explain further?

All existents are united as "existence". There is no "up to me" as to their existence and identity. While some aspects of identity change of particulars, like a ripe apple becoming rotten, they are still united with existence. A narrower group of particulars are united in that same way, albeit not containing ALL existents. That narrower group (assuming we agree on what entities and objects are) is united on some metaphysically given fact, then held as an abstraction.

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12 minutes ago, SpookyKitty said:

Yes, I have addressed this point and I have shown how Grames' argument fails to support it.

Where'd your last post go? I was going to look at it, now it's gone.

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Posted (edited)

1 hour ago, Eiuol said:

Where'd your last post go? I was going to look at it, now it's gone.

It was the unwitting victim of being too close in proximity to the targeted hidden duplicate.

Edited by dream_weaver

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2 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

I don't think any realists with regards to universals or platonists would say that ideas about abstract objects are identical to abstract objects. People who think that are called idealists.

Unfortunate snafu out of the way, then as I recall the post you wrote was right as far as what is concrete, I don't think Grames was aiming to talk about anything besides concretes. I doubt it was meant that the facts and relations the pythagorean theorem are only in the head. But the abstraction is the idea, while we need to be careful on what abstract objects are (object seems like a misnomer to me, as it's not an object in the same sense as a molecule). It seems like you agree with that. But I don't remember your entire post.

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13 hours ago, Eiuol said:

Unfortunate snafu out of the way, then as I recall the post you wrote was right as far as what is concrete, I don't think Grames was aiming to talk about anything besides concretes. I doubt it was meant that the facts and relations the pythagorean theorem are only in the head. But the abstraction is the idea, while we need to be careful on what abstract objects are (object seems like a misnomer to me, as it's not an object in the same sense as a molecule). It seems like you agree with that. But I don't remember your entire post.

 

No, but it was implied.

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All discoveries of "natural laws", or "laws of physics", or of theorems of geometry are only in the heads of the persons who discover or understand them.  The proper object of those laws is man, they tell us what is proper to think.  Those laws do not somehow operate upon nature; no particle performs computations before deciding what to do.  The Pythagorean Theorem in particular applies only to a make-believe realm of Euclidean geometry which is merely a good approximation to reality.

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1 hour ago, Grames said:

All discoveries of "natural laws", or "laws of physics", or of theorems of geometry are only in the heads of the persons who discover or understand them.  The proper object of those laws is man, they tell us what is proper to think.  Those laws do not somehow operate upon nature; no particle performs computations before deciding what to do.  The Pythagorean Theorem in particular applies only to a make-believe realm of Euclidean geometry which is merely a good approximation to reality.

I'm in agreement with the above.

I'll just add that valid objective laws of physics and nature although abstractions are still about things.  They are abstractions in our minds of (whose referents are) things in reality.  Neither subjective nor intrinsic, they are (aim to be) objective, they are the ways by which we describe and understand reality.

Math is a little different from science... as some of it can be substantially disconnected from reality and purposefully so.

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4 hours ago, Grames said:

All discoveries of "natural laws", or "laws of physics", or of theorems of geometry are only in the heads of the persons who discover or understand them.  The proper object of those laws is man, they tell us what is proper to think.  Those laws do not somehow operate upon nature; no particle performs computations before deciding what to do.

Why do you think it is important to not reify the concept of physical law? Or in other words, why do you think it is important to rebuke the notion that physical laws constrain the actions of entities, as opposed to simply taking their truth value from the way existence exists? 

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1 hour ago, KALADIN said:

Why do you think it is important to not reify the concept of physical law? Or in other words, why do you think it is important to rebuke the notion that physical laws constrain the actions of entities, as opposed to simply taking their truth value from the way existence exists? 

The reification fallacy is a frequently found to be a habit of rationalists.  Rationalism is a corruption of rationality because of its Primacy of Consciousness perspective on fundamental premises such universals or Descartes' cogito statement.  Jacob Bunting, epistemologue and Scott Ryan are all rationalists by the evidence of their arguments or what arguments they find persuasive.  Objectivism emphasizes rationality and rationalism is one of the chief failure modes of its would-be practitioners.  

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6 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

I'll just add that valid objective laws of physics and nature although abstractions are still about things.  They are abstractions in our minds of (whose referents are) things in reality.  Neither subjective nor intrinsic, they are (aim to be) objective, they are the ways by which we describe and understand reality.

The facts of reality that are true without reference to a thinker are intrinsic in the sense that what you think or how you think doesn't matter. A law seems like an intrinsic relation, unlike a theory where man's means matters (e.g. is constructed by man, or is a relation between manmade abstractions). When people say scientific law, they don't seem to mean the abstraction one holds, but a relation strictly between concrete objects. I'm still thinking about it, though.

By the way, Jacob Bunting is Jacob86 from this forum.

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22 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

The facts of reality that are true without reference to a thinker are intrinsic in the sense that what you think or how you think doesn't matter. A law seems like an intrinsic relation, unlike a theory where man's means matters (e.g. is constructed by man, or is a relation between manmade abstractions). When people say scientific law, they don't seem to mean the abstraction one holds, but a relation strictly between concrete objects. I'm still thinking about it, though.

By the way, Jacob Bunting is Jacob86 from this forum.

There are some inconsistencies here.

"Facts of reality that are true without reference to a thinker..."  The whole of reality and any of its parts that may attract your attention simply exists and is never true or false (or certain or uncertain or probable) without reference to a thinker.  

Reality exists as a whole not as a collection of parts related by laws, and any particular relation singled out by a law was abstracted from reality by a process of thought, therefore is man-made not metaphysical simply by that act of selective focus (even before considering its truth value by the standard of degree of correspondence).   Scientific laws are usually expressible in a mathematical expression whereas theories may not be (Ideal Gas Law vs. Theory of Evolution) but both are human contrivances that can be true or false or only true in certain conditions or only true for as well as we can measure or only true for the range of forces and energies we have access to observe.

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@Grames

Are you saying that any proposition about reality is necessarily only approximately true of reality?

Because that is some serious post-modernist BS, right there.

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I won't answer for Grames but I don't think anything he says implies well formed propositions are only "approximately" true.

"Rocks are massive rather than massless and exhibit a mutual attractive force with the Earth."

With valid concepts designated by the terms above this is not a proposition which is approximately true, it simply is true.

But saying:

When calm, the ocean is flat.

Depends on the context of the discussion and what one means in that context by "calm" and "flat".  The statement on an art class for the purpose of painting the horizon this is a true statement and a "straightline" (contextually) should be drawn. The statement thrown out during a discussion of multivariable calculus and partial derivatives where flatness is specifically defined as zero curvature is false (even without waves the surface of the ocean curves around the earth)

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Proposition 1: A baseball thrown into the air follows a parabola.

Fact: A baseball is affected by gravity as well as at least air velocities and air pressures interacting with it.

Proposition 2: A baseball thrown into the air follows a path which is approximately or substantially a parabola.

Now note the following distinction:

Person A says P1 is false and P2 is true.  Person B says P1 is "approximately true" and P2 is "perfectly true"

Person A is correct (in a technical context)  while person B is committing a logical error.  Person B is conflating the logical status of true-false with the conceptual distance between a hypothetical in reality represented by P1 and the actual reality of what a baseball does when thrown. The closeness of the hypothetical represented by a false proposition to that which is true does not change the fact that the proposition is false.  

As such "approximately true" is technically an invalid concept... likely part of post modern BS.

 

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