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Simple question about objectivist theory of concepts. Ayn Rand said : 

None of [the traditional theories of concepts] regards concepts as objective, i.e., as neither revealed nor invented, but as produced by man’s consciousness in accordance with the facts of reality, as mental integrations of factual data computed by man—as the products of a cognitive method of classification whose processes must be performed by man, but whose content is dictated by reality.

What about false concepts ? (Like the phlogiston for instance.) It seems not "dictated by reality". Did Ayn Rand (or Peikoff or somebody else) said something about that kind of concept? (Where?)

In IOE, she talked a bit about invalid concepts and call them "anti-concepts" :

Invalid concepts are words that represent attempts to integrate errors, contradictions, or false propositions, such as concepts originating in mysticism—or words without specific definitions, without referents, which can mean anything to anyone, such as modern ‘anti-concepts’.” Any such term is detached from reality and “invalidates every proposition or process of thought in which it is used as a cognitive assertion.

 Does it mean they're not concept at all? They don't derive from the same process as valid concepts?

Thank you for your lights!

Edited by gio

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Phlogiston in particular was a good faith effort to understand reality.  It was wrong because it was based on non-systematic observations, and handicapped by not having the atomic theory of matter as a basis to work from.  Garbage-in garbage-out.  Similar can be said of the old Aristotelian theories of motion that first began to be overthrown by Galileo experimenting with dropping balls from towers.  Systematic observation was more important than anyone knew, and was the first thing that had to be learned to unlock a genuine objective science of physics.

Anti-concepts are still concepts.  What is "anti" about anti-concepts is that they subvert the proper purpose of conceptual thinking.  When an anti-concept is used it blocks understanding and even prevents clearly articulating the issues involved by obfuscatory or evasive vocabulary. 

If anti-concepts were not concepts at all then the standard of a proper concept would simply be inapplicable to them, and no fault could be found with them (or some other irrelevant standard would be applied like "this word reeks of implicit white privilege").

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If invalid concept or anti-concepts (such as gremlins or unicorns or phlogiston...) are still concept, why Ayn Rand said that concepts are objective (dictated by reality) ? Does she exclude invalide concept when she said so? Why?

When I use the concept of unicorn (just like now), do I block understanding and even prevent clearly articulating the issues involved by obfuscatory or evasive vocabulary?

Edited by gio

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Ok but it doesn't matter. Anyway, do anti-concepts or invalid concepts are objective (dictated by reality) ? If not, aren't they concepts ? Ayn Rand said concepts are objective (dictated by reality)...it's her answer to the problem of universals. So I don't understand.

Edited by gio

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5 hours ago, gio said:

If invalid concept or anti-concepts (such as gremlins or unicorns or phlogiston...) are still concept, why Ayn Rand said that concepts are objective (dictated by reality) ? Does she exclude invalide concept when she said so? Why?

When I use the concept of unicorn (just like now), do I block understanding and even prevent clearly articulating the issues involved by obfuscatory or evasive vocabulary?

The validity of a concept depends upon what it makes reference to and whether that object exists or not.  Gremlins and unicorns are literary constructs that exist in that context only, the referents are fictional.  Trying to do real science or veterinary medicine based on knowledge of unicorns, or whatever application gremlins would be relevant to, would in fact block clear thinking because unicorns and gremlins don't exist.

Epistemology is a normative field; infinite possibilities and combinations exist and most of them are wrong but there is a best way to go about it.  Reality dictates what the best way is, reality does not dictate what actually happens in peoples heads, what they pay attention to or how they may attempt to integrate incommensurable things.

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1 hour ago, Grames said:

Epistemology is a normative field

I don't think this gets stressed enough in Objectivism - or that it's even properly understood.

I think of this quote from ITOE, p. 301:

AR:  "And don't forget - it is important here - what the purpose of knowledge is.  The purpose is for you to deal with that which you are studying.  And if you discover why water boils, you will know something more and will be able to do more things with water than the primitive man who knows only that if he holds it over fire a certain length of time it will boil.  By discovering such issues as temperature and molecular structure, you have made yourself infinitely more capable of dealing with water and using it for your purposes than the primitive man who only made the first observation."

It also makes me think of James' quote from his essay The Sentiment of Rationality (and is one of the reasons why I have such a respect his Pragmatism):

"Every way of classifying a thing is but a way of handling it for some particular purpose.  Conceptions 'kinds' are teleological instruments.  No abstract concept can be a valid substitute for concrete reality except with reference to a particular interest in the conceiver."

 

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7 hours ago, Grames said:

Reality dictates what the best way is, reality does not dictate what actually happens in peoples heads,

So, Ayn Rand's answer to problem of universals, Ayn Rand's theory of concepts, which concludes that concepts are objective, is wrong according to what you say...because it doesn't apply to invalid concepts, which are yet concepts.

Or....?

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4 hours ago, gio said:

So, Ayn Rand's answer to problem of universals, Ayn Rand's theory of concepts, which concludes that concepts are objective, is wrong according to what you say...because it doesn't apply to invalid concepts, which are yet concepts.

Or....?

Validly reached concepts are objective because of the way they were reached. An invalid concept or anti concept is not necessarily objective in its relationship to reality (although it might due to coincidence).  The issue of universals is one of reality and thus the invalid concepts simply are not relevant to the problem of universals.  Man is fallible (and often reckless and irrational) but knowledge is possible when the right processes are used.

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2 minutes ago, StrictlyLogical said:

The issue of universals is one of reality and thus the invalid concepts simply are not relevant to the problem of universals.

Sure?

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5 hours ago, gio said:

So, Ayn Rand's answer to problem of universals, Ayn Rand's theory of concepts, which concludes that concepts are objective, is wrong according to what you say...because it doesn't apply to invalid concepts, which are yet concepts.

Or....?

The principles of structural engineering apply equally to buildings that stand and buildings that fall.   Rand's principles of concept formation apply to both concepts that are valid and concepts that are not valid.  

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1 minute ago, Grames said:

Rand's principles of concept formation apply to both concepts that are valid and concepts that are not valid.  

If so, it would mean that invalid concepts are objective, dictated by reality... but you said it's not the case!

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40 minutes ago, gio said:

If so, it would mean that invalid concepts are objective, dictated by reality... but you said it's not the case!

First, no concept was ever dictated by reality.  Reality dictates a standard that can be used to distinguish between valid concepts and other kinds of concepts.  It is up to you whether or not to use that standard in your own thinking.

Second, invalid concepts are not objective.  It is not the case that all concepts are properly formed and objective.  If all concepts were objective then there would be no  point in studying epistemology or the problem of universals since we would all be automatically correct anyway.  

I've been more than patient with you and do not appreciate being trolled.  Your failure to understand is your own personal failure.

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2 hours ago, Grames said:

First, no concept was ever dictated by reality.  Reality dictates a standard that can be used to distinguish between valid concepts and other kinds of concepts.  It is up to you whether or not to use that standard in your own thinking.

So Ayn Rand wasn't talking about all concepts here, but only the valids ?

...concepts as objective [...] as produced by man’s consciousness in accordance with the facts of reality, as mental integrations of factual data computed by man—as the products of a cognitive method of classification whose processes must be performed by man, but whose content is dictated by reality.

Quote

I've been more than patient with you and do not appreciate being trolled.  Your failure to understand is your own personal failure.

I'm not trolling at all, I am sincere. I try to understand because someone made that objection to me and I couldn't answer. I may recognize it's my personal failure to understand. That's precisely why I'm asking the question and why I'm looking for explanations. If you are tired to answer me because I don't understand, please, don't do it.

Edited by gio

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3 hours ago, gio said:

So Ayn Rand wasn't talking about all concepts here, but only the valids ?

...concepts as objective [...] as produced by man’s consciousness in accordance with the facts of reality, as mental integrations of factual data computed by man—as the products of a cognitive method of classification whose processes must be performed by man, but whose content is dictated by reality.

I'm not trolling at all, I am sincere. I try to understand because someone made that objection to me and I couldn't answer. I may recognize it's my personal failure to understand. That's precisely why I'm asking the question and why I'm looking for explanations. If you are tired to answer me because I don't understand, please, don't do it.

I think there is something going here worth looking at more closely, but it requires greater focus and particularity.

Getting upset is uncalled for.

I tend to believe that when Rand says the content is dictated by reality MEANS when it is done in the right way.  I.e. when it is based on perceptual evidence OF reality.  Since perceptual evidence of reality is dictated by reality the concepts arising out of that are, in that sense, dictated by reality.

I think Grames, your statement that concepts arising from using an invalid process or invalid standards are still concepts but are not objective is true but it includes anti-concepts in the term "concept".

You two seem to speaking past one another because one of you uses the term concept to include anti-concepts and invalid concepts, and equally conceives of conceptualization including the valid process as well as processes which are invalid or erroneously carried out, while the other is referring to concepts as only the valid ones, and the process of conceptualization as only the valid process.

Is this a correct assessment?

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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37 minutes ago, StrictlyLogical said:

You two seem to speaking past one another because one of you uses the term concept to include anti-concepts and invalid concepts, and equally conceives of conceptualization including the valid process as well as processes which are invalid or erroneously carried out, while the other is referring to concepts as only the valid ones, and the process of conceptualization as only the valid process.

Is this a correct assessment?

I neither include nor exclude anti-concepts and invalid concepts in the term "concept" : I ask the question. I'm not advocating anything, I'm looking for explanations.

And the question is : in the Ayn Rand's statements that I quoted, does she includes anti-concepts and invalid concept?

If she excludes invalid concepts and anti-concepts, aren't they part of Rand's theory of concepts?

Edited by gio

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4 hours ago, gio said:

So Ayn Rand wasn't talking about all concepts here, but only the valids ?

...concepts as objective [...] as produced by man’s consciousness in accordance with the facts of reality, as mental integrations of factual data computed by man—as the products of a cognitive method of classification whose processes must be performed by man, but whose content is dictated by reality.

In this particular passage the full quote of chapter 5 "Definition" of ITOE is:

Quote

None of these schools regards concepts as objective, i.e., as neither revealed nor invented, but as produced by man's consciousness in accordance with the facts of reality, as mental integrations of factual data computed by man—as the products of a cognitive method of classification whose processes must be performed by man, but whose content is dictated by reality.

and yes here she is referring the valid concepts, the same concepts the other four schools of thought are also trying to explain.  Here the phrase "dictated by reality" is simply underscores that consciousness is awareness of reality, not creating reality, nor half-remembering Platonic Forms from some other dimension in a prior existence before birth.  The context of the sentence must be kept in mind when trying to understand the scope of the claim, and the context here is to distinguish Rand's theory from the other four prior theories she discussed. She is certainly not asserting that any wild gibberish spouted by a madman is also dictated by reality (and for that matter neither would Plato claim that the Forms were always remembered correctly and in full, in other words Plato also had a theory that implied invalid concepts existed, but invalid by his own, different standard.)

I have been as clear as I can be and can think of nothing more to add would be helpful.

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I have a question about certain types of concepts that must have a category but I don't see it.

I have seen "floating concept", "false concept", "anti-concept" but there is a type of concept that is useful yet does not exist, not real, like infinity, omniscience, infallibility, omnipotence, nothing, zero, an imaginary number.

Where do concepts like these belong? They are valid in a sense yet there is no concrete that corresponds to them.

I was going to add selfless but it does not fit. selfless (this is in a different category as it is a contradiction but useful to some people)

 

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1 hour ago, Easy Truth said:

... like infinity, omniscience, infallibility, omnipotence, nothing, zero, an imaginary number.

Where do concepts like these belong? They are valid in a sense yet there is no concrete that corresponds to them.

These are categorized as concepts of consciousness as described in Rand's Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology chapter 4.  These in particular are concepts of method, and mathematics as a whole is a collection of concepts of method.   Concepts formed from other concepts don't have direct concrete correspondences, but they are reducible to concretes through the concepts from which they were derived.

From ITOE 2nd ed starting page 35

Quote

  A special sub-category of concepts pertaining to the products of consciousness, is reserved for concepts of method. Concepts of method designate systematic courses of action devised by men for the purpose of achieving certain goals. The course of action may be purely psychological (such as a method of using one's consciousness) or it may involve a combination of psychological and physical actions (such as a method of drilling for oil), according to the goal to be achieved.


Concepts of method are formed by retaining the distinguishing characteristics of the purposive course of action and of its goal, while omitting the particular measurements of both.


     For instance, the fundamental concept of method, the one on which all the others depend, is logic. The distinguishing characteristic of logic (the art of non-contradictory identification) indicates the nature of the actions (actions of consciousness required to achieve a correct identification) and their goal (knowledge)—while omitting the length, complexity or specific steps of the process of logical inference, as well as the nature of the particular cognitive problem involved in any given instance of using logic.
 

 

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8 hours ago, Grames said:

Concepts formed from other concepts don't have direct concrete correspondences, but they are reducible to concretes through the concepts from which they were derived.

I understand it for many of the cases I see but not for the word "nothing" or "nothingness". I don't think one can eventually reduce that to a concrete.

I was also wondering about artistic concepts. LIke "John Galt" for instance. That is a concept that we are familiar and use all the time. I suppose we can make the case the abstraction is regarding a man, and man has concrete examples.

I was in a discussion group where I was told that the "perfect triangle" does not exist. But because the concrete "triangle" exists, I can see that this abstraction can be an abstraction of another abstraction. 

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2 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

I understand it for many of the cases I see but not for the word "nothing" or "nothingness". I don't think one can eventually reduce that to a concrete.

I was also wondering about artistic concepts. LIke "John Galt" for instance. That is a concept that we are familiar and use all the time. I suppose we can make the case the abstraction is regarding a man, and man has concrete examples.

I was in a discussion group where I was told that the "perfect triangle" does not exist. But because the concrete "triangle" exists, I can see that this abstraction can be an abstraction of another abstraction. 

Nothingness is like zero, the end result of the process of repeated subtraction.  Start with something, such as money, and spend it on necessities and frivolities without corresponding income.  Eventually the sum dwindles to very little and then no money at all.   Generalizing the idea of "no money" and "no cattle" and "no girlfriend" to "no thing" gets you to the idea of nothing.   Reifiying "nothing" is an error because it treats "nothing" as a primary that has a direct correspondence with something rather than an idea derived from a process based on collections of actual existing concretes.  There must be light before there can be darkness, presence before absence, and something before nothing.

"John Galt" has the conceptual status of a man you've never met.  In fact most people that actually exist you will never meet. That is the space where fiction writers work, making up more people that you will never meet. 

This last bit about triangles, this depends on how much you know and how seriously you take geometry as a method of thinking.  Triangular things exist, but triangles do not exist.  There is no distinction between a triangle and a perfect triangle; either a three sided figure is a triangle or it is not.  All triangles are equally perfect in the eyes of Euclid because they all only exist on the imaginary flat Euclidean plane where nothing can interfere with their perfection.  Geometry is all concepts of method.

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On 7/1/2017 at 1:13 PM, gio said:

In IOE, she talked a bit about invalid concepts and call them "anti-concepts" :

Invalid concepts are words that represent attempts to integrate errors, contradictions, or false propositions, such as concepts originating in mysticism—or words without specific definitions, without referents, which can mean anything to anyone, such as modern ‘anti-concepts’.” Any such term is detached from reality and “invalidates every proposition or process of thought in which it is used as a cognitive assertion.

 Does it mean they're not concept at all? They don't derive from the same process as valid concepts?

Gio, I would recommend listening to Leonard Peikoff's lecture series entitled "Unity in Epistemology and Ethics". I think it was the third lecture where he discusses a topic which is, in my view, closely related to your question. Basically, he argues that there are certain concepts which, in order to be properly understood and applied, must have two distinct definitions. The main concept he considers in the lecture is "value", but his analysis (which is still somewhat unrefined at the time this lecture was given) applies to other concepts too and I think also applies to the concept "concept", which is why I'm bring this up. For "value", the two definitions would be (roughly): 1. That which one acts to gain and/or keep, and 2. Something which one acts to gain and/or keep which sustains one's life. The second definition is "pure" form of the first, and refers to values in the complete and consistent sense. The first definition subsumes "values" which may in fact be life destroying (eg. "valuing" Nazism). With "concept", I think the analagous definitions would be (very roughly): 1. An idea represented by a word, and 2. A mental integration of two or more concretes [insert rest of Ayn Rand's definition here].

 

Peikoff offers his best explanation (at the time the lecture was delivered at least, which was in 1996) for why this is so. I think he argues that this only applies to certain normative concepts, or concepts which directly or indirectly refer to something volitional. Another example he gives is egoism. I think the basic point is that one first grasps these concepts in one context, and then discovers later on what their fully consistent definition is. Yet, the original definition is still useful since these concepts are still used and held by others in a form which is not fully consistent. If, having grasped the fully consistent definition of "concept", we did not permit ourselves to call things like "altruism" anti-concepts (thus viewing them as a subcategory of concepts), we would not be able to evaluate these anti-concepts at all; we wouldn't even be able to talk about them (because, "what" are they?).

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2 hours ago, itsjames said:

 

Good catch.  It is a terribly non-objective thing to do to use the normative standard of how to do or make something as the qualification to even be in the same category (as that something).  To paraphrase Rand,  its like Hitler having an ideal man as Aryan and everyone else is not even human, or a religious group regarding themselves as the chosen people and all others as a subhuman slaves.

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7 hours ago, itsjames said:

Gio, I would recommend listening to Leonard Peikoff's lecture series entitled "Unity in Epistemology and Ethics". I think it was the third lecture where he discusses a topic which is, in my view, closely related to your question.

Thank you!

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