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This thread is devoted to the nature and problem of universals, particularly in relation to the Objectivist theory of concept-formation. What are universals? What is the problem related to them? I'll begin with the Wikipedia entry--to present the issue as neutrally as possible.

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A universal is something that particular things have in common. This common something can be a kind of thing, a property of a thing, or a relation of a thing. Beyond that, there are theories about the further identification of universals, because it is not obvious how we have knowledge of them or where they even come from. This leads into the essential problem of universals.

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The problem arises from the fact that we observe similarity, yet every kind, property, or relation of a thing is a unique, particular kind, property, or relation. Thus, how do we get from awareness of particulars to awareness of similarities? From knowledge of specifics to knowledge of universals?

The problem begins simply with the recognition of similarity, or commonality. It doesn't begin with an explanation or location for universals. It doesn't say that universals exist in this way or that way, or that they're located in here or over there. But it does acknowledge the existence of particular things which can be similar in some respect. And it also acknowledges a consciousness capable of identifying similarity. Where anyone's theory goes from there is not the problem of universals, but an attempt at solving it.

If anyone disagrees so far, please present the problem as you see it. Otherwise, in a day or two, I'll move on and address the argument presented by Intrinsicist elsewhere.

Edited by MisterSwig

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Contrast Wikipedia's neutral presentation of the issue (the problem of universals) with the Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology Forward to the First Edition.

Here's the first paragraph from the Forward directed toward presenting the issue:

The issue of concepts (known as "the problem of universals") is philosophy's central issue. Since man's knowledge is gained and held in conceptual form, the validity of man's knowledge depends on the validity of concepts. But concepts are abstractions or universals, and everything that man perceives is particular, concrete. What is the relationship between abstractions and concretes? To what precisely do concepts refer in reality? Do they refer to something real, something that exists—or are they merely inventions of man's mind, arbitrary constructs or loose approximations that cannot claim to represent knowledge?

Bypassing the quotation, she raises one example

To exemplify the issue as it is usually presented: When we refer to three persons as "men," what do we designate by that term? The three persons are three individuals who differ in every particular respect and may not possess a single identical characteristic (not even their fingerprints). If you list all their particular characteristics, you will not find one representing "manness." Where is the "manness" in men? What, in reality, corresponds to the concept "man" in our mind?

 

Note the immediate identification of "the problem of universals" as the issue of concepts and planting it squarely as philosophy's central issue. This is followed by the recognition that man's knowledge is conceptual in nature, the validity of man's knowledge rests on the validity of concepts. Knowledge and concepts have logical element to them.

Concepts are abstractions or universals.

This reiterates that it is the issue of concepts., which subsumes abstractions or universals. This is contrasted with everything that man perceives as particulars, concretes.

 

So far, I don't think Miss Rand has offered either a theory or an attempt at solving "the problem of universals." She is framing the questions and setting her stage, if you will, for the introductory acts yet to unfold.

 

 

Edited by dream_weaver

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On 12/18/2017 at 12:51 AM, MisterSwig said:

The problem arises from the fact that we observe similarity, yet every kind, property, or relation of a thing is a unique, particular kind, property, or relation. Thus, how do we get from awareness of particulars to awareness of similarities? From knowledge of specifics to knowledge of universals?

The problem begins simply with the recognition of similarity, or commonality. It doesn't begin with an explanation or location for universals. It doesn't say that universals exist in this way or that way, or that they're located in here or over there. But it does acknowledge the existence of particular things which can be similar in some respect. And it also acknowledges a consciousness capable of identifying similarity. Where anyone's theory goes from there is not the problem of universals, but an attempt at solving it.

Knowledge of universals implies the existence of universals. Even knowledge of similarity implies the existence of a universal (i.e. some feature of reality which is identical at different places or times).

So the "problem of universals" does not arise from questions about our awareness or knowledge, it is really prior to that - if universals exist then our awareness of them is accurate and knowledge of universals is possible, but if they do not, then our seeming "awareness" of them is really a phantom, and the universality that we imagine is not really "knowledge".

This issue that you're raising - that we seem to be aware of similarity and universality, but are we really, and how? - is related to the problem of universals, but the question of whether universals exist at all is a more basic one, and is the grounds for your answer to the question regarding whether we are actually aware of universality, and whether that awareness is truly knowledge which corresponds to reality.

Sorry, but you can't bypass metaphysics and begin in epistemology. Everything in your epistemological philosophy is going to depend upon the metaphysics that you've presupposed.

Edited by intrinsicist

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1 hour ago, intrinsicist said:

Knowledge of universals implies the existence of universals. Even knowledge of similarity implies the existence of a universal (i.e. some feature of reality which is identical at different places or times).

 

This is wrong. Knowledge of a thing does not imply the existence of that thing, since you can have knowledge about things which don't exist (e.g. fictional worlds).

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6 hours ago, SpookyKitty said:

This is wrong. Knowledge of a thing does not imply the existence of that thing, since you can have knowledge about things which don't exist (e.g. fictional worlds).

Knowledge about a fictional world implies the existence of the fictional world (qua fictional world, of course). You could make something up about the fictional story of Harry Potter, for example claiming that Harry is a mathematician, when actually he isn't one, and that wouldn't be knowledge. Whereas some truth about Harry Potter, for example that he is a boy, is knowledge.

But I think this is all an aside from the main point, hopefully it's clear to everyone else by "knowledge" I'm talking about correspondence with reality.

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11 hours ago, intrinsicist said:

Knowledge of universals implies the existence of universals.

Particulars or concretes exist.  How do you know universals do?  Perhaps more to the point, how do you know that similarities are universals?   

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Already there is some disagreement over the problem itself, and I'll respond to those posts later. First I want to tend to arguments made on the other thread. I'll begin with Intrinsicist. He presented a fundamental counter position:

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Intrinsicist's clear position is that a believer in universals is an intrinsicist. With the apparent assumption being: a universal is an intrinsic existent.

But the assumption that universals are intrinsic is an unproven idea. It overlooks the entire problem that philosophers have faced for thousands of years, and it arbitrarily asserts the nature and location of universals: that they are intrinsic things within concrete entities. Thus, the problem is no longer: what are universals and where are they located? It's not even: how do we know they exist and are they based in reality? No, the problem is seemingly reduced to a single yes-or-no question: do universals exist at all? People who answer "yes" are categorized as intrinsicists, even if they claim to be something else; and those who answer "no" are categorized as wrong, because, well, they are wrong.

With that simple question, Intrinsicist seems to divide the population into intrinsicists versus non-believers. When, really, all the question does is divide us into believers versus non-believers. He has not established that a believer is necessarily an intrinsicist. But perhaps in his own mind it is true, because to him a universal is an intrinsic thing.

Such a loaded definition creates a significant conflict. If universals are intrinsic, why can't we find them existing in every object? Shouldn't there be an identical "table" in every particular table? Why do we only find different tables of varying characteristics and measurements? Where is the real "table" thing that matches our general notion of a table? And if it doesn't exist at the sensory-perceptual level, how am I made aware of it? Am I in some kind of mysterious communication with the realm of universals? Do I possess a sort of X-ray vision which allows my faculties to penetrate into the essence of an object?

That is the problem of intrinsic universals, which one faces after bypassing the problem of universals.

Intrinsicist goes on to argue against Rand's theory, claiming she borrowed bits from the nominalists and stole from the realists:

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Intrinsicist attempts to place Rand with the nominalists by claiming they both deny the existence of "real universals to which concepts refer." But what does he mean by a "real universal"? He means an intrinsic universal. So, yeah, she does deny the existence of intrinsic universals. But nominalists deny the existence of any sort of universals, which is not Rand's position at all. As Dream Weaver pointed out, she states in ITOE that "concepts are abstractions or universals." And the entire book is devoted to proving that position.

Meanwhile, Intrinsicist's other claim is that Rand steals some aspect of realism whenever she references "natural kinds" as the basis for validating concepts. I question whether Rand ever used such wording in relation to "identifying a concept" or "judging a definition," and I politely request that Intrinsicist provide a relevant quote as proof that she did. I suspect that "natural kinds" is actually another term for "real or intrinsic universals." Intrinsicist uses it again later, apparently to describe a nominalist's rejection of universals:

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So, either Rand referenced "natural kinds" to validate concepts or she denied their existence. Which is it?

Does Objectivism in fact deny the existence of natural kinds? Well, that depends on what is meant by a natural kind. If it's necessarily an intrinsic kind, then the answer is yes. If it's an abstracted kind, then the answer is no.

Is an abstraction natural? Is it real? If so, why should Objectivists still be accused of denying the existence of universals?

Intrinsicist ultimately concludes that the abstractions in our minds must correspond to "real universals" out in reality, if we are to know truth from falsehood:

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So, first, Intrinsicist defines universal as an intrinsic thing. Then when reality presents him with the problem of intrinsic universals, i.e., how do we have knowledge of these things, he ignores this problem too and maintains a total split between universals and concepts. In his view, we determine truth and falsehood by checking whether our concept corresponds with a real universal. Well, how do we do that? What is a real universal? In which way is it different from the abstraction in my head?

Dr. Binswanger, I think, identifies the underlying problem with this view in his book How We Know (p. 105):

Quote

The Realist notion of a "universal"--an existent that is non-specific--represents the improper separation of two axiomatic concepts: "existence" and "identity." To be is to be something, to have a specific identity. To be nothing in particular is to be nothing at all--i.e., not to be. In Rand's statement: "Existence is Identity." [AS, 1016] But the Realist theory posits the existence of non-specific, generalized, "blurry" universals. (The only alternative for a Realist is to maintain, in defiance of plain fact, that the concretes referred to by a concept have to be identical in some respect, as if all shades of blue were identical, all lengths were identical, etc.)

I believe Intrinsicist's notion of a "universal" is non-specific and blurry. If it exists out in the world as a real, natural thing, then show it to me. Or, if it's invisible, demonstrate its effect on visible things.

Edited by MisterSwig

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4 hours ago, Craig24 said:

Particulars or concretes exist.  How do you know universals do?  Perhaps more to the point, how do you know that similarities are universals?   

I wasn't asserting there that universals exist, I was just making a point about knowledge - "If universals exist then our awareness of them is accurate and knowledge of universals is possible, but if they do not, then our seeming "awareness" of them is really a phantom, and the universality that we imagine is not really "knowledge"."... that is, if there's nothing in reality that holds universally, then any universal proposition cannot actually be true, not in the normal sense of logical truth; such "universal knowledge" is not actually knowledge, it's just a hypothesis, or a useful convention, or something like that.

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15 hours ago, intrinsicist said:

So the "problem of universals" does not arise from questions about our awareness or knowledge, it is really prior to that

I identified the source of the problem in three different ways (including Wikipedia's way). None of those ways began with the phrase "the problem arises from questions about." The problem arises from a fact, not a question. It is a fact that we experience similarity.

16 hours ago, intrinsicist said:

This issue that you're raising - that we seem to be aware of similarity and universality, but are we really, and how?

You are the one raising that issue. Not me. Again, it is a fact that we are aware of similarity. That is where the issue starts. It must begin with our awareness, for how do we debate something of which we are unaware? I am a conscious being. My faculties do not provide me with revelatory knowledge.

16 hours ago, intrinsicist said:

Sorry, but you can't bypass metaphysics and begin in epistemology. Everything in your epistemological philosophy is going to depend upon the metaphysics that you've presupposed.

Yes, but is everything you've presupposed a genuine piece of axiomatic knowledge? I have not presupposed whether universals are metaphysical or man-made, physical or mental, concrete or abstract. Have you?

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I can only respond to this a bit at a time, let's start with this:

3 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

Intrinsicist's clear position is that a believer in universals is an intrinsicist... It overlooks the entire problem that philosophers have faced for thousands of years, and it arbitrarily asserts the nature and location of universals: that they are intrinsic things within concrete entities.

There are other metaphysical positions which accept the reality of universals besides intrinsicism, but I'm speaking here to an Objectivist audience, and if you are an Objectivist who rejects the aspects of subjectivism and nominalism in Objectivist metaphysics and epistemology, and instead accepts the implicit realist aspects, then I argue what you end up at is intrinsicism.

3 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

But what does he mean by a "real universal"? He means an intrinsic universal. So, yeah, she does deny the existence of intrinsic universals. But nominalists deny the existence of any sort of universals, which is not Rand's position at all.

By "real universal", I mean something that exists metaphysically, outside of your head in reality, and not merely epistemologically, as something you've come up with in your own mind. This is not exclusive to intrinsicism, as I said, of course there are other metaphysical views which hold that universals are metaphysically real. But Rand does follow standard nominalism is denying the existence of such things, in favor a view in which "universals" are merely epistemological, made up by man for his use.

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7 minutes ago, intrinsicist said:

By "real universal", I mean something that exists metaphysically, outside of your head in reality, and not merely epistemologically, as something you've come up with in your own mind.

First and foremost, I'd like to nail down your conception of "real universal." So I have some other questions. Is the modifier "real" intended to distinguish one kind of universal from another that actually exists? Or merely from types that you don't think exist? Also, are you saying that universals do not necessarily exist within their associated objects? Could they exist metaphysically apart from their associated objects? Let's say I'm looking at a woman. Where is the universal for "woman"? Is it in her or outside of her?

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2 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

Is the modifier "real" intended to distinguish one kind of universal from another that actually exists? Or merely from types that you don't think exist?

Well if some "other type of universal" existed, then it would be real, wouldn't it? If something exists that implies that it's real.

What I'm trying to distinguish is between one conception of what "universals" are, and another very different conception of them.

A realist says that universals are features of reality that exist and persist outside the mind, outside of any human mind. There is an intelligible structure to reality whether anyone understands it or not. Our concepts can be right or wrong according to whether they correspond to these universal types, these natural kinds.

A nominalist holds that there is no intrinsic intelligibility to reality, intelligibility is something we do in our own minds as a way of organizing our sense data of reality. Reality is like this tabula rasa, materialist blank canvas. "Universals" are categories that we make up, like mental "buckets" to group together particular sensory-perceptual experiences. Whichever buckets you make up might be judged as practical or impractical, according to unit economy or whatever, but there is no "right" answer, there aren't "true" or "false" buckets. There are no true universal types, there aren't natural kinds, out there in nature. The "kinds" are things we make up, these mental buckets. 

These are not basically both the same type of thing, just one I believe in and one I don't. It's not like we are dealing with real and imaginary breeds of animals, like wolves are real, but werewolves aren't real. Of course I do believe we form concepts in our minds, like creating mental buckets like the nominalist believes, or like Ayn Rand describes the process of concept formation. The point is that I think there are real universals out there, and the ones we come up with in our head can be true universals or they can be false; they can be right or wrong not just in terms of pragmatic standards like unit economy or utility, but in terms of corresponding, or failing to correspond, to the true universals in reality.

Edited by intrinsicist

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SplitPrimary makes an objection similar to Intrinsicist. Are you both objective (metaphysical) idealists? I guess some of this terminology I don't understand comes from Blanshard or that book by Scott Ryan, which I just opened. Right away I disagree with the metaphysics:

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If you believe that reality itself is a systematic whole, or an absolute object, then I think I understand why you also believe that universals exist outside of man's mind. In order to be a metaphysical system, reality must have an orderly structure to it, such as a logical set of universals, or ideal forms, for everything in the universe. Otherwise, what makes it an intelligible system?

I disagree with the premise that reality is a systematic whole or absolute object. And I'm not sure I can summon the will to debate that topic for the umpteenth time. I do have a little energy, however, to address this bit:

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Objectivists accept the fact that universals exist. Rand argued that concepts are universals, and that they exist as mental somethings, as opposed to nothing. Something was too vague a term, so she called them mental entities or mental units to distinguish them from other mental things or from nothing. (ITOE, p. 157)

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Rand believed in the existence of universals. So this does not apply to her. The concern with activity has to do with the nature of life being an active process, not on some connection with nominalism. Besides, nominalists aren't wrong because they focus on activity. They're wrong because they reject universals and resort to subjectivism. Concerning themselves with particulars and activity is about the only thing they get halfway right. Imagine if they didn't even do that much with their lives. They'd probably starve to death.

Edited by MisterSwig

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On 12/18/2017 at 10:52 PM, intrinsicist said:

Knowledge of universals implies the existence of universals. Even knowledge of similarity implies the existence of a universal (i.e. some feature of reality which is identical at different places or times).

After reading a bit from Scott Ryan's critique of Rand, I believe "imply" means something different to Objectivists and Metaphysical Idealists. To an Objectivist, it means "to suggest a logical necessity." Whereas to a Metaphysical Idealists, it means "to suggest a systematic necessity." 

Confronted by similarity, an Objectivist looks for the logical necessities related to its existence, that which can be proven by non-contradictory identification of reality. A Metaphysical Idealist, however, looks for the systematic necessities, that which can be proven by correspondence with a system. Logically, similarity needs two things which exist and are similar in some way. Systematically, it needs a complex thing with interrelated parts of which similarity is one. In other words, it needs an absolute object.

If reality is the absolute object, then similarity must be "some feature of reality which is identical at different places or times." Essential parts of an absolute system cannot be subject to the chaos and impermanence of the human mind. There must be order and eternity to the object-system. It must be identical now to the way it has always been and always will be. It must be the same throughout space and time. For, if the absolute system changes, what has changed it? A super-absolute system?

Metaphysical Idealists apply universality to the universe itself. Objectivists recognize this as an example of the fallacy of composition: parts of the universe are similar to other parts, therefore the universe as a whole is similar to parts of the universe. Reality, with all of its moving parts, corresponds with the various systems in reality. Thus the universe itself must be a kind of system. Metaphysically, it is like a physical system, such as an object. And epistemologically, it is like a mental system, such as a logic. Put these together and one gets some sort of systematic object-logic--or Logos.

Metaphysical Idealism represents a pre-Socratic philosophy dressed up in modern terminology. It is the same sort of misapplication of universals due to a misconception of reality. In this sense it's superior to nominalism, which rejects universals; but it's inferior to various creationist beliefs, which do not misapply universality to the universe. To a creationist, reality is a unique creation, unlike anything else, except possible other realities. To a Metaphysical Idealist, reality is like a part of reality. It's similar to itself--a piece of itself.

Metaphysical Idealism cannot find a physical similarity between the universe and its parts. The universe is not like a frog. So it finds a non-physical similarity: a frog's biological system. But "system" is an abstraction of the relationships between the frog's organs, and an abstraction is a mental existent. Thus, the logical conclusion for the Metaphysical Idealist is that the universe itself corresponds to a mental existent. It is therefore the absolute mental existent. And here the theory ultimately collapses into the primacy of consciousness. Unless, of course, one asserts an even greater absurdity: the physical existence of abstractions: the real universal.

Edited by MisterSwig

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On 12/19/2017 at 11:22 AM, intrinsicist said:

hopefully it's clear to everyone else by "knowledge" I'm talking about correspondence with reality.

And it should be clear that SK was talking about things without any necessary correspondence to reality.

It's worth noting that epistemologue (aka intrinsicist) and splitprimary oppose Objectivism's stance on universals.

On 12/19/2017 at 5:56 PM, intrinsicist said:

if there's nothing in reality that holds universally

Well that's not the issue. The issue is what the content of a universal is. You did not demonstrate that the universal is a (concrete aspect of a) thing, as opposed to recognition of invariant facts about sets of particulars. Similar to how concepts are real but a concept isn't a concrete. As I see it, a reference to universal aspects of things is a universal, but the aspect itself isn't the universal any more than referents of concepts are concepts.

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Eiuol, you make a distinction between two types of universals...

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You claim that Rand denied "metaphysical universals" and accepted "epistemic universals." But that's not actually the case. From "Concepts as Mental Existents" in ITOE (p.157):

Quote

Before you have a certain concept, that particular something doesn't exist in your mind. When you have formed the concept of "concept," that is a mental something; it isn't a nothing. But anything pertaining to the content of a mind always has to be treated metaphysically not as a separate existent, but only with this precondition, in effect: that it is a mental state, a mental concrete, a mental something.

Rand here is treating the concept metaphysically, as some kind of mental existent. Its being is that of a mental something, as opposed to a physical something. This is metaphysics, not epistemology. She was basically agreeing with Prof. E's distinction:

Quote

Would it be fair to say that a concept qua concept is not a concrete but an integration of concretes, but qua existent it is a concrete integration, a specific mental entity in a particular mind?

Perhaps you only consider a concept (universal) qua concept, and thus you reject its metaphysical existence (qua existent), since it is not a physical concrete. A rather remarkable aspect of Rand's philosophy is how she incorporates the mind into her metaphysical view. There is no dichotomy between existence and consciousness. Consciousness is a kind of existent.

3 hours ago, Eiuol said:

As I see it, a reference to universal aspects of things is a universal, but the aspect itself isn't the universal any more than referents of concepts are concepts.

What about the referents of the concept of "concept," as Rand described on page 156 of ITOE?

Quote

[T]he referents of the concept "concept" are other concepts. For instance, let's say you form the concepts "table," "chair," "man," and a few other concepts of perceptually given concretes. Then at a certain level you can form the concept of "concept," the concretes of which are all your other specific, earlier-formed concepts.

Edited by MisterSwig

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16 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

Rand here is treating the concept metaphysically, as some kind of mental existent. Its being is that of a mental something, as opposed to a physical something. This is metaphysics, not epistemology. She was basically agreeing with Prof. E's distinction:

We went over this before.

One, not all existents are concretes. I mean, in the part you quoted, concepts are an integration. I am not sure it is clear that Rand would say that they are concrete integrations per se. I can look it up to be sure, but you didn't quote Rand's response anyway...

Two, she literally says in the book that mental entities are not concretes. She goes over the error it would be to say they are, or at least the problems to say so.

So when I say epistemic, I mean mental entities, in Rand's sense. Rand does not treat them as anything besides a product of the mind, but being there makes them real and metaphysical-like. If I could, I'd ask Rand if "treated as" is "treated as if it were", but I think so, hence "preconditon".

The issue is thinking of something as concrete anytime it is an existent, or to to treat a mental recognition the same as the recognized thing. What I'm trying to say is that there is no metaphysical and concrete aspect to a universal. However, they ought to correspond to reality and all the non-manmade stuff out there. Rand incorporates the mind's fallibility and allows that a method exists to make concepts refer to reality - and a method anyone is able to do. Clearly all these things exist, but the topic here is whether universals themselves exist independently of the mind. 

16 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

What about the referents of the concept of "concept

Fair enough, this is true. To make it better: any more than referents of first-level concepts are concepts. Or stated another way, any more than a referent is the thing referring to it.

f(x) = y

x =/= y

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1 hour ago, Eiuol said:

One, not all existents are concretes.

Are you speaking in the metaphysical sense? Because Rand appears to argue for the opposite view:

Quote

...in a metaphysical sense only concretes exist. Therefore, when we form a concept, we cannot say that we have removed it in a certain sense from individuality or the existence of concretes.

I take that to mean that all existents are concretes. Qua existent, a universal is a concrete--a mental concrete, or something. Qua concept, a universal is an integration--a mental integration, or abstraction. If a concept exists, then it exists as a particular thing with a particular identity, which is a concrete. We need to therefore expand our understanding of what it means to be a concrete. As there is no dichotomy between existence and consciousness, there is no dichotomy between concretes and abstractions. An abstraction is a kind of concrete. It is a mental concrete.

Edited by MisterSwig

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3 hours ago, Eiuol said:

{S}he literally says in the book that mental entities are not concretes.

Prof. D: Then a mental entity is a concrete?
AR: As a mental entity, yes. It is a concrete in relation to the wider abstraction which is the concept of "concept."

It appears that there is some agreement with a question which postures a mental entity as a concrete.

In the chapter Abstractions from Abstractions, the beginning of the eighth paragraph:

The first stages of integrating concepts into wider concepts are fairly simple, because they still refer to perceptual concretes.

 

This appears after what she had written in the next to the last sentence of the fifth paragraph of the same chapter:

Up to that time, he is able to retain the referents of his concepts by perceptual, predominantly visual means; as his conceptual chain moves farther and farther away from perceptual concretes, the issue of verbal definitions becomes crucial.

 

In the Appendix—Abstraction as Measurement Omission there is this:

You didn't start by looking at reality from scratch so to speak, and as a first-level concept form the concept "mental entity" as distinguished from "physical entity." That would not be possible. They would be incommensurable.

The concept "entity" is delineated by "mental" or "physical", refining the particular context of its extended application. Is the choice to delineate "concretes" in the next to the last sentence of the fifth paragraph lessened by entertaining the potentiality of "mental concretes"? Or to ask somewhat differently: as his conceptual chain moves farther and father away from perceptual concretes . . . or moves closer and closer toward what? non-perceptual concretes?

Edited by dream_weaver

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1 hour ago, MisterSwig said:

Are you speaking in the metaphysical sense? Because Rand appears to argue for the opposite view:

I take that to mean that all existents are concretes. Qua existent, a universal is a concrete--a mental concrete, or something. Qua concept, a universal is an integration--a mental integration, or abstraction. If a concept exists, then it exists as a particular thing with a particular identity, which is a concrete. We need to therefore expand our understanding of what it means to be a concrete. As there is no dichotomy between existence and consciousness, there is no dichotomy between concretes and abstractions. An abstraction is a kind of concrete. It is a mental concrete.

It doesn't matter what you take it to mean, we don't need to figure it out. She said explicitly that mental entities are not concretes, and also makes no statement that existents are all concretes. Concrete doesn't mean "something with an identity", it is a -thing-. It has physical extension. Concepts, mental states, and any mental content is not a concrete. Furthermore, Rand states how she does not like how Aristotle described universals as some sort of concrete thing within an object. Across all of ITOE, Rand's message is that the stuff in our (conscious) head are not concrete, yet apprehensible and manipulable. 

The quote above says that we don't remove or in some sense separate a concept from its referent because concepts are not concretes. So concepts will always refer to the whole referent, it retains its referent's characteristics. She already explains by that quote in the book that concepts are not concretes.

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15 minutes ago, dream_weaver said:

It appears that there is some agreement with a question which postures a mental entity as a concrete.

The wording (which Rand didn't get to edit) is more like "kinda" and really just repeats Rand's idea of mental entity (she clarifies in the book that this is not literally an entity as we usually mean). I'll link to the "mentity" thread for my quotes if you want.

Edited by Eiuol

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Appendix—The Role of Words

And more than that; the fact that Aristotle is right and not Plato is very relevant here: abstractions, as such, do not exist. Only concretes exist. We could not deal with a sum of concrete objects constantly without losing our grasp of them. But what do we do conceptually? We substitute a concrete—a visual or auditory concrete—for the unlimited, open-ended number of concretes which that new concrete subsumes.

This is followed by an example going from "a visual or auditory concrete" to a tactile case involving Helen Keller.

Abstractions from abstractions via visual/auditory/tactile/(open ended?) concretes.

This is why "{t]he process of forming a concept is not complete until its constituent units have been integrated into a single mental unit by means of a specific word." The word serves as the concrete that enables us to retain the product of the process of abstraction.

 

Edited by dream_weaver

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Yeah, the product is a mental thing. Rand had no special meaning for concrete. My overall idea is that Rand's idea of a universal is a mental something, while there are concretes (or the equivalent) which have invariant attributes across more than one particular.

I didn't quote the pages originally, but I looked at the thread and these are the important passages: pages 153-158 ("Concepts as Mental Existents") and pages 264-274 ("Entities and Their Makeup").

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