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Objectivism: "Closed" system

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This was taken from the Objectivism Wiki:

Objectivism is the name chosen by Ayn Rand for her philosophy to emphasize the importance of objectivity -- seeing reality for what it is. She described Objectivism as a philosophy for living on earth -- by which she meant that it was a philosophy grounded in reality with the purpose of enabling its adherents to better deal with reality. A common thread running through all of Objectivism is the sanctity of the individual, rational human being. In Rand's own words:

"My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."

(Taken from the Wikipedia article. Waiting for a real description.)

Objectivism is a closed system -- it consists of the philosophical writings of Ayn Rand (which she finished for publication) and those philosophical writings of other people which she specifically approved (for example the articles in the Objectivist Newsletter). The statements in this Wiki are not authoritative nor definitional of Objectivism.

There are philosophical truths which were not incorporated into Objectivism. And you should not assume without proof that everything in Objectivism is true.

My question(s), if this entry is accurate, is(are): If there are philosophical truths which weren't incorporated into Objectivism, and one cannot assume without proof that everything in Objectivism is true, then why follow it? Why adhere to a closed system? Wouldn't such adherance be contrary to objective thinking, which Ayn Rand obviously found so important?

I already know where I stand on this matter, but I'd really like to hear from some other perspectives.

Edited by TheNewIntellectual

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Objectivists adhere to Objectivism because they have accepted, based on their evaluation of the proof, that it is true. If we discover more truths that Ayn Rand didn't touch on via our own reasoning, or learn them from others and accept them as true, based on proof, we adhere to those as well.

Did you really mean to indicate that you should only adhere to a system of philosophy if it is open and lacks any proof to support it? That seems insane . . . if you accept the unfinished and unproven as your guide to life how in heck are you supposed to decide what to do? It's like trying to build a castle on fog!

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JMeganSnow,

I mean to indicate that one shouldn't adhere exclusively to a closed system. To adhere partially to Objectivism and determine through reason all other truths yourself sounds like a pretty good idea. However, I notice you failed to mention anything about discovering potential falsehoods of Objectivism and dismissing them.

I do not mean to indicate that one should accept the unfinished and unproven as a guide to life. In fact, I accept less assertions, make less assumptions, and apply rational thinking more often than anyone I've met to date (so far as others have shown me, anyway).

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I think I see the source of your conclusion.

An Objectivist is someone who believes the total of Objectivism to be true (including the part where you don't believe things on faith).

There are philosophical truths which are not part of Objectivism, but are not necessarily COUNTER to Objectivism. Someone who believes such truths can still believe the whole of Objectivism and still call themself an Objectivist.

Does that help?

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[...] one shouldn't adhere exclusively to a closed system. To adhere partially to Objectivism and determine through reason all other truths yourself sounds like a pretty good idea.

Sounds good to me too. So, why are you bringing this up? Is someone in this forum advocating that you should follow a closed philosophical system and never add to it even if you have proof that the additional philosophical principles are valid? If someone in this forum is advocating such a thing, could you provide a link to the passage?

Also, have you found additional philosophical truths -- which you know to be valid -- that you personally have added to what you have learned from Objectivism? If so, what are examples?

However, I notice you failed to mention anything about discovering potential falsehoods of Objectivism and dismissing them.

What is a "potential falsehood"?

Further, do you disagree with any elements of Objectivism? If so, which ones?

Edited by BurgessLau

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Actually, I think where my problem truly lies is, I consider the term "Objectivism" to be a misnomer. Ayn Rand may have been a strong proponent of objectivity, but she was just as fallible as some of us. It is impossible for a closed philosophy to take account of this.

Given that this is my problem, I guess the paramount question ought to be: Did Rand herself establish Objectivism as a closed philosophy?

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If ... one cannot assume without proof that everything in Objectivism is true, then why follow it?

This strikes me as exactly the opposite of the essence of Objectivism: that man should adopt a philosophy to guide his life based on logical proof to himself of its validity. One cannot call himself an Objectivist and at the same time admit that he follows the philosophy based on an assumption, "without proof". This would be self-contradictory. Subccribing to an idea without proof is dogmatism, not Objectivism.

Regarding the "closed" nature of Objectivism, I take this to be of importance more for accuracy than some kind of rejection of the possibilty of Objectivism's having flaws (I have found none). In other words, I think it is proper to call Objectivism closed, and to limit it specifically to Rand's writings, because this prevents the word "Objectivism" from morhping into a meaningless descriptor. If you decide that you disagree with some aspect of Ayn Rand's writings and make some amendment, don't try to call your revision "Objectivism" - use some other descriptor. The danger in allowing Objectivism to be considered "open" is to open it to be hijacked by any person or group claiming to represent the philosophy.

Personally, I don't take "closed" to mean anything but this. I certainly don't take it to mean that Objectivism as such must be taken to be true without proof, or that the philosophy somehow dogmaticaly rejects all criticism.

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Did Rand herself establish Objectivism as a closed philosophy?

A closed philosophy is a philosophy created by a particular person who chooses not to or cannot add to it. Death prevents a philosopher from adding to her philosophy. Objectivism, which is the proper name that identifies Ayn Rand's philosophy, is closed. Kant's philosophy is closed. Aristotle's philosophy is closed. Plato's philosophy is closed. In each case the originating philosopher is dead and cannot add to or change his philosophy. That is why their philosophies are closed.

Anyone is free to add philosophical truths to any philosophy. But only a dishonest person would add to a philosophy created by someone else and try to pass it off as the original.

Suggestion: If your philosophy differs from Objectivism because you disagree with some of its elements, then formulate your philosophy publicly and call it Parkerism or whatever. Then establish your own website: ParkerismOnline.net

Edited by BurgessLau

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This strikes me as exactly the opposite of the essence of Objectivism: that man should adopt a philosophy to guide his life based on logical proof to himself of its validity. One cannot call himself an Objectivist and at the same time admit that he follows the philosophy based on an assumption, "without proof". This would be self-contradictory. Subccribing to an idea without proof is dogmatism, not Objectivism.

Actually, you are correct in this regard. I aplologize, as I do realize these things. My focus is the fact that Objectivism is a closed system. I just had in the back of my mind the myriad of "miss Rand said this" and "miss Rand said that" comments that I've seen on this forum with lack of explanation and rational support. I guess I'm speaking moreso to the originators of such commentary.

Don't get me wrong. By and large, I do agree with Objectivist philosophy. I just think the name is wrong, that's all. I will not mention the very few things about Rand's philosophy I have found to be incorrect, simply because I do not wish to enter into a debate regarding issues I have already argued over to excess. In fact, with regard to Objectivism, I am not nearly as concerned with my differences with Rand as with how her ideals are misconstrued, misapplied, improperly extrapolated, or otherwise perverted, or how many so called "rational thinkers" make so many of the same mistakes as the rest of the sheep.

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If there are philosophical truths which weren't incorporated into Objectivism, and one cannot assume without proof that everything in Objectivism is true, then why follow it?
The problem lies in this set of hypotheticals. Are you claiming that there are philosophical truths which are not incorporated into Objectivism; if so, which ones?
Wouldn't such adherance be contrary to objective thinking, which Ayn Rand obviously found so important?
Yes, if there are such truths, and you adhere to a system of beliefs that deny those truths, that would be a contradiction and denial of reality. Note though that nobody is claiming that Objectivism is a scientifically exhaustive description of reality. To the best of my knowledge, though, Objectivism is closed and complete. (Necessarily closed, and I'ms sayking, observationally, that it is complete). I don't see any value in debating the name -- Rand herself said that "Existentialism" would have been a more apt name, but it was already taken. What is in a name? Do you have in mind a reason why you should not follow a closed system of philosophy?

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Just a Note: The Wiki system, while normally excellent, is liable to vandalism and missrepentation.

That last sentence (...does not contain some philosophical truths...) just seems to be a short smear job by some random coward. I would be interested to know what truths or "truths" they are talking about, in the name of constructive debate.

But the Wiki system is not place for constructive debates... thats what Online Forums are for :nuke:

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I just had in the back of my mind the myriad of "miss Rand said this" and "miss Rand said that" comments that I've seen on this forum with lack of explanation and rational support. [...]

[...] I will not mention the very few things about Rand's philosophy I have found to be incorrect [...].

First, you are right that "Miss Rand says" is not a valid substitute for a rational argument in a general philosophical discussion. However, keep in mind that if the question is like this:

"What is the Objectivist view of reason?"

then it is appropriate (and often necessary ) to quote or paraphrase -- and then cite -- Ayn Rand, precisely because she created Objectivism, a closed philosophical system.

Second, thank you for being one of the few non-Objectivists (of whom there are many in OO.net) to openly state the fact that you are not an Objectivist, that is, someone who agrees with every element of Ayn Rand's philosophy (though not necessarily her other views). By making such a statement, you make the context clear and communication easier.

Edited by BurgessLau

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First, you are right that "Miss Rand says" is not a valid substitute for a rational argument in a general philosophical discussion. However, keep in mind that if the question is like this:

"What is the Objectivist view of reason?"

then it is appropriate (and often necessary ) to quote or paraphrase -- and then cite -- Ayn Rand, precisely because she created Objectivism, a closed philosophical system.

Second, thank you for being one of the few non-Objectivists (of whom there are many in OO.net) to openly state the fact that you are not an Objectivist, that is, someone who agrees with every element of Ayn Rand's philosophy (though not necessarily her other views). By making such a statement, you make the context clear and communication easier.

With regard to your first point, I'm definitely on the same page. What always got me was that many of the "miss Rand says" comments seemed to carry a connotation of "this is all the explanation you need." Perhaps I read a little too much into some of these remarks, but I am usually of the position that such references ought to be supported with rational explanation, and in the case of discussion (such as on this forum), further discourse. I just hate to see anyone's word (even that of such a great thinker as Ayn Rand) taken as gospel, that's all. I suppose I made the mistake of applying too much consideration to those who might not "get it." Because of my nature however, it sometimes seems like an impossibility to disregard someone who might be even remotely close to being a truly rational person, for although the fool will probably never reach the right path, the misguided simply have to see the right direction.

Also, you're welcome, Burgess. I refuse to conciously fake reality or play games, and I owe at least the honesty of my position to any other honest, rational person who might be listening. However, I might actually be an Objectivist if certain things Rand said can be differentiated from elements of her philosophy. My mistake. When I said I have found a very few things about Rand's philosophy to be incorrect, I actually meant I have found a very few things she said to be incorrect. I may have construed them as part of her philosophy based on the level of support I've found for them on this forum, but that does not mean they are actually part of Objectivism. Given the fact that people who want to "play" Objectivist abound on this site, I could have been a bit more circumspect on this issue.

In any case, David, I've thought about your comment about the name being unimportant, and it's something I should have realized thouroughly before. I have resolved to relinquish all of my focus on the name issue, as it is indeed inconsequential. The problem does not start with this, but rather with the lack of rational thought. Therefore, although I may not be an Objectivist, I am more than content to call myself an objectivist.

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Second, thank you for being one of the few non-Objectivists (of whom there are many in OO.net) to openly state the fact that you are not an Objectivist, that is, someone who agrees with every element of Ayn Rand's philosophy (though not necessarily her other views). By making such a statement, you make the context clear and communication easier.
I'm sorry to interject, but I was under the impression that someone can call themselves an Objectivist if they agree with all of Miss Rand's philosophy, but not necessarily every single view she expressed on some subject or another. Kind of like Objectivist intellectuals disagreed about the Bush vs Kerry issue, isn't it possible for two people (Ayn Rand and (name) ) to disagree about some specific application of the principles. Or, because it is Ayn Rand's philosophy, is it impossible to apply the same principles and come to a different, yet rational, conclusion? (I can't seem to articulate this quite right.) Miss Rand may have made a mistake in the application.

Is it possible to call yourself an Objectivist if you disagree with some of the applications of it's principles?

Sorry, for some reason I can't seem to articulate exactly what I want to say. :) Hopefully you understand enough to answer. :dough:

Zak

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I'm sorry to interject, but I was under the impression that someone can call themselves an Objectivist if they agree with all of Miss Rand's philosophy, but not necessarily every single view she expressed on some subject or another. Kind of like Objectivist intellectuals disagreed about the Bush vs Kerry issue, isn't it possible for two people (Ayn Rand and (name) ) to disagree about some specific application of the principles. Or, because it is Ayn Rand's philosophy, is it impossible to apply the same principles and come to a different, yet rational, conclusion? (I can't seem to articulate this quite right.) Miss Rand may have made a mistake in the application.

Is it possible to call yourself an Objectivist if you disagree with some of the applications of it's principles?

Okay, I'll just post this before I read any on the "Who is an Objectivist?" thread.

I would think the title of Objectivist ought to be reserved for those who always make their most concerted attempt to apply the principles of Objectivism and (for purposes of this thread) extrapolated Objectivism.

Because of certain variables, it is possible that two people could come to different conclusions when applying the same principles. If one person understands the principles more thouroughly than the other, he is most often bound to apply them in a slightly different fashion. I would reason that complexity of the problem at hand would usually dictate just how differently two people might apply these principles. The degree of rationality of either application (assuming a rational philosophy) would depend on the person's ability to properly apply the philosophy.

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I would think the title of Objectivist ought to be reserved for those who always make their most concerted attempt to apply the principles of Objectivism and (for purposes of this thread) extrapolated Objectivism.
I, on the other hand, think that the description "Objectivist" describes a person who accepts the philosophy Objectivism (a similar relationship holds between "communist" and "communism", "realist" and "realism", and so on). Being an Objectivist doesn't mean being infallible, so having a personal weakness that results in you doing something that you should not do does not reduce you to the level of scum. Your philosophy causes your actions, and not the other way around: it is perfectly just to judge a person's philosophy based on their actions, but there is this context problem that occasionally makes such judgements be in error. Consider Francisco d'Anconia, for example.

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an Objectivist, that is, someone who agrees with every element of Ayn Rand's philosophy (though not necessarily her other views).
I'm sorry to interject, but I was under the impression that someone can call themselves an Objectivist if they agree with all of Miss Rand's philosophy, but not necessarily every single view she expressed on some subject or another.

Isn't that pretty much word for word what Burgess said? :confused:

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BTW, one thing that I think needs to be kept in mind is the scope of philosophy. ITOE p. 289 "Philosophy vs. Scientific Issues" has some significant things to say about the scope of philosophy. In particular: "So whenever you are in doubt about what is or is not a philosophical subject, ask yourself whether you need a specialized knowledge, beyond the knowledge available to you as a normal adult, unaided by any special knowledge or special instruments. And if the answer is possible to you on that basis alone, you are dealing with a philosophical question." Although epistemology is about knowledge and epistemology is part of philosophy, it requires specialised knowledge to be able to come to the correct conclusion about all aspects of knowledge. To pick a specific area where disagreement is possible, Rand says this in CUI "The Nature of Government", p. 334: "It belongs to the field of a special science: the philosophy of law. Many errors and many disagreements are possible in the field of implementation, but what is essential here is the principle to be implemented: the principle that the purpose of law and of government is the protection of individual rights." (speaking of the three categories of proper government function). Rand may have had her own feelings about specific issues such as how contracts should be interpreted for the purposes of enforcement, but those feelings are not part of Objectivism.

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Hal    0
To the best of my knowledge, though, Objectivism is closed and complete.

I dont think Ayn Rand thought it was complete; afaik she was working on a treatise on ethics towards the end of her life. The epistemology also needs fleshed out; IOE was only meant to be an introduction (AR states in the preface that she was planning on writing a more detailed work, which never appeared). Theres no real Objectivist philosophy of science, or of mathematics (only a rough outline). Philosophers like Peikoff and Binswanger are dedicating extensive effort to developing certain areas of Objectivism.

Edited by Hal

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If I understand things correctly, Drs Peikoff and Binswanger are developing the ideas that Objectivism started. They aren't developing or "completing" Objectivism. Objectivism is the philosophy of Ayn Rand and does not include work done after her death. I don't know if there is a formal name for the work they have done or are doing.

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I dont think Ayn Rand thought it was complete; afaik she was working on a treatise on ethics towards the end of her life. The epistemology also needs fleshed out; IOE was only meant to be an introduction (AR states in the preface that she was planning on writing a more detailed work, which never appeared). Theres no real Objectivist philosophy of science, or of mathematics (only a rough outline). Philosophers like Peikoff and Binswanger are dedicating extensive effort to developing certain areas of Objectivism.

Hal, you aren't an Objectivist, so possibly your own philosophy -- whatever that might be -- has distorted your understanding of these issues. Here are my views:

1. My inference from reading Ayn Rand's presentations about her philosophy is that she thought Objectivism is complete in one sense: She answered all the basic (fundamental) questions in the hierarchy of her philosophy. For the Objectivists in OO.net, I would suggest reading the "Objectivism" article in The Ayn Rand Lexicon. there is not the slightest indication that she thought her philosophy is incomplete in the sense that pieces are missing in a way that would make the philosophy unintegrated.

In another sense, Objectivism is definitely incomplete: It does not spell out every detail that might be wrung out of the principles she made explicit. In this sense, no philosophy is or ever can be "complete." In epistemology, for example, she did not address the issue of theory of theories. In The Romantic Manifesto, she points out that a theory of style, in esthetics, needs to be worked out. (See RM, p. 75 [hb], for example, where she offers "merely ... a few essentials" of the nature of style in literature.) There is a lot of work still to be done in extending Objectivism's principles. But no matter how much extension will be done in the years ahead, Objectivism as a closed system is complete in that it answers the basic questions Ayn Rand raised.

Jeff Britting (ARI archivist), Ayn Rand, p. 111, notes that in 1976, "Rand began reconsidering her professional future. She had planned to expand her theory of knowledge, and she envisioned integrating neurology, epistemology, and mathematics into one unified theory." However, she had only begun taking notes when her husband became ill and she devoted her time to him. She also considered starting other novels. (Britting, p. 109)

2. What is your evidence for saying that Ayn Rand "was working on a treatise on ethics towards the end of her life"? That is new to me.

3. Yes, "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology" is an introduction to her epistemology. Ayn Rand stated in the Foreword (not "preface" as you claim) that IOE is a "preview of [her] future book on Objectivism." I know of no evidence showing that she was planning an expanded, single-volume work on epistemology in general or the narrow sub-branch she most focused on, which is her theory of concept formation.

4. Ayn Rand did not develop a philosophy of (specialized) science, nor a philosophy of mathematics, nor a philosophy of history. She did offer a few suggestions that future philosophers of these specialized subjects could use to begin their work. Those suggestions appear in IOE (especially in the appendix, published after her death) and in her work with Leonard Peikoff in developing Ominous Parallels). For the latter, see her "Introduction" to that book.

5. Objectivism is totally and irrevocably closed in the same sense that Platonism is closed: The originating philosopher is dead and therefore can't add to or otherwise change it. In the anti-Objectivist movement, dishonest individuals (whom I have met) claim that "objectivism" (their egalitarian spelling) is an open system, as if it were fenced range-land formerly owned by a rancher who has recently died, leaving it up for grabs. Not so.

Objectivism, as Ayn Rand's creation, is forever closed and complete in the sense of those terms defined above. On that platform, great advances may come in the decades and centuries ahead, but her achievement will always stand by itself.

Edited by BurgessLau

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Hal    0
2. What is your evidence for saying that Ayn Rand "was working on a treatise on ethics towards the end of her life"? That is new to me.
Sorry, I made a mistake there. She was writing a book on ethics in 1943 ("The Moral Basis of Individualism"), which she abandoned because she thought her drafts were poorly written. I'm not sure where I got the impression that this occurred towards the end of her life. Since Atlas Shrugged and The Objectivist Ethics were published after 1943, I assume she believed that these works were sufficient to 'complete' her ethical views.

3. Yes, "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology" is an introduction to her epistemology. Ayn Rand stated in the Foreword (not "preface" as you claim) that IOE is a "preview of [her] future book on Objectivism." I know of no evidence showing that she was planning an expanded, single-volume work on epistemology in general or the narrow sub-branch she most focused on, which is her theory of concept formation.
I dont have a copy of IOE here, so I'm not able to check this. But I do remember interpreting her as saying she was planning future work on epistemology. In any case, if IOE is an introduction, one has to ask where the rest is. The appendix of IOE is far more detailed than the text itself, so AR obviously had a lot of views on epistemology which she never published.

4. Ayn Rand did not develop a philosophy of (specialized) science
I meant a philosophy of science in general, not one of a specific science. Issues such as induction, underdeterminism, inter-theoretic reduction and so on, do not lie in the domain of any one particular science. AR states somewhere in the IOE appendix that she believed the problem of induction was important, but that she had not yet been able to find a conclusive answer. She also makes a few remarks on underdeterminism (although she doesnt use that term) when discussing the ether theory in physics, without developing them at length.

5. Closedness
Yeah I agree, but I was only talking about it being complete. Edited by Hal

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Theres no real Objectivist philosophy of science, or of mathematics (only a rough outline). Philosophers like Peikoff and Binswanger are dedicating extensive effort to developing certain areas of Objectivism.
This was exactly what I was referring to when I mentioned the point about specialized knowledge vs. philosophy. Mathematics is a highly specialised study, and it is not philosophy. As for philosophy of science, are you speaking of the fact that Rand did not publish a paper called "An Objectivist Philosophy of Science"? I don't know of anything that needs to be added to the philosophy laid down in ITOE to give you a "philosophy of science". A history of science, of course, is another matter. If you're pointing out that she didn't write a textbook "Epistemology, Specifically for Chemists", then that's true but of no consequence. Please say where you think Objectivist epistemology is lacking something essential in the area of philosophy of science.

Okay, quick answers to your suggestions. Induction -- it's good. Chapter 3 gives you the essential fact: "The process of observing the facts of reality and of integrating them into concepts is, in essence, a process of induction." There is also a section on induction in the Philosophy of Science appendix. Underdeterminism -- i.e. the problem that "the data underdetermine the theory". The answer to this problem is found widely in Objectivist epistemological writing. Knowledge is contextual, and non-contradictory. See ch. 5, esp "If his grasp is non-contradictory, then even if the scope of his knowledge is modest and the content of his concepts is primitive, it will not contradict the content of the same concepts in the mind of the most advanced scientists". This one is a favorite rant of mine, btw. The credo of many modern scientists (egged on by certain trends in physics) is that it's good to advance unsupported theories with expansive predictions. The problem of underdetermination then is that some scientists cling to a Platonic view of theory, as though these theories are "out there" and we're trying to discover the correct theory. Theories are made, not discovered. Inter-theoretic reduction -- I don't see how that's a philosophical issue at all. It's sociology combined with the practical problem of solving complex puzzles.

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Hal    0
Okay, quick answers to your suggestions. Induction -- it's good. Chapter 3 gives you the essential fact: "The process of observing the facts of reality and of integrating them into concepts is, in essence, a process of induction." There is also a section on induction in the Philosophy of Science appendix.
Yes, and this section concludes with AR saying (essentially) that she doesnt have an answer to the problem of induction. And since Peikoff has apparently devoted a significant amount of time to the issue, I think its fair to say that its still open.

Underdeterminism -- i.e. the problem that "the data underdetermine the theory". The answer to this problem is found widely in Objectivist epistemological writing. Knowledge is contextual, and non-contradictory.
Well, this isnt really an answer. The essence of underdeterminism is the problems which arise when it comes to choosing between 2 theories which have the same observational consequences. This is further complicated by confirmation holism - the claim that it is impossible to find a crucial experiment which conclusively decides between 2 competiting theories. AR discusses this when she talks about the history of the ether in physics; I dont have her exact words handy, but she says something like "you cannot offer ultimatums to nature. It is wrong to say that if the outcome of this experiment is A, then ether exists, and if the outcome is B, then it doesnt". But this provokes the question; how then DOES one decide whether the ether (or anything else) exists, if no single experiment is sufficient to rule one way or the other? And this is essentially the problem of underdeterminism.

I think we're veering offtopic though, my intention wasnt to discuss specific phil of science issues in this thread, simply to say that some important questions were left open by IOE. And I'm not even sure if the appendix should properly be considered as "Objectivism", since it was edited by others and AR didnt approve the published version.

Edited by Hal

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