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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. 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. 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.
Your essay “The Contradiction of Determinism” taught me a lot. Before I share with you all that I have learned from that essay I have one very important point to make regarding a matter on which we seem to disagree. I shall preface this by stating that there are only a few things you have written that I disagree with. I am aware of the meaning of the context here; a young man writing to one of humanity’s most profound geniuses, in fact, his hero, and addressing a disagreement with his hero. You have stated however, that “If someone wants to challenge my theory of self-esteem, I will welcome the opportunity to learn. But first, let’s be clear on what I’ve said and not said.” ( “For The Record”) I assume that this is your principle for discussing disagreements in general. I have immense respect for the optimism and confidence in that statement, sir! Some people are so frightened of the prospect that someone might identify a contradiction they hold that they evade any comment that challenges their convictions. You revealed this implicitly about Ayn Rand when you pointed out that she ultimately encouraged dogmatism. You demonstrate your commitment to reason; to truth. As I submit this to you I want to emphasize that I value your judgement very highly and also, if you disagree with my judgement, if you want to challenge my idea, hopefully it is obvious that “I am open to learning”. Now. I must convey to you as explicitly as possible that the following assertion is a product of my reason; it is not in anyway a pretentious, disrespectful game of semantics. In fact, those who evade word choice and definition are literally doing just that; evading. You have said yourself, definitions are crucial. The issue here is the exact definition of the concepts “think” and “thought” and thus the use of these concepts. In your genius essay “The Contradiction of Determinism” you quote from Atlas Shrugged: “the question ‘to be or not to be’ is the question ‘to think or not to think’”. I submit that the question ought to be “to think logically or not to think logically?”. Here is why: what does it mean, in the clearest terms possible, to think? To the full extent of my awareness, the accepted Objectivist definition of “thought” is “drawing conclusions from evidence”. This is the implied definition when Ayn Rand writes in her book Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology : “when he stops to watch her and draws conclusions, from the evidence about her character, age, social position, etc., the action of his consciousness is thought” (p. 30) I note however, that “thought” can be even more explicitly defined as “a distinct connection of concepts and/or anti-concepts”. In reference to this definition it could be noted then that there are two types of thoughts: logical ones, and illogical ones. I shall offer my reasoning. We humans do on occasion, illogically connect concepts by mistake, or, if we are in the process of logically connecting concepts, within that process, we have in our minds; our consciousnesses- fragmented sentences or visions composed of connected concepts /anti-concepts; fragments not yet perfected, not yet clear, and thus illogical. In the most fundamental- metaphysical-psychological- cognitive sense a human’s primary “action of consciousness” is connecting concepts, and to call that “thinking” provides us with the most precise abstraction of what a thought qua a thing is. Without this explicit definition, when someone says that we should “think” that use of “think” is ambiguous. How does one “draw conclusions from evidence”? What is the precise mental action? Suppose I want to “draw the conclusion” that “I love this hotel”. What on the metaphysical and psychological level does the product of the drawn conclusion and sentence “I love this hotel” consist of? Concepts. We can break this content down bit by bit, piece by piece, and see it, as if examining under a microscope. I: the concept I use in reference to myself. Love: the concept I use in reference to how highly I value this hypothetical hotel (where I wish I was as I write this!). This: the concept I use in reference to pointing out the particular hotel I am referring to. Hotel: the concept in reference to the place accommodating thousands of tourists and I. Whether that connection of concepts is logical is a different story, but qua an entity, qua a thing which merits a concept referring to it, a distinct connection of concepts and/or anti-concepts must be identified and to the full extent of my awareness no word in the English language is closer to this exact thing in reality than “thought”. In response to the charge that “to think” necessarily implies a logical act of consciousness, what is it someone is doing when he or she thinks that a “god” exists, i.e., connects the concepts, and the anti-concept “there- is- a- God”? If you would say that that is not a thought but rather a connection of concepts and an anti-concept based on the absence of thought, which concept refers to isolated, consciously/ subconsciously connected concepts and anti-concepts? If I understand you correctly, you would call this an “evasion” however when one evades, one is consciously refusing to acknowledge a fact and this is quite different than somebody who fails to understand a fact. As ironic as it is, a simple axiom like “existence exists”, and all of the implications of “existence exists” can be quite challenging to grasp. If somebody believes that a God exists because he or she doesn’t understand why that is impossible, but consciously, and earnestly contemplates and debates the argument, then we can be certain that he or she is striving for truth. If we were to refer to that as evasion (and thus immoral) we could not prove it. To be fair, I have considered the issue of subconsciously evaded facts however there are two distinct considerations here. 1)Subconscious disinterest in the truth about something (and thus truth as such) and 2)Subconscious disinterest in learning a particular but non-essential idea or skill. The implication, if we were to assume that both circumstances constitute evasion, would be that the nature of evasion is rooted in subconscious disinterest in anything. If this were the case then, if you tried to teach me how to play the piano, but in all honesty, I told you, “I’m not interested in playing the piano, I don’t want to learn, it’s not in my self interest, I would rather write”, that would have to then be classified as “evasion” which it is not; it is merely preference- personal value judgement-personal meaning- personal priorities... (You may read the entire epistle at http://seanoconnorli...haniel-branden/)
Hello I am new here. I have been a student of Objectivism for 5 years. I have read Ayn Rand's works and some of Leonard Piekoff's. To say I have read them is not right. They caused me to question all my premises and to validate them. When I first read Atlas shrugged I wanted to throw it in the fire. I read it again and thought about what she was saying and tried to find the contradictions in her ideas. I finally had to admit that I could not find any or at least the ones I found were minor. What brings me here tonight is a question of Metaphysics. I was responding to a post on another forum. The thread was on a scientific study that claimed that the conditions for life were so rare in the universe that they could not be duplicated and that The Earth was the only planet to harbor life. Now this is a subject that I have thought a great deal about. I came to the conclusion that there probably is life elsewhere in the Universe and I base that on Ayn Rand's definition of concepts and my observation that by the nature of the Universe there is never only one of any type of thing. For every concept such as planet, cloud or grain of sand there are more than one concrete and that since we can form a concept of "life bearing planet" from our observation of Earth there must be other examples out there. I was told to go read a book called "The Privileged Planet" which argued the same thing as the study and then report back and eat crow. I told the person that I didn't have the time to read the book but since he had could he answer my philosophical argument and he basically told me since I wasn't a scientist I should shut up. So I am coming here to ask if my philosophical argument has merit or am I just out there? I would appreciate your thoughts.