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What are philosophical principles?

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1) What makes a principle a principle? Are all concepts also principles? Does the answer depend on the scope of what is being summarized by the principle, i.e. context?

2) What makes a philosophical principle a philosophical principle? Or: How do you distinguish between a philosophical question and a scientific question?

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1) What makes a principle a principle?  Are all concepts also principles?  Does the answer depend on the scope of what is being summarized by the principle, i.e. context?

Not all concepts are principles. A principle is a broad truth which subsumes a series of lesser truths. Or, as LP says in OPAR (p. 218), "A 'principle' is a general truth on which other truths depend." But note that one generally arrives at the principle by a process of induction, so in that sense the process of arriving at the the principle depends upon the lesser truths, even though, once the principle is formulated, the principle itself subsumes those lesser truths.

2) What makes a philosophical principle a philosophical principle?  Or: How do you distinguish between a philosophical question and a scientific question?

Ayn Rand had a a very nice succinct answer to this in the epistemology seminar.

"Philosophy by its nature has to be based only on that which is available to the knowledge of any man with normal mental equipment. Philosophy is not dependent on the discoveries of science; the reverse is true.

"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. If to answer it you would need training in physics, or psychology, or special equipment, etc., then you are dealing with a derivative or scientific field of knowledge, not philosophy." (ITOE, p. 289.)

Incidentally, those are two very nice questions, Andrew.

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Incidentally, those are two very nice questions, Andrew.

And your answers happen to be very nice as well. :confused:

I have a follow-up questions:

Is there a definite set of philosophical issues, or is that set dependent opon the questions that man asks? From my understanding, there is seemingly no limit to the amount of philosophical issues, since there is seemingly no limit to the amount of perspectives man can take when looking at reality. I suppose I'm requesting a confirmation of this observation.

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Is there a definite set of philosophical issues, or is that set dependent opon the questions that man asks?  From my understanding, there is seemingly no limit to the amount of philosophical issues, since there is seemingly no limit to the amount of perspectives man can take when looking at reality.  I suppose I'm requesting a confirmation of this observation.

I never really thought about this before. Offhand I would say that, clearly, there is no forseeable limit on the application of philosophical principles. But philosophy itself is a set of fundamental principles, and if the principles are truly findamental then that would seem to set a limit, at least in terms of principles that are integrated together.

Human nature, and the nature of reality is what it is, and do we really expect to find a new ethical principle one-hundred years from now? I would think that the concretes would change, and thereby the application of principles can change according, but in terms of fundamentals is it reasonable to expect to discover a new virtue? My tentative answer would be, no.

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I never really thought about this before. Offhand I would say that, clearly, there is no forseeable limit on the application of philosophical principles. But philosophy itself is a set of fundamental principles, and if the principles are truly fundamental then that would seem to set a limit, at least in terms of principles that are integrated together.

First, could you elaborate on this last comment. I'm not sure I understand what you mean.

So, all philosophical principles are fundamental and thus limited in quantity because they are fundamental. I can agree to this, yet It causes me to think of yet another follow-up question:

To what extent does Objectivism subsume these fundamental principles? To what extent is Objectivism complete (by the standard of encompassing all of these fundamentals)?

PS: If Objectivism IS complete, is anyone up to the challenge of offering a list of these fundamentals? Being that it is potentially a very tedious chore, I'll understand if no one does.

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First, could you elaborate on this last comment. I'm not sure I understand what you mean.

The idea was poorly expressed on my part. I meant to just underscore the point that the fundamental principles, if, indeed, they are fundamental principles, must integrate together. But, of course, this is true of all knowledge, so perhaps my intent was superfluous as well as poorly expressed.

As far as your other questions are concerned (and the original one as well), I would like to suggest that you present them to HBL. These are fascinating issues and on HBL we can have the benefit of hearing from the professional philosphers.

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...  To what extent is Objectivism complete (by the standard of encompassing all of these fundamentals)?  ...

Here is my partial answer to the question about completeness, as a contribution to this discussion.

Objectivism is both complete and not complete. That is not a contradiction, because "complete" has two meanings.

First, a particular philosophy is complete if it answers the basic questions, such as:

- What is real? (Metaphysics, ontology).

- How do I know? (epistemology)

- What should I do about? (Ethics)

- When men take action, how should they deal with each other (as part of the reality I know and want to do something about)? (Politics)

- How does art integrate all of the above? (Esthetics)

In that sense, Objectivism, which is the philosophy Ayn Rand created, is complete. She addressses all the basic questions far enough to give herself an integrated view of the world.

In another sense, no philosophy can ever be complete: There is always more work to be done, even if one accepts another philosophy to begin with. Ayn Rand titled her main epistemological work as an Introduction for a good reason. It was a revolutionary work -- and a beginning.

By the way, this is the way the history of philosophy unfolds. A primary philosopher appears offering a revolutionary new philosophy. For many years later, secondary philosophers fill in the gaps. Eventually a new primary philosopher appears drawing from his own observations and from the work -- right or wrong -- of predecessors. Then more secondary philosophers follow him, filling in his work. And so on, except that all philosophies are, in a sense, concurrent, like streams running in parallel.

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I want to back up a moment and investigate further something that Stephen before fully jumping into the question of Objectivism's completeness.

Stephen:

Offhand I would say that, clearly, there is no forseeable limit on the application of philosophical principles. But philosophy itself is a set of fundamental principles, and if the principles are truly fundamental then that would seem to set a limit...
Me:

So, all philosophical principles are fundamental and thus limited in quantity because they are fundamental.

I don't think I interpreted you correctly here. For clarification:

1) Is there such a thing as a non-fundamental philosophical principle, or are ALL philosophical principles also fundamental by their nature?

2) What about non-philosophical principles? Are they all fundamental too?

3) You use the phrase, 'truly fundamental'. Does this imply that there are derivitive principles that are also fundamental in the sense that they are the base of other further derivitive principles?

4) Are axioms the only TRULY fundamental principles. They seem to be the only principles that don't depend on anything else?

5) You claim that the fundamentallity of philosophical principles implies that they are limited in quantity. Can you explain why?

6) If the axioms are the only truly fundamental principles, then I can see why they would be limited. But then, what about the principles derived from the truly fundamental principles (axioms)? Are these derived principles limited as well? What sets the limit on the number of principles you can infer (whether by deduction or induction) from the truly fundamental principles?

Moving on to the question of Objectivism's completeness was premature since the answer seems to depend on the result of the above inquiry.

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Well worth the price of admission: The Harry Binswanger List

Just to amplify for Brent: If you are not familiar with Harry Binswanger, let me say that he is a first-rate Objectivist philosopher who was also a long-time associate and friend of Ayn Rand. Much of his writings are available through the Ayn Rand Bookstore. His list, HBL, has many Objectivist philosophers as subscribers, as well as experts in other fields.

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Andrew, you are on a roll! I am not sure I can do justice to the many questions you have, which is one reason I suggested posing these issues (not all at once!) to HBL. But, nevertheless, I will take a quick stab at a few.

1)  Is there such a thing as a non-fundamental philosophical principle, or are ALL philosophical principles also fundamental by their nature?

I think the answer is contextural. For instance, we may say that the principle of laissez-faire is fundamental to Objectivist politics, but the laissez-faire principle is itself dependent on more fundamental principles in Objectivist epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics.

2)  What about non-philosophical principles?  Are they all fundamental too?
Same as in "1)."

3)  You use the phrase, 'truly fundamental'.  Does this imply that there are derivitive principles that are also fundamental in the sense that they are the base of other further derivitive principles?

Yes. The principle of individual rights, for instance.

4)  Are axioms the only TRULY fundamental principles.  They seem to be the only principles that don't depend on anything else?
If you use "fundamental" here to mean that which is at the root and is incapable of being explained by anything more fundamental, then yes, principles such as volition and the law of identity are truly fundamental in that sense.

5)  You claim that the fundamentallity of philosophical principles implies that they are limited in quantity.  Can you explain why?

Without much more considered thought, I do not think I can say more about this than I have already said.

6)  If the axioms are the only truly fundamental principles, then I can see why they would be limited.  But then, what about the principles derived from the truly fundamental principles (axioms)?Are these derived principles limited as well?
Just to be clear here, we do not really derive the principles from the axioms, but rather induce the principles from their instances. It is only after the fact of inducing the principle that we can see its dependence on the axioms.

What sets the limit on the number of principles you can infer (whether by deduction or induction) from the truly fundamental principles?

I would say, ultimately, the nature of reality.

Again, these are all really good questions and each is deserving of better attention than can be given here. I urge you to present them on HBL, which, considering the apparently endless debate regarding Bush/Kerry, could benefit from some more foundational issues in philosophy.

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