Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Existents and entities

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

In a different post I realized, that I did not really understand the distincion between entity and existent.

I have made some thoughts and would like to have my conclusions checked before applying them to further thoughts.

The qoutes are from the Ayn Rand Lexicon:

Existent

The building-block of man’s knowledge is the concept of an “existent”—of something that exists, be it a thing, an attribute or an action.

ITOE, 6

Entity

The first concepts man forms are concepts of entities—since entities are the only primary existents. (Attributes cannot exist by themselves, they are merely the characteristics of entities; motions are motions of entities; relationships are relationships among entities.)

ITOE, 18

Entity

This term [entity] may be used in several senses. If you speak in the primary sense, “entity” has to be defined ostensively—that is to say, by pointing. I can, however, give you three descriptive characteristics essential to the primary, philosophic use of the term, according to Objectivism. This is not a definition, because I’d have to rely ultimately on pointing to make these points clear, but it will give you certain criteria for the application of the term in the primary sense…

- An entity means a self-sufficient form of existence—as against a quality, an action, a relationship, etc., which are simply aspects of an entity that we separate out by specialized focus. An entity is a thing.

- An entity, in the primary sense, is a solid thing with a definite boundary—as against a fluid, such as air. In the literal sense, air is not an entity. There are contexts, such as when the wind moves as one mass, when you can call it that, by analogy, but in the primary sense, fluids are not entities.

- An entity is perceptual in scale, in size. In other words it is a “this” which you can point to and grasp by human perception. In an extended sense you can call molecules—or the universe as a whole—“entities,” because they are self-sufficient things. But in the primary sense when we say that entities are what is given in sense perception, we mean solid things which we can directly perceive.

Leonard Peikoff, “The Philosophy of Objectivism”, lecture series (1976), Lecture 3

An existent is something. That implies, that it exists. It can be anything, but must be something.

Existents can be divided in two main categories

a) primary existents

B) non-primary existents

They differ in the attribute of being directly perceivable by humans or not, i.e. primary or not. All primary existents are entities “in a primary sense”, i.e. they are things perceivable by humans.

Non-primary existents again can be divided in two main categories

a) entities in a “extended sense”

B) non-entity existents

They differ in the attribute of being self-sufficient or not. So entities in a “extended sense” include molecules and universe, non-entity existents include actions and attributes.

Am I correct so far in my definitions? Are there existents and/or entities, which are not covered?

Thx

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Replies 77
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Top Posters In This Topic

Popular Posts

This is all that is metaphysically important about the "categories of existents". An entity is a solid thing with a definite boundary within the human perceptual scale. a) primary existents

"Entity" needed to be defined. The genus is existents, differentia is the things with perceivable boundaries. This sets up the vocabulary necessary for further reasoning and the rest of philosophy, a

Okay, I think I get it now. Is this a correct understanding: To directly perceive something is to see it and/or touch it in its entirety and without altering Man's perceptual faculties (with

Molecules are perceivable by humans. So is the Universe, if we understand the Universe is defined as "all that is."

Where do things like dreams, memories, and Santa Clause fit in to your definitions?

Please do read carefully before answering.

Molecules and Universe are not directly perceivable by humans. Where the hell can you see and touch molecules directly? How can you possibly point to universe (i.e. point to everything with only 10 fingers...)

All the existents you are asking about in the second paragraph are not entities, therefore they belong to the category non-entity existents (in case you are referring by "Santa Clause" to the concept itself, as "Santa Clause" is no existent aside from the concept)

Now you need to address mental existents!

Yes, in case you want to categorize non-entity existents further.

[edited for spelling]

Edited by Danneskjöld
Link to post
Share on other sites
not directly perceivable by humans. Where the hell can you see and touch molecules directly? How can you possibly point to universe (i.e. point to everything with only 10 fingers...)

I don't think the part "perceivable by humans" is what matters, just that it is perceivable in some direct manner. You can see a molecule with a microscope and say "that is a molecule". Of course, you cannot do that with the universe. All parts of the universe are perceivable, but it is not possible to perceive all of the parts together as a whole. You cannot point and say "that is the universe", since nothing can ever be beyond existence (regarding primary existents anyway). You can point to a book, and things can exist beyond a book, like another book or an airplane.

I'm confused why Rand said molecules can only be called existents in an extended sense, though. Molecules are perceivable (humans require a microscope, of course), they have a shape, they have a physical form. I have not read ITOE, so I don't know if that was addressed later.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I don't think the part "perceivable by humans" is what matters, just that it is perceivable in some direct manner.
Return to the relevant quote from Peikoff:

An entity is perceptual in scale, in size. In other words it is a “this” which you can point to and grasp by human perception. In an extended sense you can call molecules—or the universe as a whole—“entities,” because they are self-sufficient things.
But in the primary sense when we say that entities are what is given in sense perception, we mean solid things which we can directly perceive
.

In the extended sense, molecules and the universe are entities. The question raised was about the primary sense. Danneskjöld may have confused the issue by making a distinction between primary existents and non-primary existents; it's clear that Objectivism distinguishes primary and extended senses of entity (and since all entities are existents, it follows that there are primary and non-primary existents).

I'm confused why Rand said molecules can only be called existents in an extended sense, though. Molecules are perceivable (humans require a microscope, of course), they have a shape, they have a physical form.
Rand does not say that: rather, Peikoff does. And he said it of their entity status.
Link to post
Share on other sites
Please do read carefully before answering.

Molecules and Universe are not directly perceivable by humans. Where the hell can you see and touch molecules directly? How can you possibly point to universe (i.e. point to everything with only 10 fingers...)

Hmmm, I did read very carefully. This is what you wrote:

An existent is something. That implies, that it exists. It can be anything, but must be something.

Existents can be divided in two main categories

a) primary existents

:) non-primary existents

They differ in the attribute of being directly perceivable by humans or not, i.e. primary or not. All primary existents are entities “in a primary sense”, i.e. they are things perceivable by humans.

[emph. added]

Humans can perceive molecules. Perception does not require input from all senses, otherwise blind people (for example) would have no perception. If you want to define perception as "being able to see and to touch," then there's a whole host of humans who have no perception.

Therefore, molecules are primary existents. Perhaps you should write more carefully before accusing others of not reading carefully?

I will concede that the Universe cannot be perceived. However, the Universe is an abstract concept composed of a finite number of concretes. Those concretes can certainly be perceived by humans. I don't need more than ten fingers to point to the Universe. I can simply wave my arms about and say, "Everything that exists."

Objectivism needs a more complete ontology.

Link to post
Share on other sites
In the extended sense, molecules and the universe are entities. The question raised was about the primary sense. Danneskjöld may have confused the issue by making a distinction between primary existents and non-primary existents; it's clear that Objectivism distinguishes primary and extended senses of entity (and since all entities are existents, it follows that there are primary and non-primary existents).

I understand the distinction and how the universe is not a primary existent, but I do not really understand how a molecule is not a primary existent, since it is perceivable with the senses with a microscope as directly as looking at anything else that requires magnification (planets, stars, microscopic microchips). I suppose it's because if you look at a molecule under a microscope, all you would see is the particles moving, and the boundary is only defined by forces involved? My issue might be how to identify specifically when the boundary of a particular entity is not defined enough for it to be a primary existent. For example, the Peikoff (I thought it was from the ITOE quote earlier) quote says fluids are not primary existent. Jell-O is usually pretty undefined in form (you can put your hand through it and it is closer to a liquid than a solid), but I can also just as easily point to "that piece of Jell-O". Is being able to "point" to something the only important question in determining if an existent is a primary one?

Link to post
Share on other sites
Return to the relevant quote from Peikoff:

An entity is perceptual in scale, in size. In other words it is a “this” which you can point to and grasp by human perception. In an extended sense you can call molecules—or the universe as a whole—“entities,” because they are self-sufficient things.
But in the primary sense when we say that entities are what is given in sense perception, we mean solid things which we can directly perceive
.

In the extended sense, molecules and the universe are entities. The question raised was about the primary sense. Danneskjöld may have confused the issue by making a distinction between primary existents and non-primary existents; it's clear that Objectivism distinguishes primary and extended senses of entity (and since all entities are existents, it follows that there are primary and non-primary existents).Rand does not say that: rather, Peikoff does. And he said it of their entity status.

Very well said.

By which categories would you start instead of the ones I proposed, to extinct the possible confusion?

I had in mind to start with

a) primary entities

B) non-primary existents

instead of defining primary existents as primary entities which must be defined.

But in this case you need to define primary entities and postualte, that a primary entity is a primary existent. Or else these two categories do not imply that all existents are included. You cannot leave room for uncertainty, everything must be covered. Or else you cannot rely on your conclusions completely, as there is a doubt you cannot prove nor disprove.

Another solution would be to start with:

a) primary entities

B) entities in an extended sense

c) non-entites

But I like to keep it as simple as possible, so I preferred to use alwas the same 2-category-pattern

a) A

B) non-A

and using always a (implicit) definition of A.

So I would in a next step categorize primary existents (i.e. primary entities) into a) living and B) non-living entities, even though I could as well choose to distinct three categories from each other (e.g. human beings, non-human living entities, non-living entities).

I would like to clarify a question, which is related to another post.

[...] it's clear that Objectivism distinguishes primary and extended senses of entity

Exactly. And they are extended in both directions, i.e. too big or too small for direct perception. Why not calling these different non-primary entities higher-level or lower-level entities?

At least that would be my choice of the next two categories in the entities in a extended sense-category.

Which distinction would you choose next?

Edited by Danneskjöld
Link to post
Share on other sites
Hmmm, I did read very carefully. This is what you wrote:

"They differ in the attribute of being directly perceivable by humans or not, i.e. primary or not. All primary existents are entities “in a primary sense”, i.e. they are things perceivable by humans."

[emph. added]

[...]

Perhaps you should write more carefully before accusing others of not reading carefully?

"They differ in the attribute of being directly perceivable by humans or not, i.e. primary or not. All primary existents are entities “in a primary sense”, i.e. they are things perceivable by humans."

So you want to take out the second sentence out of its context and analyze it without context? Isn't that something, Objectivists condemn? In the first sentence I make clear that it is all about direct perception. If you need to have it statet in the very next sentence again, I will do so the next time.

Perception does not require input from all senses, otherwise blind people (for example) would have no perception. If you want to define perception as "being able to see and to touch," then there's a whole host of humans who have no perception.

Who said, that an input of all senses is required? It is not even statet implicitly anywhere. The definition says only, that primary existents can only be directly perceived by sight and/or touch. The other senses can perceive only non-primary existents. Nothing more, nothing less.

I will concede that the Universe cannot be perceived. However, the Universe is an abstract concept composed of a finite number of concretes. Those concretes can certainly be perceived by humans. I don't need more than ten fingers to point to the Universe. I can simply wave my arms about and say, "Everything that exists."

And why do you think Peikoff used the word point to instead of waving to? You cannot point to something by waving. If I am mistaken, please show me a dictionary which does say so.

Objectivism needs a more complete ontology.

I fully agree.

Finally your "microscope theory":

Humans can perceive molecules. [...]

Therefore, molecules are primary existents.

I don't think the part "perceivable by humans" is what matters, just that it is perceivable in some direct manner. You can see a molecule with a microscope and say "that is a molecule".

I understand the distinction and how the universe is not a primary existent, but I do not really understand how a molecule is not a primary existent, since it is perceivable with the senses with a microscope as directly as looking at anything else that requires magnification (planets, stars, microscopic microchips).

[...]

To be a primary existent (i.e. a primary entity) it must be directly perceivable by human beings. According to the Law of Identity human beings cannot perceive molecules directly. As all of you stated they do need a microscope (or whatever) to perceive them by sight.

Perceiving an existent by seeing does not make it automatically a primary existent. You can see the smoke of your cigarette, but as it is not self-sufficient it is not a primary existent. According to Peikoff it is not even an entity at all.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I understand the distinction and how the universe is not a primary existent, but I do not really understand how a molecule is not a primary existent, since it is perceivable with the senses with a microscope as directly as looking at anything else that requires magnification (planets, stars, microscopic microchips).
As a starting point, do you understand the distinction between entity and existent? Assuming that, I don't know what a primary existent is. I suspect that it must be a primary entity. All existents can be perceived somehow. In your opinion, are there any non-entity primary existents? If you don't want to make a distinction between primary and non-primary whatevers, i.e. if you don't accept the distinction that Peikoff was making, then that's your business. I'm just not clear on whether in fact you're just denying the utility of his distinction, or are you somehow stuck in the entity / existent distinction. Since you seem to acknowledge the distinction primary / secondary, I don't understand what part of Peikoff's distinction you're rejecting.
Link to post
Share on other sites

a) primary existents

a1) living entities

a11) human beings

a12) non-human beings

a2) non-living entities

a22) metaphysically given entities

a23) non-metaphysically given entities

B) non-primary existents

b1) entities in a “extended sense”

b11) lower-level entities

b12) higher-level entities

b2) non-entity existents

b21) metaphysically given non-entities

b22) non-metaphysically given non-entities

Any objections to or further thoughts on that?

[edit: insert of b21) and b22)]

Edited by Danneskjöld
Link to post
Share on other sites
As a starting point, do you understand the distinction between entity and existent? Assuming that, I don't know what a primary existent is. I suspect that it must be a primary entity.

Yes, I do mean primary entity. I was using the terminology in the OP, but I see now that it would be more accurate to say "primary entity". The idea of a non-entity primary existent wouldn't make any sense to me. I am not rejecting any part of Peikoff's distinction, I was just unclear why molecules are only an entity in an extended sense. If you had genetically modified microscope eyes, you can perceive molecules directly without the help of a machine. I guess I'm just not sure if the reason is because a molecule is made up of orbiting particles much like the solar system, or if it's because a microscope is required. As I understand it, the solar system would be an entity in an extended sense only.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I was just unclear why molecules are only an entity in an extended sense.

By definition any primary entity is directly perceivable by human beings. According to the Law of Identity a human being cannot perceive molecules directly.

Check what Leonard Peikoff wrote about this topic:

Entity

This term [entity] may be used in several senses. If you speak in the primary sense, “entity” has to be defined ostensively—that is to say, by pointing. I can, however, give you three descriptive characteristics essential to the primary, philosophic use of the term, according to Objectivism. This is not a definition, because I’d have to rely ultimately on pointing to make these points clear, but it will give you certain criteria for the application of the term in the primary sense…

- An entity means a self-sufficient form of existence—as against a quality, an action, a relationship, etc., which are simply aspects of an entity that we separate out by specialized focus. An entity is a thing.

- An entity, in the primary sense, is a solid thing with a definite boundary—as against a fluid, such as air. In the literal sense, air is not an entity. There are contexts, such as when the wind moves as one mass, when you can call it that, by analogy, but in the primary sense, fluids are not entities.

- An entity is perceptual in scale, in size. In other words it is a “this” which you can point to and grasp by human perception. In an extended sense you can call molecules—or the universe as a whole—“entities,” because they are self-sufficient things. But in the primary sense when we say that entities are what is given in sense perception, we mean solid things which we can directly perceive.

Leonard Peikoff, “The Philosophy of Objectivism”, lecture series (1976), Lecture 3

If you had genetically modified microscope eyes, you can perceive molecules directly without the help of a machine. I guess I'm just not sure if the reason is because a molecule is made up of orbiting particles much like the solar system, or if it's because a microscope is required. As I understand it, the solar system would be an entity in an extended sense only.

If you had genetically modified microscope eyes, you could perceive molecules directly without the help of a machine. So what? If god existed, I would burn in hell forever. So what?

I repeat: By definition any primary entity is directly perceivable by human beings. According to the Law of Identity a human being cannot perceive molecules directly.

Link to post
Share on other sites
If you had genetically modified microscope eyes, you could perceive molecules directly without the help of a machine. So what? If god existed, I would burn in hell forever. So what?

My point was that your inability to see it is only due to the properties of human eyes, but modifying ones eyes would make direct perception possible. At no point would god, Santa Claus or Shiva be perceivable. It is not an impossible hypothetical; it's not like entities only came into existence when the first human came to be. Theoretically, human eyes can be genetically modified to see with enhanced focus like a microscope. We can't see Pluto without a telescope, but I would certainly call it an entity, even in the primary sense.

Plasmatic, I will look into that, thank you.

Edited by Eiuol
Link to post
Share on other sites
My point was that your inability to see it is only due to the properties of human eyes, but modifying ones eyes would make direct perception possible. At no point would god, Santa Claus or Shiva be perceivable. It is not an impossible hypothetical; it's not like entities only came into existence when the first human came to be. Theoretically, human eyes can be genetically modified to see with enhanced focus like a microscope. We can't see Pluto without a telescope, but I would certainly call it an entity, even in the primary sense.

Plasmatic, I will look into that, thank you.

It does not matter what to fill a IF-THEN sentence with, be it an impossible or a possible hypothetical. Point is, it IS hypothetical.

So right now human beings cannot perceive molecules directly. So molecules are not classified as primary entities, but as entities in an extended sense.

That does not imply, that it is not possible, that in future human beings will be able to perceive them directly. If and to the extend this will be the case, then molecules will be classified as primary entities.

Link to post
Share on other sites
My point was that your inability to see it is only due to the properties of human eyes, but modifying ones eyes would make direct perception possible.
There has to be a fundamental epistemological underpinning to this discussion. Therefore the facts of human perception are relevant to understanding the two senses of "entity" -- it's not as though concepts are metaphysically given. Case in point, Santa Claus would be perceivable in this imaginary universe just in case a person could "see" the contents of another person's mind. That's not how humans are, nor can they directly perceive molecules. The problem with fantastic alterations of the nature of man is that it's hard to limit. How do we know that it's really "possible" to engineer a man who can perceive molecules, atoms, electrons and quarks, but not possible to perceive the universe? If you allow fantasy in one bunch of cases, why not extend it to every sort of case (including the universe). It seems to me that injecting fantasy is a bad idea for a philosophy that is, in fact, designed around the nature of man.
Link to post
Share on other sites
b11) lower-level entities

b12) higher-level entities

Any objections to or further thoughts on that?

I object to language (higher or lower) that introduces metaphysical hierarchy. What is important is whether something is within the range of unassisted human perception or not. Bigness or smallness is not metaphysically significant.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I guess I'm just not sure if the reason is because a molecule is made up of orbiting particles much like the solar system, or if it's because a microscope is required. As I understand it, the solar system would be an entity in an extended sense only.

It is because a microscope is required. Philosophical terms must have a pre-scientific context or they risk being fallacious on grounds of the stolen-concept.

The inner planets are entities because they are visible to the naked eye. The solar system is an entity in the extended sense because it is composed of multiple entities, but we cannot even have a clear concept of a solar system without a Galileo and a telescope so we can grasp the concept of 'orbit'.

edit - Before Galileo there were only the wandering stars and the constant stars, then non-star entities such as sun, moon, comets and meteors. Heliocentrism is incomprehensible without the concept of orbit, and orbits are not naked-eye perceivable.

Edited by Grames
Link to post
Share on other sites
I object to language (higher or lower) that introduces metaphysical hierarchy. What is important is whether something is within the range of unassisted human perception or not. Bigness or smallness is not metaphysically significant.

I assume you do not object to the categories as such, but just to my defintion of the specific name of the categories?

How would you define then the two different categories of entities in an extendet sense?

I did call them "lower" and "higher" level entities in comparison with the direct human perception level. So solarsystem is an entity more complex than a chair (as chair is only part of solarsystem). Analog is a atom less complex than a chair (as a chair is composed of atoms).

Edit: So the metaphysical hierarchy is there anyway, why not introduce it in the categorical system?

Edited by Danneskjöld
Link to post
Share on other sites
Edit: So the metaphysical hierarchy is there anyway, why not introduce it in the categorical system?

I think your b11 and b12 should be combined into one line for entities out of the range of unassisted human perception.

The structure or complexity you refer to here is physical not metaphysical. Scientific statements do not belong in an ontology or the whole thing is a stolen concept.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.


×
×
  • Create New...