Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

The principle of two definitions

Rate this topic


Grames
 Share

Recommended Posts

Dr. Leonard Peikoff's lecture series on Unity in Epistemology and Ethics mentions the principle of two definitions. I have found here at OO.net a very brief description:

3. Definitions: The principle of two definitions: why a certain category of philosophic term requires not one, but two definitions. How to answer such questions as: Does James Taggart pursue any values? Since Christianity preaches sacrifice, does it really offer a code of morality?

If anyone can expand on this, it would be greatly appreciated.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dr. Leonard Peikoff's lecture series on Unity in Epistemology and Ethics mentions the principle of two definitions. I have found here at OO.net a very brief description:

If anyone can expand on this, it would be greatly appreciated.

I think I know how to approach this, but I am going to say up front that I am not certain. This was also written quickly and without much polish. Maybe this is a beginning point.

Does James Taggart pursue values?

Well, yes and no

To James, the things he does are the pursuit of his values, that is, he does what he thinks is the right thing to do.

Are they appropriate to man, no

So, there are two definitions of values, one that covers the values a specific man has regardless of his rationality and one that identifies the values that are appropriate for man qua man. And James’ activities are anti-life and anti-value.

To put it another way, a definition that recognizes that all men have values, of whatever kind, and a definition within the specific philosophy.

Similarily, does Christianity have a code of morality

Christianity's code of conduct requires sacrifice. You could say that by definition it has a code of morality because it preaches a purpose of man’s life and has a standard. It is what man should do.

However, a definition of “code of morality” from a perspective of man qua man would require a standard that allows him to make choices to benefit his life in its entirety.

Thus, in the general sense of philosophy as a history or general study, Christianity has a code of morality. From the stand point of a actual man-oriented philosophy, its doesn’t.

Edited by Bob G
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dr. Leonard Peikoff's lecture series on Unity in Epistemology and Ethics mentions the principle of two definitions. I have found here at OO.net a very brief description:

If anyone can expand on this, it would be greatly appreciated.

It depends upon the context. Within the broad philosophic context, a value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. So, if James Taggart is pursuing a destructive course, those are his values, such as having sex with Lillian Rearden. However, within the context of a specific philosophy, Objectivism, the concept of value depends upon the concept of life. Within the philosophy of Objectivism, it is proper to evaluate Taggart's values as anti-life, and thus not real values because the goals that Taggart pursues are not proper for a rational being. Bob G makes several good points along these lines with respect to Christianity. And the same can be said of the altruist morality.

An Objectivist would not say that Taggart is pursuing values, i.e., life-sustaining values. He is simply following his emotions and acting in accordance with the consequences of having made that decision.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It depends upon the context. Within the broad philosophic context, a value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. So, if James Taggart is pursuing a destructive course, those are his values, such as having sex with Lillian Rearden. However, within the context of a specific philosophy, Objectivism, the concept of value depends upon the concept of life. Within the philosophy of Objectivism, it is proper to evaluate Taggart's values as anti-life, and thus not real values because the goals that Taggart pursues are not proper for a rational being. Bob G makes several good points along these lines with respect to Christianity. And the same can be said of the altruist morality.

An Objectivist would not say that Taggart is pursuing values, i.e., life-sustaining values. He is simply following his emotions and acting in accordance with the consequences of having made that decision.

Thank you, that is helpful. Was any clue offered as to when the broad philosophic vs. the specifically Objectivist context should be applied? I think moral judgement would require the ethical definition of value, while logically prior subject areas such as epistemology and metaphysics would require the broader context because the ethical definition is not established at that point in the hierarchy.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you, that is helpful. Was any clue offered as to when the broad philosophic vs. the specifically Objectivist context should be applied? I think moral judgement would require the ethical definition of value, while logically prior subject areas such as epistemology and metaphysics would require the broader context because the ethical definition is not established at that point in the hierarchy.

As to your first question, the answer would be whether one is evaluating other philosophic systems (or people) in the context of comparing or explaining various systems, or whether one is evaluating specific issues from one's own philosophic perspective. For instance, it is clear that philosophic systems, religious or secular, advocate achieving specific goals. Pragmatists hold that children should be socialized and they pursue educational goals to fulfill that. Those goals are their values. An Objectivist would not regard socialized children as a value because they know that the mind is man's tool of cognition, his means to acquire knowledge and to act for his values. As a result he must learn to use his mind from childhood on. This is true within any ethical framework. Christians do not regard selfishness, money, etc. as values. Communists do not hold property as a value.

I'm not sure what your second sentence means though. Perhaps what I said above address that point. Epistemology definitely comes in, as is made by the Objectivist point that the concept of value presupposes the concept of life. Thus, to hold that property is not a value, or something to be forcefully expropriated from others, is to use the concept property without meaning. If the money that I earn is not being used to support my life by my judgment, then what does the concept 'money' mean? How would the concept be formed in the first place if everyone used 'money' in such manner? If everyone expropriated everyone else's money, who would want it? The 'money' that is expropriated from me becomes as worthless to me as a bag of rocks. My tax dollars are not being used in accordance with the judgment of my mind. They are not being used as a medium of exchange for goods and services among the producers of the world. My expropriated money is being used as a means to destroy me (reference Copenhagen). Thus, epistemologically, it is NOT money in any objective sense.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 year later...

I have answered this question to my satisfaction by studying Dr. Peikoff's lecture series "The Unity in Epistemology and Ethics". My notes on the full series are here. The notes directly answering the question are also reproduced below. In subsequent posts I will then use the principle in some interesting contemporary cases.

Notes on "Unity in Ethics and Epistemology" Lecture 2

Not a transcript. These notes paraphrase the speaker's points and are not accurate quotes unless in quote tags. {Curly brackets denote my comments}

Lecture #3 The Principle of Two Definitions

LP's own principle, did not discuss it with Ayn Rand.

Thesis:

Some philosophical concepts have two definitions: one broad and one a narrower subcategory of the first. Unlike typical category-subcategory relations, the same word must be used for both senses. Use of the same word is essential for preserving the unity of knowledge.

Definitions are contextual. As knowledge expands a definition may need to be altered when it no longer is adequate to specify the referents of the concept. In general any one context has one definition and new definitions supplant the old definition. EX: Rand's example of the concept 'man' defined by a child then progressing through adulthood.

Definitions are based on objective criteria: similarities and differences {and essentials picked out by the rule of fundamentality.} Definitions of ordinary concepts (man, dog, table) do not reflect personal choices and philosophical biases (beyond specifying a method for defining). There is no such thing as the Objectivist definition of ordinary concepts, as opposed to the anti-Objectivist, pre-Objectivist, or non-Objectivist definition.

The class of concepts discussed here both do and do not include philosophic conclusions.

Value

What is the correct definition of 'value'?

Answer A1: From Galt's speech "A value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep." This refers to the goal directed actions of plants, animals and men. Under this definition even the irrational anti-life goals that people pursue such as power, prestige, or any whim qualify as values.

Answer A2: What makes something a value is not merely that someone pursues it but that it supports one's life. Proper values are pro-life.

The apparent paradox is needing to start with the broad definition which opens the door to any goal directed action whatever including destructive acts, only to reach the Objectivist standard of value which then closes the door to destructive acts.

A2 is narrower than A1. A1 is the set, A2 a subset. A2 has built into the answer the Objectivist ethical standard of value.

A1 demarcates a category of behavior that is observable and objective.

Normally later definitions supplant previous definitions but here is a case where it does not. A1 is not offered as an early or temporary definition to be cast aside when the Objectivist conclusions are reached. "A value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep." is the correct permanent definition, edited and refined over years to be deliberately broad.

It is invalid to pick one of these definitions as correct. Both serve a purpose and are permanently necessary. The first, broader definition is a condensation and integration of certain facts of reality. The second definition is an inference from the first and thus cannot replace it {without creating a stolen concept}.

The two elements necessary to validate "Life is the standard of value" are:

1) Observation and analysis of living organisms.

2) A definition of value.

Validation of "Life is the standard of value"



  • Observe that all living things including people are goal directed, they go after things or act to keep them. Definition A1 encapsulates this observation.
  • Observe that life alone is capable of self-generated, self-sustaining action in the face of the alternative of "to be or not to be".
  • Conclude that only life makes the concept of value possible on the obvious ground that only life has the capacity for goal directed action and only life needs goal directed action to avoid annihilation.
  • Conclude that the only standard of value consistent with what makes values possible is life {particular individual life, not Life; but egoism is another subject}

The 'Unity' angle

Both definitions are essential to preserve the unity of knowledge. Discarding A1 would discard the observational base that relates value to reality, turning Objectivism into a dogma lacking a means to justify its ethical conclusion. Discarding A1 would also discard the concept that integrates crucial information about all living creatures and all men. Men do not cease being men or become a new species when they act badly. "Nobody pursues values but Objectivists" is ridiculous.

A1 is the "IS" from which A2 the "OUGHT" arises.

A1 permits integration of data across a category regardless of any decision about the proper standard.

A2 is the integration of the same data with a normative standard, permitting moral evaluations.

Because it is the same referents being integrated, using a different word would only create confusion. Using the same word is not equivocation because both senses of the word have the same referents.

Power: Is power a value? Yes, it has been and still is a major motivation for some people. No, it is irrational and second-handed.

Can't deny power is a value while admitting people desire and pursue it.

The Pattern

2 senses, same word, a general and a specifically Objectivist version.

The first is the reality basis of the second.

The second integrates the same data with a normative standard.

Further examples:

Virtue

A1 - virtue is the action by which one gains or keeps a value. "In virtue of". One should enact the means to gain one's ends. Deontologists advocate certain actions as ends in themselves, hedonists advocate whim worship. Faith, hope and charity are Christian virtues for gaining unity with the Diety. Wisdom, courage, justice , and temperance are the ancient Greek virtues.

A2 - Virtues are actions to gain rational values, pro-life values. Zealous Objectivists have retorted that Christian virtues are not really virtues but vices.

Ayn Rand story

Although LP never asked AR about the "two definitions" problem in general, he did ask her specifically about the definition of virtue. LP asked her why virtues should not be defined as the means and acts to gain and keep rational values.

Ayn Rand responded by asking him to imagine what would happen on that approach. Once having established a particular ethical theory, redefining the general concept so that it only permits your variant is an outrageous violation of objectivity. It would be an attempt to make it impossible to even think about alternatives. Ayn Rand was sensitive to issues of objectivity and was emphatic about never importing your conclusions into the definitions of terms that are condensations of observations. In particular, Ayn Rand was enraged at the suggestion that virtue should only be defined as the pursuit of rational values.

"You will encounter two different types of criticism of Objectivism [as a morality] with a life and death difference in terms of the soul, mind, and honesty of your opponent depending on which he offers. One type of criticism is that Objectivism is a wrong morality, an evil morality, a selfish morality, too idealistic a morality, etc. Other things being equal you can deal with a person like that, that is just a disagreement about content and in principle they are still open to go back to reality. But the type of person who will say to you "Objectivism is not a morality at all" is the type of person who is completely closed off to reality and is a pure dogmatist. The type of person who will say Objectivism is not a morality at all is exactly parallel to a Nazi who will define man as a white Aryan. The Nazi will go on to distinguish good and bad among white Aryans but the rest of mankind is regarded as subhuman."

Morality

A1 - a code of values accepted by choice

A2 - a code of pro-life values accepted by choice

Ayn Rand frequently refers to other moral codes: Kantian, Christian, the morality of altruism, wrong moralities, irrational moral codes, etc. All of those are moralities based on the observation of a genuine human need. Ayn Rand also went on to argue that Objectivism is the only consistent moral code, and that altruism is the destruction of morality. {John Galt: "And if you wish to go on living, what you now need is not to return to morality—you who have never known any—but to discover it."}

How could it be proven that altruism is anti-moral except by starting with a neutral objective definition that subsumed altruism within the category so that conclusions about morality could be applied to it? The same word must be used because the same concept is being used.

Q: Why not just differentiate between rational values and irrational values?

A: Totally inadequate. That neglects the values of plants and animals, which are neither. Irrational and rational would be subcategories that could only be distinguished after observing the data that gives us values in general. 'Value' first abstracts away from the method of achieving a goal to start with the fact of achieving a goal.

Hero - a total embodiment of a given code of morality.

Self-esteem - a positive evaluation of yourself based on a certain standard of value

Egoism - giving one's own values primacy over the values of others

Epistemology - the branch of philosophy that studies the nature, means and methods of knowledge.

We say all the time that there are three approaches to epistemology, the intrinsic (mystic), the subjective (skeptic) and the objective (rational). All deal with the same subject and give guidance on it. And yet, the skeptic claims knowledge is impossible and the mystic says there is no human means to know about anything important apart from revelation. Epistemology follows the pattern.

Philosophy - a reasoned view of man, knowledge and values. Linguistic Analysis and Existentialism are attempts to address the need for a philosophy, and yet each is such a failure they are actually negations of philosophy. Philosophy follows the pattern.

Aside: Even to qualify as a philosophy in the general sense requires an attempt to reason.

What is common to all the concepts which have dual senses? All are philosophical, all are broadly normative in the second sense. {and identify a need for normative guidance in the second sense} Fulfilling the need for guidance based on authority, emotion, tradition results in error. Fulfilling that need with the same reality orientation that recognizes the problem is the only consistent way to solve the problem without contradiction.

Decide for yourself:

Rights - "a sanction to independent action", which Ayn Rand contrasts to acting by permission. Galt: "conditions of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival". {Galt's definition is normative by appealing to "proper" survival, which incorporates some standard.}

Seems to follow the pattern. "They have legislated a right to health care. Just walk up and get it now." - in the first sense

"You can't legislate a right, the only real rights are defenses against initiations of force." - in the second sense. Relies on the first sense to derive a consistent normative version of rights.

Inapplicable to certain Concepts:

Do not apply to:

Logic - This is already a normative conclusion about thought. In a certain sense we all always pursue values, there is no counterpart sense in which we are all always logical.

Objectivity - this is already normative

Existence - there can be only one existence, a normative version of existence is impossible.

Polemics

Define terms objectively in the broad sense first then work toward normative conclusions.

Examples: An egoist defined objectively is someone who acts for his own benefit. You would reject egoist defined as someone who cares only about himself and will step over corpses to get what he wants.

Do not start conversations or arguments with "altruism is the doctrine that destroys all values". You must start with an objective definition the altruist himself would recognize.

A socialist says "I define capitalism as the system of exploitation of the proletariat." A capitalist says "I define socialism as the system of enslaving the able." Both definitions are subjective and useless as starting points {both simply assume the conclusion they wish to establish}.

Q: (Betsy) "Man" has two senses, mankind and male.

A: A completely different linguistic issue. Depends on the language. Many, even most, words in the dictionary have multiple definitions and senses, and some will be broader than others. That alone is not adequate to find the relationship examined here. The narrower sense must be derivative from the first and normative.

Q: (Prodos) Can we say "pseudo-value" or "pseudo-epistemology"?

A: No.

Q: (Dave) How many concepts do we have here? How is it possible we have the same concept?

A: The two definitions refer to the same facts from different perspectives.

Q: Can we distinguish between the two definitions as follows: The broad definition identifies a category of normative abstractions. The narrower definition is a normative abstraction.

A: That is helpful, like the IS-OUGHT relation. Thank you.

Q: What about physics in the medieval sense vs. the modern context?

A: Was torn about that. We can say it is like epistemology, but there is more continuity and growth with the field rather than outright corruption and contradiction.

Q: Is "Objectivist" in "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology" there in recognition of the need to use a modifier when using epistemology in its narrower, second sense?

A. Yes. "Introduction to Epistemology" would be fantastically arrogant in the bad sense.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Grames , we seem to often be thinking on the same subjects. Ive been trying to get my intellectual engine retuned after a long sobatical and one of the things ive been going over is McCaskeys comments on the "nominal definition" and the "causal definition". Its related to our previous exchange topic.......

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Consider "Republican" as defined in two ways:

A1 objective Republican - A registered republican voter. Votes republican, contributes to republican political candidates, attends nominally republican social functions such as conventions and fundraisers.

A2 normative Republican - Understands that a republic is a form of government and advocates it, can distinguish it from democracy, theocracy and autocracy.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 year later...

Is it possible to do the same thing for selfishness?:

 

A1 objective selfishness - pursuit of a value from a self serving motive.

 

A2 normative selfishness - pursuit of a value that sustains or furthers your life. 

 

I'm open to any adjustments if this is not exactly right. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Is it possible to do the same thing for selfishness?:

 

A1 objective selfishness - pursuit of a value from a self serving motive.

 

A2 normative selfishness - pursuit of a value that sustains or furthers your life. 

 

I'm open to any adjustments if this is not exactly right. 

I have an addition:

Relating only to one's self.

Edited by My 99 are free
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Is it possible to do the same thing for selfishness?:

 

A1 objective selfishness - pursuit of a value from a self serving motive.

 

A2 normative selfishness - pursuit of a value that sustains or furthers your life. 

 

I'm open to any adjustments if this is not exactly right. 

Grames' wording was almost perfect. Egoism: giving one's own values primacy over others'. 

 

Note that you still have two definitions, because "value" has two definitions. I would just add "reason" to A2. (as in value that is chosen using reason, to further one's life). This of course says nothing about whether reason is used or not, in A1. 

 

Yours, on the other hand, introduces a source of confusion: "self serving motive". According to Psychological Egoists, every action is from a self serving motive. According to others, that's not true. How would someone decide which actions you're referring to? 

 

Grames doesn't define egoism in terms of motive. Motive is irrelevant. He defines it more in terms of method, and avoids telling people what their motives are.

Edited by Nicky
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Let's rephrase:

 

A1 objective selfishness: The action to gain/keep a self serving value

A2 normative selfishness: The action to gain/keep a self serving value that is pro life.

 

Reference to motive removed.  After some thought, I realize it's not necessary to know the motive.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Now A1 and A2 are the same thing, because all "self serving values" are pro life. Grames wrote "giving one's own values primacy" precisely because the values a whimsically selfish man for instance would act on are arbitrary, not self serving in any way. 

 

There's nothing self serving about drinking yourself to death in the name of hedonism, for instance. But it does qualify as selfish behavior (it has no regard for the values, wishes, needs, whatever other synonym one might use, of others), if you wish to apply the principle of two definitions. Or, if you define self-serving as "the person thinks/pretends it's self serving", you're back to using motive. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Consider "Republican" as defined in two ways:

A1 objective Republican - A registered republican voter. Votes republican, contributes to republican political candidates, attends nominally republican social functions such as conventions and fundraisers.

A2 normative Republican - Understands that a republic is a form of government and advocates it, can distinguish it from democracy, theocracy and autocracy.

I make this distinction by capitalization:  Republican for the party member.   "republican"  for the generic advocate of a representative republic.  Ditto for Libertarian  and libertarian.  How about Objectivist and objectivist.  Use the lower case instance for the generic meaning.

 

ruveyn1

Edited by ruveyn1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Let's rephrase:

 

A1 objective selfishness: The action to gain/keep a self serving value

A2 normative selfishness: The action to gain/keep a self serving value that is pro life.

 

Reference to motive removed.  After some thought, I realize it's not necessary to know the motive.

 

 

This requires "self serving" be recognized as a perjorative idiom for short ranged thinking and acting which in the long run is anti-life and really the opposite of "serving the self", the literal rephrasing of "self serving". But wait, A2 implies there are many "self serving" values and some actually are pro-life leaving others to be evaluated as not pro-life. But then how can one distinguish between a self serving value and a not self serving value, i.e. when does A1 apply?

Rewritten by applying Rand's definition of value helps make the confusion plain.

A1 objective selfishness: The action to gain/keep To value a self serving value

A2 normative selfishness: The action to gain/keep To value a self serving value that is pro life.

 

There is a lot of redundancy and circularity and only begins to make a little sense if the "self serving" is decoded in a certain way, and not really even then.

Link to comment
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...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...